Useful resources for Year 11 students

Drama & Theatre Studies (A Level)

During your time studying A Level Drama, you will look at three different components – two of these will be taught during your first year.

Drama and Theatre

This is the written examination, which takes place at the end of the two years, and can often be the element that students may be the most nervous about. In lessons we will look at two set texts, and through practical and theoretical study you will feel fully prepared to answer questions from the perspective of a director, a designer and a performer. During this time period, there are several things you can do that will help you feel confident and prepared for A Level study.

In September, we will be studying Sophocles’ Antigone, a significant Greek Theatre text. You will probably be unfamiliar with theatre from this time period, and it is an interesting one to research – it is fascinating that we are studying a play written almost 2500 years ago! Plays were performed in honour of the god Dionysus, and originally consisted of a chorus using song and dance. As goats were hugely significant to this God, this is actually where the word ‘tragedy’ comes from – it literally translates from Greek as ‘Goat Song!’

There are lots of other words that derive from this period in theatre. Do you know why actors are sometimes referred to as Thespians? See if you can find out!

There are lots of useful websites that will give you some background information, but this one is particularly good, from the National Theatre website.

Think about:

  • What place do Greek plays have in modern society? Why are their themes and issues still relevant and relatable?
  • How were performances different? What would the experiences be like for an audience?
  • What structure did the plays tend to follow?
  • How important was religion to the Ancient Greeks? How did this impact their theatre?

To prepare for section C of your exam, we will go to the theatre to see a range of performances, with contrasting styles and genres. After watching a production we focus on analysing how performers used a variety of vocal and physical skills in order to communicate meaning, and impact the audience. In the current climate, unfortunately live theatre is unavailable, but there are some brilliant opportunities to watch free filmed productions. The more theatre you watch, the more confident you will become at recognising why directors and performers make certain decisions.

Each Thursday, the National Theatre is releasing a different performance on YouTube (originally filmed in front of a live audience), and there have already been some incredible works shown, including Frankenstein and Jane Eyre. These are available for seven days, and whilst online you will also be able to access additional information on the NT website, including backstage photos and interviews with the cast and production team.

Upcoming productions are:

14th to the 21st of May – Barber Shop Chronicles

One Day. Six Cities. A thousand stories.

Newsroom, political platform, local hotspot, confession box, preacher-pulpit and football stadium. For generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to  discuss the world. These are places where the banter can be barbed and the truth is always telling.

Directed by Olivier award-winning director Bijan Sheibani, Barber Shop Chronicles is a heart-warming, hilarious and insightful new play that leaps from a barber shop in Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra over the course of a single day.

21st to the 28th of May – A Streetcar Named Desire

Gillian Anderson (All About Eve, The X-Files, The Fall, Sex Education) plays Blanche DuBois with Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, Kill Your Darlings) as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby (Julie, The Crown, Mission Impossible) as Stella.

As Blanche’s fragile world crumbles, she turns to her sister Stella for solace – but her  downward spiral brings her face to face with the brutal, unforgiving Stanley Kowalski. 

This one is particularly worth a watch, as we sometimes look at this for scripted work. It is also a set text for A Level English, so very useful for those of you interested in that A Level too.

 

28th of May to the 4th of June – This House

It’s 1974, and Britain has a hung Parliament.  The corridors of Westminster ring with the sound of infighting and backstabbing as the political parties battle to change the future of the nation.

During this era of chaos, when a staggering number of politicians die and age-old traditions are thrown aside, MPs find they must roll up their sleeves, and bend the rules, to navigate a way through the Mother of all Parliaments.

When watching these productions, think about:

  • Vocal skills – Pitch, pace, intonation, articulation, diction, tone, emphasis etc.
  • Physical skills – Gesture, posture, gait, facial expressions, tension, body language etc.
  • How do they use these elements to created defined characters and convey meaning?

Creating Original Drama

An exciting part of your course is being able to create your own piece of theatre, based on given stimulus. Here you will work as part of a group to create a performance that is in the style of a set practitioner, and has a clear social/political and cultural message. As part of this, it is important that you have opinions on current events, so as unappealing as that may seem at the moment, try and keep an eye on the news!

In the first term, we will look at several different practitioners and their approach to devising. One of the hardest parts about devising is turning your ideas into practical material, so this is a really good skill that you can be practicing at home.

You may have heard of a company called Frantic Assembly, who combine physical theatre techniques with naturalistic acting. Here is a quote from their artistic directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, about their starting points for creating material:

‘Research and Development can be physically led, or it could be about developing story and text. We might explore character work either textually or physically but all work will be within a clearly defined parameters. We would have talked about our aims and created techniques to explore them, partly wanting to be proved successful and partly wanting to be surprised by the outcome.’

Obviously devising individually is a very different challenge than working with others, but there is an activity that you can try at home. We would like you to create an ‘ode’ (poem) based on your answers to the Frantic Assembly questionnaire below – this is one of the many starting points used by this famous physical theatre company.
Dreamscape Questionnaire

  1. Do you dream in colour or black and white?
  2. Do you have a recurring nightmare?
  3. Did/ Do you keep anything under your bed?
  4. If you daydream, where do you put yourself?
  5. Have you ever dreamt you were with somebody famous?
  6. Have you ever woken up crying and why?
  7. Have you ever woken up laughing and why?
  8. Has anyone dreamt of you – what were you like or what did you do?
  9. Does anyone recur in your dreams?
  10. Do you have a pre-bed routine?
  11. Do you have any particular sleeping habits – sleepwalking/talking/kicking etc?

To create your ode, experiment with jumbling up your responses, selecting the most visual or thought provoking ideas.  Don’t worry about it rhyming, or making too much logical or linear sense. Some of the most interesting works can come from a series of thoughts, rather than trying to create a formal piece of writing. Here is an example of an ode that has this interesting and surprising structure:

Yes, I don’t know now – it wasn’t funny after I woke up. Cleanse. Moisturise. Twitch.  I’m falling but then at the last second I start to soar. At least three. She’s in danger but I can’t shout, I scream but she can’t hear me and goes on laughing. My fluffy warm slippers. I saw my brother with blood all over his face but I didn’t see how it got there, he had his two front teeth knocked out on a see-saw the next day. Always black and white. On a beautiful sandy beach with no one around but the birds. Don’t judge me please…Chris Evans. Flying. Yes, I was being so cruel to him that the inner part of me that was watching just couldn’t stop crying. Socks last – hard cold floors. I was marrying their dad and they hated me for it. The man with no eyes. Brush. Top. Trousers. Twitching and shouting.

Consider how you would perform the piece without being too naturalistic. How can you be creative in your approach to performing it? Have a think about how you could apply the below elements, and how you might apply these theatrical features to your ode if you were staging it.

Use of…

Sound and/or music                                       Lighting                      Space and/or levels

Set and/or props                        Movement, mime and gesture – stylised/symbolic/tableau etc.

Voice – singing/ chanting/ sound effects etc.             Spoken language – narration/ dialogue/ choral delivery etc.

Posture              Facial expression                               Gait/ stance                                      Eyeline focus

There are lots of Frantic Assembly videos online that will help inspire you. If you have someone in your household to perform with, perhaps look at this video, which shows how to effectively develop routines such as ‘Hymn Hands’ and ‘Chair Duets’.

Recording something at home can feel daunting, but we would love to see either a written ode, or a filmed performance of it!

If you wanted any further activities on devising, here are another few useful sites. This link has various lesson ideas connected to devising – we use these ideas in our lessons such as using photos or poems as a stimulus. We also cover styles of devising such as verbatim theatre which is also mentioned.

This next link has a video where you can see how valuable certain drama games/exercises can be when devising – they physically create objects called ‘body as prop’ as a group – they use stories and images to help create material.

National Theatre are streaming one of their shows each Thursday. Evaluating live theatre is an important part of the course, so getting used to watching live productions, and noting how performers successfully use vocal and physical skills is excellent preparation.

The set text studied on the first year of A Level is Sophocles’ Antigone. Researching background information surrounding Greek theatre would be very beneficial for contextual understanding.

 

We are excited to begin a fresh term in September, but know that this period of time is an anxious one, and you might feel a bit uncertain about what your classes might be like. If you want to discuss any worries, ask questions about the course, or give your responses to any of the above activities, please email leach.a@runshaw.ac.uk

We look forward to meeting you!

Adele Leach and Sarah Martin.

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