Acting Teaching Drama

Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society – Movie Scene Monday

We’re changing Movie Monologue Monday a bit this year. We’re going to add a character or two and call it Movie Scene Monday. Not as alliterative as the original title, but it’ll do.

January is going to focus on the arts and education.

This week we’re looking at an inspirational scene from Dead Poets Society. (Hat tip to Jennifer Salvant.) Williams plays John Keating, an unorthodox teacher at a private prep school. Here he pulls a poem out of a reserved and reluctant Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke).

Class Exercise

Watch the video and discuss these questions. Don’t worry about whether or not everyone has seen the whole movie. Fill in the missing details using what you see, hear, and imagine.

  • What does Anderson’s eye contact (and lack of eye contact) reveal about his character at the beginning of the scene?
  • The other students giggle at Anderson’s shyness and how he’s being singled out. At what point does the laughing stop? Why?
  • In the middle of the scene, the camera circles round and round the two actors. Why did the filmmaker make this choice? How difficult would this kind of movement be on the actors?
  • Why is it easier for Anderson to express himself with his eyes closed?
  • There’s a long pause after his speech. Why?
  • Why does Keating (the teacher) say “Don’t you forget this” privately to Anderson? Why doesn’t he say it so the whole class can hear?
  • What does the word “yawp” mean to you after having watched the scene? How does it relate to theatre?
  • Take the entire scene and rewrite it for a drama class. Williams is a drama teacher and Hawke is a struggling actor. How much do the same lessons apply?

Is there a scene you think we should feature on Movie Scene Monday? Send it to me (preferably with a YouTube link) and I’ll love you forever.

About the author

Craig Mason