In the ancient Greek myths we are told how Prometheus brought new life to Man by giving him the gift of fire. Prometheus saved Man from his ultimate destruction at the hands of Zeus. In giving Man fire Prometheus gave him life but damned himself in Zeus’ eyes and suffered mightily for his selfless generosity. The quality of Man’s life improved as each facet of this marvelous gift of fire was discovered: light, warmth, cooking, healing and the ability to forge and craft. Prometheus’ gift gave Man the seeds he needed to plant so that hiS life would grow and flourish. Fire became the basis for the Greek culture and ultimately all Western culture.
I hope to see students find a new hero in Prometheus as they encounter this Titan in the magical world of Greek Mythology. Prometheus is truly a hero whom children can admire. Prometheus was viewed by the ancient Greeks from many angles, sometimes as a hero and sometimes as a thief. I think that by looking back from a modern point of view we can see Prometheus as a mythical father of man as well as a hero who risked all to help a race weaker and more helpless than himself. Prometheus could foresee his fate,to be chained to a rock with an eagle tearing at his liver for an eternity, yet this did not hinder him in his course of action. He knew his role and he played it out, stealing fire from Olympus in a fennel stalk and in saving Man he fell from grace. Whether Prometheus was a thief only out to anger Zeus or whether his motives were nobler can be the fuel for a stimulating project as students trace Prometheus through the ages and through his varied myths.
This teaching unit is designed to use the myths of Prometheus in a theatre curriculum. I would strongly encourage English and Language Arts teachers though to add this project to any study they may attempt of Greek and Roman Mythology. The Theatre techniques described in the following pages will enhance the classroom study of this classic literature by giving students in the middle and high school classrooms new opportunities and learning experiences. Playing theatre games, dramatizing the myths, making masks and studying the Greek theatre will allow teachers to use a creative, “hands on” approach to the study of ancient Greek Mythology that I feel students of all ages will not be able to resist.
Today children seem to have few heroes, too few people they respect. Children are often confused about moral issues and how to act in difficult situations. They need to analyze and understand human behavior. They need to discuss choices that can be made and when possible to empathize with others through dramatic role playing. Most importantly they need heroes to emulate and admire.
My students tend to identify with fantasy heroes more readily than with those people alive and accessible to them. There is little fantasy in the daily lives of the children Z teach and, as I see it, there is sometimes too much reality. Children even at the middle and high school levels need to escape and travel into worlds of the imagination. Here they can attempt to find the hero in themselves. These children need Prometheus to bring some “fire” into their lives,
My task as a theatre teacher is to guide my students in becoming aware of the inner self, in opening up to others and in feeling the “fire” everyone carries with him from birth. This is usually difficult. Middle school students are just entering adolescence. Their instinct is to close up. to become private, to be afraid of what others will think of them and to do anything to become part of the “group”. Peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with. The last thing most of these children want to do is perform in front of the class or to be the center of attention. Z am always looking for material that will capture their interests and take them out of themselves. I feel the myths of Prometheus and the theatre unit I am planning will accomplish this goal. These myths are dramatic, sometimes heroic and full of gripping action.
I think adolescents will identify with Prometheus and his rebellion and unwillingness to stray from his course of action. When my students are attached to something (a principle, an idea, a friend) for the moment that attachment is everything and, in acting emotionally, they sometimes leave reason behind. Students will appreciate Prometheus for his unbending principles and his sacrifices. I hope to explore with my classes the broader issues behind the choices Prometheus made and to discover their opinions on how he might have acted and how they would have behaved had they been Prometheus.
I feel students will also get caught up in the world of the Greek Gods with its monsters, magic places and the heroes with all of their magical doings. The myths of Prometheus will give students a chance to enter this new world and to find the fantasy I feel is lacking in their lives. I also hope these myths will motivate them to read and write with less resistance as they enter the classroom world of theatre.
Studying theatre has already helped the students at Conte School to find and then get in touch with that inner “fire”. Using theatre techniques, I work with children in grades 5-8 developing their minds and bodies as well as their imaginations. Communications skills are stressed. Stories are shared and new worlds created within the realm of the classroom. Students work together in pairs, small groups, as individuals and as members of the larger whole, problem solving while playing theatre games. Improvisation is the main tool and with it I guide students in confronting the realities of their lives as well as in creating worlds of fantasy to inhabit temporarily.
I plan to teach this unit to my 7th and 8th grade core class students. A core class meets only one period a week. This unit will last most of the school year because of this scheduling. Students attend a theatre core class in their homeroom groups
This is not an elective class as is Arts Choice, which meets four times a week. In teaching a core class my goals are very general. Not all of the children find theatre their “thing”. They have to be persuaded; so I try to plan fun, exciting and different activities. I try to plan units that will emphasize a number of theatre basics. I like to introduce dramatic literature at this grade level and I work often with scripted materials. I also try to connect to the academic program, especially in the area of Language Arts. Though, as previously mentioned, much of the material in this unit is specifically related to theatre and its teaching techniques, I think that English or Language Arts teachers will find it useful and will be able to implement it with only a few, if any, changes.
I chose my 7th and 8th grade students to study the myths of Prometheus because reading assignments will be a vital part of my lesson plans and some of the material is too difficult for the average 5th or 6th grader. The reading materials are sophisticated and for this reason some high school teachers may choose to use this course of study. The reading materials range from the ancient works of Hesiod and Aeschylus to modern retellings of the Prometheus myth. The drama activities would be enjoyed by students at any grade level, 5-12.
I selected the myths of Prometheus for this project over other Greek myths because Prometheus is a character who can be found in the ancient narrative literature as well as in a play or dramatic form. I found this true of few other mythical figures. Heracles is one and I hope to teach a follow-up unit using other dramatic mythical figures.
In teaching Middle School children I follow a theatre process where all drama begins organically and improvisationally. Beginning with storytelling and simple movement, I guide my students through activities which culminate in working with scripted dramatic literature. The Prometheus mythology can be used very easily in this process, starting with the ancient narratives of Hesiod and moving to the play,
Having done a mini-unit on Greek and Roman mythology two years ago, I know my students love these stories and are motivated to explore them in theatre. I am pleased that the myths of Prometheus are so dramatic, fitting smoothly into the creative dramatics theatre process. The study of Greek mythology will broaden the 7th and 8th grade core theatre program. 5th and 6th graders work with theatre games and improvisational drama. Now the 7th and 8th graders will build on those skills, dramatizing the Greek myths as well as studying Greek theatre and its origins. I think that the hero, Prometheus, will excite my 7th and 8th grade core students and his myths will prove to be the kind of material that is vital if this type of class is to be stimulating, educational and unique.
My objectives in teaching this unit on Greek mythology are as follows:
1. To expose students to “classical”literature , narrative and dramatic.
2. To use the myths of Prometheus to take students through an organic and graduating theatre process. eg. storytelling—theatre games—creative movement—story theatre/playmaking—playwrighting—reading of scripted plays—dramatization of scripted plays.
3. To introduce the theatre craft of mask making.
4. To introduce theatre history beginning with the ancient Greek theatre.
5. To integrate such academic Language Arts skills as reading, creative writing, listening and dramatic speaking into the theatre curriculum.
6. To introduce students to the oral tradition of storytelling behind all “classic” literature.
7. To explore the larger world of Greek mythology by enabling the students to meet and study briefly each of the Gods.
8. To explore the visual world of Greek mythology in ancient art and architecture
9. To create original playlets based on authentic myths through creative writing exercise.
10. To enjoy studying the myths of Prometheus and to have fun learning about Greek mythology.
My strategies in achieving my objectives will be varied though I will teach basically using the Creative Dramatics approach to theatre. This style of teaching relies heavily on the use of theatre games and improvisational acting. Teachers not familiar with Creative Dramatics should refer to this unit’s bibliography for a list of books that I feel can be used by both the novice and expert.
I believe that in working with children theatre should be taught not in the rigid “read a play” style but that children should experience theatre through the organic process of Creative Dramatics. I teach theatre using techniques that draw the children out so that the drama comes directly from them. I teach theatre not just as an art form but for its value as a learning process. I will attempt to describe this process.
The director/teacher should begin the unit telling a narrative story. The students can work on listening skills. Storytelling is then used to direct the children in simple movement so that they may act out the story in pantomime. Children next act out the story improvisationally adding dialogue. The teacher or a confident child acts as narrator. The children attempt to write dialogue for the story. An already scripted play is then read out loud by the group and finally this piece is acted out. This process must be very flexible. Certain steps may have to be repeated several times using the same story or introducing new ones until the students are ready for the next step. The key is to take things slowly and the teacher should use her inner judgement as to when it is time to advance. The growth seen in students will be gradual but by the end of the process great changes will be noticeable. Students will be more confident, poised and verbal.
The unit should always begin with storytelling. Greek myths were originally oral and they really come alive when told. If a teacher is really uncomfortable memorizing and telling a story I would suggest that she find a good modern retelling and read it out loud as dramatically as possible. I will use my skills as a storyteller not only to entertain the children but also to show how these myths grew out of an oral tradition.
I use this creative dramatics approach to storytelling and then movement dramatization to begin any unit I teach. My theories of teaching theatre are based on those of Viola Spolin (
Improvisation for the Theater
) and others like her, Dorothy Heathcote and Winifred Ward. Drama for children should be creative and based on a child’s natural play. Games should be stressed and early playmaking should be handled by the director much as children handle it themselves when they play act alone.
I like to begin a unit telling the story because the children are then immediately swept up into it. Seeing me perform they are less reticent about performing themselves and, as the storyteller, I can also help direct and guide the action until the children are ready to do it themselves.
I will begin the Prometheus project with the Greek myth of
Prometheus is so tied into Zeus’ ascent to power that I feel this background is essential. I also want to stress how the myths are presented in ancient sources as one long narrative. Myths are woven into other myths and this is especially true of the Prometheus stories. I plan to expose my students at this time to portions of the
so that they can also get a sense of the poetry in ancient narrative.
The version I will tell of
has been culled from Hesiod’s
and the modern version by Barbara Drake in
Myths, Fables and Folktales.
I will move from this storytelling session to work with theatre games (see lesson plans) and creative movement.
I want the myth to come alive for the children, and when movement is added I hope to catch a sense of the choral drama and dances the early Greeks performed as ritual. This creative dramatics process fits neatly the drama patterns of the early Greeks, because their theatre was movement oriented and grew out of an inner desire to become more involved with the Gods and their religion,
In working with creative movement and the dramatization of stories, pantomime is a strategy to use when teaching middle school children. Often they feel elf-conscious speaking but with everyone moving together in a room, a person can lose his self-consciousness. Moving as part of the whole, children feel freer and more confident and therefore they let go and begin to act.
Drama for children should begin with large group activities. Every child should be involved
Later, children can break into smaller groups to act out a scene or into pairs to write dialogue.
We will move from this style of drama to pieces that rely less on narrative and more on dialogue, character portrayal and character development. Story theatre is the next step. Story theatre is a very important style of theatre for use with young people. It is a middle ground between the total improvisation of theatre games or creative movement and the more structured, disciplined world of the playwright and scripted dramas.
A myth is told to the children in narrative style and then broken down into workable scenes. These scenes are acted out improvisationally with the use of dialogue. A narrator guides the action, sticking to the basic plot, while the actors improvise the blocking, stage movement, and their speeches. This activity involves several children as performers while the rest of the class practices being members of an audience.
As children work at dramatizing myths in a story theatre style, they get a sense of dramatic structure. This enables them to move onto simple playwrighting, eg. monologues, dialogues, pieces of plays. Students will better understand a scripted play when they confront it after creating their own playlets through theatre activities.
I plan to tell some of the stories centered around Prometheus but also the children will read myths in updated modern versions. Story theatre techniques and playwrighting will be used to bring these stories to life. We will work with the myths of Prometheus creating Man, the sacrifice that angered Zeus, Prometheus’ theft of fire from Olympus, Prometheus’ imprisonment and torture, and the story of Pandora. I plan to guide the students in some simple scripting of these myths and to introduce playwrighting skills. Improvisation will always be the main tool in the dramatization and study of these myths.
I plan to end the unit with work on the ancient play
by Aeschylus. This is the version of the Prometheus story in which he is seen most clearly as a hero. I want my students at this point to compare the different ways they have seen Prometheus presented. Is he a hero or is he a common thief? Why was he viewed in such different ways by Hesiod and Aeschylus? What do they think of Prometheus and his actions? I would like each group to write a narrative showing the kind of creature they think Prometheus was. Prometheus as a dramatic character will be explored in depth.
In preparation for reading the play students will read “The Story of Io” as retold in
Zeus, Lord of the Sky
by Doris Gates. The play will then be read out loud with an emphasis on dramatic reading. I will lecture with slides on a brief history of the Greek theatre. Students will complete the unit on Greek mythology with a simple, staged and rehearsed presentation of scenes from
. These scenes will be directed by students and will convey to an audience the students’ interpretation of Prometheus’s character
In drama there must be conflict and no greater conflicts can be found than those in the ancient Greek myths and plays. There is the ultimate conflict of life against death in the myth of Prometheus. The quality of life for man as opposed to his total extinction is at the heart of this tale. This unit is intended to explore this dramatic conflict and the character of the creature who was pivotal in not only saving man but in giving him the means to live his life, “blind hope,” and not to know of his ultimate end. Prometheus, the Firebringer, will ask students to challenge the world around them as they dramatize his myths, accept his gifts, and enter the world of theatre.