Introducing Drama

See the PowerPoint presentation below for an introduction to the genre:
File Introducing Drama [E. Kelleher]

Activities for Teaching Drama

What’s Going On Here?

I would suggest using Miriam Gilbert’s idea of asking your students to read lines out loud, pausing between each line so that the class can “read between the lines” and explain what they think is really going on in the character’s mind (the subtext). In many interactions, characters leave implied reactions to events that remain unstated, and pausing over some of these sections can help students understand the characters’ motivations. [A. Stenson (, modified]

The Power of the Director

I have my students do a short in-class writing on how they would direct a given scene or part of a scene. Much like Miriam Gilbert’s staging paper, I ask them how they would set up the stage, how they would direct the actors to say the lines and move, what sort of setting they would use, what they would be looking for in their casting for the characters, how they would interpret the props, etc. After they finish their brief in-class writing, we have a group discussion about how different productions can ultimately make it almost a different play with a different meaning, and discuss whether the play in fact has a core within the text itself that cannot change, or whether everything about the play can be changed through staging and direction. We also talk about how different people’s productions pick up on different aspects of the scene (including, sometimes, aspects that are not immediately obvious). Overall this has worked well for me. [J. Rodriguez (, modified]

The Three Dramatic Unities

I briefly explained to my students the three dramatic unities as derived from Aristotle’s Poetics:
unity of action – the plot must develop a single line of action
unity of time – course of the play must take place within 24 hours
unity of place – the entirety of the play must take place within the same geographical location

This concept opens the opportunity to let them both (1) vent their complaints regarding the complexity of the text, but also (2) come to some kind of an appreciation, if not then an understanding, of it. For instance, I began by asking the following questions: Which of these rules does the author break? How does he break them? What’s the effect of breaking them? My students didn’t hesitate to respond to this string of questions, but the next few that I asked took some more contemplation on their part: Why did he break them? Did he have good reason to do so? Would the author have been able to depict such complexity while abiding by the three unities? The class unanimously agreed that the author would not have been able to present such a complex plot within those three constraints.

These questions which are structured around the concept of the three unities are, then, best used on your second day of teaching a text; or at least after you’ve been able to demonstrate the complexities of the text. [M. Sarabia (, modified]

Writing Assignment: Theme and Execution

As their final project, I require the students to film or stage the play on paper, in order to think about the play as a dramatic piece and not just words on paper. They’re asked to write a 4-page critical paper that selects a theme from the play (family, violence, revenge, race, outsiders, madness, childhood, fatherhood, honor, etc.) and then choose the one scene in the play that best demonstrates what the play says about that theme.

For the second half of the assignment, then, they must plan the staging of the scene they’ve analyzed however they’d like, using at least three elements from a long list: casting, set, costume design, musical score, special effects, make-up, and so on. They must explain their decisions, usually in about 300 words per element, elaborating on how their staging emphasizes the theme by referring to specific moments in the text. Professional presentation is the only limit I put on their creativity. I get phenomenal results from students who get into the imaginative aspect. A music major wrote and recorded a score over which he had two friends read the dialogue, a business major designed a ‘pitch’ for a film, including an ad that he designed and glued into a magazine, a cover letter, casting suggestions, and a web site. Storyboards, CDs, portfolios, and fabric swatches are common. Bonus: this is a ridiculously fun assignment to grade, and can be adapted to any play. [E. Mann, (, modified]

Readings on Drama as a Genre

“Drama: Reading, Responding, Writing” in the Norton Introduction to Literature Shorter 11th Edition, University of Iowa Edition (1122–25)
“Elements of Drama” in the Norton Introduction to Literature Shorter 11th Edition, University of Iowa Edition (1180–88)