I. Acting in the Classroom: Background for teachers
by Elaine Gallagher Acting has been a human pastime since the earliest days of recorded history. In the Biblical era, and in the days […]
by Elaine Gallagher
Acting has been a human pastime since the earliest days of recorded history. In the Biblical era, and in the days of the ancient Romans and Greeks, Chinese, Egyptians, thousands of years ago, people were involved in dramatizing events and stories for others who watched, amused, interested, and entertained.
The actors of Shakespeare’s time, in the 1500’s, were all men, because women were not permitted to be in plays as it was thought to be vulgar and low – class for women to present themselves in public. Women’s roles in a play, such as Hamlet’s Ophelia, all were played by men who wore women’s masks and clothing. More than 100 years later, women began to be seen in publicly presented plays as actresses. Now, women play leading roles in theatre plays, alongside of men.
Theatre-based plays, acted live, on a stage, in front of an audience is what we usually think of when we think of «plays». Acting, however, has expanded over the past 100 years, from on-the- stage acting to include radio-readings, which were dramatically presented, read by actors and actresses to a listening audience. The audience imagined the scenery, the actions, and the clothing and faces of the actors.
From the 1920’s to the early 1950’s, radio programs, plays, and series of weekly stories, such as The Shadow, were a very popular and accessible means for millions of families to become acquainted with plays and acting in their own homes, using their imagination to complete the pictures conjured from the actors’ words.
During this same time period, movies, too, became another means of seeing actors at work in their trade. There were movies produced in Hollywood, in Mexico, in most of Europe, in India, dramas, romances, musicals, comedies, and documentaries, providing visual stimuli for the audiences. For 10 cents (USD), in the 1950’s, you could go to the movies, a double feature on a Saturday, and even get a free bag of popcorn!
In the early 1950’s, television began to make an impact on families, especially in the United States, where the prices of TV’s were relatively low, due to the mass production and consumption of the people. About ten years later, television became a popular form of family entertainment in much of the world, causing most radio drama and comedy shows to be suspended.
There has always been an interaction among the various acting and story modes: radio, books, movies, and live theatre. The movie industry sometimes depends on theatre plays for their scripts. Many movies that we may have heard of, began as a play on Broadway in New York City, or as a once-popular radio show, or as an interesting or exciting novel.
Examples include: movies, such as The Shadow, once a popular radio show; The King and I, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Auntie Mame, and My Fair Lady are five examples of Broadway plays that were made into popular movies. Interestingly, all five of these plays and movies, had been based originally on books. It could be a great research assignment for students to find the names of the books from which these five plays/movies had originated.
Being involved in plays is not simply something for actors to do. There are many responsibilities to be completed in order to have a play presented well. In children’s plays, so all students can be involved, there should be:
- An author, the writer «the playwright»,
- A director, who sees that actors play their roles well and convincingly,
- A narrator, who keeps the story flowing, who provides information in the gaps between the actors’ lines, (The narrator can read the script….The part does not have to be memorized.)
- The actors, who move the script along by playing their roles well, either as individual actors or as part of a choral group,
- The stage crew… people essential to the smooth production of a play or movie. They are responsible for the scenery and settings, the props, the lighting, makeup for the actors, the costumes, and the Programme (British spelling) given to the people in the audience as they enter. The Program (American English spelling) lists the play’s title, the playwright, and has, perhaps, a synopsis of the play, the names of all the characters and the actor for each role, and names of the stage crew with their major duties and responsibilities.
The five main ideas about acting and plays that we expect our English students to be familiar with are:
- Acting out a story is «acting», with the goal being that the audience understands the story and can relate to the actors’ expressions.
- All roles in a play’s production are equally important and interdependent. An actor may be the visible contact for the audience, but the playwright and stage crew are equally essential to the play’s production.
- A play, a movie, a book, and radio programs all had to have had an author. They are often interrelated….a movie can be based on a book or a play, or a play could be based on a book. The origin of any of these theatrical forms of expression is always a written story or script.
- Every student should have an experience to participate in all the roles of a play’s production, over the school year. Neither the teacher nor a student always knows who will be good at a certain role. Sometimes we can be surprised by the discovery of a hidden talent, but without the opportunity to test that talent, it will remain hidden.
- The students do NOT have to know all the meanings of all the words when they begin a play. As they practice saying the words, gradually they will learn the meanings from the context. That is the natural way we acquire a language. Using plays, as part of the English learning experience, will help your students with fluency.
Next: PART 2: VOCABULARY EXPANSION