Mood in Dramatic Performance
Mood is a key element of all classroom drama and theatre performances. Mood can be created via one or more of the following elements:
- set design
- facial expression
With dialogue alone, the use of an actor’s voice in performance can include variations in pace, tone, projection and pitch – all of which can affect the mood of a moment on stage. These elements of voice can be used in isolation or in combination with each other.
Lighting is perhaps the most recognisable method of achieving mood in a theatre performance. Colour gels on lighting instruments readily assist in conveying a wide array of moods on stage. Movement within lighting states and the intensity of light further enhance mood. Theatre lighting naturally lights stage sets as well as performers. Set design can often be striking and bold, in the process establishing a mood before a word is spoken on stage – think German expressionism. Depending on the work performed and style intended, sometimes costumes alone can create a certain mood. Bright coloured costumes can define loud and upbeat characters, while dark colours or earthy tones can imply a more sombre character personality or mood.
Sound, music, or score (often associated more with mood on screen) is very effective in creating mood in live theatre. Student drama performances increasingly incorporate soundscapes created by the performers. In the old days, sound effects of bells ringing and doors creaking were exciting in student dramas, but today the availability of mobile devices in the classroom and the accessibility of the Internet readily allow for the creation and playback of student soundscapes to create mood in drama.
The careful use of blocking and movement in drama can also characterise one or more moods. Tense moments between characters can be established via their proximity on stage, joyful moments can involve lots of movement and high energy, while sad moments can be created via slow timing of movement and carefully considered blocking. Even small gestures can help establish a mood on stage – from thumbs up or a raised finger in the air, to a friendly handshake or a sudden flick of the hair – gestures can be the icing on the cake in creating the appropriate mood on stage. Character facial expressions often denote a particular mood in theatre performances also – from death stares and flirtatious glances to sorrowful pity and utter excitement.
This is not a definitive list of ways to create mood in student drama, but at least it may get teachers and students thinking on the topic. Primary and junior secondary drama classes usually enjoy creating mood via movement and soundscapes provided by the teacher, while senior drama and theatre students thrive on their ability to use technology in and outside the classroom to create and employ sophisticated soundscapes for their work. Recently, a group of four students in my Year 12 Drama class developed a 27-minute soundscape for their largely movement-based Theatre of Cruelty self-devised performance. It was a huge challenge for students to time their action precisely to such a long soundscape. A number of very different moods were created with the aid of this music accompanying movement and limited dialogue. The end result was nothing short of awesome.