There's about 50 kids in the class, so I'm looking for something that can keep everyone involved. Because the course is only offered once a year, I need to give students a basic but well-rounded overview of the theater and how to put on a production, but don't have the time or budget to do a full-fledged production. P.S.-I've also never taught drama before, so any ideas/suggestions are appreciated.
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An evening of short one-act plays is a great solution to your problem. There should be a common theme that connects all the plays. This commonality could be a playwright, a genre, a historical event or a particular social commentary. Without knowing your particular students' ages or maturity levels, here are some ideas...
Produce an evening of one-act plays by Susan Glaspell. Susan Glasspell was an award-winning playwright who is considered by many to be the first (if not one of the first) important American modern female playwrights. This theme is perfect for starting conversations about the history of female writers in America. Susan Glaspell wrote many one-act plays including Trifles, The Outside, Supressed Desires, Tickless Time, Woman's Honor and The People. Choose three to four of these short plays and have an evening of Susan Glaspell.
Produce an evening of Edgar Allan Poe plays. Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous American authors whose stories of mystery and horror have entertained readers for over a Century. Many of his short stories have been turned into one-act plays. This theme is perfect for Halloween time or for discussions of genre and folklore. Some of his most famous short stories that have been turned into short plays include The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, The Oblong Box and The Purloined Letter. Choose three to four of these short plays and have an evening of Edgar Allan Poe.
Produce an evening of original one act plays. As a class, choose a social issue that they agree is important to them. Important issues could be equal rights for women and/or gay people, war, racism, religion, etc... Once the class has voted on an overall theme, have the students break into 3-5 smaller groups. Have each group write a short play telling a specific story dealing with this issue. Guide the students through the process of writing the script, producing the script, rehearsing/staging/memorizing the script and performing the script for an audience. Have an evening of each play being performed one after the other, and then a brief talk back at the end where the students can articulate why their chosen theme was important for them to dramatize.
I hope these suggestions help!
Since you have such a big class, I would consider breaking them into specializations. For example, some kids could be backstage with props/costumes/makeup, some could be directors for different scenes, some could be actors and others could be scenery and set-dressers. Then choose a large somewhat complicated play. For example, if you have some kids that sing you could do a musical. If everyone is broken into different groups and the play is complicated enough, there should be something for everyone to do. I would consider giving the group 3 choices and letting them vote, or using a play that matches some of the resources you already have (costumes and set pieces) since you have a short time to find things.
I teach in a small school and have no organized drama class; so even 12 weeks with a cast sounds like heaven to me!
Because the majority of my cast members (between 20 and 30) are also heavily committed to other activities, we have found four weeks in the fall and four weeks in the spring (plus spring break, where we don't meet but they can memorize lines and we can work on sets and costumes) where students have fewer commitments and we can therefore put on a show. It's pretty grueling at times, as we generally rehearse two hours in the evenings and Saturday mornings (no Wednesday nights or Sundays). The up side is that they are generally highly motivated and interested because it's too short a time to be anything else!
I'm not a theater major, nor have I ever even been in a production. I've obviously watched them, though, and I know how to motivate kids. I ask for help when I need it, have a few key parents who have stepped in to help sew or create costumes and put on the dinner part of our dinner theater productions. (Yup, we always do dinner theater because we only have a portable stage to work with, and tha audience is in a much better position to enjoy the show from around their tables and around the room than in rows of chairs placed in front of our fake stage.) When I'm not sure what to do, I simply trust my judgment and vision, and the kids are able to sell it to the audience. It's been one of the great blessings of my teaching career to have had these experiences.
I tell you all this to let you know it CAN be accomplished with even greater obstacles than those in front of you. The kids will love the experience, and I'm confident you will, too.
On to the show. I started with a primarily improvisational '50s show in which nearly all the characters were actually the waiters and waitresses for our customers (audience). They got the audience to participate with them in things like a hula hoop contest or the hand jive. I certainly can't claim this is high drama (though we progressed to shows like Taming of the Shrew, Treasure Island, and Cyrano), but it was a real challenge for all cast members to do EVERYTHING in character.
My real suggestion for you is much more mundane than the fine choices listed above by my colleagues. I'm thinking fairy tale or children's story. Charlotte's Webis a show I've done and it was a hit with both cast and audiences of all ages--and remember we did it in 4 weeks. Lots of opportunities, as suggested by others above, for some students to focus on sets or costumes (which is no small task when there are animal characters), or whatever else you find. It's not a particularly long show and we added a County Fair all over the room between acts and showcased a lot of talent which might never have been seen otherwise--a juggler, a unicyclist, a fiddler--, had candied apple and popcorn stands, and we took a few square dancing lessons to allow the cast to dance in character (always a hit).
Forgive me if this is too simplistic or silly for your setting; when we did it, I had an exceptionally talented group who could have done anything I asked of them, and we had a terrific time--which they said they were thankful for after our three-hour production of A Tale of Two Cities in the spring (again, in four weeks). Our tradition is to do a children's show in the fall and a more serious drama in the spring. It's a good mix for a small school, but it may not work for you.
Anyway, that's what I know. Choose something they'll enjoy (okay, something you'll enjoy on this first time out), and you'll be great!
In regard to Twelve Angry Men, the opening courtroom scene was added to the movie script but is not included in the play's script. Another production that might work would be Our Town. The sets are simplistic, and the wedding in Act II and the cemetery scene in Act III would give you a chance to include numerous students who didn't necessarily want a speaking part. It's a classic for good reasons. I've always found that students respond to the play and are engaged by it and the themes it develops.
A series of one-acts might be your answer. I'm a fan of David Ives--either All in the Timing or Time Flies (some would need to be edited for language, but certainly do-able.) The sets are rather simplistic and can be suggested. I know All in the Timing can have up to 16-20 people in a variety of large and small roles. Or, go to the local bookstore and pick up a couple books of one-acts or audition scenes. That way kids can work on smaller things, but still get the idea of what would go into a a production--rehearsing, memorizing, sets, costumes, production. You could even have student directors/designers if all of the kids aren't interested in acting, or they could have to design their own sets and costumes.
Good luck and have fun!
Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose, might solve the problem. There are about 16 or 17 characters, if you include a courtroom scene. There are not that many plays with simple sets that have that many characters, so this might be as good as it gets.
I have never seen the play performed, but I have seen the movie numerous times. In the movie, there are two sets, first the courtroom and then the jury room. Each of these is a simple set, but several students could be involved in their production. There isn't much in the way of costuming, I would think, which would keep down your production costs, too.
This is an engaging work, and students seem to enjoy discussing it. There is much value in discussion about people's perspectives and how those perspectives affect their perceptions.
A good companion piece is a story called "In a Grove," by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, which deals with similar themes. Of course, given the amount of time you have, this might be an "extension," rather than an assigned work.
Whatever you choose, I wish you good luck, and I'll be curious to see some other suggestions.
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