Before we go any further, I just want to say that working with scripts and text is really important. I think it is the most important part of teaching Drama to young people. Getting scripts and texts in their hands and acting it out. It is the best way of helping young people learn about all aspects of Drama and Theatre, but most importantly the fundamentals of structure, characterisation and dialogue. Getting up and making improvised or devised theatre is great, but without that understanding of how to make a piece of theatre, it will almost certainly descent into chaos.
Working successfully with script can take time to develop. It is knowledge that takes time to build up and improve. It is as much about deliberate practice of the process as it is about learning the process. Successful script work comes from embedding the routines into a student’s normal Drama practice and vocabulary.
I start with text work from the very first lesson I have with Year 7 students. Over the first few lessons of working with scripts we built up the routine until we can begin to repeat it. Remember the routine is the same but the content and outcomes differ depending on the text.
The routine that I establish as from the beginning of Year 7 is as follows.
Teacher provides an introduction to the text, the context of the text and anything of particular interest regarding the content of the text.
Students read the extract in groups. They read in various group formations, sometimes not even in the groups they will be performing in. If it’s a two-hander for example, they will read the script in groups of four and the split into two pairs later. Students are encouraged to read aloud and to take into consideration anything special they’ve been told to look out for in the introduction (particular accents or emotions expressed etc…). Students are also encouraged to try reading aloud each character.
Group discussion about what they have noticed about the extract. The teacher can signpost where this conversation should be focusing on, particular characters, relationships, things that will need to be overcome in rehearsal.
Class discussion drawing out from students the main points of their group discussion. Again, the focus of this should be teacher led and you can step in to give guidance on what the student’s need to be aware of when rehearsing the performance.
Select how much to perform. Most of the extracts I use are two sides of A4 paper, so I can offer the students a choice on how much to perform. They have the choice of 5 lines each, 10 lines each, 15 lines each or the whole script. The choices aren’t just based on the students perceived ability, but also the complexity of the script and what they’ve produced in the past. The emphasis is always on creating quality over quantity. I’d rather everyone did 5 lines each incredibly well than watch an entire extract performed slowly, painfully and without meaning. It also leaves you room, as the teacher, to suggest that students reduce or increase the amount of text they do.
Highlight the text. It annoys me when students don’t highlight their text. Such a simple way of helping them engage and interact with the text. It provides them with a point of focus.
Annotate the text. This is simple, I’m not looking for A Level standard notations referencing the characters past, their motivations or their fears. But at least one word for every line that their character says based on what they think the character is feeling when they say that line. It could be as simple as using emotional words like angry, frustrated or happy. If the students want to go into more detail, then great. But what I’m looking for is the students to think about what they are saying, why they are saying it and what they want to communicate to the audience when they say it.
At this point, the students need to start blocking the script. They need to get up, set up their set, block entrances and exits and start acting out the script. The whole process should be about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the complexity of the script. Part 1 should take about 10 minutes, part 2 taking 5 to 10 minutes depending on the amount of the text students choose and the complexity of the text.
This may seem like a long time but once they start acting they do so with an understanding of the script, what they are aiming to achieve as a group, what they are aiming to achieve as an individual character and, at minimum, a simple set of instructions on how they are going to achieve that in the annotations.
In the context of how that then fits into a side lesson. I’d start with either a warm up that focuses on something we’re working on with the students – proxemics, eye contact etc… Or I’d start with an improvisation exercise based on the content or context of the script. Then once parts 1 and 2 of the routine is completed, students would then have the rest of the lesson to rehearse and develop their performance for some kind of performance.
This routine is repeated for every text, large or small, for the rest of the students time studying Drama. So that routine gets embedded into the students Drama vocabulary, but it also gets quicker and more developed. Year 11 students will very quickly annotate their text with more complex ideas and thoughts because they have been doing so as part of their Drama practice since Year 7.