Last half term, year 10 and I were working towards mini productions. I gave them the opening of Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language and asked them to develop an ending for the scene/play as playwrights. Students then developed a vision for a production of their work as directors. They did this individually and then presented their ideas to their small groups. A vision was chosen by the group and then the ’10 stages of production’ were worked through to the bitter end. We recorded the final performances, watched them on the big screen and students marked themselves and others according to the assessment criteria of our current board.
The learning objectives for the project were tightly focussed around understanding, using and developing the necessary skills for the ’10 Stages of Production’. Each lesson all of the groups were reminded of what they should be doing within their groups and where they should be in the stages. All of this work is in preparation for the performance exam component of our current syllabus.
Students demonstrate this learning in their festival of short plays in the summer term.
Stage One: The world of the PRODUCTION:
1. The Director's Vision, the design concept and the venue constraints
o The vision can be devised by the students, by the teacher or developed together through workshops. It is a shared sense of how the play is going to be focussed on a ‘central idea’ and clearly shows how this central idea will be present in every aspect of the production. For example, a production of ‘Find Me’ by Olwen Wymark could be focussed on the central idea of normal and abnormal people, mad and sane, accepted and unaccepted; I find the central idea is almost always comprised of the semes (opposites/contrasts – Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Drama) of the play.
o The design concept should reflect this central idea – so to continue the example, all the costumes of the ‘normal’ characters in ‘Find Me’ will be monochrome and smooth with the actors’ hair slicked back, whilst all the abnormal characters’ costumes will be multi coloured, glaringly bright and bizarrely textured with crazy back combed hair.
o The venue constraints decide what can and can’t be done – where the entrances to the stage are, the auditorium shape (Proscenium Arch, in the round, traverse) and most commonly, the budget. It is really important to insist students acknowledge and work within these constraints CREATIVELY as dream scaled work only ever ends in disappointment.
2. The read through
o The students need, just like real actors do, to read the play aloud. Many students will struggle to read a whole play alone, so this allows an opportunity for them to hear the whole play and begin to have a sense of the journey they are embarking on. I find this Peter Brook quote really useful at this point:
we are trying to find the most expressive way of telling the story’
3. Initial Blocking
o Blocking, where the director issues directions of who stands where when, is an anachronistic term and it is important to acknowledge this. Modern directors generally prefer to allow the actor to suggest moves through an initial rehearsal performance and then shape them by a stopping, discussing, resetting and then restarting the scene. Either way, the results of this section of rehearsals are broadly similar – a general shape of the play and how it will be performed is established, but the emotional connection and power of each performance is yet to grow.
o It is imperative to get students to grips with the concept of PROXEMICS in this section of rehearsals – how relationships with other characters and their space are described through proximity. You can also reference kinesics (body movement or language) at this time – I stick to the term body language at GCSE and reference Kinesics at AS/A Level.
Stage Two: The world of the PLAY
4. Off Text Work: The characters
o The bread and butter of the drama teacher!! This is where all the lesson work comes into play and where the students are often most confident because of that. The standard issue strategies are:
Ø Hot Seating
Ø Character histories
Ø In role writing tasks
Ø Role on a Wall
Ø Given circumstances
Ø Magic If
Ø Improvising scenes that don’t happen in the play
Ø Recording what other people say about your character
5. Off Text Work: The relationships
o The real work starts here in my experience and may well have begun with the hot seating, but can be developed further. The standard issue strategies are:
Ø Letter writing and responding
Ø Relationship histories
Ø Proximity diagrams – one character moves into the stage space, the others join him/her, standing as close or far as necessary to describe their feelings towards the character. You need to do this few times with different characters entering first to see how patterns develop.
Ø ‘I am wanting…’ - Voicing thoughts in the head/Exploring subtext between characters
Ø Running scenes with character’s thoughts not character’s words
6. Further Blocking
o After the discoveries of this off text period, the actors return to the script and the original settings of the scenes and rehearse them with an awareness of the internal and external circumstances of the play.
Stage Three: The world of the AUDIENCE
o Crucial for pace and timing, this period of rehearsal is for me the most dynamic and exciting; it the moment the production has a life of its own and grows. I am convinced that this is where most gains are made in terms of exam work, so always ensure that it has a good amount of rehearsal time. Students MUST be off text at this point! Runs must be continuous and actors must not interrupt the run – unless this is the aim of that particular run. There are lots of different runs you can do, but these are my standard favourites:
Ø Gabbles – sat in a circle to ensure the lines are secure, students run their lines at speed
Ø Pace – a full run, which focuses the actors on moments where the play must speed up and moments which must be marked by slowness
Ø Volume – a full run, where the actors accentuate the volume of loud moments and the lack of volume of quiet moments
Ø Stop/Start – it is important to still have rehearsals where a restart is not forbidden and deeper rehearsal work can happen
Ø Prop – ensuring that the passage of props is as it should be
Ø Black out changes – nothing worse than a noisy scene change during a black out, practise getting them right!
Ø As if for real – it is really important to do this! A without stopping as if the examiner is here run, prior to technical work shores up the performances.
8. Technical Rehearsal
o THE ACTOR IS NOT THE FOCUS. It is really important that actors earn the etiquettes of technical rehearsals for the sanity of all involved… mostly the teacher. Our standard rules are:
Ø No chatting
Ø Audience members/actors not being used need to be learning lines silently
Ø Cue to cue rehearsal
Ø We work at the speed of the technical crew to ensure that they can get it right
Ø Ask for time out before you lose your temper
9. Dress Rehearsal
o A dress rehearsal is a full costume, full technical performance. I find it useful to have a small and supportive audience.
o It is really worthwhile sharing your exam performances in previews to parents and peers through assembly performances and through evening performances. This ensures that the work has been fully tested prior to the examined performance, as well as promoting your subject in the school community.