Chernobyl Drama Ensemble

A few people have been asking me in recent months where to find this ensemble structure for drama students on the horrors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. While I have already placed it on a couple of locations on the web already, posting it again here may prove more accessible for some.

This ensemble performance task worked like a charm with my 2007 Year 12 drama class, with the end result being a 40-minute performance that amazed parents and friends of the performers. It is not what I would call a particularly easy task, as the topic requires heavy research and political awareness and sensitivity. I had a tiny class of just five girls last year, so with doubling up of characters it can happily be performed with a small cast, or just as easily with more.

It is heavily structured, as the scenes for the performance are all prescribed. While this method offers less freedom, it also provides greater student focus early in the task, particularly when researching material and developing scenes.

By the way, at the start of this task, only one of my students had ever heard of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, so ignorance is bliss as it is almost better if your drama students begin researching this task without preconceived ideas. Enjoy!

Stimulus Image

Abandoned city of Pripiat. © Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

The abandoned city of Prypiat (Pripiat) in the foreground, twin city to Chernobyl. The reactor chimneys of the nuclear power plant can just be seen, only 2km away.

Modern-day Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Australia (or elsewhere).

Performance Style
Non-naturalism (anti-realism) with aspects of Epic Theatre.

Theatrical Conventions
Narration, transformation of character, place and object, disjointed time sequences, pathos.

Dramatic Elements
Tension, language, contrast, mood.

In April 1986, the world’s worst civilian nuclear accident occurred in the district of Chernobyl (today located in the Ukraine) resulting in a nuclear cloud that spread over much of Europe. Ignorance, inaccurate reporting by the media and initial denial of the incident by Russian authorities led to mass confusion. More than two decades later, the exact number of affected people and casualties from the event remains unknown, causing significant disagreement among leading political, health and environmental organisations.

In Australia (change location if necessary) today, the prospect of nuclear power is back on the political agenda. But how safe are nuclear power plants and have the Australian* people learnt any lessons from the horrifying events of Chernobyl?

Note: all of the following scenes must be performed in the order presented below. Larger scenes contain a number of mini-scenes.

Scene 1: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
a The events of Saturday 25th April 1986, leading up to the disaster.
b Night shift workers take over and undertake the fatal experiment in the early hours of Sunday 26th April.
c Fire crews and other emergency workers arrive at the scene.

Scene 2: Initial Reaction
a The reaction of Russian authorities in the first few days of the Chernobyl incident, including the initial ‘cover-up’, then acknowledgement of the event to the world’s press.
b Early media reports inaccurately portray the Chernobyl incident as worse than it actually is.

Scene 3: Casualties and More Cover Ups
a Medical workers in a nearby Russian hospital try to cope with the flood of affected victims from the Chernobyl fire and nuclear explosion.
b Elsewhere, the world begins to discover the true extent of the Chernobyl incident. At a press conference, Russian authorities defend why it took so long to evacuate people.
c Authorities engage in a further series of ‘cover-ups’.

Scene 4: Family at Prypiat
a Several months after the Chernobyl incident, a small team of international scientists visit the abandoned city of Prypiat to collect soil, water and air samples for testing. They enter a room in one of the buildings depicted in the foreground of the stimulus image and see a work card left on a table entitled “25-26 April. Night Shift”.
b Flashback to images of the family who lived there one week prior to the Chernobyl incident and on Sunday 26th April, where nearby streets in Prypiat are filled with people engaging in regular Sunday afternoon activities.
c Monday 27th April. 2.38pm. Government authorities evacuate the family.
d Three weeks later. In a temporary accommodation facility far away, the family buries their husband and father.

Scene 5: Two Decades Later, Belarus
December 2006. Representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organization, United Nations Development Programme, Greenpeace, the Governments of Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine and German Green Party Member Rebecca Harms meet to discuss the various published reports since the Chernobyl incident twenty years ago. Russian officials downplay the current situation, claiming very few people today have Chernobyl-attributed injuries. Officials from Belarus and the Ukraine however, paint a different story, quoting large numbers of Chernobyl victims in their countries. A Greenpeace representative rejects statistics in the Chernobyl Forum report.

The meeting begins amicably and ends with one or more people storming out of the room before it is finished.

Scene 6: Australian Federal Election
(alter the country and other locations in this scene to local ones, if necessary)
The events leading up to and immediately after the federal election. The successful candidate wins office on a platform advocating the introduction of nuclear power in Australia. As the country concerns itself with the environment and alternative fuels for the future, history repeats itself and construction of two nuclear power plants in New South Wales and Victoria are promised during the next political term.

Reference & Source Material
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Chernobyl Disaster
1986: Soveits Admit Nuclear Accident
Chernobyl: 20 Years Later
Nuclear Reaction
Scientific Facts on the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident (Greenfacts)
Torch Report
World Health Organization Report

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