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Help starting a drama class.

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by gafftaper, Apr 22, 2009.

  1. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Copied over from the new member forum...
    Are you teaching high school or middle school? Oh so many things to say. I'll give you the rough outline now and we can discuss details later. I taught High School Drama for 5 years. My introductory class followed the following outline...

    -Introductory games, get to know each other, learn names

    -Basic theater vocabulary lesson

    -Group games and circle games stressing comfort working together and doing things as a group. (no one is put up on stage in groups less than half the class the first week). We are trying to build confidence and comfort.

    -First small group work was acting out a nursery rhyme

    -Transition into a unit with standard fairy tales. Students act out traditional fairy tales and modern reinterpretations. We did this exercise several times and I put different restrictions and twists on them each time.

    -Conclusion with "where the wild things are" Split class into 3 groups. One group fully acts out the whole story. One group acts it out with no sounds. One group goes behind the stage curtain and tries to perform the story with sounds only, no words or visible action.

    -Animal Character project begins... this will take up a LARGE portion of the quarter. I assign an animal to students. Students research the "personality" of that animal. They turn the animal into a Human with the animal's personality traits. We start with a scene where students are fully the animal but they can talk. Then we do a scene where students are cartoon half human/half animals. Next the animal becomes a human. I do a "job interview" this is the only time in my class a student is required to be alone on stage. In the interview their animal turned human sits on stage and answers questions about their life. What they reveal will be backstory for the class but not known to any other characters in future scenes. Every character must have some sort of hidden secret that drives them... hopefully related to the animal. Then we have a "party" all characters are invited to attend a party. I'm the host. For 20 minutes or so students improv as a group what their animal/human would do at a party. It's a lot of fun and we find out which characters may be interesting in scenes together. Finally we begin a long series of improved scenes sometimes in large groups, sometimes in groups of 2 or 3. Sometimes I choose the group, sometimes they choose the group. When we begin, these scenes have specific restrictions placed on them by me (i.e. in this scene your group of characters must work together to overcome a common obstacle... draw from the hat... you are trapped in an elevator), In these scenes the animal nature and secret is the driving force for the character. Over time students develop story lines about their character and I allow them to choose where they stories go. At the end of the project, every character will die on stage. If the student "gets it" they death of the character will some how be ironicly connected to the way the original animal lives.

    -From here we start working with scripts. We start with short generic scenes about nothing. All students must memorize the same set of words about nothing and create meaning by their actions.

    -Finally they are assigned a short scene from a play and a small group to act it out. They have a couple weeks to create a ground plan, block it, memorize lines, plan props and costumes, all on their own in class. I float from group to group helping keep them on track. At the conclusion of the class they perform their scenes.

    Glad to share more details and I'll try to dig up some copies of paperwork I have... it's been 6 years so finding them may be tricky.

    Along the way we play lots of improv games chosen to make specific points. I love this book. Pick one up today for about $5 including shipping! It's got lots of lists of situations. You assign students to a group. Have them choose a number between one and a hundred check the list and they find out that they are on a farm. Then you ask them to choose another number and they find out that they are preparing for the prom. They then have to work out a scene that puts these situations together. A great tool for helping assign characters to awkward situations to do prepared improvs from. Also fun with more advanced students to do instant improv games too.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 30, 2014
  2. mah1801

    mah1801 Member

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    Thanks for all of your help. I ordered the book you suggested. I am teaching drama at a high school level (or will be). I hope to really focus on preparing for this class and our fall musical over the summertime.
     
  3. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    My basic philosophy was to break down the basic components of acting into areas then you rehearsed improv scenes to explore what that means without pushing them to memorize lines right away. I come from a strong character driven theater tradition so I focused heavily on what makes a good character and how to develop a good character in that animal/human unit. Giving them all the tools to take a script and create a character that has a life and is believable. I believe really strongly in making an intro class a lot of fun. Once you have them hooked you can run them through the ringer of a musical. Get them loving theater first before you start making them memorize lines. I'm really busy right now working on several things but I would be happy to keep up the dialog with you as you prepare. I'm also happy to share a bunch of materials with you when I have the chance to dig 6 years deep in the basement for them. Keep in touch either in this thread or through private messaging and I will respond.
     
  4. misterm

    misterm Active Member

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    I teach several different drama classes, so I may have a different take on it than Gaff (though I definitely saved his response so I can use some of his ideas later!!!). My training was more history, literature, and analysis than character driven acting. So I teach a lot of that. I begin with the most basic form of acting/communication, which was cave men. I flip out the lights, put a lamp in the middle of the room and re-enact a caveman telling his huntung story through grunts and actions. The students have to work in small groups to tell a story in the same charade style communication. Then we discuss the art of story telling and we do the modern twist re-enactments of fairy tales as well!! Funny how popular that project is, Gaff!
    As the class continues, I teach vocab and acting on and off while I move through very basic theatre history. I save the in-depth stuff for my Theatre II class where we read a lot of scripts and do analysis. We do a lot of projects of memorization and performance of different kinds, like a radio sketch, a reader's theatre, etc... One of my biggest projects is having the students write and perform a three episode TV show. I give them a week to write, a week to rehearse, then performance. I discuss what should be next in the story arc, and repeat process. Repeat again. Good way to teach basic script writing.
     
  5. bdkdesigns

    bdkdesigns Active Member Fight Leukemia

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    I received this book a few months ago and I wasn't a big fan of it at the college level....however I thought it would be great for the beginners in the middle/high school range who are just starting out. I'm sure you will have to talk about stagecraft or get people into your classes who are more interested in that aspect of theatre. I remember when I was in high school, they lumped me into the same class as everyone else but there was a group of us who went off on our own essentially (or instructor was tech illiterate). We were handed a book and told to go try things out. She would lay out a schedule for us and make sure someone was present during certain projects: for instance an instructor from carpentry would come over when we went into our "scene shop".

    Anyways, here's the book: Focal Press: Stagecraft Fundamentals - Book
     
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  6. mah1801

    mah1801 Member

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    Thanks for all of your great suggestions. As mentioned, I also plan on doing some basic drama vocabulary lessons early on. Does it drive anyone else crazy when kids call it "play practice" instead of rehearsal? Are there any good resources for drama vocabulary? I know some things I want to put on the list, but any suggestions would be good. Thanks.
     
  7. misterm

    misterm Active Member

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    A few basics:
    -Stage directions
    -Acting vocabulary (blocking terms mostly!)
    -Different types of theatre spaces (proscenium, arena, thrust, black box, flexible staging, etc...)
    -Proper terminology for stage (legs, wings, proscenium arch, etc...)
    -Some basic history terms and people (Thespis, Commedia Dell'Arte, Moliere, etc...)
    -Basic Design concepts (who does what in a production team/company)

    I cover all this and a bit more just in my Drama I class. Not to mention scriptwriting concepts. I introduce a lot more vocabulary and concepts (probably two to three times as much) in Drama II. Remember, I teach these all year long though. So if time is an issue, keep it the very basic. I could get at least a hundred terms and concepts that are extremely basic out of that small list there. Theatre terms are endless and varied from place to place.
     
  8. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Here's a list to get you started from my college intro to tech class...
    Types of stages: Proscenium, Thrust, Theater in the round/Arena, Black Box.

    Parts of a stage: Proscenium Arch, Apron, Back Stage, Crossover, Wings, Deck, Rake, Floor Pocket, Trap Room… if you have one, Orchestra Pit, Control booth, Stage Manager's Desk/Podium, House, Green Room

    Soft Goods Grand Drape, Borders, Legs, Mid Traveler, Drop, Cyc, Scrim

    Overhead Fly Space Loading Gallery Grid Lock Rail Rigging Stage Weights Batten Cat Walks

    Stage Directionsand House Directions


    People
    Author, Director, Technical Director, Designers, Master Electrician, Master Carpenter, House Manager, Stage Manager, A.S.M., Prompt Book, Cue, Blocking, Load In, Paper Tech, Dry Tech, Wet Tech, Cue to Cue, Dress Rehearsal, Call time



    For teaching basic tech stuff I'm a big fan of the book "Technical Theater for Non-technical people"
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 30, 2014
  9. Dreadpoet

    Dreadpoet Active Member

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    I'm moving to Stagecraft Fundamentals by Focus Press and I am at college level. I think this is the book for beginning students. It has good, up-to-date visual aids, keeps it simple, while not killing on price...isn't that all you really need when teaching stagecraft for beginners. I was using Gillette but dang that was expensive and I was shaking my head with him often.

    As for what to teach....why are we skimping over SAFTY. Are we really sitting in circles singing Kum Ba Yah before we talk stagecraft safty? Safty first, then brief facilities...followed by tool definition(and what 1-2 applications they may be used for), simple structures, then move into lighting. Stagecraft needs to move forward, then back on topics so you can get their hands dirty while they are learning.

    As for basic drama, skip the book and download visual aids, do safty first then get them reading scenes, then get their hands dirty, keep them moving between Acting, History, and Stagecraft. This is how our basic theatre appreciation course works.
     

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