Sunday, 14 September 2014

Diet Drama

Out of all the different texts studied in the English classroom, drama, I feel, is always the one that is undervalued. I have poetry coming out if my ears. I enthuse with passion about the novels we study. I continually shove articles I have found in newspapers under students’ noses. Yet, drama is one thing that I really struggle with.

Why do I struggle so much with drama? In theory, I shouldn’t have that much of a problem, given that my degree is an English and Drama degree. Yet, I do have a problem. The latest version of the New Curriculum has made this problem surface again. In the ‘lovely’ new curriculum, it states that students should study drama. That’s it. Nothing else. The previous curriculum stated some stipulations, but now we have nothing. Nada. Zilch. Just the word ‘drama’.

The problem I have is that KS3 drama texts are so insipid and boring. I have searched endlessly with colleagues for a text to study with Year 7, 8 and 9. I have read endless scripts and all have left me cold. There are hundreds of play adaptions of texts, which are simply a dumbing down of the original prose text with the hope of saving a student from actually reading some really difficult prose. I have taught them nonetheless and still have found no joy. The issue I think is that all the scripts I have read lack drama. I know, the irony of it all. The scripts have become a way for students to read a play with a plot but the drama has been sanitised. Diet drama plays.

GCSE is when drama gets interesting in English and the students love it. I have seen weak students engaged in ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller and they are angry with the resolution. I have had classes curious over the ending of ‘An Inspector Calls’. Last year, I read Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’ with a set of students and they were transfixed for the whole time. The plot, the events, the ideas and the characters were all sparks to the students’ interest. Could we lift a chair up with one hand? What is Beatrice and Eddie’s relationship? It was a full sugar play. Photocopy one page and it is rich with ideas and techniques. Photocopy a page of a diet drama script and you’ll be left scratching your head.

One of the most powerful performances I saw in a theatre was ‘The Crucible’. It was performed in the round by a group of university students and it was brilliant. But, for me, the defining moment of it was the minute where I felt I needed to get out my chair and get involved in sorting out John Proctor at the end of the play. I was part of events and I was compelled to act. I was thoroughly engaged. Do students get this similar level of experience when they read drama at school? They might with some of the GCSE texts, but I would struggle to engage with some of the dross that exists out there.

This year I am studying William Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ with a class and for the first time I am treating it like a play. We are studying it for GCSE and we are watching it like a play. I have found a stage version and we are experiencing the drama as a real audience. We are in the moment. So far so good.

The students have engaged in the plot and the discussion is mainly about the stagecraft rather than spotting language features. All too often when our students write about Shakespeare it is always about characterisation and language features, but rarely do they talk about the staging of the play or the decisions made to affect the audience’s feelings. Yes, they will mention dramatic irony because you taught to them and they feel, like something akin to guilt, they must mention it. However, I have noticed students making astute points about the staging of the play that you just don’t get from a mixture of easy Shakespeare version, original texts and scenes from a film version of the play. They are starting to see the tone changes, the shifts in pace and the manipulation of the audience’s thoughts and feelings.  

It goes without saying: to get students to talk about a play effectively they have to see it as a play. The analysis of a play is very different to the analysis of a novel. Sadly, all too often we treat them in the same way.  I am not one of those teachers that insists on acting all plays out. I don’t – I feel for the quiet and shy students in class. I think students should see it as a play, or the nearest equivalent, like a filmed version of a play and not a film version of the story.

Let’s bin the diet drama scripts!

Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

  1. Yes, so true, a script can be like a music score and lyric sheet - so much can be lost out if it doesn't make the journey from the page to the stage.


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