The following lessons are quite simple, yet each teaches an important technical theater skill and asks the students to look at each play as a producer or theater technician. Each lesson can easily be taught in one or two class sessions. They may also be adapted for use as homework assignments or group projects. They were purposely designed to be very flexible and these lessons, though created for a theater class, could be easily adapted for use in an academic classroom.
#1 The Final Curtain
Using the enclosed diagram the students will discuss and study the sections of a stage floor and its nine basic directions. The class will then tape out these sections on the classroom floor using masking tape. To familiarize themselves with each section the students will take turns standing on the “stage” while one person calls out directions. Example: Up Stage Left is called out and the student on stage moves to the Up Stage Left section. The calling out of commands can be played as a game with the students helping to create the format and rules. To make this activity more challenging several students should stand on the stage each moving to a different command. When the students are fluent in this stage language they should begin to block or choreograph simple scenes.
#2 Sherlock Holmes
Using the enclosed diagram and after a class discussion of his character the students should each create a make-up plot for Sherlock Holmes. Using crayons, markers, or colored pencils each student should design a make-up they feel is appropriate for any actor playing Holmes to use. Remind them that this is a flat rendering and that on a real face their design will be slightly altered. The students could also create make-up renderings for the other characters in the play. The final activity involves each student making up his/her own face as Sherlock Holmes based on his/her design and make-up renderings. The students might also choose to try their make-up designs out on one another.
#3 The Mousetrap
The setting of Monkswell Manor is such a key element to
at times the drawing room set is almost a character in the play. First, after discussing basic stage design spacing elements each student should make a rendering or drawing of
set using the description found in the script. This set description is exceptionally detailed and should give the students a good idea of where to begin. The students should then build simple shoebox models of the set using the script’s description, class comments, and their set renderings. Ask the students in advance to bring in the shoeboxes and “found” materials (e.g., buttons, fabric scraps, old toys, pieces of wood, spools of thread, yarn, paper, etc.) they will need to build their miniature rooms. These model sets should be displayed in the classroom for everyone to enjoy. It will be very stimulating to see how many different versions there can be of the same set.
Lesson #1: Stage Geography
There are three basic types of theater buildings and performance spaces:
The audience sits in front of the stage which is usually raised. The stage is defined by a front proscenium wall that has a window-like opening covered by a stage curtain. This is the most common type of theater. e.g. the Shubert Theater in New Haven, CT
The stage is low or on the same level as the audience sits. The stage juts out into the audience and people are seated on three sides. There is no proscenium arch or stage curtain. e.g. the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT
The stage is built like a circle with the audience seated all around the stage space. This is the least common type of theater building. e.g. Arena Stage Theatre in Washington D.C. or the Oakdale Music Theater in Wallingford, CT
(figure available in print form)
These stage directions are the opposite of those sitting in the audience. They are from the actor’s point of view. Except for theaters that are built in the round, the stage directions are in the form of a trapezoid, starting out narrow at the back wall and expanding as one moves towards the proscenium (front).
Lesson #2: Stage Make-up
Unique Characteristics _____
On the back of this worksheet describe with words the make-up you have created. Don’t forget to add head and facial hair. Change the basic face in any way that you feel is necessary. Make sure you deal with all five of the facial areas and that you use any elements you feel are vital to recreate this character’s face.
(figure available in print form)