29 September 2021
In the first few weeks of term, the Drama Department arranged for external theatre companies to run workshops to help prepare Year 11 and Sixth Form drama students for the devised performance element of their GCSEs and A Levels. The students found the sessions extremely beneficial as Upper Sixth Drama Ribbon Oriana and Claudia, Year 11, describe below.
Claudia, Year 11
On Wednesday 15 September our workshop, run by Splendid Productions, focused on Brecht, the theatre style for our GCSE devised pieces this year.
The first technique we learnt was Gestus, the idea of embodying a certain stereotypical character through exaggerated, almost comical body movements. For this we walked around the room with a partner, taking it in turns to copy each other’s movements in our own interpretation of each character. Whilst we did this, we were encouraged to imagine where characters who wielded different sorts of power, e.g. relating to strength or intelligence, would stand on the stage and why.
Next, we looked at how to present a point to an audience using three techniques: a song or poem; making the point specific to the audience (Verfremdungseffekt); and by producing a clear, but also entertaining, argument. Our task was to persuade another group that beige was either amazing or awful, depending on the group you were in. Each of us used one of the techniques to try to sell our argument. The result was a lot of screaming of the word 'beige' in an apparently persuasive way and a strangely dark cover of 'Let it Go' from Frozen with the words changed to 'I hate beige', which was hilarious and definitely helped us learn.
Finally, we learnt about including both a thesis and antithesis within a Brechtian piece. For this, in groups, we performed two versions of a short rendition of a classic fairy tale, such as Hansel and Gretel, with the perspective of the piece changing so that different people were the perpetrators and the victims in each one. This is designed to make the audience think for themselves about what they see in the play and come to their own conclusions, rather than being told what to think and feel by the actors.
Everyone agreed that the workshop had been really good fun and gave us so many great skills to apply for GCSE. I really hope we have the chance to do more workshops like this in the future because it brings the skills you learn about in theory to life and really makes you think about how each technique will impact your performance and make the audience question what it is watching.
Oriana, Drama Ribbon
The workshop for A Level drama and theatre studies students was run by The Paper Birds on Wednesday 22 September. Members of the company taught us about The Paper Birds’ very distinct style, which consists of extensive verbatim research, the breaking of the fourth wall, and choreography techniques. The aim is to deliver a political or social message to an audience through these and we spent the day practising how to accurately and effectively use these techniques.
After some warm up exercises, in small groups we were asked to come up with a 10-step piece of choreography, made up of different moves. We had to perform this in unison and in different styles. We were then given some verbatim research taken from news report transcripts from people who had won the lottery (because our current A Level devised piece is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with one of its main themes being luck). We picked phrases out of the text and performed them to the rest of the group in three different styles: naturalistic, realistic and stereotypical. We then swapped phrases and performed them in highly heightened stereotypical ways. The act of over-stereotyping led the group to discuss how ethical this practice would be if we were to take it into our own piece of devised theatre. For example, if we were to take verbatim research from accounts of slaves (slavery is another prominent, darker theme in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), we would treat the dialogue with respect and would not abuse it by changing it to anything other than realistic. We found this very useful for our own piece of devised theatre and are now planning to find our own interviews and independent verbatim research to include. The Paper Birds also taught us that having a personal connection to the topic as an actor is important, especially when it comes to later techniques like breaking the fourth wall, as your reaction should be authentic.
After this, we were asked to incorporate the dialogue into our earlier 10-step piece of choreography and find places where certain lines would fit with the body movement we had already created. This taught us how to fit dialogue into movement which is already in place, rather than use movement as an afterthought, and was extremely useful.
We then did some vocal exercises, which included having an individual narrative or story to tell but being constantly interrupted by other people during your performance. This had a comedic effect but made us acutely aware of what the other actors were saying because when we interrupted them, we had to make as much sense as possible rather than just randomly speaking over them. In a wider context, it also made us aware when others had more of an important role to play than ourselves.
To practice breaking the fourth wall, we once more performed our dialogue and choreography from earlier, but this time something ‘went wrong’. This was scripted of course, but made to look as if the actor had forgotten her lines, or where to stand, for example. This technique is supposed to remind audience members that they are in a theatre watching a piece being performed with the intention of provoking thought within them. To use this effectively, you may have, for example, a character with dementia, and the forgetting of a line by another actor would tie in to the whole theme of memory loss. Though it is important to also use it in a comedic relief setting, as sometimes heavy themes can become quite depressing for an audience.
For the final exercise we got into pairs and took a chair. Using prompts from the previous exercise, we took it in turns to sit on or be in control of the chair in different ways. Only when we were on the chair could we speak, and we had to use our intuition to know which part of our dialogue would fit to make coherent conversation.
This was a really fun workshop and we are very grateful to have a lot of new techniques to use in our own piece of devised theatre.