Key resources 3 - Using conventions (drama techniques) to structure and develop drama
Practical introduction to conventions approach
This 2 hour practical session is designed to give trainees a very basic and transparent demonstration of structuring using different types of dramatic conventions. Trainees should reflect on their experiences in the session – what did they learn, what did they notice about the differences between conventions used, how might they further develop the work with pupils?
My mother crossed her legs and then uncrossed them. She was fidgeting even more than I do when I'm upset. "I thought you said Ms Upton hadn't graded your test yet." Her voice sounded weird, like she wasn't opening her mouth all the way when she talked. "Isn't that what you said yesterday?"
"Well… um…. I can't remember," I said.
"Well, I can!" My father said in a very angry tone.
"Larissa, I just don't understand" my mother said. "How could you lie to us? You sat there and flat-out lied to us."
"I'm sorry, Mum. Really, I am. I guess I just panicked," I said. "The thing is that I've been too busy rehearsing for West Side Story.."
"If you can't keep up your grades," my mother said, "You shouldn't be in any sort of musical. That goes without saying."
"No! I'm not giving up the play," I argued. This was a total and complete nightmare.
I'd study maths all weekend, and I'd offer to take a makeup test next week. But I wasn't quitting the play. They couldn't make me.
They hadn't even asked for details about my stupid grade point average. They didn't even know who I was.
From: Wild Child by Francine Pascal (Sweet Valley Jnr. High Series Bantam www.sweetvalley.com)
A: Context Building Action
Look at the short extract from Francine Pascal's Wild Child and discuss the situation that Larissa finds herself in. Is this a 'typical' situation for a teen to find herself in? How do situations like this develop between parents and their teenaged children? What clues are there about Larissa's character – what kind of a person do you think she is? Again, is she 'typical'? In other words is she like many other people of her age?
Share the work and look closely at the different ideas and views of Larissa in the still-images. What is the 'gap' between the image of how her parents would like her to be and the other images? Again, how typical is this? Also, consider what else each group has added to the character of Larissa – how has her character been developed through the still images and the discussion of them.
B: Narrative Action
Each group is going to prepare and show a short scene (Critical events/Small-group playmaking) that shows Larissa under different kinds of pressure. In each scene your objective is to show the strategy that might be used to make Larissa give in to the pressure. The scene doesn't show us what happens, it concentrates on showing how the pressure is applied on Larissa.
- Group 1: Larissa's parents want her to go and visit her grandmother on her birthday but it's the same day as the first night of Larissa's play – what strategy might her parents use to try and make her go with them to see grandma?
- Group 2: Larissa's friends are fed up with the time she is spending on rehearsals instead of hanging out with them. What strategy might the friends use to try and make Larissa give up the play and spend more time with them?
- Group 3: Because of something that happens in class or because of her poor grades Larissa's maths teacher decides to give her a detention but this will mean that Larissa will miss the auditions or an important rehearsal. What strategy might the maths teacher use to try and make sure that Larissa does her detention whatever the consequences might be for Larissa in the play?
- Group 4: One of the older students wants the main part in the play for herself. She knows that Larissa will also audition for it. What strategy might the older student and her friends use to try and make Larissa go for a smaller part in the play?
Each group now takes responsibility for thinking about what tactics Larissa might use in each of the situations in order to tackle the pressure and the strategy used on her. At what point in the scene should Larissa try and take some control over what's happening?
Each group will be responsible for watching another group's scene again (1-watches-2-watches-3-watches-4-watches-1) but this time they call STOP! at the appropriate moment and one member of the group replaces Larissa and plays the rest of the scene out trying to show the best way for Larissa to handle the situation (Forum Theatre).
Discuss what these different scenes, strategies and tactics tell us about her situation.
C: Poetic Action
Each group is now going to make another still-image but this time with a difference. The objective is to try and show physically and visually all of the different pressures Larissa is under at this moment in one image. The image will have Larissa as the central character surrounded by mother, father, teacher, friend, and older student. These other characters may be pulling Larissa in different directions, or standing above/below her, or holding her down/up, or be like puppeteers controlling her 'strings'. (NB This is a more poetic use of still image and it should look more stylised and symbolic than the life-like or photographic images you made earlier).
Imagine that Larissa has a nightmare in which all the other characters appear to torment her with their voices and physical appearance. In small groups act out Larissa's nightmare. Remember that in nightmares people can appear to be more strange, frightening or exaggerated than in life
D: Reflective Action
Imagine that Larissa goes for a walk on her own to try and sort herself out. As she walks she hears different voices – some are the voices of the other characters and what they have said to her, some are the voices of help which offer her advice on what to do or who try to raise her self-esteem and courage. Think about these different voices and choose one for yourself – maybe a character, maybe a voice of help. When you're ready stand in a circle with the rest of the class and let one person be Larissa. She walks around the circle listening to each of the voices as she goes.
Creative Extension – Making Connections with Romeo and Juliet Act 3 Sc. 5
There are echoes of the scene between Larissa and her parents and this scene from Romeo and Juliet in which Lady Capulet and then Capulet insist that Juliet will marry Paris. Juliet is as defiant as Larissa and perhaps feels as misunderstood by her parents. Like Larissa's parents, the Capulets have a clear and quite different sense of what their daughter needs!
Ask trainees how they might work with a class on exploring the differences and similarities between the situations, the texts, the language used.
Copy the scene from "Lady Capulet Well. Well, thou hast a careful father, child (107) to Capulet …" Trust to "bethink you; I'll not be foresworn"
- In four groups, read the extracts and discuss any difficulties in comprehension and the links with the Larissa work. Allocate one of the four characters to each of the groups according to ability bearing in mind that the Capulet and Juliet groups will be more challenged than the Lady C and Nurse groups.
- Each character group chooses a spokesperson who will read the character's lines, the rest of the group will pick out and then echo words in the speech that have a special importance for the character. In Lady Capulet's first speech, for instance, the group might echo "Marry, gallant, young, noble, a joyful bride"
- Each character group tries to reduce their speeches to one word of the original text only, as a group they must also find a gesture to go with the word – perform the one word speeches and gestures. The groups could also reduce each speech to one 'modern' word and 'modern' gesture.
- In each group match two students for each character. One will speak the words the other will give an immediate translation into 'modern' English. Give pairs a chance to look at their speeches and then read around the group.
Divide the class into groups of four and ask group to number themselves 1-4. Play a story game in which number 1 begins to tell the narrative of the scene until teacher calls Change! At which point number two must pick up the narrative and continue and so on. The narrative 'voice' is changed as the game proceeds, thus:
As Juliet telling her girl friends
As Capulet telling Father Lawrence
As Nurse gossiping to other servants
As Lady Capulet seeking sympathy from her friends
The audience can interrupt and comment or question the narrator.
Repeat the poetic image exercise from Larissa described in C7 but this time to physically demonstrate the relationships between the four characters in this scene from Romeo and Juliet. How similar/different are they from the original Larissa images?