DRAMA IN HISTORICAL SOCIETIES
for 6th through 9th Grades
unit one: The Use of Pantomime by Prehistoric
unit two: Ritual Drama in Egypt and the
unit three: Greek Drama
unit four: Roman Comedy
unit five: Medieval Drama
a unit five lesson plan
Unintended Learning Outcomes
Drama has been with us since the earliest times. It has been used in
all its various forms--whether that be pantomime, storytelling, spectacle,
or typical theatrical, artistic expression--to create solidarity within
a society. This can be seen in the earliest tribes of humanity and their
use of pantomime to establish and share the thrill of the hunt, or the
danger of the storm, or the awe of childbirth. This can also be witnessed
in the violent spectacle of a fifteenth century Punch and Judy puppet show
and how it provided an emotional release for the children of that time
period. It can be explored from the oral tradition of campfire stories
and the way they brought the campers together, bonded them in fear.
Drama is a way to explore the values of a society. Each community’s
values--whether it be the local Presbyterian church, or the movie industry,
or even the classroom--can be defined by the their use of Drama: the church
has an established ritual of storytelling, musical performance, and key
phrases to which the audience responds vocally, and it is all to extol
the glory of the Divine; the movie industry has its spectacle of the Oscars,
and the intimate storytelling performances referred to as “pitching” that
occurs when someone is trying to sell a movie that pushes the value of
conspicuous consumption, wealth, and greed.
In addition there is the actual Art of the Theater itself and how that
is used by societies, both historical and contemporary.
The study of the dramatic arts is also key to the students development
of self-confidence in public speaking and performance situations and how
to work to create in a cooperative environment.
Through a mix of straight drama coaching that explores and develops
the art of performance in the physical and vocal sense, and explorations
of historical societies studied in the students’ Social Studies, the class
will create a modern example of each particular society’s use of theater
and share it with others.
This course is a drama course originally designed for sixth grade students
in a district on the North Shore of Chicago.
The majority of the fifth and sixth grade students attending here are
very well provided for--they want for nothing. At this age there is only
a slight stress on fashionable attire, pop music, BMX bikes, and good computers.
Divisions that occur are based less on race and class than on abilities--physical
and cognitive--sense of humor, and each student’s individual social intelligence.
Most of the students maintain very active schedules outside of school,
being involved in a variety of sports--hockey, figure-skating, tennis,
horseback riding. This extra-curriculum may negatively impact on their
The community consists largely of middle to upper-middle income families.
The majority own their homes rather than renting. There are some two-income
families, but primarily only the fathers work, commuting into the city
every morning and normally coming home after six p.m. Crime is low. A recent
concern which had taken up a great deal of editorial space over many weeks
in the local paper dealt with the allowance of dogs in the local parks.
Most families have two or more vehicles. Most children have their own televisions
and telephones. Businesses are mostly independently-run restaurants, professional
services, and grocery stores. Parents stress college to their children.
Many are supportive of the teachers and their roles and maintain a high-profile
with the teachers at the elementary and middle school level.
All students have had a course in drama at the fifth grade level. They
know how to be a proper audience member; they know how to sustain a believable
character through movement; they can demonstrate an understanding of the
stage areas; and they know how to communicate through facial expression,
body language, gestures, and movement.
This course is designed to take place over a nine-week period. Each
sixth grade class takes Drama for one quarter of the school year. The material
is delivered chronologically, mirroring their Social Studies but encapsulated
within the time allotted. The Social Studies is a survey of world history,
beginning with the prehistoric, and then going on to early Middle Eastern
Civilization, the foundation of Western ideas in ancient Israel and ancient
Greece, the societies of Medieval times. Each unit will be covered in six
to eight class periods.
The drama exercises are designed to be examples of the way some aspect
of drama was performed in each particular society studied. Each unit closes
with in-class performances wherein the students will demonstrate their
mastery in the performance technique studied and in the expression of the
value that drama extols within the historical community under question.
It is important that each unit begins with a high-impact experience
that reflects the culture under study and how it uses drama to reinforce
its own values. This would be followed by active learning experiences from
which the students can establish how to most effectively convey the dramatic
techniques and tools most oft used by each particular community.
importance is that the students understand this:
the theater artist wants to have on the audience
the choices made.
can be utilized in any performance situation:
from a sales
Robert Wilson production.
The lessons are to be product-based, not process-based. Each unit culminates
in a mini-performance in the classroom, and the course finishes with all
the classes performing vignettes from each culture for an outside audience.
1. Develop the use of the primary tools (body, mind and voice)
to convey an idea through acting, and through development of a drama or
2. Compare and contrast how the performing arts function in ceremony,
politics, communication, and entertainment both in contemporary and historical
1. Work cooperatively in group situations.
2. Critique artistic endeavors objectively and constructively.
I. The Use of Pantomime by Prehistoric Peoples
A. What was most important to prehistoric tribes--Survival
1) the things on which their survival depended
2) what the students have done to survive as a member of this class
B. The means by which they reinforced this value--drama through pantomime
1) value is extolled through what the individual did for the survival of the group
C. How you perform a pantomime
1) establish the sense of object interaction with one’s body
2) emphasis of emotion through gesture and facial expressions
3) create a simple story of conflict and resolution
1) personal story of conflict/resolution told through pantomime that establishes one’s importance to the group
II. Ritual Drama in Egypt and the Near East
A. What was of value to Egypt--death and rebirth
1) Rituals concerned with the seasonal patterns of birth, maturity, death, and rebirth
2) what specific patterns the students see in the culture of the school
B. The development of a ritual drama of the student’s passage through middle school
1) precisely defined formal movement
2) carefully designed group dialogue
C. Performance of ritual drama
1) parallels of birth, maturity, death, and rebirth
III. Greek Drama
A. What was of value to Athenian Greeks--ethics
1) what is considered right conduct in the school
B. Central character goes through a major crisis that results in understanding that there is a higher law than the self
C. Group development of a script extolling these virtues
1) improvisation work
2) establishment of main character; conflict; resolution
D. Character development
IV. Roman Comedy
A. What was of value to the Romans--escapism
1) Seneca’s use of violence and preoccupation with magic and the supernatural
2) The Coliseum’s spectacles
3) Plaatus’ and Terrence’s farcical plays
B. What forms of escapism prevalent in American culture
C. Understanding of Objective, Obstacle, Action
1) “Get the Banana”
D. Development of short comic scenes in small groups or individually
2) the double-entendre
3) mismatched characters