The Art Of Drama Teaching
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The Art Of Drama Teaching

Mike Fleming

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eBook - ePub

The Art Of Drama Teaching

Mike Fleming

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About This Book

This classic edition of Mike Fleming's The Art of Drama Teaching provides a multitude of practical ideas for teachers of drama and for those who are interested in using drama to teach other subjects. It takes the form of detailed discussion of twenty-five drama techniques including but not limited to:

  • beginnings and endings
  • monologue and narration
  • off-stage action and reported action
  • mime
  • irony
  • time shifts
  • minor characters

Each technique, topic or convention is illustrated by a carefully chosen extract from a play and accompanied by a commentary and practical examples of lesson tasks.

This book not only demonstrates drama as an art form and provides ready-to-use material for drama teachers, but highlights how dramatic techniques can be used to inform classroom teaching and develop teacher practice. Featuring a brand new preface by the author to contextualise the book within the field today, this Routledge Classic Edition is an indispensable resource for drama teachers in both primary and secondary schools.

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1 Alternative Perspective

INSPECTOR: Mr Birling?
BIRLING: Yes. Sit down, Inspector.
INSPECTOR: Thank you, sir.
Edna takes the Inspector's hat and coat and goes out
BIRLING: Have a glass of port – or a little whisky.
INSPECTOR: No, thank you, Mr Birling. I’m on duty. (He turns the desk chair a little away from the desk and sits)
BIRLING: You’re new, aren’t you?
INSPECTOR: Yes, sir. Only recently transferred.
BIRLING: I thought you must be. I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago – and I’m still on the Bench – so I know the Brumley police officers pretty well – and I thought I’d never seen you before. (He sits L. of the table)
INSPECTOR: Quite so.
BIRLING: Well, what can I do for you? Some trouble about a warrant?
INSPECTOR: No, Mr Birling.
BIRLING: (after a pause, with a touch of impatience) Well, what is it then?
INSPECTOR: I’d like some information, if you don’t mind, Mr Birling. Two hours ago a young woman died in the Infirmary. She’d been taken there this afternoon because she’d swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant. Burnt her inside out, of course.
ERIC: (involuntarily) My God!
INSPECTOR: Yes, she was in great agony. They did everything they could for her at the Infirmary, but she died. Suicide of course.
BIRLING: (rather impatiently) Yes, yes. Horrible business. But I don’t understand why you should come here, Inspector –
INSPECTOR: (cutting through, massively) I’ve been round to the room she had, and she left a letter there and a sort of diary. Like a lot of these young women who get into various kinds of trouble, she’d used more than one name. But her original name – her real name – was Eva Smith.
BIRLING: (thoughtfully) Eva Smith?
INSPECTOR: Do you remember her, Mr Birling?
BIRLING: (slowly) No – I seem to remember hearing that name – Eva Smith – somewhere. But it doesn’t convey anything to me. And I don’t see where I come into this.
INSPECTOR: She was employed in your works at one time.
BIRLING: Oh – that’s it, is it? Well, we’ve several hundred young women there, y’know, and they keep changing.
INSPECTOR: (rising) This young woman, Eva Smith, was a bit out of the ordinary. I found a photograph of her in her lodgings. Perhaps you’d remember her from that. (He takes a photograph about postcard size out of his pocket and moves towards Birling)
Gerald rises and moves about the table to look over Birling’s shoulder. Eric rises and moves below the table to see the photograph. The Inspector quickly moves above Birling and prevents both of them from seeing it. They are surprised and rather annoyed. Birling stares hard and with recognition at the photograph, which the Inspector then takes from him and replaces in his pocket, as he moves down L. C.
GERALD: (following the Inspector down; showing annoyance) Any particular reason why I shouldn’t see this girl’s photograph, Inspector?
INSPECTOR: (moving to the desk) There might be.
ERIC: And the same applies to me, I suppose?
GERALD: I can’t imagine what it could be.
ERIC: Neither can I. (He sits below the table)
BIRLING: And I must say, I agree with them, Inspector.
J. B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls


The arrival of the inspector at the Birling household near the beginning of Act One interrupts the dinner being held to celebrate an engagement. The inspector’s persistent questioning as the play develops disturbs the surface order and stability of the family depicted in the initial scene and challenges their sense of moral duty and responsibility. It is gradually revealed that each member of the family not only knew Eva, the girl whose suicide is reported in this extract, but also contributed in some way to her death. Birling sacked her from his factory for being one of the ringleaders in a strike for more pay; Sheila, his daughter, unjustly used her position of social influence and power to cause the girl to lose her job as a shop assistant; Mrs Birling, as a prominent member of a charity organisation, refused financial help when Eva was in desperate need; Eric, the son, took advantage of the girl and made her pregnant. Even Gerald, Sheila’s fiancé, turns out to have had an affair with Eva. The chain of events brought her to a state of desperation and eventual suicide. Each of the incidents exposes an aspect of the dubious morality lying below the outward veneer of decorum, respectability and righteousness: deception, snobbishness, jealousy and self-centredness are displayed in different measures by the various members of the family. An alternative perspective is revealed to the audience and, to some degree, to the characters themselves as the truth is uncovered.
This extract is typical of the highly naturalistic style and content of most of the play. The inspector, true to type, refuses a drink on duty and is single-minded in his questioning. He emphasises the awful manner of the girl’s death as he does several times throughout the play. The audience is here given a hint that the girl might have been connected with more than one member of the family; the truth of this is confirmed as the play develops. The diary and letter provide the rationale for the inspector’s obvious knowledge of the truth and contribute to the realistic depiction of events. The use of the photograph is also important for the structure of the play – it is necessary that each family member recognises the girl’s photograph separately so that the truth can emerge gradually.
The play’s development centres on the shift of perspective which reveals the truth about the family: their involvement in the particular events of the girl’s life and the underlying morality and ideology which determine their actions. The moral force of the play is strengthened when the identity of the inspector becomes more ambiguous towards the end. When the family receive confirmation that Inspector Goole is not known to the local police force they start to give different interpretations of the events: that the whole affair might be a hoax, that it was not necessarily the same girl in each case (the inspector could have been using different photographs), that perhaps there was no dead body at all. The self-deception underlines the moral bankruptcy of several of the characters; they are unable to see that their actions were wrong irrespective of whether there was one girl or several. Only Sheila shows awareness of that fact.
It is the departure from naturalism, the use of time shift and the ambiguity which surrounds the identity of the inspector, which causes the significant change in perspective which underlines the central moral theme. The play ends with a telephone announcement to the Birlings that the body of a girl has been found and an inspector will shortly arrive to question them. It is as if time has been suspended for the duration of the play. The family had momentarily thought that they had escaped from the consequences of their actions.
It is also the departure from naturalism which provides a key to the alternative perspective in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. The play depicts very ordinary events in the lives of the characters in a New Hampshire town. In the third and final act the author uses a bold and imaginative convention: Emily, who has died in childbirth, is allowed to return to an earlier time in her life (her birthday when she was twelve years old) to experience it now from the perspective of one who has died.
The convention of letting Emily return to her former life works because of the epic style in which the play as a whole was conceived and written. The Stage Manager is a key figure in the play, commenting on the action, interacting with the characters and orchestrating the events. He has the power not only to reach back in time and bring the past into the present, but also to allow Emily to live her life and ‘watch herself living it’. This allows her to have an alternative perspective on the events of her life. Emily is now able to perceive that people simply do not live their lives with intensity. It is not that there is any revelation of cruelty or injustice in what she sees: on the contrary, the family birthday scene is generous and loving. What Emily finds hard to bear is the blandness, emotional restraint and lack of real connections between people.
The process of providing an alternative perspective on events can be seen both as a specific approach to drama and as a function of art and drama as a whole. It is therefore a suitable topic with which to begin this account of dramatic conventions. The way Wilder uses alternative perspective in Our Town can be seen as a metaphor for the way in which the dramatic art process works. It is as if Emily is watching a performance as spectator and participating in it at the same time. Life and the way it is normally lived is thereby subject to fresh scrutiny. Emily’s utterance when she returns to her former life, ‘So all that was going on and we never noticed’, is not at all inappropriate as an insight into the power of drama as an art form. Similarly her comment about life, ‘It goes so fast’, is also pertinent. Drama frequently works by slowing action down in order to explore experiences in more depth.


Alternative perspective is described in this chapter as a convention in its own right, but it is also one of the underlying purposes for many of the other techniques which will be described in this book. Reporting events, irony, unspoken thoughts and counterpoint are all conventions which can be used in order to provide a different perspective on the action of the drama. By consciously seeking to provide contrasting views, the teacher can develop in the participants an insight into the fact that events are always subject to alternative constructions and reinterpretations.
Just as a fresh perspective is thrown on a family in An Inspector Calls and on a simple domestic scene in Our Town, virtually any drama can be given more depth by juxtaposing a contrasting view of the events which are unfolding. There are a number of ways in which an alternative perspective can be provided in the course of creating a drama:
• two versions of the same event are created;
A Head of House is interviewing two pupils to get to the bottom of some misdemeanour (perhaps a fight or a broken window). Two versions of how things happened are enacted from the different perspectives of the pupils involved. The simplest approach and the way the pupils are likely to interpret the task is to reveal how one is telling the truth, the other lying. More subtly, the two versions can be shown which both pupils genuinely believe to be true.
• a diary entry or letter is juxtaposed against the enacted scene;
In a play about an expedition to uncharted territory, the leader of the expedition reads aloud reflections on the events of the day in the form of a diary or letter home. This technique is fairly common in the drama literature as a form of summary (see Chapter 16: Narration) but it is used here either to show the leader’s self-deception or to inject tension if the intention is actually to deceive.
• a reported version of an event is followed by an enactment of how things actually were;
The report of a first date to a friend is set against the way things were actually experienced. Here the emphasis is on blatant ex...

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