After studying this section, you should be able to:
• appreciate how a drama text differs from other kinds of text
• understand – and have ideas about – how to study a drama text
• appreciate the difference between reading the text and seeing it performed
How to approach a drama text
If you look up the word ‘drama’ in a dictionary, you will find a definition that says something like this.
1. A play for acting on the stage or for broadcasting.
2. The art of writing and presenting plays.
Such definitions point to one of the main differences between a drama text and the other texts that you will study. The drama text is primarily written to be ‘seen’ rather than read. This is an important point to bear in mind when you are writing about a play for your coursework or in an exam answer, because students often write about plays as if they were novels rather than a piece of drama. In many ways a play can only be fully appreciated when seen as a performance. The elements that create the drama are much more than simply words on a page – the whole effect can only be truly created through the play being acted out on the stage in front of an audience, who share the experience of watching the play and responding to it. So, when studying a play, it will really help if you are able to see a live performance of it at the theatre. Unfortunately, this is not always possible and so – when studying the play in the classroom – it is vital that you always bear in mind the performance element of the text. You should recognise that studying a play is very different from studying a novel, and that you will need to employ different techniques in approaching it. Watching a performance of the play on DVD, or even listening to an audio recording of it, will help you get a sense of the play in performance. You should also try to visualise the action in your mind as you are reading the play.
Here are some things you can do to help you approach your drama text:
• Read the play in a group, each taking a different part.
• Act out scenes of the play with other people.
• Take note of the stage directions – these will help you to visualise what is happening.
• Try to see a live performance of the play.
• Try to see a DVD performance.
• Listen to an audio recording of the play.
• Recognise that each performance of the play presents just one interpretation – a play can be interpreted in lots of different ways. Every production of a play is different in some way, whether it takes place in the theatre or on film.
Work with others to dramatise scenes from the text. Talk to them about staging implications. Imagine you are a theatre director – plan carefully how you would stage a production of the play, the kind of actors you would cast, how you would bring your own interpretation out live on stage, etc. Use diagrams, drawings and models to work out sets, stage layout, and props for selected scenes.
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