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MIKE MORAN
WRITING * PERFORMING * DRAWING * TEACHING

  


DRAMA IN HISTORICAL SOCIETIES
for 6th through 9th Grades


CONTENTS
 

unit one: The Use of Pantomime by Prehistoric People

first lesson

unit two: Ritual Drama in Egypt and the Near East

unit three: Greek Drama

unit four: Roman Comedy

unit five: Medieval Drama

a unit five lesson plan

Final Unit--Performance

Evaluation

Unintended Learning Outcomes
 

RATIONALE

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.
 

INTRODUCTION

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 studies.

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.
 

Of critical importance is that the students understand this:
the impact the theater artist wants to have on the audience
will decide the choices made.

This understanding can be utilized in any performance situation:
from a sales pitch
to
a seven-hour 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.
 

PRIMARY ILOs

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 theatre activity.

2. Compare and contrast how the performing arts function in ceremony, politics, communication, and entertainment both in contemporary and historical society.
 

SECONDARY ILOs

1. Work cooperatively in group situations.

2. Critique artistic endeavors objectively and constructively.
 

Course Outline

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 


     D.  Performance
          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
        1) physical
        2) vocal

E.  Performance 



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
        1) slapstick
        2) the double-entendre
        3) mismatched characters


E.  Performance



V.  Medieval Drama


A.  What was of value to Europe in the Middle Ages--dealing with the domination of the Church


B.  Development of the oral tradition and folktales--the jongleurs
        1) the oral tradition--gossip--among students


C.  Storytelling
        1) hearing a tale
        2) practicing and embellishing


D.  Performance of folktales



VI.  FINAL PERFORMANCE
        




UNIT ONE--The Use of Pantomime by Prehistoric Peoples
 

INTENDED LEARNINGS

  • Students will demonstrate a recognizable story of conflict/resolution through pantomime
  • Students will understand the most important goals of early humans
  • Students will be able to compare/contrast their personal community with that of early man’s.

INSTRUCTIONAL FOCI

1. group discussion of comparison/contrast
2. role-playing
3. rehearsal as a development tool

GENERAL TEACHING STRATEGY

The approach here is to immediately set up the experience of being part of a community. As a class they already are. What needs to be explored right from the outset is what each individual brings to the group. How this is done is to give them a high-impact experience at the beginning of the unit so that they can understand on an emotional level the core of what is being learned.

An example would be to have the first lesson begin in darkness. They will be instructed to find a space in the room that is their own. They will then be instructed that they cannot vocalize in any way and that they must find some means of connecting/communicating without moving. Once that connection happens, they must come together and form some sort of creature. They are each needed to complete the creature. The creature cannot survive without all of them adding themselves to it.

The idea is to keep the feel of the environment comparative to that of the ancient tribes.

Environmental shaping early in the course will be key to the impact of the course and to create the bonding of the class into a strong ensemble. Most of this first unit’s lessons should begin and end with no overhead lighting: use should be made of flashlights and low-wattage indirect lamps. A simple ritual greeting and farewell should be created.

Obviously, one would need to have some light to teach the pantomime section of the unit.

The pantomime lessons should begin with interactions with object placement and consistency; indications, reactions, and the “lock-on”, “lock-off” with the objects. Emphasis should be placed on object resistance, as well as facial expressions.

The story element of the students’ pantomimes should be simple and should be true. It needs to indicate how the student feels he/she is vital to the class: whether in their strength, their bravery, their smarts, their humor, or their leadership.
 
 

UNIT TWO--Ritual Drama in Egypt and the Near East

INTENDED LEARNINGS

  • Students will be able to express their knowledge of the what the ancient Egyptians valued.
  • Students will be able to relate these values with the possible values of the school environment.
  • Students will work cooperatively to write and perform a small playlet that expresses these values.
  • Students will construct carefully defined gestures that express recognizable, symbolic meanings (i.e., the sign of the cross).

INSTRUCTIONAL FOCI

1. Modeling
2. Class Discussions
3. Copies of the Abydos Ritual Drama
4. jigsaw learning--examples of the different aspects of ritual drama
5. play development process

GENERAL TEACHING STRATEGY

The teacher should open by demonstrating a small ritual utilizing specific and broad gestures and short dialogue (think: communion) at the opening of the unit, perhaps of his teaching of each individual student who is here now.

Lecture briefly about the ancient Egyptians and their obsession with the patterns of existence: birth, maturity, death, and rebirth. Pass out and go over the Abydos Ritual Drama.

Lead them in a discussion on things that continue the same. Ask for examples. Possible examples being: The seasons. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and then Spring again. The rising and setting and rising again of the sun. The class schedule.

Ask them about middle school. Ask them about what they experienced specifically when they first arrived here back in fifth grade that was different than elementary. Ask them about how they’ve changed since that first day. Ask them about how they felt coming into sixth grade at the beginning of the year and how it was different. Ask them about how they feel about leaving at the end of sixth grade and moving on to junior high next year. Ask them how they feel about the fact that when they leave they will be replaced by a group of new fifth grade students who will experience this school much the same that they did.

Talk about rituals. Ask for examples. What sort of impact does the people involved in leading the ritual want to make? What sort of feeling is the audience involved supposed to have? How does ritual create this?

Take a class period to have them individually create a small, personal ritualized movement and phrase. We’re after specificity and broadness of gesture here. The phrase needs to be something that can be repeated back.

Guide them in development of a ritual drama of a student moving through the middle school. Develop the points of the story that need to be worked up. Divide them up into groups and have them develop a small part of the drama. Stress simplicity and broadness of gesture and the need for a generalized phrase that explains and works with the gestures. A few days should be spent on this. In each group, one needs to be the speaker, and the others need to be the performers. If its possible and if the students are up to it, it might also be worthwhile to establish some of the phrases as a call-and-response, with the speaker stating a phrase to the entire class that is repeated back.

Once this is done, each group needs to then teach their sections to the rest of the class.

This will culminate in a final unit performance of each ritual drama.

Following this, each student will privately write out the contributions made by each individual in their group and this will be turned in to the instructor.
 
 

UNIT THREE--Greek Drama

INTENDED LEARNINGS

  • Students will understand what was of value to the Greeks.
  • Students will be able to relate that value to similar values in the school environment and the American culture.
  • Students will be able to create character through physicality and vocality.
  • Students will be able to work cooperatively to design, rehearse, and perform a playlet.

INSTRUCTIONAL FOCI

1. Improvisation
2. Discussion of compare/contrast.
3. Play development process: improv, scripting, rehearsal.
4. group-focus worksheets
5. Performance and critique.

GENERAL TEACHING STRATEGY

The class should begin with an improvisation of a student-council president who is faced with a dilemma of a locker that appears to have been--in essence--stolen. The school is beginning to fall into ruin, all because of this, and will continue to do so if the one responsible is not found out. The president’s objective is to punish the individual responsible. Eventually, the teacher sends in a messenger to state that the stolen locker was actually stolen--perhaps inadvertently--by the president of the student council.

This will lead into a discussion of Greek ethics as a body of social obligations and duties. Offer leading questions about the sort of obligations expected of the students at school. Talk about Aristotle’s four Cardinal Virtues: Courage; Wisdom; Temperance; Prudence.

Discuss and hand out worksheets, similar to Creaney’s Reading Reporter, that will help both in the student’s focus on their individual work and to assist in seeing what each person is bringing to the group: actors understanding of character; playwright’s sense of the Aristotelian Curve; a director’s sense of pace and blocking.

Then divide the class into four groups. Each group will explore and develop a piece based on one of the four cardinal virtues. Primary things to coach here as they develop are: clarity of each character’s objective; recognizable theme. Secondary things: pacing; blocking; the arc of the piece.

This will also be the first time that lessons on critiquing will come into play. This is basic: the students when critiquing talk only in terms of performance and not “what you did” or “what you maybe should have done here”. And that the ratio of positive to negative is six-to-one. There needs to be six specific comments that are positive to every one specific suggestion.

Following this, each student will privately write out the contributions made by each individual in their group and this will be turned in to the instructor.
 
 

UNIT FOUR--Roman Comedy

INTENDED LEARNINGS

  • Students will understand what was of value to the Romans.
  • Students will be able to relate these values to similar values recognized in the American culture.
  • Students will comprehend the structure of farce elements.
  • Students will work cooperatively to rehearse and perform a comic playlet.

INSTRUCTIONAL FOCI

1. Worksheets will assist in evaluating what each person is bringing to the group (e.g., actors’ understanding of their characters, playwright’s sense of the Aristotelian Curve, a director’s sense of pace and blocking)
2. Discussion compare/contrast
3. Examples of farce: Charley’s Aunt, The Foreigner, or some of Seneca’s work.
4. Video of sitcom clips and pro-sports clips.
5. Performance and critique.

GENERAL TEACHING STRATEGY

Begin with a brief lecture on Roman entertainment. The Romans enjoyed material that did not challenge them with higher concepts. They worked hard and built amazing structures. They wanted to kick back and relax when they weren’t working.

Then show a short video of clips taken from popular TV sitcoms and a pro sports event.

Invite comparisons between what they learned in the lecture and what they saw in the video. What are the similarities? The differences? What feeling or mood are the artists involved trying to create for the audience?

Discuss the elements of farce: the mistaken identity; the double-entendre; the use of doors. Examine these closer first through a script--The Foreigner or Charley’s Aunt--and then bring in a clip of a popular sitcom that utilizes farce--Seinfeld, for example. Make a point of rewinding the video and going over each element carefully so that the students clearly understand.

Pass out short, farcical scenes. Freedom reigns supreme at this point. The students may either chose to develop--in a group--one of the scenes provided for performance, or they can work individually writing out their own short farce using the handouts as a guide. The performance groups will be randomly selected after they have decided individually what they wish to do.

Once the groups have been established then its imperative to hand out the group-focus sheets and a director steps forth.

While sidecoaching within the groups remember: the thrust with the actors are the clarity of the character’s objective, and also the physical manifestation of the character. With the director the assist is on pacing, blocking, and the arc of the piece.

The playwrights in the group, if they are having difficulties, can be encouraged to borrow heavily from ideas found in the sitcoms and handouts, as long as they do not outright plagiarize the material. The focus is on the Application level of Bloom’s taxonomy here.

The unit should close with the performance and the critiques. In addition, the playwrights should have an opportunity to have a rehearsal reading and a final reading. Again, the critiques should be as established: six specific comments that are positive to every on specific suggestion.

Following this, each student will privately write out the contributions made by each individual in their group and this will be turned in to the instructor.
 
 

UNIT FIVE--Middle Ages and the Jongleurs

INTENDED LEARNINGS

  • Students will understand the significance of oral tradition in medieval times.
  • Students will compare medieval oral tradition with a modern and local equivalent.
  • Students will effectively paraphrase and re-tell a story.
  • Students will develop a highly physical presentation that draws from the jongleurs.

INSTRUCTIONAL FOCI

1. Discussion.
2. Storytelling workshops.
3. Copies of fables.

GENERAL TEACHING STRATEGY

Start off with an example: whatever performance thing the instructor can do-- singing, dancing, juggling, bear-leading, whatever--should be done and then a little story should be told.

This should segue into a brief lecture on the Middle Ages, particularly the death of the theater at the hands of the Church, the spread of illiteracy and superstition, and the rise of the jongleurs--the travelling entertainers. Lead a discussion on why these travelers were important to the culture of the time. They were travelers and so brought news and entertainment. The entertainment was designed for people who worked hard, could not read or write, and whose biggest social gathering was at the church once a week. What sort of entertainment might they most appreciate? Are there any modern equivalents of this?

Included here is the Summarizing with Folktales lesson. This should be utilized at this point of the unit. Short performances and critiques. From here concentrate on the physical aspects. The instructor needs to take a strong hand here and develop a series of small jongleur shows replete with singing, tumbling, and stories. The unit would culminate in a brief tour to the other sixth grade classrooms where the performers would perform its show, gather and share some classroom gossip, and then move on to the next classroom.
 
 

FINAL UNIT--Performance

The final performance is set up to show off all that’s been learned. Each class will perform material from one unit of the course. All aspects of theater are pulled in here. First is the decision on what specific material will be selected. Selection should be done as a class. Which of the material developed best captures the sense of theater in each particular time period? Decisions should be based on the effectiveness of the material rather than personal popularity of the players.

Once that’s decided, the class will divide up the chores of marketing: studying professional posters and then designing posters. Studying professional playbills and designing the same.

Also, the performers need to begin rehearsing in the space that will be used for the production. The instructor becomes, essentially, the director, and the thrust is to put on a strong show for the audience. The idea is to get the students to know what it is like to be part of a production. For those not involved in performing, backstage and front-of-house roles need to be filled: props-run crew; set crew; ushers. If its possible to introduce interested students in lighting and the lightboard, this is the time.

Jobs will need to be divided once the material has been selected. This will take a great deal of patience and timing in order to make sure all needs are addressed, particularly if the instructor has no teaching assistant.
 
 

EVALUATION

Evidence of Primary Learning Outcomes

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 theatre activity.

  1. The student can be effectively heard and understood from a distance of fifty feet.
  2. The student can develop a physically recognizable character that remains consistent during a five-to-ten minute scene or playlet.
  3. The student can express in written or oral format, a dramatic construction utilizing the basic concepts of Objective, Obstacle, and Action.


2. Compare and contrast how the performing arts function in ceremony, politics, communication, and entertainment both in contemporary and historical society.

  1. The student can verbally make a comparison between a modern theatrical event and the historical equivalent.
  2. The student can, either written or orally, express the differences between theatrical events of history and modern theatrical events.
  3. The student can examine a modern theatrical event and state what impact the artist wanted to have on the audience.

Evidence of Secondary Learning Outcomes

1. Work cooperatively in group situations.

  1. The student can create a playlet with a group of fellow students.
  2. The worth of a student’s contribution to the group will be positively expressed by other members of the group in writing.


2. Critique artistic endeavors objectively and constructively.

  1. The student can express, in written comments or verbally, six specific points of a performance that he/she saw as effective.
  2. The student can offer a comment that he/she thinks would strengthen the performance witnessed.

 
 

UNINTENDED LEARNING OUTCOMES

It is possible that the student may become confused by the parallels drawn between the historical and the immediate and “freeze up” at the prospect of creating a modern equivalent of the historical point under scrutiny. This can be countered by having the student focus on the skills being learned and not concentrating on the historical aspects. A recap of what was done after the end of each unit, of the parallels the teacher saw between the performance and the historical points, may make more sense to the student once he/she has created something effective.

Self-consciousness will play a factor. This may manifest itself in inappropriate giggling or a performance that relies on gags more than substance. Effective monitoring and one-on-one coaching can off-set this. Get the student to focus on the learning objective. What needs to be stressed here is the impact the performers wish to have on the audience and the preparation to be taken to create that impact.

This self-consciousness may also be expressed through a too-quiet voice, and even tears. Again, close monitoring during the students’ rehearsal process, and some proper coaching can change this.

Students with IEPs need to be known about before the beginning of the course. A unit outline needs to be provided to the student support teacher so effective modifications can be created so the course will benefit the student.