The Kax Herberger Center for Children + the Arts

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Theatre Units

Creative Drama/Improvisation


Even though creative drama is generally used in elementary education, it plays a vital role in more advanced theatre studies. Creative drama taps into the innate ability of all people to create personas and tell stories. This is the basis of improvisation. The improvisation referred to in these projects is not the comedic style of "Whose Line is it Anyway?" but the ability to create characters and dialogue in the moment. Starting from this point, there is a natural progression to more technical acting and theatre studies. "Creative drama is an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of theatre in which the participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact and reflect upon human experience" (Davis and Behm 10). Working off of this definition of creative drama allows students to situate themselves and theatre work in a broader sense than that typical of traditional script and performance studies.

Skills and Understandings
Students will be able to:


Projects & Assessments

Children's Book Dramatization


Modern Fairy Tale

Story Drama


Theme Drama

Ten–Minute Children's Play

Creative Drama in Production

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Reflection Journals



Live Fairy Tales


Description: The students will examine the relationship between fairy tales/children's stories and society and use creative drama techniques to develop work appropriate for child audiences.

Objectives: Identify key elements in a story/play. Critique their own and others' performances using specific criteria.

Length: One 45 minute session

Materials: Whatever happens to be in the room

National Theatre Standards: Grades 5-8

Content Standard: Script writing by the creation of improvisations and scripted scenes based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature and history

Achievement Standard: Students (a.) individually and in groups, create characters, environments, and actions that create tension and suspense


  1. Have the students moving around the space freely, in their own times and ways.
  2. Ask the students to think about how they move. Then ask them to begin moving around the space as specific characters (e.g., wicked stepmother).
  3. Continue moving around the space with different characters and side-coaching.
  4. Discuss the activity and explain that today we will be working with the story of Cinderella but in a new way by relating it to our lives.


  1. Discuss the story of Cinderella and have the students create a list of the important characters and elements in the story.
  2. Split the class into small groups of 4-5. Have each group create a 5-minute scene of their own modern day Cinderella. They need to include the elements listed by the class in the earlier discussion, have a clear beginning, middle and end and change the time period.
  3. Each group must also incorporate some set pieces and costumes that can be found in the room.
  4. Each group then shares their scenes.


  1. Discuss the similarities or differences in the pieces and how the story relates to their own lives.
  2. Assess the level of cooperation and commitment to the group work as well as the performance.

Variation: Have each group choose their own fairy tale, decide the key elements in their small groups and continue from there.


Orphan Train


Description:The students will create Orphan Train characters, reenact imagined moments from the orphans' lives and reflect on the significance of this event using dramatic forms. (This has potential to develop into a long-term process drama.)


Length:One 45 minute session

Materials: Pictures of Orphans living in New York City circa 1850, CD of appropriate music (suggested: Phillip Glass' Movement III of Symphony No. 3), CD player, paper, pencils, loaves of bread.

National Theatre Standards: Grades 9-12

Content Standard: Acting by developing, communicating, and sustaining characters in improvisations and informal or formal productions

Achievement Standard: Students (a.) analyze the physical, emotional, and social dimensions of characters found in dramatic texts from various genre and media


  1. Show pictures of orphans. Discuss who the children in the pictures might be, what feelings the pictures evoke, what time period the pictures are from, how the children ended up on the streets, etc.


  1. Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to create scenes that show life on the streets. Prompt the work by asking groups to first brainstorm how the children might survive on the streets.
  2. Share the scenes and discuss the different ideas that were developed.
  3. Allow the students to rearrange the room to create the back alleys and streets of New York. Play appropriate music in the background.
  4. Lower the lights and have the students find their own "hiding places," the places where they have found to sleep that night. Take students through a visualization to create characters while music continues to play.
  5. Step into role as either Minister Brace, the man who started the Orphan Trains, or Letitia Neill, the wife of Minister Brace. Pass out bread and start conversations with the orphans about their lives and families. Introduce the idea of the Orphan Train and, still in role, discuss the pros and cons of the idea.
  6. Step out of role and tell the students that, like it or not, their orphan characters have been selected to go on the Orphan Train. They have 5 minutes before the train leaves and they are each to write a letter to someone in NYC about the journey and their hopes and/or fears for the future.
  7. Create a group letter. Sit everyone in a circle and ask them to share phrases from their letters starting with Dear______ and ending with Love______ or From_________. This should create a soundscape of many different letters and ideas that has a natural beginning and finds its end at the appropriate time.


  1. Once the group letter has been written, tell the students that the media is here to take pictures of the orphans before they board the train. Allow them to step into tableau to form the final picture. As they join in the picture, ask them to share one word or phrase that describes how they, as the orphan, are feeling in that moment.
  2. Discuss the lesson as a group. What did you learn? What surprised you? How did you feel when you were the orphan?
  3. Evaluate level of commitment to character and participation.