Tag Archives: Drama

Telling Stories

27 Jul

In the introduction to my Penguin Books edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet the following quotation appears:

“The telling and retelling of stories is our main means for getting some insight into and control over our circumstances.”

It seems to me that sentence could be replicated exactly in an introduction to Othello.  Indeed, that text is preoccupied with the telling of stories.  In fact, it is through the telling of stories that Iago is able to consolidate his power over Othello and a range of other characters.

It would be interesting to see whether students studying the ‘Narratives that shape our world’ unit in Year 11 Advanced feel that this statement is an accurate representation of the purpose of storytelling.

Re-imagining the Past

24 Jul

Yesterday I posted about the possibility of students creating a play script in which they fictionally re-imagine or extend the life of an individual whose story is explored in ‘How Far We’ve Come’.  Additional resources that could be useful include the overview of migrants’ experiences at Immigration Place and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

In a variation of the previously outlined activity, the teacher could, without telling students, provide each with a different section of the profile.  Students could then share their fictional re-imaginings, trying to find the kernel of truth that inspired each of them.  Then, with all the information provided, students could evaluate the plausibility of events represented in the play scripts.

‘How Far We’ve Come’

23 Jul

I am a big fan of SBS interactives, and love using them in the classroom.

I’ve recently been exploring ‘How Far We’ve Come‘ and am keen to use it as the basis for an extension activity.  In particular, I want to offer students the opportunity to explore the experiences described in the interactive and then create a play script that offers a fictional re-imagining or extension of the life of the chosen individual.  This activity would require students to transfer and extend the knowledge gleaned through close study of a dramatic text.

Dramatising One’s Own Story

13 Jul

As part of an upcoming drama study, I am keen for students to demonstrate knowledge of the dramatic conventions set for study by creating an additional act for Sally Mackenzie’s Scattered Lives in which they document a migrant experience drawn from their own family history.

To glean relevant information students will be set the task of interviewing parents or grandparents, thus building cross-generational connections.

Additionally, students will have to storyboard the experiences, and then put themselves in the position of director to decide how to best and most powerfully stage the experiences.

I think it would also be interesting to have students type, edit and refine their work so that it can be collated as a second edition of Scattered Lives that, perhaps, could even be displayed in the library or made available as an e-book for students to share with their families.

Dramatising Australian Stories

12 Jul

I am hoping to study Sally Mackenzie’s Scattered Lives with one of my junior classes next term.  Her play explores a range of migrant experiences.

As part of this unit I also want to show my students Africa to Australia, an interactive website exploring the experiences of African Australians.   I want my students to select one of the stories presented and re-imagine it as an additional act in Scattered Lives.  Through this activity, students will be able to broaden their understanding of the Australian experience while also demonstrating their knowledge of dramatic conventions.

Write the Script

9 Jul

An article entitled ‘#PlaneBae: Alaska Airlines Passangers’ Flight Romance Goes Viral on Twitter‘ has got me thinking about unexpected ways in which the real world provides inspiration for narratives.  The article details how a chance encounter and perceived burgeoning love story was live tweeted by another passenger.

It could be fun homework for students to eavesdrop on a stranger’s conversation, using the few lines gathered as stimulus for a short drama script.  Alternatively, students could be asked to select from a list of genres, creatively re-imagining their overheard conversation so that it embodies the characteristics of a particular genre.

I am an Immigrant

7 Jul

A few years ago (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas posted an image of a selection of crowd-funded displayed in the London Underground to combat racism and xenophobia.  This image was followed with the question, ‘What would you do with these posters in your classroom?’

I know I am a few years late to the party, but I would ask students to adapt this idea, creating their own posters with an image of an immigrant whose story we have studied in class.  Their posters could document the contributions of these figures (as the stimulus posters do), or they could be modified to reflect what we learn through those people’s stories.

This activity could work particularly well in a unit about Sally Mackenzie’s Scattered Lives which documents refugee stories, or perhaps connected to an interactive like Africa to Australia.

Extension Activity #1

28 Jun

I teach a number of talented junior students who are in need of extension.  As such, I am making it my mission to devise some interesting activities that will help them to hone their skills and continue to foster their love of English.

One possibility is to have students script and record a serialised radio play/podcast linked to the text we are studying in class.  Students could, for example, re-imagine the text from a new perspective, branch off into the experiences of a secondary character or create the prequel.

This activity has the benefit of being a sustained project, something that can play out (pun intended) over the course of a semester and be presented to the class as an end of term activity.  It also has the potential to foster collaboration, with students working together to script and voice the various characters.

 

Gender and Othello

15 May

When I am teaching Shakespearean drama I often wish that I was able to treat my students to multiple performances, each offering a different perspective on the play.  Why?  Because each casting decision, each dramatic decision offers insight into the play’s enduring relevance and values.

The value of performance is underscored in a recent review about a production of Othello in which the eponymous protagonist was recast as a lesbian.  If we view Othello’s characterisation as the Moor as a mere shorthand for communicating his difference, the re-imagining of Othello as a lesbian does not change much.  After all, on this reading, lesbian and Moor are both equally effective synonyms for ‘Other’.  If, however, Othello’s characterisation is about more than difference, if the colour of Othello’s skin is as central to Othello as Shylock’s religion is in The Merchant of Venice, then maybe recasting Othello as a lesbian matters greatly.   Maybe it changes everything.

The author of the review is of the view that changing the gender (let alone the orientation) of Othello matters greatly:

“In changing the gender of Othello – making the character … a woman who has excelled in what is clearly very much a man’s world – the stakes are raised, and the evening speaks to present-day workplace politics. Iago is the “ancient” who feels resentment at a woman’s success…”

Her view, it seems, is that the shift in characterisation modernises the text such that it reflects the context in which we live, offering a certain universality to the underlying interpersonal conflict.  This would be an interesting idea to discuss with my class – I what they see in Othello and how closely this understanding is linked to the colour of his skin.

I would also be keen to discuss the following:

  • Characterisation of Othello tips the gender balance in the play as three of the four key characters are now female.  If Othello is recast as woman, is Iago (the only male) recast as ‘Other’.  If so, how might this change how audiences view him?
  • Does the gender and/or the sexual orientation of Othello impact his effectiveness of a tragic hero?  Why/why not?
  • How does exploring the downfall of a woman and/or lesbian play into current social narratives regarding gender and sexuality?
  • Is it a feminist statement to recast Othello as a woman?  Explain.

The ‘Good Bloke’ Narrative

14 May

A recent conversation with students about Othello raised an interesting question:  If we view Othello as offering a window into the protagonist’s domestic world, then do we also (given the play’s ending) have to view Othello as a perpetrator of domestic violence?

The question is a good one in that it demonstrates critical engagement with the text studied.  It should also be valued as a way of grappling with the play’s continued relevance.  Another way of asking this question might be: Do we value Othello for the way it sheds light on the problems plaguing domestic relationships?

This understanding of Othello as an abusive husband was almost immediately countered by another student who, instead, perceived Othello as a ‘good guy’ corrupted by the machinations of Iago.  Othello may have killed his wife, argued this student, but it wasn’t really his fault as his rage was fuelled by Iago’s manipulative conduct.

The ensuing discussion, I feel, could really have benefited from students reading Clementine Ford’s article ‘The problem with the “good bloke” narrative’.  In this article Ford discusses the inadequacy of a system where males who murder their loved ones are cast as ‘good blokes’ and, in doing so, the gravity of their conduct is diminished.  In the words of Ford:

“Turning murderers into ‘Good Blokes’ only reinforces an underlying community belief that there are circumstances in which men (and it’s always men, because nobody defends women who murder children or describes them as ‘awesome’) can be driven to this kind of response. That indeed the pressures of being a man can be so intense and suffocating that they feel they have no choice but to end the lives of everyone they’re ‘responsible’ for.”

In light of this article, I have a number of questions for my students:

  • Does/how does the characterisation of Othello as a ‘Good Bloke’ devalue women?
  • Is Othello an anti-feminist play?  Why?
  • Is Othello an anti-male play?  Why?
  • What is Shakespeare seeking to achieve through his representation of men and women?
  • What narratives about masculinity and femininity is Shakespeare offering in Othello?
  • Why is it acceptable to perceive a literary domestic abuser, but not a real life domestic violence perpetrator, as a ‘Good Bloke’?
  • At what point does/should personal responsibility begin?