Classroom Exercise

Drama Activity: A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Written by Lindsay Price

You’ve heard the saying. “A Picture is worth a Thousand Words.” Here is an exercise that puts that expression into vivid detail.

Click here to see an Imgur gallery. It shows eight paintings of the same man. They are self-portraits of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; eight years of a man slowly disappearing until the year he forgot to send a picture.

It’s a heartbreaking visualization not only of the self, but of of a disease. It’s an perfect, if terrifying, example of how a disease can be represented artistically.

The pictures tell a story. There are no words and yet we know exactly what’s happening to this man. He is slowly disappearing. He is in despair. The ground he always knew as solid is slipping away.


  1. Save the pictures separately (so that the captions are not visible) then project them on a screen or smart board. Show your students these pictures without telling them what they mean, or even that they’re the same person. Have students write a brief reflection on each photo. What do they see? What words come to mind? What emotions?
  2. After going through all eight slowly, show each picture again. Stop on picture 7. Ask students to take a minute and automatic write the inner thoughts of this person. Think of this portrait as a character. Based on what you see, what’s going on in their mind? Give students two minutes.
  3. Have students share their automatic writing. What thoughts do they identify? How do they interpret this portrait as a character?
  4. Show the pictures again. This time, tell students there’s a story going on here. From the first to the last, think about what the story could be. Divide students into groups. Have students share their views on the pictures and decide on the story being told. What is the story? Give students time to come up with a presentation (either oral, or a series of tableaux).
  5. After students share their versions of the story, discuss them. And then let them know the true story of the eight pictures, that they are self-portraits of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They represent the last eight years of his life up until the year he forgot to send a picture.
  6. Discuss with students what they see in the pictures now that they know the context. What words come to mind?
  7. Explain to students that theatre can also bring stories to life visually. It can visualize concepts, issues, and emotions without being literal.
  8. Give students the following assignment.
    1. Multi-infarct dementia is a disease that affects the brain. The sufferer has a series of small strokes that affects how the brain works. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is temporarily shut off. It affects short term memory, causes inappropriate behaviour (like laughing or crying), wandering or getting lost, and difficulty with normal tasks. The symptoms are not always present. In groups you are going to create a one minute presentation that visualizes multi-infarct dementia using children’s games.
    2. In your groups, use a children’s game (e.g. red light / green light, musical chairs) to show multi-infarct dementia.
    3. Remember! The disease affects the brain – the way the game is played will be affected by this.
    4. Don’t focus on the literal. Do not include a description of the disease in your presentation. Focus on the visual.

    Click here for a printable PDF version of this assignment

  9. After groups have presented, discuss what it was like to visualize a disease without explaining the disease? What was it like to watch the presentations? What was your experience?
  10. Have students write a reflection on the exercise. Is it effective to visualize something on stage without offering a full explanation? Why or why not?

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About the author

Lindsay Price