Topic: COURTROOM SCENES
Students will work out a courtroom scene concerning the abduction of three-year-old, Johnny Waverly, from his home (featured in the Agatha Christie’s short story, “At the Stroke of Twelve.” )
After reading the first part of the Christie story, students will be informed that they will be creating a courtroom scene—like a mock trial, but with more emphasis on drama. The proposed defendant will be Miss Collins (Mrs. Waverly’s companion and secretary) who has been working for the Waverlys for one year, and has been accused of kidnapping Johnny Waverly. The boy and the ransom, $75,000, have not been found yet. Since the students have not completed the story, they will not know whether Miss Collins is actually guilty or innocent.
To prepare students for the scene work, a data sheet listing courtroom roles and basic judicial procedures will be distributed and reviewed. The class will initially be divided into a defense team and a prosecution team. Each team will be given an outline of the events that have occurred in the Christie story thus far. They will also be given a confidential information sheet as well (each team respectively). The confidential information will include selected parts from the second part of the story which, if used wisely, could win the case for either side. The prosecution will be advised, however, that although they are supposed to disclose their information to the defense, they have the dramatic option to use some surprise tactics if they wish. Using the information provided them, along with their individual clue sheets (that they used for reading the first portion of the story), teams will map out their cases.
Roles will be decided among the students—attorneys, defendant (a student from the defense team), baliff, court stenographer, judge, and jury—and students will begin developing the courtroom scene.
Students will be told that courtroom drama is also a part of crime fiction. There will be some discussion about court shows on television, such as “Matlock” and “Law and Order,” as well as real-life court TV such as the O.J. Simpson trial. Students will then be introduced to the scenework activity mentioned above. Teams will be set up, and information sheets will be distributed and reviewed.
Students will work in their teams, mapping out the scene sequentially on index cards from a defense and prosecution perspective, respectively. They will decide upon roles and begin exploring character motivations.
Once each team is fairly set on the direction it wishes to take, the teams will join together in setting up the scene. This is a trial and error process in which they will experiment with blocking, characterization, and dialogue. The activities thus far will take at least one class session (in addition to the reading that had been done in the class session prior to this activity). By the end of this session, both teams’ index cards should be combined, and ordered sequentially and numbered.
Before the next class convenes, the teacher will have typed a synopsis based on the index card information. Students will have an opportunity to review, correct, and revise the synopsis. These changes should only be recorded on one master copy, and the student with the role of court stenographer will be responsible for this task. Students will run through the scene a couple of times and make any final changes necessary. This should take one class session also. By the next class, students will be given final skeleton scripts (synopses) which will include stage directions as well as some dialogue notations to serve as a guide for speaking parts. Minor props and costuming will be made available. Students will rehearse the scene two or three times before recording it on video tape.
The video tape will be reviewed and critiqued. If students are comfortable with their work, they will also produce a mini-premier of the tape, and will invite other students in the school to a private showing. Lastly—they get to finish reading the story and find out “who” really “done it.”
This plan will most likely take four to five class sessions. Technical production is minimal. Large cardboard sheets or dark cloth can be used to transform a teacher’s desk into the judge’s bench, and student desks into council tables. Costuming mainly involves some appropriate (Sunday best) attire, as well as a black robe for the judge, and one prop, her/his gavel. While video taping is preferable, the scene can also be audio taped, or presented live.
In Brigitte Peucker’s lecture, “Film and the Rival Arts,” presented on March 28th as part of this year’s Teachers Institute, she referred to the turn of the century perception of human beings on film as “soulless.” It is interesting that even today some people refuse to be photographed or filmed because they fear they will lose their souls. I’m not sure where this superstition or belief comes from, but perhaps it is not so far fetched as we might think. Watch the nightly news sometime: terrorist bombings, rapes, murders, hurricanes, earthquakes—all filmed live or dead whatever the case may be—and we watch this parade of natural and unnatural disasters with an occasional grimace. The victims we see on the news must be soulless or else we’d never stop throwing up. Now and then we see a “Rodney King” or an “Oklahoma Bombing” and the nation really tunes in. But for the most part, it’s fifteen minutes to a half an hour’s worth of down time—sit back, relax, see what’s happening in the world, then watch a movie, read a book, or go to bed and forget about it—everything considered, a fairly soulless activity keeping abreast of current events. Violence in life, and exploited by the media, begins to have a dehumanizing affect when the law seems powerless to stop it. And judicial integrity becomes questionable when criminals slip through legal loopholes. In the section that follows, students will see the integrity of the law challenged with some surprising results, and a defeated judge win back his soul.