Conscience Alley is a Drama tool that has been around for quite a long time. I suspect that it comes from Brain Way or Dorothy Heathcote and it is something that I have always associated with ‘process drama’. Drama as a pedagogy rather than Drama as a subject. It wouldn’t look out of place in a History lesson for example.
Its structure is loose, which means it can easily be adapted. It begins with the class forming two lines facing each other with a gap between them large enough for another student to walk down the centre. At this point, how you use this is then dependant on what outcomes you want for the exercise. The simplest is to ask the student going down the centre of the two lines, the alley, to represent a character and then the students in the two lines say aloud their thoughts of the character as the student playing that character passes them as they go down the ‘alley’.
In the context of a history lesson for instance, the student going down the alley could be Henry VIII and the students on each side could voice their opinion of him as he passes them. This could then be developed so that the students then take a role and use that role to inform what they say. It could then be developed that one line is positive and one line is negative about Henry VIII. It could be developed even further and give Henry VIII a dilemma to face and everyone in the left line give positive or good advice to Henry VIII and the other side gives negative or bad advice to him.
Conscience Alley as a Rehearsal Strategy
It is a very good teaching tool that can be used in all subjects, but I’ve been exploring ways to reclaim it as a rehearsal strategy for developing text and devised performances.
A first way is early on in the rehearsal process and use it to explore how different characters feel about each other. It involves each character going down the alley one after the other, and everyone else still being ‘in role’ as their character. As the first character goes down the alley, the other characters must decide whether they first like or dislike the character. So for example, if the first character to go down the alley is Romeo, then the other characters must all decide whether they like Romeo or not and stand in one of the lines accordingly. Then as Romeo goes down the alley each student says aloud what their character thinks about Romeo. The exercise is repeated for every character. It gives the students a very clear idea of the characters opinions of each other and forces the students to weigh up the options to make a definitive decision.
A second way is to use it to explore sub-text. Again, it is focused on how characters respond, feel and think about each other. As each character goes down the alley, the other characters are given the opportunity to speak aloud their inner thoughts towards that character. Often the excitement of the activity sparks thought and debate inside the student and they discover more than they thought they would. Because of this, it is worth heading back to the text after this exercise and linking these inner thoughts to moments of action or even lines of text. Then the conscience alley exercise can be repeated using the lines of text voiced to express their sub-text.
A third way to use it to explore the motivations of the character going down the alley. This involves some discussion, or another activity like Hotseating, beforehand to explore the different influences on a character behaviour, actions and decision making processes. For example, if a character faces a dilemma within the play and the students need to explore the different influences or connotations of the decision then the students standing in the two lines might express the positive and negative influences or connotations of that decision. It might help the actor playing the character that faces the dilemma understand all the different positive and negative perspectives of their decision.