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conventions of drama
Neelands, Johnathan and Tony Goode.
STRUCTURING DRAMA WORK
, Cambridge: CUP, 2000.
CONTEXT BUILDING ACTION
The class or small groups make a collective image to represent a place or people in the drama. The image then becomes a concrete reference for ideas that are being discussed, or which are half-perceived
· Diaries, letters, journals, messages
These are written in or out of role as a means of reflecting on experience; or introduced into the drama by the teacher as a new tension, or as evidence; or they are used as a means of reviewing work or building up a cumulative account of a long sequence of work.
· Defining space
Available material and furniture is used to 'accurately' represent the place where a drama is happening; or to represent the physical scale of something in the drama; or to fix the position and proximity of rooms, houses, places where events have taken place.
Traditional games, or variations, are used to establish trust, confidence or to establish rules; games are selected to simplify a complex experience; games are put into the context of drama rather than played for their own sake.
Realistic or stylized sounds accompany action, or describe an environment. Dialogue is devised to fit a given piece of action. Sound from one situation is 'dubbed' onto another. Voices or instruments are used to create a mood or paint a picture.
· Guided tour
A form of narration through which the group are provided with a detailed picture of the environment in which the drama is due to take place. This convention involves talking the group through the drama's setting-building-based, natural, fantastic etc.-utilizing a highly descriptive commentary which both places and details the key features of that location.
· Making maps/ diagrams
Making maps/diagrams is used as part of the drama in order to reflect on experience e.g. obstacles to be overcome, distance to travel; or to aid problem-solving e.g. 'what's the best way of getting into the bank?'; or after the drama, as a means of reviewing the work; or introduced by the teacher as a stimulus.
· Still image
Groups devise an image using their own bodies to crystallize a moment, idea or theme; or an individual acts as sculptor to a group. Contrasting images are made to represent actual/ideal, dream/nightmare versions.
· Role on the wall
An important, pivotal role is represented in picture form or diagram 'on the wall'; information is read or added as the drama progresses. Individuals may take it in turns to adopt the role in improvisations, so that it becomes a collective representation rather than a personal interpretation.
· Circle of life
A large sheet of paper is divided into five sections with a circle in the centre of the page where the name and age of a character are written. The surrounding paper is then divided into four sections that will represent areas of that character's life and the people they interact with at those times. These sections are labelled: Home, Family, Play and Day. The heading Home indicates where the character normally lives, while Family indicates any immediate or extended family and may include estranged family members we might otherwise expect to find at home. Play indicates any type of social life and, finally. Day indicates the character's workplace, if appropriate, or otherwise encompasses their daily routine, for example if they are too young to work or unemployed.
Life events are simulated in such a way as to emphasize management of resources, decision-taking, problem-solving, institutional management. A time limit is often set for 'players', so that there is a game tension. Simulations may be a commercially produced pack including role cards, pretend money and other pieces or a pack produced by one group for another
An object, article of clothing, newspaper cutting, letter, or opening to a story is introduced as a starting point for the development of a drama. The participants build on the clues and partial information offered in order to construct a drama to explore and develop themes, events and meanings suggested by the unfinished materials
· Collective character
A character is improvised by a group of students, any one of whom can speak as that character. Alternatively, an individual opts to take on the role and the remainder of the group whisper advice and offer lines of dialogue to be spoken by the volunteer. In this way a large group can be involved in the creation of a dialogue with, for instance, subgroups taking on responsibility for each of the characters involved.
· Objects of character
This convention allows for both the creation and/or the fleshing out of a character through consideration of a carefully chosen assemblage of personal belongings. The selection of the objects should give clues about the character of their owner. The items can be 'found' as a means of introducing a character or the character's setting. The role can be encountered at any point before or after their possessions have been made available to the group and their behaviour may well be at variance with, and even contradictory to, the group's particular interpretation. In this way, the character's private property forms a subtext to their words and actions.
· The ripple
The characters involved in an unresolved and problematic event are sculpted in an image representing a frozen, introductory moment chosen to open the encounter. The image is brought to life slowly with each character in the image asked to make only one movement and one, linked sound (language-based or pure sound as appropriate) in turn. The group decide the running order of this sequence so that a group of three actors A, B and C might 'ripple' clockwise or anticlockwise, or even start with the character represented by B. The choice, obviously, depends on an assessment of the situation being rippled (for example, where the power lies within the grouping). When the sequence through the image is felt to generate a 'truthful' feeling for the moment represented, a second ripple can be overlaid on the first and so on.
· Circular drama
This convention is essentially a more manageable form of Teacher-in-Role for the less experienced and confident. The group are organised into a series of subgroups, each of which has a specific relationship with a central character. The group decide on their individual roles and the physical location of their group. The teacher takes on the role of the central character and enters the small-group action in random sequence and improvises briefly with each group before moving on. The remaining groups are audience during this activity.
The tension and motivation for the drama result from a sense of threat or danger which is imminent but not actually present. The group work with/against an imagined presence e.g. they hide from an imagined enemy, or prepare for an important visitor. They are given orders/instructions from someone outside the drama whom they never meet face to face
Having worked on a variety of small-group scenes both before and after a central dramatic encounter, volunteers are sculpted by the rest of the group to create an image representing the first few moments of this main scene. This image is then positioned centrally in the working space. The groups are then asked to stand a representative where they see their own small-group scene fitting in relation to its impact on, qr time relationship with, the protagonists.
Teacher in role
The teacher, or whoever is taking responsibility as facilitator for the group, manages the theatrical possibilities and learning opportunities provided by the dramatic context from within the context by adopting a suitable role in order to: excite interest, control the action, invite involvement, provoke tension, challenge superficial thinking, create choices and ambiguity, develop the narrative, create possibilities for the group to interact in role. The teacher is not acting spontaneously but is trying to mediate her teaching purpose through her involvement in the drama.
Mantle of the expert
The group become characters endowed with specialist knowledge that is relevant to the situation: historians, social workers, mountain climbers. The situation is usually task-orientated so that expert understanding or skills are required to perform the task.
A scene is performed with participants using narration to describe their actions around individual spoken lines of dialogue. As a further step, having first practised the initial approach, the participants can be asked to define each action of the narrative by adding a suitably descriptive adverb.
Groups devise special events to mark, commemorate or celebrate something of cultural/historical significance. Devising appropriate activity to mark something that has occurred or is about to occur in the drama; may involve performance work; reflective attitude combined with celebratory experience; easily controlled, structured activity; involvement of whole group simultaneously; useful as a conclusion or review of work done.
The group are gathered together within the drama to hear new information, plan action, make collective decisions and suggest strategies to solve problems that have arisen. The meeting may be chaired by the teacher/leader or committee or other individuals-the group may meet without the teacher/leader being present. Cultural connections Parliament; form-meetings; assemblies; gang meetings; family discussions; parish council; public inquiries; inquests; hustings; union meetings; picket lines; protest marches.
Telephone/ radio conversations
These may be two-way conversations devised in pairs-to illuminate the present situation, or to break news, or to inform; or a one-way conversation, where the group only hear one side of the conversation. The teacher may use the convention to seek advice, create an outside pressure or introduce new information.
Groups devise slogans, titles, chapter headings and verbal encapsulations of what is being presented visually. They are asked to crystallize their work within a phrase; or to work to a given title; or summarize a scene in words; or to fit a caption to another group's work. Classifying them in terms of the following types can further refine the use of captions: anchors, relays and riddles. An 'anchor caption' is one intended to help the spectator 'read' a dramatic moment by supplying a direct and literal definition of its meaning. A 'relay caption' complements the drama by creating a reciprocal relationship between caption and event where each sheds light on the other. A 'riddle caption' offers a mysterious or enigmatic comment that provokes the spectator into questioning their initial response. (For further detail see Clark, J. et a/.. Lessons for the Living, Mayfair Cornerstone, 1997.)
A day in the life
This convention works backwards from an important event in order to fill in the gaps in the history of how the characters have arrived at the event. A chronological sequence is built up from scenes prepared by groups, involving the central character at various different times in the preceding twenty-four hours. After the scenes are run together, each scene in the sequence is subsequently re-drafted to take into account the influence of other groups' scenes
A group, working as themselves or in role, have the opportunity to question or interview role-player(s) who remain 'in character'. These characters may be 'released' from frozen improvisations or the role may be prepared and the role-player(s) formally seated facing questioners.
This gives an interpretation/presentation of events through journalistic conventions and registers, in the manner of frontpage stories, TV news or documentaries. The group may be in media roles or working outside the drama to represent what has happened from a distance, with an emphasis on how events can be distorted by outsiders. News stories; headlines; investigative journalism; tabloid press; radio bulletins; journalistic language; personal experience of the press at work. Translation of events into news, selection of appropriate language and register; layout of headlines, story, picture; contrasting media genres-tabloid versus 'quality' press; TV versus radio.
These conversations add tension or information to a situation that should not have been heard. The group might not know who the speakers are, or might only know one of the speakers. The conversation might be reported by spies, or be in the form of gossip and rumour. The group can go backwards or forwards in time to re-create key conversations that illuminate the present situation.
These are challenging, demanding situations designed to reveal information, attitudes, motives, aptitudes and capabilities. One party has the task, of eliciting response through appropriate questioning.
On the basis of their developing understandings of a character, group members identify critical events in the life of that character which lead the character to either a moment of 'effective surprise', generating the shock of new understanding (the moments chosen must clearly identify a point of discovery and the knowledge mastered) or a life's 'turning point', representing a clear moment of choice and decision-making. Whether decisions made are right or wrong, whether the consequences will be more or less than bargained for, whether the character understands the reasons for the choice made or not, are all immaterial at the point when the convention is utilized. However, these matters all await interrogation as the drama unfolds.
Another teacher, parent, student or older pupil is brought into the drama to play a role accurately and authentically, i.e. he/she never comes out of role. The teacher's task is to facilitate the group's meeting with this role, and to involve the group in exploring his/her life-style, problems, needs and challenges.
Small– group play making
Small groups plan, prepare and present improvisations as a means of representing a hypothesis, or to demonstrate alternative views/courses of action. The improvisations express existing understanding of a situation or experience.
Sound, song, words and phrases, either pre-recorded or performed live, are used to create the mood and atmosphere of a character's lived experience e.g. How does it feel to be.. .? In this convention the group are encouraged to think of the Soundscape as having a musical shape to it and to weave the various words, statements and sounds together, orchestrating them as precisely as possible (cf. Soundtracking).
Busy, active convention; selecting movements to match action; removes pressure of dialogue; encourages gestures and body language; useful way of establishing a context.
Action is presented as if controlled by video recorder or TV remote. The activity can be momentarily paused and held in freeze frame-where a sequence of still pictures is created representing an actual event, broken down into its constituent parts. It can then be rewound and rerun.
The selection of historical or factual material from either past or current events. Documentary involves the analysis of two essential types of information: either primary source (eyewitness accounts of relevant events) or secondary source (interpretations or retellings of events by people not present at the time).
A situation (chosen by the group to illuminate a topic or experience relevant to the drama) is enacted by a small group whilst the others observe. Both the actors and the observers have the right to stop the action whenever they feel it is losing direction, or if they need help, or if the drama loses authenticity.
An event that is known, or has previously occurred, is re-enacted in order to reveal what might have happened, or in order to discover its social dynamics and tensions. There is an emphasis on accuracy of detail and authenticity.
This is a sequence of scenes or performance elements, which may or may not be loosely linked, providing an overview of social conditions and human attitudes. This overview is provided without the need to relate the parts selected to a unified plot or story-line and without the need to determine a common performance style or form.
A problem is revealed through working on a parallel situation that mirrors the real problem-usually used where the real problem is too familiar, full of prejudice or likely to make participants feel threatened or exposed; or connections are made between familiar experience and unfamiliar experience.
These are sometimes seen as being useful solely for presentational work, but have rich potential for changing perspectives of situations and encounters. There is a wide variety of masks-full, half, character, anonymous, etc.-which can be made economically by students themselves
In an otherwise realistic scene the students are asked to include an action, gesture or other visible sign which is intended to stand for a social relationship between the characters. Since the action or sign is intended to reveal the social context, it should comment on and clearly show the true social relations between the characters.
Group ideology or ethic symbolized and revealed through ritual activity ('What does this initiation tell us about the gang we're joining?'); controlled and highly structured activity requiring reflective attitude; challenging individuals within an easily followed structure.
The 'outer' or 'realistic' shape of one or more characters is contrasted with figures that represent the 'inner dance' or shape of the spirit/heart at that moment in the drama. The realistic figures are frozen whilst volunteers pair up with them. In silence the group are invited to take turns in moulding and shaping the volunteers.
Play within a play
Characters in a drama perform a clearly defined and signed performance event within the context of a wider dramatic fiction. This performance put on by actors for other characters effects a consequent blurring of the division between actor and audience which creates various levels of reality.
In this convention, essentially an extension of Thought-Tracking, students work in pairs, one as the character and one as that character's thoughts. The double's function is to provide a commentary of 'inner speech', focusing thoughts and feelings against which the protagonist plays out their surface action and dialogue as though their alter-ego was not there.
Behind the scene
A private or intimate scene is played against the background of larger social and historical events. Groups prepare both an intimate and a historical scene and, when ready, groups form two circles for performance-an inner intimate circle with the historical circle surrounding. The scenes are then run simultaneously. However, the first time through we hear only the soundtrack from the intimate scene; then, played for a second time, we again see both scenes but hear only the soundtrack from the historical scene.
Students devise and rehearse two or more scenes, which occur at different times and in separate places. They then work on cutting backwards and forwards between the two scenes, editing them so as to carefully maximize the links, comparisons, analogies, similarities or ironic contradictions which exist between the two
Flashback scenes can be inserted into the unfolding of a scene in present time or, at a crucial moment, can be used to confront a central character with recollections of their past
Roles are reversed as part of the action of the drama. This can take place as a play-within-a-play, where a group demonstrate to each other how they think another group or role will react.
Montage juxtaposes form and content so as to distort or challenge a stereotypic or conventional view. It provokes a fresh look at material that may be stale and creates interesting contrasts between elements in the drama that would not naturally be brought together.
Either individually or in small groups, as required, students create all the visual elements of a stage picture by physically assuming, as accurately as possible, the material shapes of objects, settings and animate beings of myth, fantasy, etc.
This can be in or out of the dramatic context. The teacher/leader might provide a narrative link, atmosphere or commentary, initiate a drama, move the action on, create tension; or the participants might report back in story form, providing narrative to accompany action-'we came to the river and saw that the bridge had been destroyed, so we . ..'
Teacher-in-role. or other individual, gives a monologue purporting to be an objective account of events, but which in effect is a highly subjective re-telling from the witness' point of view. The account is often charged with emotion-in the manner of oral history, evidence in court or inquiry.
Description As with the Spectrum of Difference this convention requires group members to place themselves physically on an imaginary line, this time linking two characters, indicating their preference through their choice of position. An open mind is indicated through placing oneself centrally, while the closer one stands to a chosen character the stronger one's support.
This way/that way
This is used as a means of pointing out the differences between various characters' interpretations of the same crucial event and thereby demonstrating that the points of view held may reflect the vested interests of the characters. The group act out each character's version of the event, paying attention to the detail of the differences and relating these details back to their understanding of the character.
Students arrange volunteers from the group, representing characters from the drama, so that the space between them symbolizes how close their relationships currently are. Who feels close to whom? Who feels distant and estranged? Students can also be asked to consider what change there might be in this space over time-will characters draw closer together or drift even farther apart? They can also try to put a name to the distance: love, respect, guilt, betrayal, anger, etc.
Spectrum of difference
This convention requires group members to place themselves physically on an imaginary line linking two alternatives, indicating their preference through their choice of position. This convention allows students to see the potential range of opinion within a group.
The group are asked to prepare a choral reading of a stimulus text using sound, song, repetition, emphasis and variety of voices as appropriate in order to highlight the essence of the material they are working on. Children's nursery rhymes; chants; rhythmic poetry; choruses; street games; rap
Moment of truth
This is a means of resolving a drama, with reflective discussion on the events used as a basis for predicting a crucial final scene. Volunteers spontaneously act out this key moment of tension involving the main protagonists, with a view to establishing for the rest of the group what would happen in reality, rather than trying to create the moment to be entertaining or theatrical. The scene is played with different volunteers until the group are satisfied that the moment is truthful.
Walls have ears
The group make the four walls of a room by standing in lines around a previously crafted still-image of the protagonist. They then collectively reflect back impressions of the key events that have befallen that character through snatches and repetition of dialogue, sound, etc.
Following some initial work on a character, and prior to exploring that character's response to the core situation of a drama, the group split into pairs and devise dialogues which involve the protagonist and another character at a key moment in the protagonist's life. This can be taken from events real or imagined, past or future. The pair decide the most likely context and the most suitable role for the chosen moment by analysing the character's current disposition. It may well be that the core event is already known to the group-in which case future-based dialogues should take on implications of the event itself.
This reveals publicly the private thoughts/reactions of participants-in-role at specific moments in the action so as to develop a reflective attitude towards the action and to contrast thinking-for-self with outward appearances or dialogue. Action may be frozen and participants 'tapped for thoughts', or thoughts may be prepared to go with the presentation of a Still-Image.
An individual (or members from the group) models volunteers into a shape using as many members of the group and/or objects as necessary, to reflect and encapsulate a particular aspect of the theme or issue under scrutiny. This activity usually produces images of a non-representational nature unlike Still-Image, which tends to favour literal representations
If I was you...
At a critical moment in a character's life when a decision must be made, a dilemma, problem or choice must be faced, the character walks between two rows of students who provide an external commentary on how others see the character's situation by offering advice or comment as the character passes. The advice may be spoken by the students as themselves or be offered in role by them as other characters; the advice may echo previous encounters within the drama and repeat lines of dialogue or words spoken earlier
Marking the moment
This is used as a reflective device to 'mark' a position or a moment in the drama where a feeling is aroused, or an understanding of the issue occurs. Poems, stories, pictures made in response to an important event-death, birthday, first kiss, being bullied, being let down, political event; commemorative photos, newspapers, memorials; civic sculptures; heroic verse, images, etc.
Voices in the head
The group use this as a means of reflecting on and deconstructing the complexity of a difficult choice facing a character in the drama. Others represent and speak aloud the possibly discordant thoughts in the character's mind at a particular moment, or act as the conflicting elements of a collective conscience which evidences an interior dialogue and compares and contrasts advice based on moral or political choices.
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