This group activity for students of drama and theatre provides an opportunity to understand some of the key techniques of epic theatre, developed via improvisation and incorporated into a drama performance based on a common cliché.
Learning Focus: To enable students to successfully incorporate a number of basic epic theatre techniques in a drama based on a common cliché.
Groups: 4-6 people.
Equipment: White card, textas/paints, costumes.
Length: Three scenes.
Structure: Scene 1 (Beginning), Scene 2 (Middle), Scene 3 (End)
In groups of four to six, brainstorm an improvisation using one of the following clichés as stimulus. Be sure to do some quick Internet research on any of the clichés your group doesn’t know the meaning of.
Actions speak louder than words
Love is blind
Tail between your legs
A fine kettle of fish
Laughter is the best medicine
The grass is always greener on the other side
Pot calling the kettle black
Ignorance is bliss
Dead as a doornail
Head over heels in love
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
Think outside the box
Every dog has its day
A loose cannon
You can’t judge a book by its cover
Don’t cry over spilled milk
The writing’s on the wall
There’s no time like the present
Better to be safe than sorry
Like a kid in a candy store
Beauty is only skin deep
All your eggs in one basket
Plenty of fish in the sea
Read between the lines
All that glitters is not gold
Don’t get your knickers in a knot
Cat got your tongue?
Woke up on the wrong side of the bed
Avoid it like the plague
A chip off the old block
After choosing your cliché to be used as a stimulus, your group must try to determine settings, characters and a basic plot. Your main aim is to incorporate several epic theatre techniques into the final performance.
A placard is a type of sign akin to what protestors use in street marches. Bertolt Brecht, one of the founders of epic theatre in Germany in the 1920s, used various forms of signage in his theatre performances to communicate pertinent information to the audience. Using your white card, write or paint information on the placards and determine exactly how these will be used in the performance during your rehearsals? Keep the placards simple. Less is more. If you can think of a theme in your drama, then a placard is a good device to use to communicate this to the audience.
Fragmentary costumes are a key component of epic theatre, especially with students. We take for granted that most characters wear a full costume in a performance, successfully conveying important information about age, social status, gender, ethnicity, and more. Student actors in an epic theatre performance typically wear all blacks as a base costume, then use one or two fragments of what may have been the full costume. Have fun in rehearsal choosing exactly what will be each character’s different fragments? Try to choose the most obvious and recognisable items. Don’t be obscure. In epic theatre, the costume should clearly identify a character’s occupation and/or status in society. Examples could include a badge for a policeman, a dress or pants that denote poverty, part of a suit for a wealthy businessman, etc.
“Epic” in the term epic theatre refers to the span or size of some of the elements of the drama. The theatre of realism often employs small jumps in time, such as arriving back into the theatre after interval with action taking place in the same setting the following morning. However, in epic theatre, large jumps in time and place are not only acceptable, but encouraged. Time and place sometimes (but not always) go hand in hand. In this activity, your group must experiment with multiple time frames and locations. The easiest way to achieve this is to have a different location and time frame for each of your three prescribed scenes.
Plan your drama without scripting. Develop the action and dialogue through extended improvisation. Learn lines and moves through repetition in rehearsal.
When ready, present your drama performance to the class using all of the epic theatre techniques listed. Remember, the drama must include the use of placards, employ all characters in fragmentary costumes and span multiple time frames and locations over the course of three scenes.
After the performances, the class is to discuss to what extent was each group’s play “epic” in style? See if you can clearly identify when or where each of the epic theatre techniques took place in the drama?
How did the audience members feel when these techniques were presented? Did you feel more engaged or involved in the drama? Did you feel detached? Did you feel emotional? Did any of the epic theatre techniques take you by surprise? If so, why?
What elements in one of the other dramas worked really well? How can you offer constructive criticism to each of the other groups’ plays? Where do you believe they could have changed things up for the better? How could they have made their play more effective in communicating the message of their theme and/or cliché (stimulus) through the drama? Were their epic theatre techniques clear?