Each February, my Year 12 Drama students receive a topic (or ‘structure’) to form the basis of their ensemble performances. These self-devised pieces are individually-assessed by myself as their teacher and contribute 20% to each student’s final grades in the subject. Teachers in different schools set their own ensemble topics for their class. The aim is for students to demonstrate their understanding of various non-naturalistic (non-realistic) performance styles and conventions, as well as establishing character and incorporating various dramatic elements and stagecraft. Performances are typically in groups of three to six students.
This year, I have decided to give my students the story of the infamous Whitechapel Murders / Jack the Ripper as their ensemble topic. I am in the process of delving deeper into the writings, theories and practice of Antonin Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski and Bertolt Brecht than ever before, along the way filtering this to my students as theory preparation. I have three groups in my class and once our theory is complete (just prior to formally beginning the task), each group is to select one dominant performance style: Theatre of Cruelty, Poor Theatre or Epic Theatre. Added to this, I have prescribed a different set of dramatic elements to be included in the various performances based on the chosen style <edit: now added one area of stagecraft, too>. It would be an understatement to say that my students will be challenged with this topic, but it is also an understatement to say they are already very excited and engaged.
Below is the topic. By all means let me know what you think in the comments, if you wish. Feel free to use and/or adapt this ensemble topic with your own students. PDF download is at the bottom of this post – just copy, paste and adapt for yourself.
Drama Ensemble Topic
‘Jack The Ripper’
Non-naturalism: each group is to choose one dominant style for their performance. Aspects of other performance styles can be included.
|Performance Style||Theatre Practitioner||Dramatic Elements||Stagecraft|
|Poor Theatre||Jerzy Grotowski||Rhythm / Symbol / Space||Props*|
|Theatre of Cruelty||Antonin Artaud||Sound** / Space / Mood||Sound***|
|Epic Theatre||Bertolt Brecht||Space / Contrast / Tension||Multimedia****|
*use of props with a strong focus on transformation of objects
**sound using the actor’s voice, body, interaction with objects
***sound using technology
****multimedia with a focus on projection
Prescribed Non-Naturalistic Conventions (all groups)
Transformation of character, time, place and object.
Between April 1888 and February 1891, eleven women were brutally murdered in the Whitechapel district of London. Most, if not all of the women killed were prostitutes and many of the victims were murdered in the dark hours of the early morning. Some were mutilated; others had organs removed post-mortem with surgical precision. The murders terrorised London society as police struggled to come to grips with what appeared to be a serial killer. Each of the murders remained unsolved and some or all of them were attributed to a man who was never identified or caught: Jack the Ripper.
Your performance must focus on The Whitechapel Murders in London, 1888-91, and include scenes documenting the following:
- Living conditions in the Whitechapel district in the late 1880s/early 1890s
- The Whitechapel Murders of London
- Investigations into the murders by local police and Scotland Yard
- Possible murder suspects and links to Jack the Ripper
- The role of the Press in the hunt for the murderer/s
- The panic in London society as a result of the murders
- The unsolved mystery of Jack the Ripper