Tag Archives: Drama

Hip Hop and ‘Relevance’: Introducing Kate Tempest’s Wasted to the classroom

Dr. Katie Beswick is a Senior Lecturer in Drama at9781350094925 the University of Exeter. She has edited and written the introduction to the new Methuen Drama Student Edition of Kate Tempest’s Wasted.

Here she explains how the use of hip hop and the term ‘relevance’ are important when thinking about how to bring ideas to life in the classroom. She offers questions for further study that you can download and use with students.


In 2018, the rapper and grime artist Stormzy used his platform at the Brit Awards to highlight the lack of government action after the horrific 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died as a result of poor building practices. Stormzy’s call to politicians (‘Yo Teresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?’) powerfully demonstrated the role that popular entertainment forms can play in the political process. As a result of his performance and subsequent Twitter posts, over 100,000 people signed a petition encouraging then-prime minister Teresa May to take action over Grenfell. Similarly, when a number of grime MCs endorsed the Labour party in the 2017 General Election, under the banner ‘Grime 4 Corbyn’, they showed how hip hop and related cultures can bring social and political debates to audiences who might feel alienated from the discussions happening in the media and elsewhere. These examples show how hip hop, as a diffuse cultural form deeply entwined with histories of social and political injustice, can serve as a way to make ideas relevant to those who might not otherwise be interested in them.

The term ‘relevance’ has recently been given renewed cache.

Arts Council England’s latest ten-year strategy, ‘Let’s Create’, published in January of this year, positions ‘relevance’ as a key word — set to drive funding agendas over the next decade. Recognising the importance of creating relevant content in order to open up publically funded cultural venues to a range of audiences is, at least on the surface, a positive step in acknowledging the diversity of the British population, and the way that the canon of ‘high’ culture can exclude individuals and groups who don’t understand the relevance of, for example opera, classical music, or Shakesperian drama, to their lives — or who don’t see themselves represented in the country’s major arts institutions.

Relevance is also an important term when thinking about how to bring ideas to life in the classroom.

Bringing subject matter alive is, as most teachers know, an important means of enabling students to connect with ideas and feel ownership over their learning. In other words, when students feel what they are studying is meaningful to them, they enjoy lessons and learn more.

Hip hop might therefore allow students who are new to or under-confident in dramatic and literary analysis to feel a sense of ownership and connection to material.

In the student edition of Kate Tempest’s Wasted, which I have edited and written the introduction to, I use hip hop as a concept to frame the study of the play — a means of making social, cultural, historical, political and literary ideas ‘relevant’ to students who might engage with the text in school, college or at university. This is not because I believe all students are necessarily hip hop fans, but because the prominence of hip hop in terms of its ubiquity in popular culture, from high profile celebrities, to fashion, music, film and even politics (as Grime 4 Corbyn shows), as well as its on-going association with youth culture, makes it a form that students are likely to have some prior knowledge of. As Darren McGarvey argues in his book Poverty Safari, hip hop’s tradition of using local vernacular and telling stories of everyday experiences can appeal to those who feel alienated from high cultural forms, because it ‘reveals the richness of their own experience.’ Hip hop might therefore allow students who are new to or under-confident in dramatic and literary analysis to feel a sense of ownership and connection to material.

My decision to focus on hip hop is of course driven by the context and content of the play itself, as well as by Kate Tempest’s wider canon of work as a rapper and performer.

In an interview I conducted with Tempest in the preparation of the volume, she spoke about the way that hip hop served as a means of survival and expression during her teenage years, in which she felt alienated from the education system, and the world around her. When studying Wasted, Tempest’s sensibility for hip hop offers a means of thinking about the lineage between contemporary and classical verse forms (such as Greek Chorus and iambic pentameter). In the introduction, I draw attention to the work of Akala, a rapper, poet and political activist who has lectured on the similarities between hip hop and Shakespeare. I also pinpoint the way that hip hop has developed as a cultural form throughout recent history — connecting its evolution to issues such as gentrification and the class struggle, which are themes that run through Tempest’s play.


For those thinking about using Wasted 9781350094925in the classroom, I encourage you to consider how you might use hip hop culture to inspire students and teach recent historical events. I offer a set of questions, which might serve as a stimulus for lessons and activities.

Download the Questions for Further Study here

Learn more and request your inspection copy of Methuen Drama Student Edition of Kate Tempest’s Wasted.

Why Devise Theatre? By Tashi Gore and Jess Thorpe

Many theatre productions begin life as a Devising Theatreplay, a story involving characters following a journey that has already been written down by a playwright. In this case it is our job as directors and actors to bring this story to life through the creative ways that we choose to present it to an audience. But what happens if when we start we have no script, no characters and no plot? What happens if we are starting with a blank page?

To devise theatre is to make performance from scratch. This usually (although not always) occurs as a process of collaborative creation where a group of individuals come together to share thinking, experiment with ideas and invent a new piece of work together.

The power of devising is in its infinite possibility and the opportunity it offers theatre-makers to make something unique, something which is entirely their own and expresses their own ideas and experience of the world as they find it. Some of the most exciting new theatre and performance made today stems from this practice. Companies working in this way readily experiment with ideas of content, form, structure, staging and styles of performance in order to create new and exciting theatre.


To Devise:
to plan or invent (a complex procedure, system, or mechanism) by careful thought.
Oxford Dictionary


Devising can be an exciting prospect for a young artist as you begin to apply your developing toolkit to the process of making your own creative decisions and exploring new theatrical possibilities. In many ways, devising is a little like that moment as a child when you are given a blank piece of paper and a box of colours. It is completely up to you to decide how you choose to fill it; whether you will write or draw, recreate an image you have seen before or imagine something completely new. There are so many creative options open to you and it is really not possible to get it ‘wrong’.

One of the things that is most exciting about this type of creative process is that everyone can bring their own individual skills to the mix. You might be a person who finds reading big chunks of text difficult but loves to dance or move on stage. Maybe you express yourself visually and spend hours experimenting with objects and materials or through music and can lose a whole day playing your guitar or harmonica or harp. Devising works on the basis that everyone has something to offer and has their own unique creative potential. The trick is really just to figure out how best to use it.

Another key feature of the devising process is that you do not need to worry about the size of your cast. Whether you have 1, 10 or 100 people it is equally possible to make something brilliant. It also does not matter who is in your group; whatever age, gender, background or ability there is a space for everyone. You can imagine as many roles as there are people to play them.  Devising theatre need not be reliant on the idea of having a ‘main part’ but instead relies on the fundamental idea that everyone involved is equally important and can contribute to the overall creative process in all sorts of ways.

For the young people we have worked with, the most valuable thing about devising performance has always been the opportunity it has offered to them to use their own voice and have a say about the world as they find it. Making shows and sharing them with audiences has provided a platform to share some of their ideas, experiences, perspectives and questions with others. It has allowed them to challenge preconceived notions of who can be an artist and who is qualified to make performance and shift focus away from the ‘professional’ adults. In this way it has enabled them to share the power and creativity inherent in young people and energise the conversation around what theatre and performance can look like.

As we consider the potential of devising performance it is also important to consider what the function of art is in the first place. It is a mistake to imagine that it is not all just about ‘entertainment’. Art has always been the way that human beings make sense of the world that we live in. Right back when the Greeks were making the first shows in Athens (the origins of western theatre) they were using theatre as a tool to communicate what they felt and believed about the society they lived in and to engage with their wider community in the larger questions they had about life and existence. This remains true of art to this day; every song, every painting, every poem, every play that you can think of has been born out of human creativity. They are all the result of our need to share our thoughts and feelings and in doing so encourage others to think and feel too. When we consider it this way, we soon come to realise just how very powerful theatre and performance is and the potential it holds for all of us.

Tashi Gore and Jess Thorpe are Co-Artistic Directors of Glass Performance, an international award-winning theatre company. Their latest book A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre is now available!

Q&A with the playwright Martin Travers

Martin is a dramatist based at9781350140523 Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre where he is Producer for Citizens Learning. The Citizens Learning team are committed to enhancing the lives of all kinds and ages of people in Glasgow and beyond; producing theatre for children and young people, community productions and delivering a pioneering range of creative participatory projects for varied communities and in the education sector.

We talk to him about his latest play, The Kids Are Alt Right, what his inspiration was and about the themes that the play explores.

Q. What was your inspiration for writing The Kids Are Alt Right?

A. I was asked to write The Kids Are Alt Right in light of the rise in all forms of damaging far-right social media and the threat this poses to young people in particular. When I was growing up it was easy to identify this kind of hate propaganda but now it’s more sophisticated, candy coated and sometimes deviously subtle. It was important to me to show this in the play. That’s what inspired me to create The Pretty Sisters and the Tartan Rebel. These characters push the same far-right agenda online but in markedly different ways. We live in a world that seems to be swinging to the far-right faster than global temperatures are rising. Recent lone wolf atrocities are a tangible example of this. I hope the play is a good tool for teachers (and parents) to discuss the divisive ideologies at work in the play openly with young people and to explore what they feel about similar social media posts or videos they have seen in their own lives.

My inspiration for the main characters came from lots of conversations with teenagers about the alt right and what they understood it to be. I also spoke to them about loyalty and friendship. What would they do to help a friend who was off the rails and what it would take to make them walk away from a friendship. It really hit home to me how loyal teenagers are to their friends. So I knew that dramatically it was important to have elements of betrayal and feelings of betrayal in the story.

Q. How do the characters’ relationships with their parents affect their behaviour in the play?

A. The parents in the play are powerless in many ways. It was important for me that the audience sees this. Its core to what the play is about. If adults don’t engage with young people and their lives in a meaningful and understanding way there’s no hope of being a positive influence in their lives. Young human beings are genetically programmed to rebel. It’s part of their journey to independence, independent thought and self-sufficiency as adults. The divisive ideologies on the net prey on this natural and healthy rebellion young people have to go through. The play has been written to be enjoyable and gripping to see or read but it’s also been written to be discussed. What could have Britney’s mum or her teacher Miss Blaine have done differently to stop the awful chain of events at the end of the play?

Q. How does social media and the internet impact the students?

A. It sends them into a spiral of events that tears the girls’ friendship apart beyond repair and deeply damages the future of four characters. A good question to discuss with students that read the play is who is guilty in the story and who is a victim. Is it the online instigators of Britney and Quinn’s actions? Are Britney and Quinn also victims as well as perpetrators?

Q. What are the other key influences on the characters’ actions?

A. The Pretty Sisters and the Tartan Rebel are the key influences on the characters wrong actions and bad decisions – the play’s been written to focus in on this so it’s really clear that these social media figures are the strongest influences in Britney and Quinn’s lives. The good actions and kind actions (however misplaced) in the story come from loyalty and a sense of care.

There are two knives in the play. Neither of these knives are carried to deliberately harm anyone but the carrying of these knives ultimately hurts everyone. Young people live in a world now where carrying a knife is seen as normal. I wanted the play to shine a spotlight on this horrible phenomenon. This attitude towards knives needs to be discussed openly and safely in class – I hope this play helps teachers and students to broach the subject without it feeling like a stale lecture.

Q. Was Quinn a victim of his surroundings?

A. It’s fair to say Quinn’s life and understanding of the world has been stunted by his family’s circumstances. Poverty is a terrible and curable affliction in twenty-first century Britain. Britain is a rich country – with some small changes in the way it’s administered we could provide more hope and opportunities for young people like Quinn. He’s misguided and easily influenced but he’s morally good at his core – I hope everyone sees that when they read the play. Young men like Quinn are the key target of the alt right.

Q. How do feel this play will relate with young people?

A. As the play is based on research with young people, I’m pretty sure other young people across the county will connect with the characters and the story. I’ve consciously used humour throughout the play as it helps all young people engage with a story. Lots of the name calling and slagging off that happens between the characters comes directly from discussions I had with young people. I hadn’t heard of “donkey fungus” before I spoke to some pupils of Lanark Grammar in South Lanarkshire!

Q. What themes do you think the play covers that teachers could use in the classroom?

A. The play covers big themes:
– Action and consequence
– Racism and hate crime
– Knife crime
– Dangerous online influences and fake facts
– Friendship and betrayal
– Citizenship and what that means in our everyday lives
– Empathy and lack of it

Q. What are some of the discussion points you feel the play could raise amongst students?

A. I’ve covered most of these above but the one discussion point that really lit up every conversation I had with young people when researching the play was when we discussed what friendship meant to them. What they were willing to do to protect a friend who has done something wrong. This was a great way into the other potential discussion points listed in the themes in question seven.

Q. Tell us more about Citizen’s Theatre and the work they do?

A. It’s great to be part of the Learning Team at the Citizens Theatre. We work with thousands of people every year. Many of them come from socially or culturally excluded groups. We do a lot of work in prisons and with ex-offenders. The character Quinn in the play draws on some of the men we have worked with who didn’t have a great start in life and who have made bad decisions that they really regret.

Q. What’s one thing we should know about you?

A. I’m really interested in language. How we use language to be cruel, to be kind, to get what we want or avoid what we don’t want. Plays are powerful because they are spoken. Words made the human race and unfortunately might be what brings us to our knees.

The Kids R Alt Right is part of the Methuen Drama Plays for Young People series. Find out more and purchase your copy here.

The Importance of Arts in Primary Education, by Ghislaine Kenyon

I’ve recently been spending time with opera singers – not as a punter in some fancy opera house, but as external evaluator for the Learning and Participation programme of Garsington Opera. Garsington does indeed have a ‘house’, a light-filled structure set in the gentle hills of the Wormsley estate in Buckinghamshire. And the people who attend operas on this main stage do dress up and picnic on the lawns; the audio is of clinking champagne glasses and refined chit-chat – ‘country-house opera’ in every sense.

But now imagine a day when the sounds echoing across those same lawns are those of primary age children playing, chasing, cartwheeling, taking over the space in a way that children offered such green expanses just do. It’s the interval of the OperaFirst performance of Fantasio – a comic fairy-tale romp by the 19th century composer Jacques Offenbach. And at the final curtain call the cast are greeted with Glasto-style whooping from the audience of 600 school children with their teachers. Parents waiting outside on pick-up duty can scarcely believe that this deafeningly enthusiastic response is to an opera – an art-form considered by so many to be elite and exclusive.

Let’s reel back a bit – this OperaFirst performance was much more than some worthy ‘take children to culture’ exercise of the kind that most publicly-funded arts organisations are obliged to offer.  (I’m not being critical here – an actual experience is better than none!) Instead it was the culmination of a serious bit of work by Garsington’s L&P department in local state primary, secondary and special schools: Fantasio was explored creatively in two intense days of workshops involving singing, stagecraft, composition and shared performance. As a former teacher observing these workshops, it’s clear that to me there’s a straight line leading from the skills of the creative teams working in classrooms to that rapture in the opera-house a few weeks later.  It starts with Karen Gillingham, Garsington’s  talented and charismatic creative director of L&P, who brings together a small and well-matched group of professionals for each school: a singer, a music director a stage director, and a vitally important L&P producer, who sorts out every practical detail from school liaison to sourcing a singer’s favourite lunchtime sandwich.

At Stokenchurch Primary School stage director Hazel Gould gets groups of Year 5 children to freeze- frame the emotional moments of the opera: ‘show me Princess Elsbeth upset at the death of her friend the jester, which happens on her wedding day to a man she’s being forced to marry by her father the king’  the creative and disciplined working situation has been so well set up by this time that the children speedily tackle this complex situation. At Milbrook Primary School, singer Charmian Bedford kneels on the floor and addresses one of the songs from the opera directly to the children sitting two metres away. It’s about that unwanted wedding day that she’s so dreading. One or two children giggle (as they put it, ‘singing really high, not like normal singing’) but most are open-mouthed, admiring, surprised. Music-director/composer John Barber helps children compose their own songs on this theme: ’we’re going to compose a song giving the princess some advice. Imagine you’re the princess’s maid and you know she’s making a big mistake agreeing to this wedding’.  A boy pipes up ‘My lady, I know that you want to keep the peace, but this prince might not be what you think he is’. This is how children (or anyone) can learn about the key elements of opera which are, very simply, story-telling through acting and singing. The OperaFirst does educate children about opera, of course, but, as I witnessed it, it also demonstrates more generally the power of an arts-rich curriculum in primary schools. The arts reach us because they address us 9781472961051emotionally. There’s nothing more motivating than that and it’s the reason why I, having worked both in schools and in the cultural sector wanted to, no, needed to write The Arts in Primary Education. By showcasing projects  such as OperaFirst and many other exemplary arts-based curricula in schools across the country I’m hoping that schools leaders who often for understandable reasons have left the arts as box-ticking, fringe activities, will find reasons to embrace them wholeheartedly.

Ghislaine Kenyon worked formerly as Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery and then Head of Learning at Somerset House. She has curated several exhibitions, including Tell Me a Picture in 2000 with Quentin Blake. Her latest book The Arts in Primary Education is out now!

Explore the theme of migration with these Drama exercises for secondary students

With the subject of Migration Migration Playsbecoming more pressing and relevant in twenty-first century Britain, it is vital that we are able to have an informed debate about it, particularly with young people. Drama and performance can become a vehicle for those debates and feelings that we all have around migration.

Fin Kennedy’s new book, Migration Plays explores the theme of migration through four new plays. He explains the background to the book in his introduction here:

“Migration Stories was a Tamasha schools project delivered by playwrights and directors working in several different secondary schools in London and Derby. The format involved twenty-five Drama students from Years 7 to 10 coming off-timetable for a day and participating in exercises designed to unpack their thoughts and feelings on the topic of migration, and encourage them to respond creatively to what they were learning. These sessions were facilitated by the director, with the playwright taking notes. Each playwright then went away and worked up the ideas generated into a twenty-minute script for performance, with parts for the whole class.”

Migration Plays shares these plays along with director notes that you can use with your Drama class. This is then followed by a section of drama games and more involved exercises to generate characters and stories.


Two exercises to try today

Section 1: Exercises to unpack the theme of migration

Exercise: What’s in a name?

Set-up: Participants sit in a circle on chairs or the floor. This is usually the first activity of the workshop.

Teacher instructions: Invite everybody in the circle, one by one, to say their name. It can be their first name, their middle name or their surname. Then go round again and ask each student to share with the group one thing about their name. It could be one of the following:

  • What your name means.
  • Which language or culture is associated with your name.
  • Do you like your name?
  • Who gave you your name?
  • If you were a boy/girl what would you have been called instead?
  • What would you prefer to be called if you weren’t given your name?

Notes: Pupils generally respond very positively to this activity, especially if it is used as the first activity of the workshop. Most people like sharing something about themselves, but of course people can be given the option to ‘pass’. The teacher must be ready to positively respond to each name and to keep this activity flowing. We find that this activity inevitably brings up some migration references, and then these can be explored further in the subsequent activities.

Section 3: Improvisation exercises

Exercise: Creating obstacles and conflict

Set-up: Drama studio or cleared classroom. Whiteboard needed.

Teacher instructions: As a class, make a list of obstacles relating to migration, which might cause some kind of conflict for the migrant. Explain that obstacles and conflict are an important part of drama, because watching characters struggle to get what they want is how they learn and change. The best obstacles are often another character. Write their examples on the whiteboard. The list might include:

  • Assembling what they need for a long journey.
  • Applying for a visa.
  • Booking a boat ticket.
  • Saying goodbye to someone they love.
  • Finding suitable food.
  • Running out of money.
  • Preparing for an interview at the border.
  • Looking for work.
  • Finding somewhere to stay.
  • Meeting the locals.
  • Communicating with home.

In threes or fours, choose one obstacle and rehearse a short improvisation in which A and B are migrants engaged in this activity. C and/or D stands in their way and could either help them or block them depending on how the scene goes. The dialogue is about A and B trying to persuade C and/or D to give them what they want. Give the group five minutes’ rehearsal time, then watch a few.

After each scene, ask the audience:

  • What clues are in the scene about what the nature of the relationship is between the migrant characters?
  • What tactics do they use to try to get what they want?
  • How are they changed by the experience of dealing with this obstacle?
  • What might they try next?

Migration Plays is a Methuen Drama title and was published in August. Purchase your copy or request an inspection copy for your school here.

Ideas for Writing Original Material for Performance

Devising TheatreFor us, the theme or subject of the theatre we are devising always comes from an idea or question we have a direct relationship to or interest in. As a result the process of  material often requires us to draw from our own lives and experience and discuss our own opinions and personal points of view. In this way we also call it autobiographical. Devising autobiographical theatre in a collaborative way has led us to develop a number of different approaches to making original material. These are:

  • Writing Text
  • Movement and Choreography
  • Performance Images
  • Action
  • Music

When we are creating a new show we find that working in these different ways can help us to better understand our inquiry question from a variety of angles as well as allowing us to build a dynamic and diverse bank of performance material from which to choose. We also find that having a series of distinct ways to approach making material means that members of the group are able to work to their own strengths and area of interest. This allows each performer to utilize their individual learning style and find a form of creative expression that allows them a level of autonomy and ownership and the freedom to best communicate themselves and their point of view. In the past we have enjoyed watching young performers develop in new and unexpected directions as they experiment with different ways to create meaning and present themselves on stage.

Here are two new ways to use with your students when writing text for performance

Questions

Questions are our most favourite way to write text for performance. We love the act of asking questions because it feels so integral to who we are as human beings and our process of trying to understand the world around us. As theatre makers we are definitely more interested in questions than answers. Questions are possibilities. They open up our view of things and ask us to re-examine the way things are and the way they might be. Questions are action and dialogue and grappling with the complexity of things. It is actually impossible to find a show that we have made which does not contain at least one set of questions. They are knitted into the fabric of everything we do and everything we care about.

There are also multiple creative options as to how to place questions in a performance. You can ask questions to another performer, to one audience member or the whole audience in general or to yourself rhetorically. You can look for answers or leave the questions open as a text in themselves. The choices are endless.

Ideas for generating text from questions

  • Write a set of questions you have for someone in charge
  • Write a set of questions you have never asked
  • Write a set of questions you don’t know the answers to
  • Write a set of questions about big ideas
  • Write a set of questions about a subject you know very well
  • Write a set of questions you have about love
  • Write a set of questions for a friend
  • Write a set of questions for your family about you
  • Write a quiz on a specialist subject
  • Write a test for your teacher
  • Write a set of questions that do not have answers to

Letters

Letters can be an effective way to focus your ideas and explore your starting point from a particular perspective or point of view.  Letters also provide a creative way to bring something of the outside world into the performance. They can allow you to touch on the wider socio-political context of things or a lens with which to view a memory of a different time and place.

Letters can be found or sourced and brought into the rehearsal room; like a letter from a historical figure or a childhood pen-friend. They can also be written as part of the making process to allow you to explore the central inquiry form a different angle.

Ideas for generating text from letters

  • Write a letter to yourself when you were 5
  • Write a letter to yourself when you are older
  • Bring in a letter you received in the last month (bills/junk mail included)
  • Bring in a letter you have always kept
  • Write a letter you will never send
  • Write a letter to a celebrity
  • Write a letter to a stranger
  • Write a love letter
  • Write a chain letter
  • Write a letter to someone who can change things
  • Write a letter you wish you’d received

This was an extract taken from A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre by Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore. You can order your copy here.

A Well-Balanced Acting and Drama Lesson: 6 activities for you to try today!

“Here is the book that every drama teacher should have on their shelf” –  Sylvia Young, OBE

For a lesson that is an hour in length, you should be using about four to seven exercises.

For a well-balanced lesson, the teacher should take exercises from at least three or four different chapters. A well-balanced lesson might include one exercise from Chapter 1, ‘Relaxation and Focus’, one exercise from Chapter 2, ‘Voice’, one exercise from Chapter 3, ‘Movement’, one exercise from Chapter 4, ‘Unblocking Performers’ and two exercises from Chapter 6, ‘Objectives’.


Chapter 1: Relaxation and Focus

1.1 Releasing tension while lying down

A simple relaxation exercise in which students relax each body part, one body part at a time, while lying down.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Concentration, awareness, focus, relaxation and mindfulness.

Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 10–40 minutes (depending on the age group).

You’ll need: A warm room with a comfortable floor for students to lie on. If the room is cold, students should wear coats and/or use blankets to keep warm. If the floor is hard, students should lie on yoga mats or blankets.

How to: Ask the students to lie on the floor with their eyes closed. If the actor starts to feel sleepy during this exercise, they should open their eyes and try to bring the energy back into the body without moving; if they really need to, they can wiggle their toes or fingers to try and wake up.

Students need to try and bring their energy inwards, reclaiming it from others and different spaces, bringing their circle of attention in. Ask the students to notice the breath: is it slow, fast, steady, scattered? Is the breath in the chest, stomach or pelvic area? If it’s up in the chest, or even the throat, bring the breath down so that it’s lower in the body. The stomach, not the chest, should move up and down with each in- and out-breath.

Once the breath is stable, the actor can start relaxing each part of the body, one part at a time. They can start with softening the muscles in the forehead and then the eyebrows, the eyelids, the temples, the cheeks, the lips, the jaw, the tongue and any other parts of the face. It is important to spend a long time on the face as it’s one of the main areas people hold tension.

Once the actor has relaxed every part of the face, they can make very gentle ‘blah blah’ sounds, being careful to keep the tongue relaxed, as well as the face, as the sound is released. Once the actor has finished relaxing the face, they can move onto the body. Ask the students to start with the neck, allowing it to sink into the floor. Then they should drop the shoulders, noticing where the shoulders are in contact with the floor. Ask students to try and increase the contact with the floor by loosening into the ground: imagine the upper part of the body is melting into the floor. Next ask students to bring the attention to the hands, letting the fingers, thumbs, palms and wrists melt into the ground. Talk then through working the attention up into the arms, releasing the tension from the forearm, elbow and upper arm. Now ask them to work the attention down the body, releasing the mid back and lower back, relaxing the abdominal muscles and then moving onto the lower body.

Explain that people vary – some tend to carry most of their tension in the lower body, others in the upper body and others in isolated areas such as the eyelids or jaw. Ask students to reflect on where they hold their tension.

For the relaxation of the lower body, the actor can start by wiggling their toes and then relax the toes, the feet, the calf muscles, quad muscles, hamstrings, pelvis and buttocks. Once every part of the body has been relaxed, ask the actor to imagine energy flowing in through the feet, up the legs, through the hips, up into the upper body and face. Allow this energy to move freely through the body with no blockages of tension. Allow a good few minutes for this sensation to arise, and when it is time to stand up, make sure the students really take their time; firstly you don’t want them to get dizzy. But secondly it’s important to keep the relaxation that was just achieved in the body while standing up.

Variation: It’s also possible to do this exercise standing up with the back against a wall, or standing with no support or sitting down. If practising this exercise standing up, it’s important to keep the feet hip-width apart.

Tip: Students shouldn’t rush this exercise but take their time as they relax every part of the body. Anxieties and thoughts should be left outside of the rehearsal space.

The aim: For the actor to become more aware of their body and face, exploring where it is they are prone to holding tension and then releasing this.


Chapter 2: Voice

2.2 Diction and tongue-twisters

Vocal exercises to help students with speech and projection.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Voice, diction, speech and projection. Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 5–15 minutes.

You’ll need: A space for students to stand in a circle.

How to: Ask students to stand in a circle and to check their posture. The feet should be hip-width apart and the spine pulled up gently from the tip of the head. Start the warm-up by asking the students to open their mouths really wide and then quickly scrunch their lips up into a really tight prune shape. Repeat opening and closing the mouth like this three or four times. Now ask the students to place their hands on their diaphragms. With the in-breath the diaphragm pushes out the hand and with the out-breath the diaphragm contracts. Ask the students to think of their diaphragm as a balloon: with the in-breath the balloon blows up, filling with air, and with the out-breath the air is released, making the balloon shrink. After a few of these deep breaths in and out, ask the students to make a humming sound on the out-breath. Breathe in together to the count of three, expanding the diaphragm, and breathe out on a hum to the count of six. Explain to the students that they should choose one note and that sound should come from deep down in the pelvic area. This humming noise should vibrate the torso and lips; if it’s not doing so, ask the students to hum a little louder and deeper.

Now explain to the students that diction is very important, particularly in theatre work. Good diction will help the audience to hear and understand the actor. I find that diction is particularly a problem with younger students. For good diction, explain that consonants need to be pronounced very clearly at the beginning and end of each word. The 21 consonant letters in the English alphabet are b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, x, z and usually w and y. Say a consonant, for example, ‘b, b, b, b’, and then ask the students to say it with you, ‘b, b, b, b’. Do this for at least five or six constants, or go through all of them if the class is older and focused. Now do the same for some constant sounds such as ch, sh and th. Now move onto some words that start and end in a consonant, asking students to really emphasize pronouncing the letters. Some examples include bed, sack, hat, tall, Bob, fizz, frozen and Jack.

After this group warm-up, give the group some tongue-twisters to work on; these can be said as a group altogether or in smaller groups. Once the group knows each other well, you can ask students to say a tongue-twister on their own in front of the group; however, they must never be forced to do this.

Tongue-twisters:

Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry. …

She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore. …

Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran. …

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. …

Toy boat.
Toy boat.
Toy boat.
Toy boat. …

A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot. …

Unique New York.
Unique New York.
Unique New York.
Unique New York. …

A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug. …

Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.

Variation: You can ask the students to invent some of their own tongue-twisters.

Tip: Listen and learn from news readers, theatre actors, good public speakers (and fingers-crossed drama teachers!) to hear how they use their voices to communicate clearly.

The aim: To help students to speak with good diction.


Chapter 3: Movement

3.2 Elbow to elbow
A simple physical warm-up exercise.
Age: 8 plus.
Skills: Movement, energy, spatial awareness and group awareness.
Participants: Needs to be done in a group of five or more.

Time: 5–10 minutes. You’ll need: A room big enough for students to walk around in at a fast pace.

How to: The students walk around the room at a brisk speed, making sure they don’t bump into anyone or anything. Encourage the students to use up all of the space in the room and to change direction frequently. The teacher will call out a body part. Let’s say ‘elbow’ to start with, and the students run towards someone and touch their elbow to someone else’s elbow. This doesn’t have to be done in pairs; there can be groups of three or more touching elbows, although you will find the group will naturally gravitate into pairs. After everyone has found an elbow to touch their elbow with, the teacher calls ‘go’ and the students walk around the room again. After a few moments, the teacher calls out another body part – hand, for example – and the students race to touch their hand to someone else’s hand. Good body parts to call include knee, hand, thumb, foot, shoulder, back, little finger, wrist and ankle. Be careful not to call out any inappropriate body parts.

Tip: Don’t let anyone feel left out in this game. If someone is hovering around feeling like they can’t join a pair who are already touching elbows, encourage them to go over and make a three. This game is about inclusion, not exclusion.

The aim: To warm students up physically.


Chapter 4: Unblocking Performers

4.4 Yes, let’s!

A fast-paced group improvisation exercise.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Listening, spontaneity, imagination and improvisation.

Participants: This exercise needs to be practised in a group of five or more.

Time: 5–10 minutes.

You’ll need: A space big enough for students to walk around in.

How to: Ask the students to stand in a space in the room and then initiate an

action by saying something like ‘Let’s bake a cake.’ Ask the class to reply with

‘Yes, let’s!’ and then they will all pretend to bake a cake. The students can

shout out any idea they like; nothing is too crazy. Perhaps someone might

call out:

‘Let’s wash a lion!’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will wash a lion.

Then someone might call, ‘Let’s all be aeroplanes.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will pretend to be aeroplanes. The game continues like this.

Theming: This game can be themed. Let’s imagine that you are leading a fairytale workshop. In this case, the game could be played as above, but instead

of the suggestions being random, they are suggestions which meet the theme

fairy tales. For example, someone might say, ‘Let’s all climb a beanstalk.’ The

class is to reply with ‘Yes, let’s!’ and then they will all pretend to climb a

beanstalk. The students can shout out any idea they like; nothing is too crazy,

but ask them to keep to the fairy-tale theme. Perhaps someone else might

call out:

‘Let’s blow down the little pig’s house.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will blow down the little pig’s house.

Then someone might call, ‘Let’s clean the fireplace.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will pretend to clean the fireplace. The game continues like this.

Tip: For younger students or/and groups that are lively, it’s a good idea for the

teacher to stop the class with a signal for silence and then ask students to put

their hands up if they have a suggestion for the next ‘Yes, let’s!’ idea. This way

the student calling the idea will be heard and a mixture of students will get to

make suggestions. Encourage the quieter members of the group to contribute

ideas too.

The aim: For all improvisation ideas to be accepted and acted on with the aim of

loosening up students and creating a space where they feel safe to improvise in


Chapter 6: Objectives

6.5 Objectives with props

A fun verbal reasoning exercise where students try to convince the group why they need an object the most.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Communicative skills, verbal reasoning, persuasion, lateral thinking and intuition. Participants: For a group of five or more.

Time: 10–15 minutes.

You’ll need: Anything between five and twenty props laid down in the centre of a circle of students. These props can be absolutely anything, but a variety is good. For example, a helmet, wooden spoon, scarf, mask, teddy bear, candle, coat, thermometer, headphones and yoga mat.

How to: The class sit in a circle, and in the centre of the circle, there is a collection of props. As explained above, this can be a collection of random objects. One student will then go to the centre of the circle, pick up one of these objects and explain to the circle of students around them why they really need that object. The person explaining needs to imagine that the class doesn’t want them to have the object. The actor has to try really hard to talk the group into letting them have the object. For example, if Chen were in the centre of the circle and she picked up a doll, she would need to convince the class to let her have this doll. She can think of any made-up reason she likes. Perhaps she could explain that she really needs it for her little sister as her sister is in hospital and the doll will cheer her up. Or Chen might explain that this is her long-lost doll from childhood and she lost it on holiday when she was four. It’s Chen’s objective to make the class say yes she can have the object. Once Chen has finished her story, the class can respond with yes or no.

Students can make the stories as elaborate as they like; if Chen were feeling adventurous, she could say the doll belongs to an enchanted empress and that if the class doesn’t let Chen have it, she can take it back to the rightful owner and the empress will cast a terrible spell on the group!

Tip: Encourage students to make eye contact with the people in the circle as a means to get what they want.

The aim: For students to think laterally and improve their persuasion skills.


6.4 Group improvisation with objectives

In groups, students create a short improvisation where each character has a strong objective.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Improvisation, teamwork, creating a character and communicative skills. Participants: This needs to be practised in groups of three or four.

Time: 20–25 minutes. You’ll need: A space big enough for students to rehearse.

How to: Ask the students to get into groups of three or four. Explain that they are going to create a 5-minute improvisation. In this improvisation, each character must have one want, and this want can be anything: to go to the moon, to have an ice cream, to be a world-famous skate boarder. Once each actor has thought up an objective; ask the group to agree on a setting for their improvisation. A public space works best, such as a park bench, doctor’s waiting room, art gallery, airport or bus stop.

Give the students about 10 minutes to practise an improvisation with those three or four characters together with their strong objectives in a public space. Once the 10 minutes is up, ask the students to show the improvisation to the rest of the class, and the audience can try and guess the characters’ objectives.

Tip: Each actor should only play one objective. Simple objectives are acceptable; sometimes it’s the simple ones that are the most effective. Something like ‘wants to do their coat up (but the zip’s broken)’ is enough.

9781350049949

The aim: For students to create a group improvisation where objectives take centre stage and to show students that objectives are a great way to create conflict and action within a scene.

 

This is an extract from Samantha Marsden’s new book 100 Acting Exercises for 8-18 Year Olds. It is available to buy now.

Samantha Marsden studied method acting at The Method Studio in London. She worked as a freelance drama teacher for eleven years at theatre companies, youth theatres, private schools, state schools, special schools and weekend theatre schools. In 2012, she set up her own youth theatre, which quickly grew into one of the largest regional youth theatres in the country. Follow her on Twitter @SamMarsdenDrama

 

Let’s Perform!

I began my teaching career as a secondary school English teacher. When my own children were small, I offered to help in a primary school. I worked with two groups of year 6 children preparing them to compete in a local Performing Arts Festival. I rewrote the scenes they were performing and changed the endings to suit the children in the groups. At the time, I just wanted them to enjoy performing. I didn’t feel especially confident about my writing; I had only ever written for myself or designed materials for classroom use.

When the children eventually competed in the Performing Arts Festival, I was thrilled when they won the silver medal. The school was overjoyed too. The following year, they asked me to do more, so I decided we should enter a Monologue category as well. I wrote about 14 during the summer holiday.

I wanted the characters in the monologues to feel real and contemporary. I thought about children in a fix or puzzled about something. I played with real-life situations but also some fantasy ones. I found I could shape and hone the scripts because I was working in school and had the voices of children in my head, as well as my own family at home. I love listening to children chatting to one another and the ways they comment on things that are going on around them. I especially love the humour which children bring to many things. I often chose everyday things. For example, a child is in a classroom gazing out of the window at others running around in the playground but can’t join them because he/she has a broken leg. A child is lost on a school trip in a museum and wonders what to do. A child thinks their guinea pig might be an alien.

Monologues are huge fun for writers because you are moving right inside a character’s head, finding out their beliefs and dilemmas. We entered many local festivals over subsequent years and one festival judge said, “Where can I get these monologues?”. When I explained that they were my own writing he said, “You have to get them published.”

I felt especially proud of engaging lots of year 5 and 6 boys who had initially been more reluctant and seeing children take ownership of the scripts and make them their own. Within 2 years I had added Duologues to the mix. These scenes for two often had crazy scenarios, like a vampire in a doctor’s surgery and the horrified child who is sitting in the waiting room too.

I began running my own arts festival in the school, so more children could get involved, to really develop confidence in speaking and it continues to this day. In a typical year, over 200 children volunteer to take part. Half of year 6 auditioned last year to do a monologue. I added more categories: Own Poem, Poem by Heart, Public Speaking as well as the Monologues and Duologues. Each year I rehearsed and prepared the children from the end of September ready for Heats at the end of November and finals in the first week of December. The school say they have noticed a significant impact on children’s achievement across Literacy. There is a fantastic buzz in school when the festival rehearsals are underway. For the finals, I bring in external judges who give feedback and award medals. Parents and Governors are able to see the performances in a showcase.

Let’s Perform! is the culmination of more than ten years of working with children in 9781472957252.jpgKS2. The book uses scenarios, language and humour that children can really relate to. It is intended as a flexible resource; I have seen the content used in a number of ways and often adapted it myself. Each script has suggestions for performance and creative suggestions for pupils’ own writing. Learning by heart is part of the National Curriculum. Children can learn the poems and scripts by heart and perform them in a festival-type event in school or outside it as I have described. They are not very long; 3-5 minutes is typical.

Alternatively, the scenes can be the starting points for children’s own creative writing or performing. I often lead workshops where we analyse and perform monologues and the children write their own in response. The scenarios in the book lend themselves to story- writing too. Many of the Monologues, Duologues and poems have been used in class assemblies and end-of-year events. The Christmas poems have been performed by large groups of readers and actors in the local parish church. I’m so pleased the book is photocopiable- it makes it easy to give out scripts and create creative projects.

I hope teachers will find it a really useful and enjoyable resource. One teacher friend commented “This is going to be my go-to Friday afternoon book.”

 

Cath Howe is an author and teacher with a real passion for writing and creativity. She has been working with schools for over a decade, running workshops on everything to do with writing and performing. Let’s Perform! is out now!