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.

Overview

The overview lays out the objectives, materials, assessment tools, and the structure of the unit.

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

National Core Arts Standards


Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation - Grade HS Accomplished

TH:Pr4.1.HSII.a - Discover how unique choices shape believable and sustainable drama/ theatre work.

Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation - Grade 8

TH:Pr5.1.8.a - Use a variety of acting techniques to increase skills in a rehearsal or drama/theatre performance.

Organize and develop artistic ideas and work - Grade HS Accomplished

TH:Cr2.1.HSII.b - Cooperate as a creative team to make interpretive choices for a drama/theatre work.

Refine new work through play, drama processes and theatre experiences using critical analysis and experimentation - Grade 7

TH:Cr3.1.7.a - Demonstrate focus and concentration in the rehearsal process to analyze and refine choices in a devised or scripted drama/theatre work.

Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work - Grade 7

TH:Pr6.1.7.a - Participate in rehearsals for a drama/theatre work that will be shared with an audience.

Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding - Grade 7

TH:Cn11.2.7.a - Research and discuss how a playwright might have intended a drama/theatre work to be produced.

Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work - Grade 8

TH:Pr6.1.8.a - Perform a rehearsed drama/theatre work for an audience.

Refine new work through play, drama processes and theatre experiences using critical analysis and experimentation - Grade HS Accomplished

TH:Cr3.1.HSII.a - Use the rehearsal process to analyze the dramatic concept and technical design elements of a devised or scripted drama/theatre work.

Refine new work through play, drama processes and theatre experiences using critical analysis and experimentation - Grade HS Advanced

TH:Cr3.1.HSIII.a - Refine, transform, and re-imagine a devised or scripted drama/theatre work using the rehearsal process to invent or re-imagine style, genre, form, and conventions.

Common Core


California VAPA Standards (2019)


Acc.TH:Pr4 Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.

Acc.TH:Pr4.a - Discover how unique choices shape believable and sustainable drama/ theatre work.

8.TH:Pr5 Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.

8.TH:Pr5.a - Use a variety of acting techniques to increase skills in a rehearsal or drama/theatre performance.

7.TH:Pr6 Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.

67TH:Pr6 - Create through improvisation a drama/theatre work that will be shared with an audience.

7.TH:Cn11.2 Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

7.TH:Cn11.2.a - Research and discuss how a playwright might have intended a drama/theatre work to be produced.

8.TH:Pr6 Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.

8.TH:Pr6 - Perform a rehearsed, scripted scene from a drama/theatre work for an audience.

Florida Sunshine State Standards


Skills, Techniques & Processes

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.

TH.912.S.1.5 - Write monologues, scenes, and/or short plays using principles and elements of writing found in dramatic literature.

TH.912.S.1.6 - Respond appropriately to directorial choices for improvised and scripted scenes.

TH.912.S.1.7 - Interpret dramatic texts, organize and conduct rehearsals, and justify directorial choices for formal and informal productions.

TH.912.S.1.8 - Use research to extract clues in dramatic texts to create performances or technical elements, choosing those that are most interesting and that best convey dramatic intent.

TH.912.S.2.4 - Sustain a character or follow technical cues in a production piece to show focus.

TH.912.S.2.8 - Strengthen acting skills by engaging in theatre games and improvisations.

TH.912.S.3.1 - Articulate, based on research, the rationale for artistic choices in casting, staging, or technical design for a scene from original or scripted material.

TH.912.S.3.2 - Exercise artistic discipline and collaboration to achieve ensemble in rehearsal and performance.

TH.912.S.3.3 - Develop acting skills and techniques in the rehearsal process.

TH.912.S.3.9 - Research, analyze, and explain the processes that playwrights, directors, designers, and performers use when developing a work that conveys artistic intent.

North Carolina Essential Standards


Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Theatre Arts


MS 117.211 LI - Creative Expression: production

C.3.C - collaborate to plan brief dramatizations.

MS 117.212 LII - Foundations: Inquiry and Understanding

B.1.E - demonstrate knowledge of theatrical vocabulary and terminology.

HS 117.315 LI - Critical evaluation and response

C.5.C - offer and receive constructive criticism of peer performances.

HS 117.316 LII - Critical evaluation and response

C.5.C - offer and receive constructive criticism of peer performances.

HS 117.317 LIII - Foundations: Inquiry and Understanding

C.1.B - experiment with stage movement.

Alberta, Canada


Technical Theatre/Design 10-20-30 - Costume

1 - demonstrate understanding of the purpose of costume

Theatre Studies Drama 10 (Greek, Medieval or Elizabethan, and Canadian)

1 - recognize theatre has evolved as a traditional art form

2 - recognize innovations in the theatre

Technical Theatre/Design 10-20-30 - Lighting

1 - demonstrate understanding of the purpose of stage lighting

Technical Theatre/Design 10-20-30 - Management - Properties

1 - demonstrate understanding of the purpose of stage properties

Technical Theatre/Design 10-20-30 - Management - Set

1 - demonstrate understanding of the purpose of stage scenery

Technical Theatre/Design 10-20-30 - Management - Sound

1 - demonstrate understanding of the purpose of stage sound

Movement Level II - Intermediate

21 - display clarity of movement and gesture

Theatre Studies Level II - Intermediate (Theatre History)

6 - show awareness of selected periods and playwrights

Ontario, Canada