I’ve taught the Theatre of the Absurd and I’ve blogged suggestions on some teaching strategies for a unit of work before. I have Year 11 again this year (the first time since 2011) and I really wanted to work on refining my teaching and learning program. I reflect on my programs each and every year and in the time since I last taught Year 11 I have come to a greater understanding of what is key in getting student’s to succeed in the HSC.
In particular, I have stopped calling my student’s “students” and I have started calling them “directors.” I refer to everything they do in class as their “directorial choices”.
This is something that I needed to shift in my own head before I could do the same with my student’s.
Teachers are leaders in the classroom, just as a Director is on a production. In this vein, I needed to stop thinking of myself as a teacher who was teaching content but rather as a Director, teaching other director’s how to create their own original works.
This, for me, has been a significant moment in my development as a drama teacher. In wanting to ensure I was teaching the appropriate content to my student’s I lost sight of the need to remember that Drama and theatre is a creative, fluid process that needs a lot of discussion and thought. The pressures of the syllabus and the term time frame makes this difficult. In shifting my thinking in this way I have felt a renewed energy towards my teaching that encapsulates more of my passion and appreciation for theatre as an artform.
Much of this came about through my undertaking of a Directing for the Stage course at NIDA. An eight week program, it worked through two elements of direction: preparing a vision or concept and working with actors. I was most interested in the preparing of a concept or vision as that is something that my students are required to do as part of their HSC.
My students had been writing these concepts and visions but I don’t think they had quite the amount of depth that they needed to give the student’s a clear and focused direction with which to work on their project. I wanted to structure and refine the development of the student’s thinking so they would be better able to run meaningful rehearsals and communicate articulately with the audience about their piece.
In the HSC the Director’s Concept or Rationale is 300 words and explains the intention of the work. In structuring my student’s writing I was able to structure my student’s thinking. Well, that’s how I approached it anyway. So the scaffold below is for writing a rationale/concept. This lesson took about two 75 minute periods. I wedged it between finishing my mini unit on DADA and placed it just before starting on the Theatre of the Absurd.
The reason for this was because I wanted something tangible with which they could write their practice concept and then use that to help them develop their concept for their Absurdist assessment task.
1. Evoke a Moment from the Piece to Create a Sense of Atmosphere
This is written in a similar fashion to the opening of a theatre review or a descriptive paragraph in a narrative. It visually communicates a moment from the piece. I got my student’s to focus on the opening of their DADA Performances.
2. Form an opinion about the intention of theatre as influenced by your particular theatrical style. Write a statement expressing that.
I asked my student’s: What is it about DADA that has influenced theatre? Why is theatre the way it is because of DADA?
3. Summarise the theatrical style that you have been influenced by. What are the key aspects of that style that you have focused on in your piece?
This could be pulled from a worksheet or textbook you have given your students on the topic you have been studying. In my case I gave them notes about what DADA is, what Theatre of the Absurd is all about (think existentialism) and, for some of them, had them regurgitate exactly what was written in the notes. The stronger student’s will be able to identify which aspect of that philosophy they are wanting to focus on. Maybe even why as well.
4. Discuss how the style influenced your concept.
I encouraged the use of “I” and “we” here. This is where the students start to think about their own thinking process. They are making connections between what they know about the style and they are starting to apply it to their own performance piece. What inital discussions and ideas were had by the students? Why is this of interest to them?
5. Outline the structure of your piece. What happens? What is the key theme, dramatic question that you wish to explore? Why is this piece relevant to your audience now? What do you want your audience to think, feel, do?
These are such key questions when devising any sort of drama. Stronger students should be able to clearly articulate their dramatic question in no more than one or two sentences. A good way to see if this has been achieved is to see if an audience member can articulate another groups concept in their own words. If they too can do it in no more than one or two sentences, the performance has clearly communicated to its audience.
6. How have you attempted to use the elements to convey your message?
Here there should be specific reference made to the elements of drama and why they have been used. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss all of them (because they should all be there) but I do think students should be able to address three to four clearly. If they can’t, they haven’t given their concept enough thought.
The stronger students will write too much and the weaker students will struggle to write much at all, particularly when explaining the use of elements and even even when discussing the intenion of theatre, style and influence on concept. In a follow up lesson, it would be good to look at editing the piece down to fit the intended 300 words.
What do you do to teach Directorial Concept? Share your ideas in the comments.