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:
- Create tableaux and sculptures on a topic
- Create environments with classroom materials
- Develop a character through improvisation
- Work collaboratively to create dramatic work
- Create performance pieces using Choral Speak
- Create a soundscape for scenes or developed pieces
- Interpret stories using dramatic methods
- Interpret themes using dramatic methods
- Draw parallels between dramatic work and real life
- Reflect on their work and the work of their peers
Projects & Assessments
Children's Book Dramatization
- Project — Choose a children's book and read it to the whole class, perhaps a book that appeals to many ages such as Holes or Harry Potter. Split the class up into groups and assign each group a section of the book. Each group should then use whatever is available in the room to set up an environment and costumes to help create the scene they present. Each group creates the scene given to them and then shares it with the class in the same order as they occur in the book. (Alternatively, the whole class can participate in every scene by also becoming part of the environment with their bodies. Each student should be a different character in every scene.)
- Assessment — Development and performance of book scene.
Modern Fairy Tale
- Project — After discussing fairy tales and their role in history and theatre with children, split the students into small groups. Each group should choose a fairy tale they are all familiar with, perhaps out of a list supplied by the teacher. Each group should then create a scene using the key moments and ideas of that fairy tale, but set in a modern time (e.g., in their school, neighborhood streets or characters become something else, like the big bad wolf from Little Red Riding Hood is a bully or drug dealer). Each scene should have a beginning, middle and end as well as a soundscape (sound effects that establish the atmosphere). The groups will share the scenes with the class. Discuss how the scenes were similar or different than other scenes presented and how they are similar or different to the original fairy tale. Discuss how the soundscaping contributed to the scenes.
- Assessment — Level of participation in the development of the scene and in class discussion. Performance of adapted fairy tale.
- Project — Talk to the English department to learn what stories the students are studying in their classes that year/semester. Use a variety of drama techniques to dramatize the story with your students. Some potentially useful techniques are tableaux (small groups of students use their bodies to create a frozen picture of the scene or idea), through-tracking (one person speaks another character's thoughts or feelings), choral reading (the students bring a new interpretation to a piece of text by incorporating sound, multiple or single voice line readings, repetition, song and/or rhythm) or group meetings (all the students assume a particular role and the class gathers together to improvise a scene around an issue or idea important to those characters). Enable them to draw connections between their theatrical sensibilities and the content in their classes.
- Assessment — Monitor the students' participation and ability to draw out the themes in the story through dramatization.
- Project — Talk to the Social Studies/History department to learn what historical events the students are studying in their classes that year/semester. Use a variety of drama techniques (e.g., tableaux, thought-tracking, choral reading, group meetings) to dramatize a historical event with your students. Enable them to draw connections between their theatrical sensibilities and the content in their classes.
- Assessment — Monitor the students' participation and ability to draw out the themes in the event through dramatization.
Ten–Minute Children's Play
- Project — Depending on time, the class can create an original piece after learning about fairy tales, children's stories, morals and structures of story, or the class can adapt an already well-known story. Each student should be responsible for something specific, such as: learning lines, set pieces, costumes, sound, stage-managing, scoring scripts, etc. Create a class production schedule to ensure all tasks are completed as needed. The play can then be performed for other classes or brought to the local elementary school.
- Assessment — Met final performance and individual responsibilities on time.
Creative Drama in Production
- Project — Creative drama techniques can be very useful in developing characters, creating stage pictures and ultimately polishing a performance. After choosing a script, use a variety of process-centered drama techniques to deepen student connections to the material. Take time to apply the work into the script. For example, before blocking a scene ask the students to stand in a tableau of where they think they start the scene, then move to where they are in the middle of the scene and finally where they are at the end of the scene. Make adjustments as you see fit, then challenge the students to stage the scene, hitting all of the tableaux they just created. Use techniques like thought-tracking, a day in the life (the facilitator guides the actor through improvisational scenes of her character's typical day or of scenes leading up to a significant event) and deleted scenes (the actors improvise scenes that are not written into the play) to enhance character development and encourage students to think about how the basic material in the script gives them clues to the past, present and future of their characters.
- Assessment — Monitor the students' participation and ability to apply the creative drama exercises to the production.
- Project — At the end of class each day, ask the students to process their work and the work of their peers in a journal. If necessary, provide prompts to guide the students' writings such as "How did my work today explore the theme of ________?" or "How did we create believable characters and/or situations? What could I have done to make my work more believable?" These journals are intended to promote reflection on their work, giving the students a chance to develop their own insights, deepen their understanding of the ideas/themes and strengthen their critical responses.
- Assessment — Bi-weekly checks to make sure students are writing constructive and reflective entries.
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
- Have the students moving around the space freely, in their own times and ways.
- 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).
- Continue moving around the space with different characters and side-coaching.
- 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.
- Discuss the story of Cinderella and have the students create a list of the important characters and elements in the story.
- 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.
- Each group must also incorporate some set pieces and costumes that can be found in the room.
- Each group then shares their scenes.
- Discuss the similarities or differences in the pieces and how the story relates to their own lives.
- 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.
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.)
- Sustain a character through an improvised scene
- Interact in role as a character with other characters
- Analyze character motivations by interpreting historical events
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Share the scenes and discuss the different ideas that were developed.
- Allow the students to rearrange the room to create the back alleys and streets of New York. Play appropriate music in the background.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Discuss the lesson as a group. What did you learn? What surprised you? How did you feel when you were the orphan?
- Evaluate level of commitment to character and participation.