“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” – Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, Line 139
Have you ever thought to stage a scene or a whole play with your pupils? In contrast to narrative and poetic texts, dramatic ones are meant for performance in front of an audience. As a literary genre with both, textual (script) and representational spheres (performance), plays offer multiple possibilities and reasons for communicative and creative teaching activities in the language classroom. Indeed, one can and should analyse both the script (e.g. according to the setting, characters, themes and plot) and actual performance of a play (e.g. according to visual and auditory signs, spoken text, mime, gesture and external appearance of the actors) with beginners and advanced learners of English on their level.
However, plays are meant to be acted out. Therefore, building the dramatic competence should also incorporate the representational side of the genre: While performing a sketch, a scene or a whole play, your pupils will memorise chunks of language, they will practice their verbal and nonverbal skills, creativity and social interaction. Staging a play or musical can be a great bonding experience for the whole class. Younger learners will enjoy shorter forms such as role-plays, pantomime, freeze frames or reading a dialogue. The Reader’s Theatre offers scripts and short plays for learners of English on an intermediate level – this spontaneous form of theatre does not require costumes or memorisation. Two collections of comic strip versions of classical plays by Shakespeare offer stepping stones for younger learners.
Choosing the ‘right’ play for your students can be taught. To overcome historically grown national, ethnic and gender restrictions, we as teachers should open up the canon in selecting contemporary and transcultural forms of drama from the Anglophone world – apart from the classics by William Shakespeare. As we do feature quite a variety of dramatic texts from the British Isles and beyond, this is our selection of our favourite plays and musicals for you:
- Annie by Rob Marshall (film/musical): Premiered in 1976, the musical Annie has captured many hearts and been adapted into three separate film adaptations. The film features the same songs, telling the story of orphan Annie, who longs to be part of a family. When she gets taken in by a billionaire for the holidays, she gets a glimpse of what she’s been missing.
- The Mountaintop by Katori Hall: This drama offers a fictional depiction of the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. Set in King’s hotel room, it navigates themes surrounding death, philosophy, American history and the Civil Rights Movement. The short length and fixed setting make it a classic read-it-in-one-go type of play for older students.
- Another option for a play related to American history would be Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry, a comedy-drama about friendship and stereotypes in a time of segregation.
- YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright: This drama provides a twist to a classic tale. What happens to Romeo and Juliet’s epic love story if you add smartphones to the mix?
- Translations by Brian Friel: A short play about the language, communication, history and cultural imperialism in Ireland. It juxtaposes both languages and cultures (no worries, it’s still written in English) and emphasises the importance of language regarding fruitful communication. Translations provides an insight into the issues between Ireland and England and is a valuable addition to diversity in the English classroom.
- I, Shakespeare by Tim Crouch: Crouch rewrote four of Shakespeare’s most famous plays for a younger audience: Twelfth Night (I, Malvolio), Macbeth (I, Banquo), The Tempest (I, Caliban) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I, Peaseblossom). While the language of these plays is kept as Shakespearean as possible, the plays are shorter and easier to understand and follow. On top, the plays are told from the perspective of different characters as mentioned above in Brackets.
- Lyle the Crocodile: This is a lovely children’s book by Bernard Waber but Kevin Kling and Richard Gray turned it into a musical of 36 pages. The webside playsfornewaudiences.org has a wide range of plays for younger students. They also display the most important information quite nicely in stating the number of pages, how many actors are needed, how long performance takes, and provide an age recommendation.
- Monster by Walter Dean Myers: This award-winning, young adult drama novel follows a 16-year old African American boy who awaits his murder trial. But did he really commit the murder or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? A current issue, which might fuel your classroom discussion on justice an injustice in the United States.
- Top Girls by Caryl Churchill: An empowering play about what it means to be a tough businesswoman in modern society. But must one ‘pass as a man’ to be successful as a woman? This drama allows you to problematise unequal opportunities in the labour market such as the pay gap, gender stereotypes and sexism.
Initiated by the International Theatre Institute in 1961, World Theatre Day reminds us to celebrate the rich and cultural diverse tradition of theatrical performances. Theatre connects people, encourages dialogue and fosters creativity. In the recent year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted theatrical life and forced theatres to close. Live performances have been cancelled ever since and been replaced by social distance and online performances. As long as stages remain empty, dark and dusty, actresses and actors need to be supported. Acting for Others, Theatre Support Fund, Actors’ Benevolent Fund and other funds have provided support and assistance for theatre workers in the UK. Also, many theatres offer tickets for live streams and online performances: London’s Old Vic Theatre will stage and stream Dr Seuss’s The Lorax from 14. – 17. April 2021. On Tuesday, the 22. April, teachers all around the world have the opportunity to register for a free school ticket for one of the performances on World Earth Day.
If you come across a brilliant new drama that you think teachers should know about, make sure to suggest it so we can feature it on Lit4School.
Enjoy your Easter holidays, kind regards and stay safe everyone!
Sarah, Sarah-Sophia, Rico and Simon