With the closure of theatres and public spaces as a result of Covid-19 we are finding alternative ways to engage with audiences and help creativity thrive during this time of social isolation (because if we don't have theatre we get very bored!)
On Social media
We began #CreativeConversations as a way of encouraging families and friends to talk about something other than Coronavirus, whether in the house or via social media.
to find out what people we have set for today's starter?
We are now offering online CPD training for teachers. For £15 you will receive a 1 hour, 1 to 1 session with our ex-drama teacher turned artistic director Sarah via an agreed online platform.
Before: You will complete a short questionnaire to help prepare ideas based on what you would like to achieve with your students.
During: Sarah will help you develop ideas and suggest tasks based upon the areas or skills you would like to focus on, giving you time to ask questions and clarify any aspects and giving tips on how to introduce and build activities into your schemes.
If you're struggling for a fresh approach or want to revamp your current practice then email to book your session!
Following the shift of drama classes to online and distanced platforms we want to help teachers with activities and lesson ideas for students. From resources, to activities, to interviews, if you have an idea but aren't quite sure how to achieve it why not see if we can help? Simply fill in the contact form below.
We'll also post all of the ideas here so everyone can see and use them too!
1. "I was planning for my students to deliver a community performance in a local park which now can't be done. I can't use webcam learning and need ideas for a topic I can set"
Could they plan their own community project? Pick a place/venue-a show and create a pitch for it (they could have to find out about copyright/PRS too if they were wanting to do something modern or with music), who'd be involved? (they could create a casting breakdown for auditions) marketing, posters, press release, social media campaign, rehearsal venue etc? Then equipment hire for the show itself-Give them budget and a brief and see what they come up with?
2. "Improvisation and Creative tasks"
So here are a few ideas that we've used in company rehearsals and that I used to love when I was a teacher which could easily be achieved at a distance and in isolation:
1. Found Object Soundscape: As we often perform in venues without power the actors have to make all their own sound effects. We put a load of objects and sound making items in the middle of the room and see what we can come up with. We used this to create the storm for our first production of The Tempest which is how we ended up with pages being torn from books by Prospero and a toilet roll with rice in it to make the sound of rain in the final production!
Challenge students to use objects they have in their own home to make their own soundscapes for a given list: A Storm, A restaurant, Night, The beach
2. Make Your Own Costume: Give students a character and ask them to make their own costume for the character using their own clothes or items in the house.
This is actually how our costumes for The Mechanicals play in a Midsummer Night's Dream were designed: Bottom made his armour from a colander, a feather duster and fruit bowl tied with rope, Snug had two mop heads tied for her lion's mane, Flute had two curtain ties for plaits under a white elastic skirt used as a headdress and a nightie and Snout used a bandage to tie 2 cardboard boxes to her head...
3. Set Design: Give students a scene from a play and they have to make their own set out of objects they have to hand. they then photograph and label it. You can do this as a competition exercise too-who can create the most imaginative Toad Hall for Wind in the Willows?
4. "What If": This is my favourite phrase in a rehearsal! When approaching a character we often start with the obvious assumptions. Write them down (it can be for the general character or a particular speech) and then play Devil's advocate to challenge the initial thoughts. For example:
Lady Macbeth Act 1 Scene 5 (Come you spirits speech)
Assumption: Lady Macbeth is evil
What if: "What if Lady Macbeth wasn't evil but scared she wan't strong enough to help her husband when saying her speech?"
This particular "What if" created our whole approach to Lady Macbeth for our production as we love how this shift in approach alters the audience perception of her
You can get students to record and evaluate their speech applying each "What if" scenario and then evaluate and select their favourite interpretation
5. The Playlist: We have live music in all of our shows composed and arranged by the brilliant Simon Stallard. To help him understand my ideas for the show the first thing I do is create a playlist for it on Spotify. I fill it with music that is in the style I want our music to be, songs that remind of characters or particular moments. He then adds songs that he thinks fit with these and this then becomes our shared reference point for the score of a show. Whenever I'm working on the show I have the playlist as my accompaniment so I keep these ideas as I'm developing the script or approach to rehearsals.
Give students a play or character and get them to create their own playlist for them. They can then evaluate why they've chosen particular music too-Simon always make me explain my choices (particularly the not-so-obvious one!)
Improvisation/Off Text Tasks:
6. Tour Guide: Give each student a location- it could be real or from a play or book they are studying they then have to become the tour guide for the city (like a bus tour guide) What interesting facts would they share? They can create a character to perform as too
7. The Professor: (You might have used this one as Ask The Expert) This works in a similar way to Hot Seating but the character is an absolute expert on their given topic. From the pyramids of Egypt to the year 2082...they have to speak confidently to answer any question posed and as they are the expert what they say goes!
8. New Reporter: Students have to present their day as a news report-they can be as creative as they want-whether from the news desk or on location reporting-what have they been doing and why is it news-worthy?
9. An Angel and A Devil Sit To Chat: This can either be done individually with one student playing both parts or with a partner. Give the students a conversation topic and they have to present their viewpoint as either Angel or Devil.
10. The Bunker. Students are given 3 items (this could involve parents and siblings finding them objects in the house, or 3 items by you or someone in the class) They have to explain how these objects will be crucial in their survival in the bunker. The more random the object the more creative their answers have to be.
3. "I need 5 different tasks on storytelling that the students then pick 3 to complete"
This works really well if students are able to voice record themselves though I've often used the task without. Students pick a section from their favourite book and read it out loud however they want, just to hear what their story sounds like in thier voice. They will need 10 pieces of paper (they don't need to be very big!) On each piece of paper in a different colour they need to write down one thing that they could do differently with their voice when speaking e.g speed-fast, slow, moderate, volume-loud, quiet, very quiet, pitch, accents...These are their direction cards. They then turn over the cards and mix them up so they don't know which one is which. At random they pick a card and then have to apply that effect to the extract (this is where recording helps) What worked/what didn't? Do they like some words or sentences spoken in that way? Does it add interest to their storytelling? They work through each of the direction cards in the same way. Once they have completed their direction cards they should have found some interesting ways to deliver their section of the story. They now need to put together all of their favourite ideas for their final performance. Anyone who is their audience should be able to hear the changes in their voice as they tell the story.
2. Page to stage
Theatre uses a lot of inspiration from books and stories but when we adapt a novel for the stage we have to work out what the most interesting bits for our script are-just because something is interesting to read doesn't mean it will be when its on stage!
Students should think of their favourite book/story. Can they they pick out the key moments that an audience would have to know to make their own shortened version of it? Can they tell it in a given number of words? 30? 15? 5? I remember hearing that Harry Potter was condensed to a 5 word plot summary when it was pitched as a film "A boy goes to magic school"
3. Shadow puppets.
Shadow puppetry is one of the oldest forms of storytelling. There are also some brilliant videos on YouTube for shadow puppetry.
Card shadow puppets: I used to use creation stories as the starting point. They pick out the key characters and design and make their own shadow puppets from card, in order to tell the story. They can also make setting pieces-it used to amaze me what students made!
Hand shadow puppets: There are some great images on how to make different puppets. We used to give them time to experiment and then they would have to write a short story using the puppets they are able to make. We used to get them to pick music or add one line narration moments to help.
To perform they can either set up a sheet with a light behind or use the sunlight on the floor to perform and film their shadow puppet play.
4. Physical storytelling (The story of Little Red Riding Hood is great for this one!)
Task students with creating a still image of each of the characters in the story e.g. Red, Grandmother, Wolf, Woodcutter.
Think about how the characters' facial expressions will change through the story too.
Can they tell the story just by changing their physicality between the characters? What's missing to make the story clearer? Could they add simple props or costumes to help? How do they transition between characters? Evaluate and reperform
5. An epic adventure in an ordinary space
I used to use this as a "go to" lesson when I was a teacher-it was always brilliant fun and the students loved it! It's also great for getting them to think imaginatively and find the drama in a story!
First of all you need an epic adventure described. I used to give them a (very badly drawn) treasure map as their starting point but they could create their own. Ask the students to write key moments in the story of their journey to the treasure-think Indiana Jones, booby trapped caves, lost civilisations-the more epic the better!
Students then go on that journey in whatever space they are in, keeping a film or voice diary narrating their experiences-what they see, hear, find etc. I used to give the class 10 minutes to move any item in the space (chairs, tables, any props that were in the boxes) that they could then use in their improvisation. I can remember one group scaled The Misty Mountains by climbing a set of stairs just outside the studio-it was very dramatic as they were caught in fog and inevitably lost someone down a ravine, and another used toy soldiers as a lost tribe (slightly Gulliver's Travels)
We developed this into a whole scheme of work too-each lesson was a different location on the map and they each had a particular character in the expedition party that they developed all term. I'd give them a particular drama technique that they had to use within each scene e.g. thought track, freeze frame, slow motion-It was simple but worked well!
4. "I would like some textual approaches as a an actor preparing to play work using methods drawn from Brecht and Stanislavski"
When creating work I don't really ever think about which practitioner techniques we're using, I suppose I've created my own approach which is an amalgamation of influences, and so this has been a great one to get me thinking! As there is so much available on line as isolated exercises for each I've picked the top 3 that we use as a company to hopefully help with the practical application side of things!
"Breaking the Forth Wall": This I think is my favourite thing to do and I love seeing audience reactions when actors/characters enter the "audience space" or speak directly to them. I find it keeps the whole space of a venue alive and it challenges the audience to be active in their engagement in a show. For us this developed as a direct result of our venues in the first instance, with limited space in churches it made sense for us to use the aisle space between rows of audience for action and with proximity so close direct address was a natural progression. Our "offstage" is often behind the audience with changing in bell towers or vestry's so this again moves the action away from the "top end" naturally.
In our production of Macbeth the witches sit with the audience as they watch scenes, making them part of the witness to Macbeth's demise, Romeo enters through the audience to Juliet's bedroom and he speaks to them as he approaches and Mercutio enquires if the audience know where he is. Hats are placed on audience members in The Importance of Being Earnest as they become Gwendoline and Miss Prism to aid the farcical performance by our cast of 3 and Scrooge shakes their hands and wishes them "A merry Christmas" as he moves through the streets of the city.
On a first day of rehearsal we mark out our audience area and I openly give actors the freedom to play with the space, where they perform scenes or deliver lines just to see what happens. As a director I actively seek the moments to push or break the forth wall entirely-its the kind of theatre I love and with the ever growing popularity of immersive theatre I think audiences no longer desire to be kept in darkness and be passive.
"Use of song, music and dance": As I mentioned further up the page we often perform in venues without power and with reduced company casts, music and movement allows for fluid scene changes above all else. Although Brecht championed their use as a reminder to audiences that they were watching theatre, I personally feel that their incorporation is far more practical for us. We will often pick out key ideas within the text to drive through the music, for instance in The Tempest as the sailors are "lost" we slowed the sea shanty Leave her Jonny to highlight the end of the journey: "For the voyage is done and the winds don't blow and its time for us to leave her" Whilst Brecht often juxtaposed music to mood or atmosphere for dramatic effect I can only at the moment think of moments from Macbeth where the witches break the tension of the previous scene with a boisterous Scottish Gaelic song. In our adaptation it is they who are the driving force of the events-they manipulate Macbeth to achieve their desired outcome and delight in the fated outcome.
"Stereotypes and status": As an initial starting point for scenic work stereotypes are really useful. Condensing a character down to its base attitude, class or function within a scene can be really useful if we're struggling to find the relationships between characters. Getting to know what the stereotype of a character is, then allows us to actively move toward or away from it. For Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream playing his high status allowed to us to explore his relationship with Lysander in more depth-It is Demetrius' self-perceived higher status that frustrates Lysander so finding moments to highlight this developed use of space, reactions and delivery of lines as one is angered by the other. The relationship between Capulet and Juliet verged on physically abusive as a result of the actor playing the stereotype of The Father-the head of the household. It was in discovering this that then informed the relationship further between Juliet and the Nurse (played by a male actor) -he became the father that Capulet wasn't/couldn't be.
"Relaxation": Most of the actors I know engage with yoga or meditation practices to develop self awareness and I think this is crucial for performers. To know where the body is in space and tension at any one time allows the performer to recreate and adapt as required. Understanding how their own body moves and responds in situations will then allow them to move toward or away from themselves and create physically considered characterisations.
"Given Circumstances": The information we know about a character and the play as a whole. Sounds simple enough and I suppose it is. This is something that we do as individual's for certain before we enter rehearsals, whether as a conscious list formed in our notebooks or a passing acknowledgement as we read the script. Again the use of this for me as a director is as a starting point. In knowing the definite facts we can then play with the unknown in rehearsals which 9 times out of 10 are far more interesting! Once we have the Given Circumstances we then use "What If" described above to explore ideas close to and distanced from the given. When dealing with classics its really important to know what a text is loaded with before starting work on it-audiences will have studied Shakespeare and read and re-read Dickens. You have to know what are the expectations to meet and which are the ones to challenge when approaching a production.
"Emotion Memory": I always think actors and directors should be careful of this one and in fact developed my own technique that is far safer and avoids "Character hangovers" as techniques like this have been accused of causing-but I won't bore you with that! In spite of my wariness of it I would be wrong to say it doesn't have its place-but just advise caution in its use. I will never opt to use it for sad scenes, though I am sure actors employ it regularly in rehearsals-it isn't reliable in my opinion. I always try to find a lesser circumstance that may have produced the same emotional response that we are aiming for but in a more reduced manner and get them to tell it as a story . As they talk either I, or others in the room, are tasked with recognising alterations in voice and physicality which we can then carry into scenic work. So for example:
To find Tybalt's reaction to Romeo when he sees him at the ball: Tell me about a time when someone took something that wasn't yours.
Observations: Moved head into back space. Frowned. Fidgeted with hands. Jaw tension
For Helena: Tell me about a boy you really fancied at school?
Observations: Shoulders lifted. Lift through the chest. Eyes widened. Played with top.
It is always worth remembering that an actor's role is to incite reactions through their actions, whether for those they are performing with or for their audience not to feel the emotions. If an actor sets themselves up well physically they will feel emotion as a by product. (Consider what happens when you smile!)
5. "How can I approach stage combat with my students?"
Students absolutely love stage combat and we have developed our own approach to creating choreography which we love sharing with students and is really safe too! Whilst you might think that unarmed is the safest kind to start with, technique is really specific and we'd always recommend getting someone in to teach it to avoid accidents. We've found that knives or staffs work well so often use these. For Knives we give students combs to use as they feel the same, are cheap to buy and we've not had any injuries yet! For staff's we use broom handles though we use these more with GCSE and 6th formers.
We have used the exercises below with unarmed but often make the pieces more stylised so use slow motion, freeze-frame to keep everyone safe. I'd encourage you to teach basic unarmed technique so d there are lots of online advice pages for these.
1. Don't try to choreograph a fight-this is a sure fire way to run out of ideas and create something that looks obviously put together. We often don't tell students what we are working towards instead we introduce each stage and then gradually add in the fight intention.
2. Towards, Away, Touch, Pass (If using staffs let the students work with them straight away. For knives we give these later)
a) In pairs students stand facing each other and label themselves A and B.
b) A moves 3 times using a combination of:
Towards -stepping towards their partner
Away -stepping away from their partner
Touch -making contact with their partner with an open palm-placed on a body part e.g. cheek, arm, shoulder or a touch of their staffs together(emphasise placement rather than smacking them)
Pass- passing by their partner
c) Once A is happy with their 3 movements B then adds to it with 3 movements of their own.
d) They continue to re-cap and build their sequence until they have about 12-15 movements in total between them (or as many as you want to determine the length of the fight)
e) Get them to take away any unnecessary steps to keep movement streamline and economic
3. Hold, Advance, Retreat
Working through their sequence students now start to play with intention and reaction qualities.
a) Whilst A performs their first 3 moves B decides whether they will:
Hold-keep still in the space
Retreat -move away from their partner in the space
Advance -move towards their partner in the space
They should take their cues from the movement of the other and again keep it economic
b) They work through their entire sequence in this manner so they now have moments when both move. It will now start feeling like a fight but encourage them not to add in too much intention just yet!
4. Yes or No
a) Get students to mark their sequences to identify who is the attacking party and who is defending. Every time they perform an action they both say "Yes" or "No" You can't have 2 yes' so they will have to choose who defends each time
5. Fight Actions
a) Keeping everything in slow motion get students to now consider what fight actions would make sense with their created choreography. Give them the freedom to play but make sure that their decisions come from what they've already got. For example a hand to the cheek easily feels like a slap or a punch, a pass might feel like a strike and miss. If using knives/combs now is when we introduce these.
6. Added moments-these normally come as a direct result of the task above.
a) Students find additional movements to add to their choreography to help communicate the intention of "fight" These might include circling each other, moments of struggle or added steps or fight actions
7. Pace-Gradually encourage students to increase the pace of their choreography but they must always have the control-if they lose it they should slow and rebuild again. Students will always want to speed it up as much as possible but remind them that the audience don't want a visual onslaught they want to see each moment to follow and understand it.
8. A Winner or None-if you're working on a particular scene or text this might be naturally decided, if not allow the students to decide who will be the winner or if they both run away or both lose. We will often explore all options and then get each pair to decide which they like best.
a) Students run the last 5 or so moves of their fight and hold their last position.
b) From here, as economically as possible, A has to find a way to run away from B. Again work in slow motion here as some might have a hold to break from or need to get off the floor or a fight action might need to be used
c) Repeat but B runs away this time
d) Repeat but both run away-they could hear a police siren
e) Repeat but A wins the fight -encourage this to come from the last position as much as possible
f) Repeat but B wins the fight
g) Repeat but both A and B lose (works best with knives and both stab each other or if one appears to win but then falls)
Whilst its always a scary thing to let go of the control you as facilitator has for this last section, if students understand to keep things slow initially, they will be really creative and safe in what they do and will enjoy being trusted to create their own ending. Go round each group and see what they have picked in slow motion to check you're happy with their safety.
8. Punctuation-A fight doesn't happen all at the same speed so when students are happy and confident with their sequence in slow motion they can then build the pace. Encourage them to add the following:
Paragraph -the pace is faster, one action follows to the next in succession
Full stop- the actions halts. Fight tension is lost perhaps or action paused for a notable period
Comma -the fight takes a momentary pause, a breath before continuing
9. Perform-we get each group to perform their choreography twice in front of the rest. The first time has to be slow to get the initial adrenaline of performance under control. Then at performance speed. Its always great to add music to their performances-we love something epic!
6. "I'm writing a scheme of work for The Tempest-have you any ideas for creative approaches to the text?
We should have been touring The Tempest as I write this so this question has made me very happy! The text is so rich with ideas that as both a director and teacher I have always loved working with the play.
1. The Storm: There is a found object soundscape task here which works brilliantly with the opening storm of the play. Students can then layer lines from the sailors over the top of the soundscape to create the panic of the scene. I've spent a whole lesson on this as a teacher and longer in the rehearsal room!
2. Sea Shanties: If you have a class or students keen on music or writing this is a lovely task and offers something a little different. Shanties form the basis of our music for the production and are a really rich source of creativity. They were sung to keep the crew of ship together in their work and often reflected on the hard work, journeys, or loves left behind. Here are 2 examples of sea shanties but encourage students to find their own. Spotify has lots of playlists to help. Once they've listened to a few challenge students to write their own verse and chorus for a sea shanty. Simon (our composer) often finds poetry to use as a starting point for our lyrics, so we've previously given extracts to help students get started-though often they don't use these. You can pick a particular moment for the play too, so groups have didn't stimuli-just after the storm when the men are thought lost at sea, one for Ferdinand to sing as he carries logs for Prospero for e.g.
3. Caliban: Such a great character! Students love performing his speech in Act 2 Scene 2 "From bogs, fens..." so I'd always recommend looking at this, it tells so much of his relationship with Prospero and his character and the language is wonderful. as a lead in to it we've used improvisations of students moaning about their parents or siblings, telling someone about a particularly scary nightmare or something they fear the most. When approaching the speech itself we encourage them to think about the shapes and sensations he describes and pick these out with movement or gesture
4. Animal Studies: Once students are familiar with the characters get them to consider which animal they would be. Prospero, Caliban, Trinculo, Miranda and Stephano work best from experience but I use this exercise lots in the rehearsal room for all characters. How does the animal move? Use sound? Body parts? How do these then translate to the human form? To speech? Playing the character as an animal can reveal a lot about movement, status and relationships.
5. The blessing of Miranda and Ferdinand. I have to confess that I often leave this out of adaptations for productions as its quite a mad scene but as a teacher it was a lovely chance to use puppetry (and maybe one day I'll approach it for stage like this?) There are some exercises here for shadow puppetry which students enjoyed with this section
6. Prospero's spells: After looking at some of Prosper's spells students could write and perform their own. I used to get them to write a spell from a time before the play: freeing Ariel, creating the storm, protecting Miranda. Encourage them to use ideas from the text-nature, the island, his staff in movement.
7. Ariel: Costume design tasks work well for this character-whether allowing students to raid the store cupboards to create it on a model or creating a paper design, with the elemental nature of Ariel students can be so creative. We always create a Pinterest board when we start designing a show so this could creating their own board for the character could be their stepping stone task into it.
8. The problem of the banquet: This is one of those moments where as a director you read the stage directions and just think "how?"
"Enter ARIEL, like a harpy, claps his wings upon the table, and, with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes"
So not only has a banquet magically appeared but it then needs to vanish. Create the set in the space-a table with items on to represent the banquet-you can be as helpful as you like with the items you give-there might be sacks or crates they can use or cloths, then give it over to the students to create a movement sequence to clear it. See "how to get variety in movement sequences" to help
9. Model challenge: Set box or model prop challenges work really well for The Tempest. Could they create a model ship, Prospero's wand or a set box of the island?
10. Off-text work: There is so much reported in the text that we never see-Prospero escape, Caliban's mother, Ariel and Sycorax's relationship, Caliban's reported attempted rape of Miranda. Explore these moments through improvisations to develop understanding. There's so much in the first 10 pages you don't even need to use the whole text!
7. "How can you get variety in movement sequences?"
I will often set rules for the actors in any movement task. So once we have the basic idea for the movement-a normal one for us is a set change I will then challenge them to not make so easy. Here are a few ideas:
They can only move 1 object at a time
1 person must always be in the space
You can only leave the space twice
They have to have 3 moments of contact
A moment of slow motion
A moment of freeze for each performer
2 items should be moved in the space but not cleared
A moment of reversal
You can choose rules to suit the scene and then evaluate what works/doesn't to find the variety. I've often written random rules on cards that students have face-down. They create their movement sequence in a basic form and then turn a card over to find out what they are adding in to the scene. Sometimes it works, sometimes not but its good find exploring them!