Theatre of the Absurd Workshop Series

Since my honest post a couple of months ago I have been very grateful for the many positive comments and messages of support for the blog. So, thank you very much. I am timidly returning to regular blogging and share this with you today.

I often receive emails of support, encouragement and requests for resources.

One of the most viewed sections on the blog is the lesson ideas for teaching the Theatre of the Absurd. It’s a tricky theatrical style to break down and teach. Over the years I’ve scaffolded and scaffolded so that finally I have a workshop series that seems to capture the essence of Absurdism. I often end up emailing this to various people who message me with resource requests which is quite often. So, to make it a little easier on me and you, I’ve added it to this blog post today or you can find it on my Resources page (click on the link in the left hand tool bar). It should be used in conjunction with these suggested teaching strategies: Absurdism 1 and Absurdism 2.

I’ve recorded a short video to explain how to read the table. You can check it out below but it is also available at my YouTube channel.

Here is the Workshop Series – The Theatre of the Absurd PDF referenced in the instructional video.

A little reminder: These resources are not designed for assignments or assessments for University students. If you wish to use these resources for this purpose please send me an email requesting permission.

 

Greek Theatre: A Mini Unit of Work

greektheatre

Earlier this year I taught Greek Theatre for the first time in my career.

As part of my transition into my new school, I took to teaching the scope and sequence that I inherited from the previous teachers at the school. Greek Theatre hadn’t suited the students at my previous school so I was quite looking forward to giving this a go.

I only ended up having about ten lessons with the students before we needed to move on to Medieval Theatre and Melodrama but I felt it was just enough time to give them a sense of what theatre was like in ancient times and how influential it has been on modern theatre.

Here is a very simple teaching and learning sequence that you might like to use if you are teaching the unit for the first time or have limited time in which to complete the unit.

Introduction to Greek Theatre

I structured the lessons in two parts so that we did some theory first, for example reading/writing notes or watching clips before then getting up and having a go of the different aspects of the style experientially.

I put together a handout that had information about the following:

  • Its Origins – i.e.The Festival of Dionysus
  • The Performance Space – i.e. The Amphitheatre
  • Types of Greek Theatre – i.e. Tragedy, Comedy & Satyr
  • The Playwright’s – i.e. Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes

Some of the consolidation activities I did to ensure the students understood what they had learnt included:

  • Labelling a diagram of an amphitheatre
  • Completing a cloze passage with a word bank for support
  • Simple comprehension questions
  • Showing some videos  from the National Theatre Discover’s YouTube channel

Acting and Movement in Greek Theatre

This was the most experientially dense part of our mini unit. Our experiential activities focused on two particular things:

  • The role of the chorus
  • The voice and movement skills needed by the actors when performing outside and with a mask

Again, the visual resources through the National Theatre’s YouTube channel were invaluable. I showed a number of clips so as to give the students an idea of the effect of the chorus and what it looked like in performance.

I then used a selection of chorus verses from Antigone to work on in class.

Before beginning the experiential activities, we looked at The Theban Plays by Sophocles so as to understand the context of where the play Antigone fit into the whole story.

The aim of the experiential activities was to work up to performing the chorus excerpt from the play for an audience. As a class we looked at simple movements that we could make that could look effective when performed in a large amphitheatre.

The students were then broken into small groups and had to put these movements together so that they were being performed in unison and in time. They then added dialogue to their movements. They had to keep in mind that their costumes could impede their movement which traditionally were toga like outfits.

The second exercise we did was to actually go outside onto the oval and perform a scene. At the back of my school oval there is a little bit of a hill which leads up to the farm. This worked perfectly as the “amphitheatre” and the oval itself acted as the stage. The students were able to experience the difficulty in having to project their voices and be expressive through their body movements so as to communicate what was happening in the story.

To prepare the students we did some simple vocal warm-ups so as not to damage their voices and practiced walking and moving around the space in large strides and using their arms and torso to exaggerate simple movements.

I then followed these experiential activities up with reflection activities so that the students could consider what they had learnt.

Costume & Mask in Greek Theatre

To finish the mini-unit, we briefly looked at the mask designs for tragedies and the costumes worn. Students then dressed in the toga like costumes and performed a scene. You may also like to consider having the students perform in masks or make their own masks.

My assessment of this unit was a half-yearly exam. It wasn’t something I particularly liked as a task and would consider changing in future.

Resources

In preparing my resources for this mini-unit I found a few resources online that I thought were of a good quality. I would recommend the following:

Have you taught Greek Theatre before? What are some teaching and learning/assessment strategies that you use? Please share your thoughts below.

Photo Credit: Ania Mendrek via Compfight cc

10 Textbooks No Drama Teacher Should Be Without

I was having a moment the other day. One of those out of body experiences where you watch the chaos around you in the classroom and think to yourself, “How crazy is this?”, “Is this for real?” and “What the hell is little Johnny doing?”, “What the hell am I doing?” I have them occasionally and it just reminds me how incredible teachers are. We seem to battle on through amidst the seeming chaos.

I guess those experiences also remind me how far I’ve come in my five years of teaching. That ability to watch what is happening in front of me and laugh and know that it’s not the end of the world and if I had to tell new, beginning teacher’s what to expect and how to react, reacting the way I did the other day (watching everything happen in slow motion and as though it’s something out of a B Grade movie), is perfectly healthy and necessary at times.

I would also tell my beginning Drama teacher’s: don’t ever be stuck for resources. Utilise your school library and make sure it stocks not only the best plays and resource material for student’s but also resource material for yourself. Make friends with your librarian 🙂

Utilise every possible Professional Development day you can. Work towards some goals. Be realistic about those goals and know that it’s not possible to achieve everything you want to in your first year and that in every school you work at for your entire career the goals and expectations you have will be different because every school is different. Perhaps in your first year your goal will be about managing behaviour. The following year it might be how you teach a particular theatrical style or play. By having a goal to work towards it will make it easier to choose a course to take for Professional Development.

Over the years I have made sure my library is up to date with all the play scripts that are on the prescribed text list and added a few extra text books just for extra reference for myself and the student’s. I like walking into the library and going over to the theatre section a lot. It inspires me. I don’t even have to open any of the books. It just telepathically fills me with ideas. It’s funny like that.

Here are my ten text books that I cannot live without:

1. Acting in Person and In Style Australia by Carol Wimmer – I use this book a lot when I am teaching monologues, duologues, acting skills (voice workshops). It is also brilliant for teaching a range of performance styles.

2. Dramawise by Brad Haseman – The bible full of exercises for explicitly teaching the elements of drama. I highly recommend this book as a starting point for beginning teachers.

3. You’re On by Rob Galbraith – Another fantastic text with exercises to teach students about performance elements as well as the roles of people behind the scenes. 

4. Living Drama by Bruce Burton – This is actually part of a three part series (Making Drama and Creating Drama are his titles for lower secondary drama students) and is best used with senior students. It looks at aspects of drama in a slightly more sophisticated way which is applicable to senior students and their essays.

5. Navigating Drama by Richard Baines and Mike O’Brien – A great text for students in Year 9-10 Drama. Some of the particularly helpful sections include the playbuiding chapter and the commedia dell arte chapter.

6. Navigating Senior Drama by Richard Baines and Mike O’Brien – I like this senior text because of its focus on the NSW Drama Syllabus. It has focus chapters on Australian Drama and Theatre which forms part of the theory component of the course as well as a section specifically devoted to some of the Studies in Drama and Theatre topics (Brecht, Greek Theatre and American Drama). It also has good chapters on the Group and Individual Performance units.

7. Centre Stage by Matthew Clausen –  Great teaching suggestions plus some really great templates for teaching the elements of production including costume design and lighting and sound plotting.

8. Lighting and Sound by Neil Fraser – everything you need to know about lighting and sound in a simple easy to understand way. Absolute gold.

9. Stage Design and Props by Michael Holt – As above. An absolute gem of a book if you want to learn about set design and making.

10. Costume and Make-Up by Michael Holt Ditto as above.

Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it before Improvisation: A Guide by Lyn Pierse. Absolutely excellent for anything Theatre Sports or improvisation related. Oh, oh, oh and if you’re teaching Publicity and Program Design try Stage Management and Theatre Administration by Pauline Menear and Terry Hawkins.

Have you got a text book that you swear by? Share it with us in the comments.

Image Credits: T’aiuto io, tassomanAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lesson Lovenotes: The Theatre of the Absurd, Teaching Suggestions and Resources

I recently posted some teaching and learning activities for the teaching of Dada Performance Art in the classroom. I mentioned in the post that Dada is an excellent pre-cursor to teaching The Theatre of the Absurd. Here are some of the strategies I like to use in the classroom when teaching The Theatre of the Absurd to my students.

Introduction to The Theatre of the Absurd

There are two main concepts students need to understand in order to start to understand the basic ideas behind The Theatre of the Absurd:

  1. The random, lack of connection between actions, objects and words.
  2. The playfulness between the actors in being able to convey this randomness.

The first point links to the social, cultural, historical and philosophical viewpoint of Absurdists. The second links to the execution of this philosophy by the Absurdists.

Remembering that drama is a visual medium, it is important to understand the viewpoints of the Absurdists. However, the intricacies of the execution with which they manifest their beliefs through their plays is what is of real interest. You want your students to be able to identify these, interpret and perform them in new and existing ways and to also be critical of them and review and appreciate the process of making an Absurdist performance.

There are two activities I always like to use in the classroom to convey this.

1. A Non-Sensical Scene: Place a number of random objects around the room. Have each student line up at the entrance to the classroom. Each student must take a turn at entering the space, picking up an object and using it in a way that it would not normally be used. Secondly, students pair up. The first of the pair enters the room and picks a different random object and uses it in a way it wouldn’t normally be used. As they are doing this the second of the pair comes into the space and whispers a line of dialogue into their partner’s ear. It should have nothing to do with the object or what the person is doing with the object. The person then says it aloud. It is important at this point to have the students discuss their experiences of the exercise. Use questions that engage them with the idea and the connection that what appears on stage is not literally what is intended. Often something different may be meant.

2. Watch Clips of Absurdist Scenes: In the years since Beckett, Albee and Ionesco many have treaded the boards of Absurdism. These include the Marx Brother’s, Abbott and Costello and of course Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There are several excellent clips on YouTube that show what an Absurdist piece can look like but the key concept to be drawn from these clips at this point in the students learning is that commonly, not always, but commonly, Absurdist plays featured two main, male characters who were seemingly clown-like.

Before viewing these clips may I also suggest rather than watching the clips straight from YouTube you consider downloading them and saving them permanently on your computer. I have written a post about this previously that you may be interested in to help you with this.

The Marx Brother’s – A Day at the Races

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The Dead Parrot

Abbott and Costello – Who’s on First?

Working Through the Concepts

There are some pretty heavy concepts dealt with in the Theatre of the Absurd. In particular, their philosophical viewpoint, the idea of existentialism. Consider starting your theoretical study of Absurdism with a discussion about this. Link to the Wikipedia page or perhaps consider the use of another video to get the students thinking about what it is. Essentially what they must understand is that Absurdists believed life had no purpose or meaning and only till you experienced anything could you place meaning onto it and what it means to you may be different to someone else.

Other things to consider in your theoretical study include:

  • The historical context: Absurdism was a creation born out of WWII. Get students to consider the effect the war had on people at the time and why some people may have felt it necessary to create theatre like this.
  • The social/cultural context: Absurdism was not well received by theatre audiences. Have students consider (and perhaps research) what kinds of plays people had been watching up until then and the kinds of expectations they had of an evening at the theatre and why this (Absurdist Theatre) was so outrageous at the time.

Acting It Out

Next comes the fun part 🙂 The experiential learning. Students need to be up and actively engaging with the texts language and stage directions in order to fully understand the purpose and dramatic meaning of the text. Most of the suggestions below are based around Waiting for Godot but can certainly be adapted to suit any of the other texts available for study. Consider the following:

1. Pick a play: There are heaps to choose from including most famously Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (notice my tree reference in the image above), The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. I prefer to use Waiting for Godot because there is a lot of material available on this play both online and in books. Ensure also that you are able to study the play chosen because certain syllabi have text lists and texts are not be studied across more than one curriculum area.

2. Moved Reading + Video: Have the students perform a moved reading of the script. Alternate students playing each of the parts at different times during the play and alternate students to also read the stage directions (these prove very important later on in the experiential study of the plays). If you can source a video of the play, watch it after the moved reading. Personally, I prefer to watch the film at the end of the unit because I like to see how the kids interpret the dialogue and stage directions without the films impressions in their minds but that is a decision best left to you, the teacher.

3. Clowning Workshop: After the students have read the play I delve into getting the students to understand and interpret the relationship between the characters. Many of the Absurdist plays, as mentioned above, tend to centre around two main, male characters. The dialogue is like a tennis ball bouncing between them and the ins and outs of their relationship are moulded by it. The clowning workshop looks at interpreting the physicality of each role. Look at facilitating certain activities such as master/servant, look at the different types of clowns, the way they dress, speak, walk, stand, show facial expressions, enact with other clowns (consider slap stick and tricks here like falls etc). Have students create their own clown character. Pair them up with another student and get them to create a short skit that demonstrates some of the elements explored in the workshop. To take the workshop one step further, have the students apply their knowledge of clowns to specific scenes from the play. Incorporate props (e.g. the bowler hats that Estragon and Vladimir wear). Have the students perform it to the class and have them discuss the effects of the performance on the audience in terms of dramatic meaning and the relationship between characters.

4. Voice/Dialogue Workshop: Similar to the clowning workshop and linking some of the elements of the voice workshop mentioned in my Dada post, choose sections of dialogue to experiment with pitch, pace, pause, tone etc. Pitch and pause are two commonly used conventions in Absurdist plays. Another one is intonation and punctuation. A fantastic example of this is Lucky’s speech towards the end of Act 1 in Waiting for Godot. There is not a single punctuation mark for over two pages. Many students will interpret it as being read in one long, fast, continuous breath. However, watching various interpretations and trying to work out what it could mean to Lucky generates some interesting interpretations and deliveries of his dialogue.

And The Rest…

In addition to all of that it’s a good idea to look at the following:

  1. Biblical Allusions: In Waiting for Godot there are many. Have the students find out what they mean and why they have been referenced.
  2. Who is Godot?: Obviously this is specific to Waiting for Godot but it is an essential question to ask. Also, whether or not he is in fact real needs discussing.
  3. Dramatic Form: The cyclical nature of the play both in Act 1 and Act 2 are relevant and link in with the Absurdist philosophy of existentialism. Explore this.
  4. Elements of Production: Minimal sets, lighting, sound and costumes are used. Have students look at pictures of past productions or use the stage directions or inferences to set pieces in the stage directions as a means of discussing the dramatic meaning for the audience.

I hope you found these suggestions helpful. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Please leave your feedback in the comments below.

Image Credits:

3005 Waiting for Godot, melomys, Licensed Under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Lesson Lovenotes: Teaching Theatre History

This year I have Year 11 Drama. This term we are learning about theatrical traditions and performance styles.

I personally think it’s a good unit to start with because you can dabble 🙂 Dabble and play. Dabble in a range of different styles of performance. This works well because students can get a taste of the possibilities in Drama. Especially considering a good portion of students may not have taken Drama as an elective in Year 9-10 so it is all very new to them.

It’s often eye opening because the styles that can be explored are some of the weirdest! In the students eyes they often think acting is very much film and TV based with that very neutral, I’ve-barely-moved-my-eyebrows kind of look. A lot of posing basically. This unit really provides teachers with a platform to really get their kids working with their entire body as a form of expression.

I personally choose to look at DADA performance art and then move into the Theatre of Absurd. The ideas are very left of centre for the students. They start to think in an abstract way and they get to play and feel silly and find enjoyment and ownership in that at the same time. It builds confidence and creates a positive learning environment.

To provide some context for these theatrical traditions and performance styles I always run a theory lesson whereby we look at the development of theatre through time and how it has been influenced by politics, religion and popular culture.

I recently did a very general Google search and found a fantastic Interactive Theatre History Timeline at the Glencoe Online Learning Centre.

We were working in the library and I used the lesson as an opportunity to also introduce the students to the Year 11 Drama group that I had created in Edmodo. I have written about Edmodo before here. I uploaded a worksheet I created to Edmodo and got the kids to download it and save it onto their home directories. In doing this they could then edit and save their own material, save it to USB, email it to themselves etc.

Students had to work through the sheet, which I had broken up into particular theatrical time periods and add dates and significant theatrical events as well as any corresponding world events that were considered important and relevant in that time period.

I then got the students to compare what they saw happening in the world perspectives column with the actual theatrical event and to see if either were influencing each other.

To develop this exercise further you could then ask students to choose a particular time period or theatrical event of interest or allocate ones yourself and get the students to research them further.

Was this love note helpful? What suggestions do you have for teaching theatrical traditions and performance styles?

This is a new section of my blog where I will share some of the resources I have been using to teach with in my classroom. I like the idea of calling it a “lovenote” because it’s being sent with teacher love!…and it’s not too long of a post.

To create the screen shot above I used the Snipping Tool and added the text using MS Paint.

Image Credits:

Busra Theatre, by Hovic, Attribution – NonCommercial-No Derivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)