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This unit that I’m designing is to give the learners knowledge in the area of the theater, and its functions, as well as improve their reading and writing skills. This unit can be taught in part or as an on-going process throughout the school year. I will teach this unit to fifty eighth grade students for a total of twenty school days. It will be taught through English, Reading, and in conjunction with the drama teacher.
Students will become familiar with the theater through reading and writing plays as well as acting and the many components that go into the function of the theater and the number of people that are involved with the performances. Because these factors are integrated into a unit which provides necessary information for students and pleasure, it carries with easy motivation for student’s exploration and it will also allow students to relate to real life situations and different cultures. The activities in this unit cause the learner to develop objectivity, as well as improve reading and writing skills, that are related in many facets of the theater.
Mr. Ben-Israel, the drama teacher, will be working with me in implementing this unit. We will spend three fifty minute periods on the introduction of the theater. Students will be asked to go to the library within the school or to the public library to obtain books and information on the theater and do research to write a report. This research will cause the students to do some reading and writing which is what will work best to enhance the knowledge and their skills.
The history of the theater will be introduced by Ben-Israel and myself in language arts classes. Three class periods, fifty minutes each will be utilized. Homework will be assigned each class period either in the form of reading and discussing what was read, writing a report on the reading material, or reading a play in class. This will be determined by Ben-Israel. He will be working with me two to three days a week for the duration. The remaining time divided into fifty minute segments will be spent exclusively with Ben-Israel developing and putting on a play. With my assistance, the plays will be stages during one of the assemblies at our school.
Most of the lesson plans will be utilized during the introduction and the sessions focusing on the history of the theater.
Materials that will be presented are in the prose section and the lesson plans of this unit. After the presentation of the material on the theaters in the different countries listed, the students will be divided into groups. Each group will be assigned a country. They will be required to do some in-depth research and present their findings to the class. This will assist them in their understanding of the theater while it puts to use their skills in reading and writing.
It is my intent that the learner’s skills sill grow and knowledge will increase with adequate use of this unit, and the learners will become literate to some degree within the area of the theater.
The theater by its specialized characteristics, makes it relevant to a classroom composed of several ethnic groups typical in the New Haven School System. My overall strategy is to raise pertinent questions and present materials which will allow students to focus on issues dealing with the theater and its functions and performances.
Questions such as what is theater, how did the theater get started, who are the performers, how are they trained, and who are the people behind the scenes, and what are their functions will be raised.
Theater is an art form that involves the creative efforts of a large number of people. During dress-rehearsal periods the products of their combined efforts, scenery, costumes, properties, lights and sound are put together with the practiced motions and dialogue of the actors, and the result is theater art. The action and drama are carried forward by and through the characters in the play as portrayed by the actors. As the prime moving forces in the play, the actors are usually the center of attention during the performance, and all other elements of the production should aid the actors in their portrayal.
A theater is a place, indoors or outdoors where people perform before an audience. The people who perform, are called actors, they act in plays in an area called the stage. A stage can be a raised platform , or the part of a floor in a room. The audience which may be one person or thousands, is a very important part of theater because it is for the audience that the actors act and the playwright writes.
A theater can be almost anywhere, in a home, school auditorium, park, large-city auditorium, or a small town hall. Theater is applied to films and to television and it means action. It is also used in connection with performances on a stage by live actors.
The theater is one of the most complex of the arts. It requires many kinds of artists for its creation. These specialists include playwright, performers, director, scene designer, costumer, lighting designer, stage manager and various technicians. For many productions, composers, musicians, and a choreographer is needed. The theater is sometimes called a mixed art because it combines the script of the playwright, the environment created by the scene designer, and the speech and movement of the performers.
In the earliest theatrical performances, the dramatist performed all artistic functions, including acting. Gradually specialists developed and the various theater arts emerged.
Today most professional actors attend schools and study what they need to know as actors before they begin work in the theater. The actors study voice, speech and characterization, also body movement and dance so that they will know how to move on stage. Anyone interested in becoming an actor should realize that acting is a disciplined craft demanding hard work. Learning to act can be a lifetime job.
There are several other people connected with the theater. Among them are playwrights, also called dramatists, directors, producers, scenic designers, lighting designers, costume designers, stage managers, and the backstage crew.
The playwright writes the plays, stories or a book which contains the dialogue and action. Through characters the playwright directs his comments and/or draws pictures of the people and their lives at the time in which the play is set. The director is a very important person because the director stages the play, choosing the cast of actors, guides them during rehearsals, and helps to interpret what the playwright has written. The director coordinates the tasks of all of the people working in the production, including the designers of the scenery and costumes. The director has become more and more important in the theater.
The producer presents the play after he selects the director and the people who will work on the production. The producer rents the theater, pays the salaries and bills, and takes in the money from the sale of the tickets. In amateur theater the producer often directs and takes on the other duties as well. The set designer plans, designs and oversees the construction of the scenery or setting for the play. Lighting on stage consists of much more that just brightening the stage area so that the audience can see what is happening. It also helps to create a certain mood or set a particular atmosphere for the play. The costume designer designs the clothes the actors will wear on stage. They must be familiar with the principles of art, the period, and how to use color, light and line. The backstage crew includes the stagehands, who carry scenery and furniture on and off the stage and who will operate the curtain and the electricity.
on-stage entrances, the lighting booth; directing the correct time for the proper light cues, calling to their places the orchestra and its conductor should there be music, as well as various other people and components befitting the particular production being mounted. The stage managers presence is necessary and required during all rehearsals for the two to three week period call production weeks. During this time period, all of the different peoples and their components and different functions, will assemble in the rehearsal hall and/or theater in order to bring to fruition the full production. During the actual performance, the stage manager is backstage, wearing his headset, to insure that under his direction all rehearsed cues and duties are performed properly and in their timely fashion as noted in his copy of the script.
Every country in the world had some form of theater. Because theater is an art, it is international and knows no boundaries and it is part of a country’s culture. Many countries have subsidized theaters or they are financed by their government. Some governments control their theaters. In addition to the government subsidized theaters, there are commercial theaters financed by individuals. Commercial and subsidized theaters are both important. However, the commercial production will continue only as long as it makes money. The important theater centers are where the largest number of theaters and theatergoers can be found. Some important theater centers of the world are Germany, France, England, Russia, and the United States. A short history of theaters in these countries will give the students some background information and will aid them in their research of some of the famous theaters.
Unlike other countries, Germany has no main theater center. One reason is that Germany was not a unified nation until after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Before that time each little kingdom or principality supported it own theaters.
In the 1920’s Germany’s theaters became noted for their imaginative staging. Noted directors included the Austrian Max Reinhardt, who later directed in the United States.
When Hitler took over Germany in 1933, theaters lost their freedom. With the end of World War II, theaters again became independent and presented the best in drama-by such writers as Goethe, Schiller, and Hauptmann.
East Germany has more than 80 theaters, of which the most famous is the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin. It presented several of the first productions of plays by Bertolt Brecht, one of the great modern playwrights.
Paris has 80 commercial theaters in operation. In addition to the Comedie-Franciase, there are two other important government sponsored theaters: the Theatre National Populaire, founded in 1920, and the Odeon-Theatre de France, formed in 1959. The government has established theater centers in five places in France so that theater would be able to people other parts of the country. Since 1959 France has had a minister of state for cultural affairs, who supervises all government-supported theaters and keeps the standards of production high. The theatrical companies of many of these cities tour neighboring cities for the benefit of the people who living in them. The oldest theater in the world, the Comedie-Franciase, is still operating in Paris.
From the marketplaces and streets, actors moved into the courtyards and palaces of the nobles and became professional actors. In the latter part of the 16th century, several important theatrical events took place. The talents of two great playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare came to the forefront. The first theater was built in London in 1576. Soon other theaters sprang up, including the Globe, where Shakespeare acted in his own plays. No Longer were plays performed only for the nobles. All the people enjoyed the performances.
During the early part of the 17th century the Puritans closed the theaters, but they reopened in 1660. New plays written and performed for nobles and fashionable society were called comedies of manners or Restoration plays. By the 19th century the theater again became a theater for all people. Amateur dramatic groups that were begun in that century helped popularize the theater by presenting plays for their own and the neighbor’s enjoyment. Today amateur groups number in the thousands in England.
The Soviet Union, now called Russia, has many theaters, all of which are financed and controlled by the government. The two main theater centers are located in Moscow and Leningrad. Leningrad is now St. Petersburg. Theaters in Russia differ from other independent theaters throughout the world because of their government regulations; however, today there are several independent theaters located in Russia.
One of the countries earliest theatrical performances took place at William and Mary College in 1736. The United States has more university theaters than any other country because of its many colleges and university theater departments.
New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are the major theater centers in the United States. Small theaters can be found in almost every city and town.
Prior to beginning the lesson plans, I will have students read these two books, Plays Children Love and You Can Put on A Show. These books are in the school library and in the public libraries.
As the unit is being implemented and the lesson plans are being carried out the classes will be preparing to produce a one act play in conjunction with the drama teacher, Mekah-El Ben Israel at the end of the unit.
The characteristics that distinguish a work of architecture from other man-made structures are: (1) Its suitability to use by human beings in general and its adaptability to particular human activities. (2) The stability and permanence of its construction. (3) Its communication of experience and ideas through form.
All these conditions must be met in architecture. The second is a constant, while the first and third vary in relative importance according to the social function of the buildings.
In considering the form of the modern theater building and its physical aspect, and in tracing the origins and development of that form from the earliest known theatres of Europe, is it well to keep in mind the basic meaning of the word “theatre.” From the Greek translation, it means roughly “a place for seeing.” Today theater is a building or a place furnished with seating for the audience, and a stage or space where plays, musicals or dramatic spectacles are performed.
Theaters originated in Greece with the rites of the God Dionysus, first as temporary installations and later as outdoor architecture using the natural slopes and curves of the hillsides to bring the spectacle closer to the stage and to avoid the need for substructures. The Greek theatre was monumentalized and modified by the Romans, whose arches and vaults allowed construction of sloping seats from level foundations. In the middle ages churches and temporary structures were used for dramatic purposes, and in the Renaissance Roman theatres were occasionally revived. The 17th century development of opera, drama and ballet in Europe brought about a revival of theatre building, but in a new form conceived to satisfy class and economic distinctions. A flat or inclined pit accommodating standing patrons, tiers of boxes rose vertically above in a horseshoe plan and permanent covering for both acoustics and comfort made artificial lighting an important feature in theatrical performances. The modern theatre, while greatly improved in efficiency by new acoustical methods and materials, has kept much of the baroque form, though it provides seating throughout. In spite of its cultural importance, the motion picture has had little impact on the effect of theater design.
The auditorium is distinguished by the absence of stage machinery and by its greater size. The development of large symphony orchestras and choirs, and of the institution of lectures, symposiums, and mass meetings, combined with growing urban populations produced modification of the theatre.
The first Greek theatres were little more than marked-out dancing circles, each around an altar, at the foot of hillsides on which spectators stood or sat. From this natural form the first built theatres took their main outlines: a circle of orchestra for the chorus and actor or actors, and rising tiers of wooden seats, built against a hillside for the spectators. These seats extended usually around two thirds or more of the orchestra, since at this time dancing or movement was more important than acting, and there was no stage for the spectators to face. The one actual theatre that has survived is the magnificent theatre at Epidaurus, although archaeologists have uncovered foundations of theatres of this stageless type under several Greek-Roman or Roman theatres surviving in partial ruin. It should be kept in mind that in no period were any two Greek theatres exactly alike.
One conjecture is that the architectural form of the 6th century temple helped determine the shape of the stage building, which was later to be added at the edge of the circle opposite the seats. But the more widely accepted theory is that out of necessity a hut or tent was added at the edge of the orchestra as a retiring room for the actors, for changing of masks or costume, and that the stage building was in all later ages an elaboration of this shelterdressed, in the later Greek period, with those beautiful Architectural forms with which the Athenians adorned all their important structures.
Just when it truly became a stage building with studied relationship to orchestra and auditorium is a matter of conjecture. Here one sees the accretion of the three theatre features that characterize theatre building through many succeeding centuries: (1) auditorium; (2) orchestra; and (3) scene; names which persist even today. But at this time players and chorus appeared only in the orchestra, the scene remaining an architectural background to the action and a practical retiring house for the actors, structurally separated from the auditorium by entrances or runways.
Such was the theatre form when the 5th century B.C. dawned, and such it remained, with only slight changes. The architectural features and the height of the scene are still only to be conjectured, though excavation foundations at Athens indicate clearly the plan and limits of an early stage building, wider than the dancing circle and with ends projecting forward toward the auditorium.
Archaeologists have waged one of their bitterest battles over the question as to when the raised stage made it first appearance, but it is now almost unanimously agreed that in the “high” period of Greek drama there was no platform stage.
In Greece the theatres were regularly built in hillside hollows, thus avoiding need to build supporting framework for the tiers of seats, except at the ends of the rings. The auditorium was broken by up-and-down aisles with steps into a number of wedge-shaped segments of seats, and sometimes by one or more lateral aisles.
Architecture in France was controlled by the state; however, theatre architecture became imminent when a newly created Institute de France, an academy of fine arts, was established.
In America, as well as in other countries, architecture was controlled and basically copied from one country to the next.
Since the Renaissance the design and construction of theatres, their auditoriums and their stages, have been determined by three factors: (1) the relation of the actors to the stage and the stage setting; (2) the relation of the actors to their audience, as influenced by methods of acting and stage setting; and (3) the size and social status of audiences which patronize theatres and make then popular and potentially profitable.
As these factors change, the essential parts of the theatre change with them, namely the stage itself, including its apron or forestage, the dimensions of the stage house or backstage, the plan and seating arrangements of the auditorium.
No innovation, modern in its own day, has ever been wholly original. Each in turn has revived and modified theatre structures of earlier epochs and periods.
To describe characters
Write the following sentences on the board. Call on several volunteers to rewrite each sentence on the chalkboard, filling in the blanks. Have the students note how each rewritten sentence resulted in a different picture.
1. The girl’s ______ hair reached to ______.
2. Her ______ arms were framed by the _______ dress.
3. His ______ eyes seem to ______ every time he spoke to us.
4. His ______ legs easily cleared the high pole.
5. Her ______fingers untied the rope ______.
After the students have done the activity, have them compare their responses to see how the descriptions of each face differed and how they were alike. After students have completed the assignment, ask different individuals to read their descriptions aloud without mentioning the quality they wish the description to convey.
Listeners should try to figure out what the the quality is from the description. Caution students that if they have named the quality in their descrip-tion to say the word blank instead of the quality when they read aloud. Ask the students to make up a character that might be unusually strong, or frightening, or another character of their choice. Then have the students write a detailed description of their character. Remind them to include details about the person’s looks and actions that will help develop the description.
To Develop story problems from settings
Write the following list on the board. Call on volunteers to read each sentence aloud. Then ask students to decide what problems people would face in each situation.
1. People stuck in an elevator between floors.
2. Hikers lost in the mountains.
3. A skier caught in a blinding snowstorm.
4. A swimmer with a sudden cramp.
After they have worked through the Introduction and Development sections, ask the students to reread the four paragraphs in the Development section, and speculate on who the characters in each paragraph might be and how they would solve their problem. Encourage the students to be as detailed as possible. Then, encourage a variety of responses by mentioning different kinds of stories, such as mystery, science fiction, and historical fiction.
Ask the students to select from novels or stories descriptions of several different settings that would cause particular problems for the characters. Have the students read the descriptions aloud to the rest of the group. Discuss these questions with the group. What details make the setting real and vivid? What problem might a character face in each of the settings? What details in the description suggest this?
To develop characters through their actions.
Write the following list of qualities on the chalkboard.
Call on volunteers to select one quality and to think of
an action the clearly demonstrates it.
concern for the feelings of others and their property
As the students do the first activity in the Development section, ask them to give reasons for their opinions. Before the students write the activity in the Application section, you may wish to take a quality not listed. Have the students develop, as a group activity, a paragraph describing that quality and what actions would best demonstrate it. After the students have done the peer-editing activity, have volunteers read the paragraphs aloud. Ask the listeners to decide what quality is being discussed and to point out what what in the paragraph makes them think so. Compare the listener’s opinion with that of the student editor.
To develop and act out a skit based on characters.
Ask the students to name a character in a play, movie or TV program that they enjoy watching, and use these questions to guide a discussion. What kind of person is the character? How do the characters actions show what kind of person the character is? How do the character’s voice, gestures, dialogue and emotion show this?
Encourage the students to speculate freely when they answer the questions. Have the students use the questions to guide their planning. Ask students to select one of the role playing situations describes in the Session. Then group the students according to the situation they have chosen. Allow students sufficient time to prepare their skits. When they are ready, call on volunteers to act out their skits for the class. Have students provide questions for discussing each skit.
To develop and act out a short play.
Ask students to think about television programs they have seen recently. Put these questions on the board to guide a discussion. What was the name of the program?
Who were the main characters? What purpose did each character have? What problems did these different purposes cause? What happened at the beginning of the pro- gram? At the end? Summarize the discussion by telling the students that in answering these questions they have spoken about three things that are necessary for a play, characters; a problem caused by the character’s purposes, a plot that tells how the characters solved or failed to solve the problem.
Work through the introduction with the students. Ask then to suggest fantastic as well as realistic situations by asking the students to think of themselves as writing different kinds of plays; mysteries, science fiction, and perhaps plays that include ghosts. You might also wish to use this device in working through the development section. As the students answer the questions in this section, record the answers on the board for students to use when they do the activity. Divide the students into groups of four or five. Have each group work through the activity. When the groups have finished preparing and rehearsing their plays, call the entire class together. Have different groups present their plays for the class.
To familiarize students with the different aspects of the production of a play.
Mr. Ben-Israel will be conducting Lesson V since he devised it.
The majority of students will be involved in the direction and production of a class play. Every relevant aspect of theatrical techniques could be examined
An actual performance of the play could be evaluated by a group consisting of students and teachers.
I will be introducing a short one act play to the students. There are two classes, each class performing their own play. The plays will be performed during an assembly at the school.
First, Mr. Ben-Isreal will read the play. Then, after reading the play we will audition students for the different parts. Auditions should consist of having at least two students reading small parts of the play together. Hopefully, more than that number would be willing to audition and this will help to determine who would be best suited to play the different characters. Once the decisions have been made who will be featured in the acting roles, we can then determine how students can assist in other ways with the production. Our next step will be to begin rehearsing the play. Students will be required to learn their speaking lines on their own. During class time, we will work on Entrances, Movement, and the succession of the drama.
- 1. Entrances—How and when an actor appears on the stage.
- 2. Movement—The actions an actor performs within his character.
- 3. Succession of the drama—making the story unfold before the audience through the characters interaction and dialogue.
i) stage presence
Have the students select a theater from one of the countries listed and write a report about it.
Mekah-El Ben Israel
University of New Haven
300 Orange Avenue
West Haven, CT 06516
Palace Performing Arts Center
246 College Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Shubert Performing Arts CEnter
247 College Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Yale Repertory Theater
1120 Chapel Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Long Wharf Theater
222 Sargent Drive
New Haven, CT 06511
Bentham, Frederick, The Art of Stage Lighting: London: Pitman House Limited, 1980 This book explains the differences in stage lighting.
Bently, Eric, What is Theater: New York: Antheneum, 1968. The author explains what is theater and also criticizes it.
Brockett, Oscar G., History of the Theater: Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1977. This book traces the development of the theater from its beginning until 1976.
Cheney, Sheldon, The Theater: New York: David McCoy Company, Inc. 1972. This book is a concise history of the institution and the art of the theater. It encompasses theaters throughout the world.
Cole, Toby & Chinoy, Helen, Actors on Acting: New York: Crown Publishers, 1970. This book deals with actors and their training.
Cracraft, James, The Soviet Union Today: Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1988. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to contemporary Soviet reality. The theater information is on pages 264-266 and 270.
Geisinger, Marion, Plays, Players, and Playwrights: New York: Hart Publishing, 1971. This book is a pictorial pantheon of the world’s greatest playwrights, actors, actresses, stage designers, and stage directors.
Gilette, A.S., Stage Scenery: New York: Harper & Row, 1981. He discusses the changes that have taken place in the construction of scenery in the theater on stage.
Henderson, Mary C., Theater in America 200 Years of Plays, Players, and Productions: New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1986 The author deals with American life and thought as well as the most influential theaters on earth and in America.
Hobson, Harold, Theater in Britain: Oxford: Phaidon, 1984 This book is about theaters in Britain and is is the authors view. It is also the story of British theatre since 1920.
Service of Columbia Record Club, Soviet Union, Russia and the Republic: Color Slides with accompanying textbook, New York: 1960.
Stell, Joseph W., The Theater Student: New York: Richards Rosen Press, Inc., 1970. This book deals with training the student and the scenery that surrounds them.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Volume #22, Pgs. 28-37. Chicago, William Benton Publisher, 1960.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Volume #2, Page 276, Chicago, William Benton Publisher, 1960.
Hunt, Douglas and Kari, Pantomime, The Silent Theater: New York: Anthenum, 1964. This book introduces the reader to some basic movement with in the theater.
Jennings, Coleman A. & Harris, Aurand, Plays Children love: New York: St. Martins Press, 1988. This book is a collection of plays on a middle school level. It can be a helpful guide to students interested in putting on a play.
Olfson, Lewt, You Can Put on a Show: New York: Sterling Publishers CO., Inc., 1975. This is an informative book on how to put on different shows and plays.
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