Text and intention

Course: Stage 6 preliminary drama
Course content: Theatrical traditions and performance styles
Duration: 9 weeks

Overview

This unit explores possible content and a suggested sequence to assist with teaching theatrical traditions and performance styles in Year 11. It is designed as a starting point for teachers to differentiate teaching and learning strategies in response to the specific learning needs of their preliminary drama students.

This unit aims to enable students to understand the cultural and historical significance of various theatre practitioners in influencing contemporary theatre and creating diverse dramatic meaning through the interpretation of script. While this unit uses excerpts from ‘Love and Information’ by Caryl Churchill, it could be adapted for use with one or more other published plays. It is recommended that teachers select plays with none of the traditional ‘given circumstances’ of a conventional script.

Students will:

  • explore three contrasting practitioner approaches to interpreting script and making theatre.
  • experiment with these approaches by workshopping and staging scenes and excerpts from ‘Love and Information’ by Caryl Churchill.
  • work collaboratively to further research a practitioner/style and develop a presentation/workshop for their peers.
  • engage in collaborative dramaturgy activities to shape, rehearse and perform extracts from ‘Love and Information’ with a clear intention.
  • evaluate classmates’ work through the process of peer feedback.

Key questions

As they progress through this unit of work, students will ask and answer the questions below.

  1. What is directorial intention?
  2. How can intention change/shape dramatic meaning?
  3. How can the elements of drama and production inspire a director’s vision?
  4. Why are there so many different approaches to acting/directing?
  5. What makes a practitioner significant?

Differentiation

  • Balanced groups can be formed to ensure student achievement through peer and teacher support/extension.
  • Teachers may suggest or choose a practitioner/style to be researched or provide sources and scaffolds.
  • Teachers may choose to present a more in-depth introduction to two practitioners, rather than moving quickly through three in the unit.
  • Teachers could choose an alternative play to suit the specific needs of their cohort.
  • Students may benefit from accessing exemplar performances and workshops from previous cohorts.

Resources

This unit requires the following resources:

  • class set of ‘Love and Information’ by Caryl Churchill
  • teacher access to ‘The Viewpoints Book’ by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau
  • student logbooks
  • class or digital copies of practitioner approach table
  • student access to the peer assessment google form.

Assessment

  • Formative assessment and feedback collected throughout the group devising and workshop development process, can be recorded and reflected upon in students’ logbooks.
  • The week 9 assessment activities could be developed into a summative assessment task.
  • Peer assessment suggestions are provided in the following unit.

Units of work

Learning intention

P1.8, P2.6, P3.2

Students will identify typical script conventions. They will recognise, analyse and discuss how Caryl Churchill has rejected and subverted these conventions in her play ‘Love and Information’.

Learning activities

Teacher pre-tests existing knowledge through facilitated class discussion. What conventions do we expect to see in a play script? What makes it different from a novel, poem or article?

Students should identify:

  • setting
  • character list
  • character name to indicate who speaks dialogue
  • exits and entrances
  • stage directions to indicate blocking and subtext
  • lighting/sound cues
  • prop/costume details
  • organised into scenes and acts.

In pairs, students are given 5 minutes to explore the script of ‘Love and Information’ by Caryl Churchill and record what they notice about the script.

Students share their responses with the class. What do you notice about how this play script breaks our expectations about conventions?

Students may identify:

  • no setting
  • no indication of who characters are or how many there are
  • no character name to indicate who speaks dialogue
  • little indication of exits or entrances
  • very few stage directions to indicate blocking and subtext
  • very few prop/costume, lighting/sound details
  • seemingly unrelated series of scenes
  • flexible order of scenes
  • optional scenes.

Teacher reads or displays the following review of ‘Love and Information’.

‘Churchill's play is designed to change with the times. It's a "Build A Bear" script: a pile of component parts that each staging must construct into a play anew. While its seven sections are set, the scenes within them can be shuffled into any order, played by any number of people and interpreted any way. They're full of echoes and overlaps, but it's up to each director (and each of us) to find meaning for ourselves – if, indeed, it can mean anything at all.’

Whatsonstage.com

How does the ‘Love and Information’ script make you feel as an actor/director? Students share their responses with the class.

Responses may include:

  • nervous
  • excited
  • confused
  • inspired
  • scared
  • free
  • curious
  • annoyed.

Teacher asks students to choose to approach the script in a state of ‘productive discomfort’ as they begin exploring a scene.

Students are organised into groups of various sizes (1, 2, 3, 5, 10, etc) and rehearse a moved reading of the scene ‘Stone’. They are allowed to use one prop only. Students should aim to make clear dramatic meaning of this open text.

Students perform moved reading of ‘Stone’ in groups of varying sizes. Class discussion about how directorial intention/interpretation can change Churchill’s flexible text. How were the elements of drama manipulated in different ways? Did the style change?

Class reading of the scene ‘Wedding Video’. Students choose groups to stage a moved reading in a style of their choosing. They should be encouraged to adopt the characteristics of a style they already know well. All rehearse and two or three groups who used different styles are selected to perform for the class. Class discussion about which styles seem most appropriate for this scene and why.

Students view online images and clips from past productions of ‘Love and Information’. For example, Sydney Theatre Company, The Royal Court Theatre, Frank Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre. Teacher-led discussion about the directorial and design freedom created by Churchill’s lack of traditional script conventions.

Teacher unpacks the requirements of the assessment activities/task (detailed in week 9). The teacher models the ‘presentation – workshop ­– performance’ structure of the task throughout the practical exploration of practitioners over the following 3 weeks.

Learning intention

P1.3, P2.4, P3.1, P3.2

Students will identify context, intention and the methods used by Konstantin Stanislavski in his approach to interpreting script. They will explore this approach through practical workshops and apply their learning when staging scenes from ‘Love and Information’.

Learning activities

Teacher introduces and explains practitioner approach table to be used by students to record and reflect on all teacher-led practical workshop experiences during week 2 – 4.

Research and experience Realism/Stanislavski Total theatre/Artaud Viewpoints/Bogart

Key quote




Evocative description of a workshop or moment on stage




Insert an image of workshop or performance




Context




Philosophy




Intention




Actor training




Audience response




Personal reflection




Presentation

Teacher reads or displays the following excerpt from ‘An Actor Prepares’ as stimulus for class discussion and predictions about Stanislavski’s theatrical intention and method. This is also an opportunity to assess students’ prior knowledge of practitioner.

‘If you speak any lines, or do anything, mechanically, without fully realising who you are, where you came from, why, what you want, where you are going, and what you will do when you get there, you will be acting without imagination.’

Konstantin Stanislavski, ‘An Actor Prepares’.

Teacher introduces theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski and Realism (context, theatrical intention and methods). This could be done through teacher explanation, a simple key terms/approaches handout or by viewing an online video introduction such as BBC Bitesize – Naturalism and Stanislavski, How Stanislavski Reinvented the Craft of Acting (00:08:57) or The Arts Unit resource Characterisation – internal influences (00:13:02).

Teacher leads students in a series of practical workshops, exploring Stanislavski’s approach to working with actors.

Circles of concentration

Students lie on the floor in neutral position and are guided by the teacher to shift their attention between the three circles of concentration outlined below.

  • Public solitude – the actor/student’s own body and breath
  • The ensemble – all the actors/ students in the space
  • Beyond – the world outside the classroom/performance space.
Motivations and obstacles

Two students improvise a scene for the class. One actor’s motivation is to get away and the other actor wants to keep them there.

Imagination and the ‘magic if’

Students use imagination to walk through the space as if:

  • wading through water
  • in the dark
  • through hot sand
  • on ice
  • with a dog on a lead
  • late for an exam
  • on sunshine.
Subtext

Choose a scenario that students can relate to such as a disagreement with a friend. Students work in pairs to improvise this short scene. Repeat the scene this time speaking their inner thoughts/subtext aloud.

Performance

Students work in pairs, using Stanislavski’s techniques and the conventions of realism to perform a scene from ‘Love and Information’ in the realist style, For example, ‘Mother’, ‘Fate’ or ‘Flashback’. They are encouraged to:

  • ask the fundamental questions – Who am I? Where am I? When is it? What do I want? Why do I want it? What obstacles stand in my way? How will I get what I want?
  • establish the given circumstances and ‘super-objective’
  • annotate the units and objectives
  • play the through-line and subtext.

Extension – students must establish conflicting objectives for the characters in the scene.

Students perform their interpretation of the scene.

Teacher facilitates class discussion about how Stanislavski’s approach to script analysis is manifested in performance. Discussion may include the integrity of script as opposed to an imposed directorial vision.

Watch National Theatre video, Five Truths: Constantin Stanislavski (00:07:25). Students asked to identify Stanislavski’s intentions and methods realised/evident in this performance of Ophelia’s monologue.

Students may also like to watch and explore some of the Stanislavski exercises in The Arts Unit resources Konstantin Stanislavski – fundamental questions (00:13:49) or Konstantin Stanislavski’s system of acting to create believable characters (00:15:08).

Learning intention

P1.3, P2.4, P3.1, P3.2

Students will identify context, philosophy, intention and the practices employed by Antonin Artaud in his quest to create ‘total theatre’. They will explore this approach through practical workshops and apply their learning when staging scenes from ‘Love and Information’.

Learning activities

Presentation

Teacher reads or displays following excerpt from ‘The Theatre and Its Double’ as stimulus for class discussion and predictions about Artaud’s theatrical intention and practice. This is also an opportunity to assess students’ prior knowledge of practitioner.

‘We abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single site, without partition or barrier of any kind, which will become the theatre of the action. A direct communication will be re-established between the spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and the spectator, from the fact that the spectator, placed in the middle of the action, is engulfed and physically affected by it.’

Antonin Artaud, ‘The Theatre and Its Double’.

Teacher introduces theatre practitioner, Antonin Artaud and ‘total theatre’ (context, philosophy, theatrical intention and practices). This could be done through teacher explanation, a simple key terms/approaches handout or by viewing an online video introduction such as The Arts Unit ‘Antonin Artaud background and techniques’ (00:17:49).

Students should understand that Artaud wanted to create a ‘total theatre’ experience that overcame cultural/language barriers. He aimed to engage the audience intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. He did this by using visual poetry, assaulting the senses and involving the audience in a surreal, dreamlike world.

Students may also explore Artaud’s approach through a series of questions which informed his practice.

What text?
  • Written and spoken texts were lesser concerns.
  • The playwright’s script was not important, instead the director became the author/creator of the work.
  • ‘Spoken poetry’, replaced written dialogue.
  • Scripts were replaced by devising and improvisation around an idea.
What space?
  • Purpose-built theatres were rejected in favour of site-specific/non-theatre spaces.
  • The actor-audience relationship was intimate and the audience was fully immersed in the spectacle.
  • The audience was often placed at the centre of the performance with the actors performing around them.
What acting?
  • Performers expressed extreme emotion through facial expression, movement, non-verbal sounds and unfinished sentences.
  • Actors played less defined roles, rather than characters.
  • Performance included gesture, dance and chanting.
  • Ritualistic movement and visual poetry replaced written dialogue.
What design?
  • Sets were rejected but exaggerated puppets, costumes and masks were used.
  • Intense lighting and piercing sound assaulted the audience’s senses.
  • These elements of production were used to create a spectacle and immerse the audience in a surreal world.

Watch National Theatre video, Five Truths: Antonin Artaud (00:09:08). Students asked to identify how Artaud’s intentions and practices are realised/evident in this performance of Ophelia’s monologue. Compare to Stanislavski discussion from earlier lesson. How is the actor-audience relationship changed by these two different practitioner approaches?

Workshop

Teacher leads students in a series of practical workshops, exploring Artaud’s theatrical intention.

Half the class observe, as the others perform. Performers work individually but simultaneously in a large space. They have 10 seconds to perform a symbolic death by broken heart. Students should use the whole 10 seconds but cannot end up on the floor. Instead, they should use gesture, twist, and contort their bodies and faces to represent their death. The observers then have their turn and they must be more extreme than the most exaggerated symbolic death they witnessed. This switching and surpassing can continue until it is impossible to increase the intensity any more.

In small groups, students share their most surreal (but appropriate) dream. They then choose one or two of the most vivid images and create a montage performance of these moments. These images could then be repeated or slowed down to create a symbolic/ritualised performance. Students are reminded to incorporate all they have learned about Artaud’s theatrical approach, including gestural and non-verbal language. Sound patterns could replace traditional speech and the montage can be anti-character.

Teachers may also like to use The Arts Unit ‘Antonin Artaud Practical Exercises’(00:13:56) to assist with this exploration of Artaud’s approach.

Performance

Students explore the site-specific locations in the school that could serve as ‘non-theatre’ theatre spaces. For example, the quadrangle or stairwell. They discuss ways they could immerse an audience in a performance in this space. Which of the senses could be assaulted? How?

Students watch and listen to a recording of Hugo Ball’s surreal, gibberish poem ‘Karawane’ performed in the Cabaret Voltaire (00:50).

Using the ‘Love and Information’ random and optional scene, ‘DNA’, students work in groups of 5 – 6 to imagine and rehearse a performance of the scene in a site-specific place of their choosing. The performance must explore Artaud’s ‘What?’ questions while immersing the audience in an emotional and instinctive ‘total theatre’ experience.

Students rehearse and perform ‘DNA’ in their chosen ‘non-theatre’ space.

Class discussion and logbook evaluation of the performance that included the most effective use of the conventions of ‘total theatre’ to immerse and impact the audience.

Learning intention

P1.3, P2.4, P3.1, P3.2

Students will identify context, philosophy, intention and the systems used in Bogart’s physical approach to translating the script to the stage. They will explore this approach through practical workshops and apply their learning when staging scenes from ‘Love and Information’.

Learning activities

Presentation

Teacher reads or displays following excerpt from ‘The Viewpoint Book’ as stimulus for class discussion and predictions about Bogart’s theatrical intention and approach. This is also an opportunity to assess students’ prior knowledge of practitioner.

‘Viewpoints helps us trust in letting something occur onstage, rather than making it occur. The source for action and invention comes to us from others and from the physical world around us.’ 

Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, ‘The Viewpoints Book’.

Teacher introduces theatre practitioner, Anne Bogart and Viewpoints (context, philosophy, theatrical intention and approaches). This could be done through teacher explanation, a simple key terms/approaches handout or by viewing an online video introduction such as the interview Women in Theatre – Anne Bogart (00:11:21 – 00:27:09).

Before beginning exploration of the Viewpoints, students may view National Theatre Creating Chorus: Pace Exercise (00:06:19) and discuss challenges and potential of physical approaches to staging theatre.

Workshop

Teacher leads students in a series of physical workshops, exploring the Viewpoints approach to creating dramatic meaning. Teachers should conduct physical warm-up activities before beginning this work.

Accompanied by music, students establish a ‘grid’ in the space and explore some of the individual Viewpoints: tempo, duration, order, quality, angle, spatial relationships and topography. An example from ‘The Viewpoints Book’ can be found below.

Exercise 3 – Tempo on a grid

‘The group runs in a medium jog. On a hand clap, they turn to their right and run in a circle. They are now traveling through space instead of running in place. Maintain a constant distance between bodies. With soft focus, be aware of the entire group, the entire circle, become aware that the circle is a Topography. With the next hand clap, the group switches out of the circle to work on a new Topography – a grid. Imagine a series of straight lines, crisscrossing each other at ninety-degree angles on the ground, like a giant piece of graph paper on the floor. The angles correspond to the walls of the room, eliminating all curves and diagonals. With this next hand clap, the group now moves anywhere along the lines of this imagined grid on the floor. They do not need to stay together in a group; individuals are free to explore the grid in any direction. Keep your focus on Tempo – how fast you are going. Continuing to work on the grid and in soft focus, begin to add switches of tempo at your own will. Individuals are now working on their own, simply moving along the grid in various patterns and at various tempos. Notice if there are tempos you stay away from or resist – then add them! Include hyper-speed and the slowest you can go and still call it movement. Notice when you get bored. What do you have to do to surprise yourself? As you continue working on the grid with switches of tempo, it is useful to add awareness of another Viewpoint: Duration.’

Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, ‘The Viewpoints Book’.

Performance

Students work in groups of 2 – 3. Each group applies a different Viewpoint (shape, spatial relationship, tempo, architecture, gesture, duration or repetition) to the staging of the scene, ‘Fan’ from ‘Love and Information’.15 minutes to rehearse and then perform. Class discussion about directorial potential and dramatic meaning.

Using the scene, ‘Climate Change’, students are given one Architecture Viewpoint to explore (solid mass, texture, colour, sound, light - use mobile phones or torches for this).

Teacher selects one or more groups to perform and audience discusses dramatic meaning and potential of this approach to staging script.

Learning intention

P2.6, P3.3

Students will work collaboratively to explore, choose and research a theatrical practitioner/approach and explore scenes from ‘Love and Information’, generating ideas about how these might be shaped into an engaging performance.

Learning activities

Teacher reintroduces the task and makes link to the ‘presentation – workshop ­– performance’ structure modelled by the teacher over previous three weeks.

Teacher facilitates group formation process to ensure balanced groups and support learning of all students. Where possible, students are encouraged to work with at least one person they have not worked with on a previous task.

Once in groups, students conduct wide reading and research into a variety of significant theatre practitioners/movements. Suggested theatre practitioners/movements may include: Expressionism, Physical Theatre, Ariane Mnouchkine, Tadashi Suzuki, Theatre of the Absurd, Bertolt Brecht, Joan Littlewood, Melodrama, Rudolf Von Laban, Immersive Theatre, Stella Adler, Peter Brook, Philippe Genty, Dario Fo, Utah Hagen, Lindy Davies, Magical Realism, Sanford Meisner, Commedia dell’Arte. Students record all research notes and sources in logbooks.

Teachers may wish to spark student interest by showing YouTube clips of the theatre and training methods created by some of these practitioners. For example:

Teacher approves appropriate choice and groups begin to generate presentation ideas and explore workshop activities that will best communicate the philosophies, intention and approaches of their chosen practitioner/movement.

Students collaboratively explore scenes from ‘Love and Information’, generating ideas about which excerpts could be used for a performance in their chosen style. All ideas and page refences should be recorded in logbooks.

Learning intention

P1.4, P1.6, P3.2, P3.3

Students will select and structure collected material for the scripted performance, presentation and workshop.

Learning activities

Teacher facilitates class discussion about the importance of a clear theatrical intention as students begin to select and structure excerpts from ‘Love and Information’ to create a new scene/s in their chosen practitioner style.

Rather than imposing a style onto the script, students are encouraged to select excerpts that clearly communicate their intended audience response. All dialogue must come from ‘Love and Information’ but any number of excerpts can be reconstructed in any way.

Students are also encouraged to structure their scene to create a coherent dramatic statement, appropriate to the style or form chosen.

Once the structure is finalised, groups cast and begin blocking scene from ‘Love and Information’, ensuring that all directorial and production choices reflect the chosen approach/style.

Students continue to gather, select and structure research for their presentation. They make choices about activities for the practical workshop in consultation with teacher. They use technology to enhance clarity and audience engagement in the presentation.

Learning intention

P1.4, P1.6, P2.4, P3.1

Students will establish a clear theatrical intention by rehearsing and refining their performances, presentations and practical workshops in response to formative feedback from teacher and peers.

Learning activities

Students continue rehearsing chosen scene/s from ‘Love and Information’, ensuring that all directorial and production choices reflect the chosen approach/style.

Teacher models and encourages students to express a concise theatrical intention for their scene.

Students are encouraged to utilise lighting/sound, props, performance space, set and costume where appropriate to enhance their theatrical intention.

Teacher encourages students to rehearse workshop exercises with small groups of peers. Peers to offer suggestions and feedback to ensure each group has appropriate and engaging activities planned.

Students rehearse and time chosen scene from Love and Information, ensuring that all directorial and production choices reflect the chosen approach/style.

Students to practice and time their workshop activities and presentation.

Learning intention

P1.4, P1.6, P2.4, P3.1, P3.2, P3.3

Students will share their final presentations, workshops and performance with the class and complete peer assessment.

Assessment activities

In groups of 4 – 6, students research the context, philosophy, intention and approach of a significant theatre practitioner or theatrical movement. They use this research to create a presentation, workshop and scripted performance which demonstrate this approach. Students should make sure that every member of the group takes an equal role in each component of the task.

Presentation

Students share their knowledge and understanding of their chosen approach in a 3-5 minute presentation to the class. The presentation may take any form but must be designed to engage the peer audience and should include:

  • a brief outline of the approach
  • a summary of the social/cultural/political/historical context it grew from
  • an outline of the intention/philosophy
  • an overview of significant conventions/practices
  • a description of the type of theatre created through this approach.

Workshop

Students lead the whole class in a 3-5 minute practical workshop. Workshop participants should experience some of the key actor training activities/exercises of the chosen approach.

Performance

Students stage a scene/s (6-8 minutes) from the play ‘Love and Information’ by Caryl Churchill in their chosen theatrical style/approach. They should adopt as many of the conventions as possible, including actor-audience relationship, design, acting and dramatic structure.

Peer assessment and reflection

Following the presentations, workshops and performances, students complete a peer assessment and reflection. They may do this in their logbook or teachers can download a copy of the peer assessment google form to set up and collect responses from students.

Text and intention unit download

References

Drama Stage 6 Syllabus © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, [2009]. Date accessed 15/02/2021.

Artaud, A. (1958). The Theatre and Its Double. Translated by Richards, M., New York, Grove Press.

Bogart, B and Landau, T. (2005). The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition, New York, Theatre Communications Group.

Churchill, C. (2012). Love and Information, London, Nick Hern Books.

Stanislavski, C. (1936). An Actor Prepares. Translated by Hapgood, E. (1989), Milton Park, Routledge.

Review – Love and Information (Sheffield Crucible) whatsonstage.com date accessed 26/2/2021.

BBC Bitesize – Naturalism and Stanislavski date accessed 21/2/2021.

How Stanislavski Reinvented the Craft of Acting (00:08:57) date accessed 21/2/2021.

Characterisation – internal influences (00:13:02) date accessed 21/2/2021.

Five Truths: Constantin Stanislavski (00:07:25) date accessed 21/2/2021.

Konstantin Stanislavski – fundamental questions (00:13:49) date accessed 25/2/2021,

Konstantin Stanislavski’s system of acting to create believable characters (00:15:08) date accessed 25/2/2021.

‘Karawane’ performed in the Cabaret Voltaire (00:50) date accessed 25/2/2021.

The Arts Unit ‘Antonin Artaud Background and Techniques’ (00:17:49) date accessed 20/2/2021.

The Arts Unit ‘Antonin Artaud Practical Exercises’ (00:13:56) date accessed 20/2/2021.

Five Truths: Antonin Artaud (00:09:08) date accessed 21/2/2021.

Creating Chorus: Pace Exercise (00:06:19) date accessed 21/2/2021.

Women in Theatre – Anne Bogart (00:11:21 – 00:27:09) date accessed 20/2/2021.

Philippe Genty – Voyageurs Immobiles (00:08:08) date accessed 20/2/2021.

The World of Commedia dell'Arte (00:09:21) date accessed 20/2/2021.

Five Truths: Bertolt Brecht (00:09:07) date accessed 20/2/2021.

History of Movement Direction (00:06:14) date accessed 20/2/2021.

Girl Asleep Trailer – the magical realism of being a teenager (00:03:29) date accessed 20/2/2021.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Official Trailer (00:01:17) date accessed 20/2/2021.

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