We included this unit in our Distance Learning Curriculum because if any group of students would understand how the world turned upside down and then apply it to theatre, it would be the students dealing with a global pandemic.
First, we take two lessons to go over the historical and philosophical background of Theatre of the Absurd. We start with a visual exercise to bring students into the emotional bleakness of the landscape and then group work to look at some of the other foundational elements that will drive the absurdist movement into the theatres. Next, we break down absurd scripts into some “recognizable” elements of language, plot structure, acting choices, and storyline. In each lesson that introduces an absurdist element, there is an opportunity for students to “play” with the element.
The overview lays out the objectives, materials, assessment tools, and the structure of the unit.
To introduce Theatre of the Absurd, students will look at photos from Europe after World War II to inform the reflection monologues they will write later. First, they will discuss an assigned photo in groups. Next, they will create group tableaux and write personal reflection monologues.
Students will explore one of the four background/historical elements for Theatre of the Absurd. Within their groups, they will create a way to share their area of exploration with the class. This works best as a multiple-class lesson.
Students will explore using clichés, stereotypes, and overused phrases in dialogue as used in Theatre of the Absurd.
Students will be introduced to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and examine clichés, stereotypes, and overused phrases.
Students will explore the absurdism theatrical convention of using meaningless language to communicate (or not communicate) a larger theme of interpersonal relationships and misunderstandings. Students will create nonsensical scenes using their own text messages.
Students will explore acting the absurd by taking a blank scene and adding specific absurd acting choices.
Students will explore the absurdism theatrical convention of circular plot lines that appear to go nowhere and end in unresolved situations. They will create a conventional and an unconventional (absurdist) plot line using a well-known fairy tale.
Students continue to explore the absurdism theatrical convention of circular plot lines that appear to go nowhere and end in unresolved situations. Students are introduced to The Arsonists by Max Frisch.
Students will perform a blank scene, varying the placements and lengths of pauses to show the absurdist convention of using pauses to create tension and misunderstanding. They will also be introduced to the master of the pause, Harold Pinter.
Students will demonstrate the absurdist dialogue convention of strange and ill-timed pauses by adding pauses to Lucky’s monologue from Waiting For Godot and either direct or perform with varying pauses in their performance.
Students will create a scene where impossible things happen and there isn’t a conventional response. This is a multiple-class lesson.
Students will act truthfully in fictitious circumstances, as they physically act as humans turning into rhinoceroses. They will be introduced to Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros.
Students will apply what they have learned in a final project. Their goal is to demonstrate their understanding of the elements and the historical and philosophical background of absurdism. This will be a multi-day project.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 - Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 - Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 - Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 - Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2 - Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3 - Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.4 - Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.5 - Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.6 - Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2 - Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
TH.912.C.1.2 - Create, refine, and sustain complex and believable characters for performance through the integration and application of artistic choices based on research, rehearsal, feedback, and refinement.
TH.912.H.2.1 - Research the correlations between theatrical forms and the social, cultural, historical, and political climates from which they emerged, to form an understanding of the influences that have shaped theatre.
TH.912.S.1.4 - Compare the artistic content as described by playwrights, actors, designers, and/or directors with the final artistic product and assess the success of the final artistic product using established criteria.
A.CU.1.2 - Exemplify a variety of theatrical forms, such as puppetry, musical theatre, and pantomime, from Non-Western cultures and a variety of historical periods through the creation of theatrical works.
C.3.C - perform a role such as actor, director, designer, technician, or editor in production decision making and collaborate with others in a production role to tell a story through live theatre or media performance.
C.3.1 - identify and follow safe and ethical practices in drama activities (e.g., exhibit safe use of sound and lighting boards; follow procedures for the environmentally responsible use of materials and energy; prepare an individual or group seminar report on the nature and purpose of one or more of the following: copyright protection, royalties, public domain, intellectual property rights)
C.3.2 - identify and apply the skills and attitudes needed to perform various tasks and responsibilities in producing drama works (e.g., use active listening and cooperative problem-solving skills; practise punctuality; use tact in suggesting changes and improvements; demonstrate willingness to accept criticism and build consensus)
C.3.3 - demonstrate an understanding of theatre and audience etiquette, in both classroom and formal performance contexts (e.g., as a performer: show willingness to take direction and behave appropriately towards other actors; as a viewer: demonstrate respect for performers and other audience members by paying attention, not interrupting or talking, and applauding when appropriate)
C.1.1 - identify the drama forms, elements, conventions, and techniques used in their own and others’ drama works, and explain how the various components are used, or can be used, to achieve specific effects, with a focus on ensemble drama works (e.g., how a comic drama form can be used to convey a serious message, how setting and time period can be used to sharpen the focus on a moral dilemma, how characters can be used to vary the mood within a drama)
C.1.2 - demonstrate an understanding of and use correct terminology to refer to the forms, elements, conventions, and techniques of drama, with a focus on ensemble drama works (e.g., chorus, protagonist, ingénue, supporting role, act, scene, climax, resolution, improvisation, mask, freeze-frame image)
C.1.3 - demonstrate an understanding of production roles, practices, and terminology when planning and presenting drama works (e.g., set design, costume design, lighting plot, light cue sheet, sound cue sheet, prompt book, set sketch, set model)
B.3.1 - identify and describe skills, attitudes, and strategies they used in collaborative drama activities (e.g., brainstorming, active listening, and cooperative problem-solving skills; strategies for sharing responsibility through collaborative team roles)
A.3.1 - identify and use a variety of techniques to influence the audience in specific ways (e.g., have actors enter the performance space from the audience to increase audience connection to the drama; use blocking to focus audience attention on key characters or relationships between characters)
A.3.2 - use a variety of voice and movement techniques to support the creation of character or atmosphere during rehearsal (e.g., use voice and movement to suggest an airport, circus, or factory environment)
A.2.1 - select and combine the elements of drama to achieve a variety of purposes in ensemble presentations (e.g., use the elements of character, time, and place in a drama about making a difficult choice; use the elements of time and place to clarify the focus in a drama about a historical event)