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Part of the Distance Learning Curriculum

Theatre of the Absurd

Created by Lea Marshall

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.
Additional Attachments
1: Visual Absurdity
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.
2: Out of Tune
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.
3: Cliches, Stereotypes, and Overused Phrases
Students will explore using clichés, stereotypes, and overused phrases in dialogue as used in Theatre of the Absurd.
4: Cliches, Stereotypes, and Overused Phrases in Waiting for Godot
Students will be introduced to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and examine clichés, stereotypes, and overused phrases.
5: Meaningless Language and The Bald Soprano
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.
6: Acting the Absurd
Students will explore acting the absurd by taking a blank scene and adding specific absurd acting choices.
7: Circular Plot Lines
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.
8: Circular Plot Lines in The Arsonists
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.
9: The Pause
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.
10: The Pause in Waiting for Godot
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.
11: Impossible Things are Happening Every Day
Students will create a scene where impossible things happen and there isn’t a conventional response. This is a multiple-class lesson.
12: Impossibilities and Rhinoceros
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.
13: Unit Project
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.

Standards Addressed

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