Sidecoaching with The Tempest

Sidecoaching is an act through of the play rather than a read through of the play. It is a really useful way of helping students learn not just the plot of the play but also the characters, their motivations and the underlying themes of the play.

Before you begin you will need a good summary of the play, along with badges with character names, key props / pieces of costumes and key passages of script. Here I am using the plot summary for The Tempest from ThoughtCo and here is the link to the original summary.

Arrange the class in either a large circle or into an audience / stage arrangement, so that the audience are able to see the whole of the action on stage. Allocate roles from the beginning of the activity, so that students know they will eventually be called upon to go onto the stage (even if they aren’t Caliban until act three).

Start the exercise by calling the relevant actors up and asking them to form a ship. Read the extract from the summary and ask the actors to quickly decide how they are going to act it out – and then ask them to do so.

“The Tempest begins on a boat being tossed about in a storm. Aboard are Alonso (the King of Naples), Ferdinand (his son), Sebastian (his brother), Antonio (the usurping Duke of Milan), Gonzalo, Adrian, Francisco, Trinculo, ​and Stefano.”

Stop the action and explain to the class the different relationships between the characters and the hierarchy that is present. Ask member of the audience to arrange the actors into what a photograph of them might have looked like moments before they got on the boat. Then recreate the end of the scene so that the hierarchy is still evident within the fear and confusion of the sinking of the boat.

Ask the actors to then re act out the scene, working this time to start and finish with the different Still Images.

Ask the class what emotions and motivations are going through Alonso’s mind during the shipwreck with regards to Ferdinand. Obviously, these answers are important as they inform our understanding of Alonso for later in the play. So with this in mind, maybe ask the actors one last time to act out the scene making sure the actor playing Alonso has time and space to convey their motivation and emotions to the audience.

Ask two students up onto the stage to play Prospero and Miranda. Give them time to interpret and act out this:

“Miranda, who has been watching the ship at sea, is distraught at the thought of lost lives. The storm was created by her father, the magical Prospero, who reassures her that all will be well. Prospero then explains how the two of them came to live on this island: They were once part of Milan’s nobility—he was a Duke—and Miranda lived a life of luxury. However, Prospero’s brother usurped him and exiled them. They were placed on a boat, never to be seen again.”

Let’s focus on the response from Miranda, because that is a lot of information for her to take in for the first time. Just by asking questions and talking as a class, what is Miranda’s response to this likely to be. It may help to frame it in the students own lives and how they might respond to some major information about their past being told to them when they are sixteen years old.

But also Prospero, what has led to them only sharing this information now? Have they wanted to do so in the past? Would they have ever shared it if it wasn’t for the fact that Alonso was sailing by? What was Prospero’s game plan here?

Finally, we also need to discuss their relationship. Having discussed both Prospero and Miranda separately, how do the students feel about their relationship?

Finally, this is a good opportunity to break up into pairs with a short section of the script and act out the scene between Prospero and Miranda. With the knowledge of these two characters and their relationships we have just gained, how will the students communicate that to the audience? Encourage them to experiment with proxemics, use of space, eye contact, use of voice etc… to communicate their own characters emotions and motivations and their characters relationship.

With this complete, move on to the next part of the plot. The purpose with sidecoaching is not to read the whole play, that can be done later with the knowledge gained in this exercise. The purpose is to work through the plot of the play, asking questions as you do so and forming a sound understanding of the play which can then be worked with later in the scheme of work or performance work.