During GSCE drama at Wyedean we have covered a variety of drama techniques which are used to create more of an effect, represent reality in an abstract form or to provoke the audiences’ imagination. Some of these techniques are very simple such as freeze framing, a number are more common such as narration and others are particularly challenging for the actor such as hot-seating.
About the play ‘Our Day Out’
Over a few lessons we learnt about the play, “Our Day Out” by Willy Russell and the world he creates in Liverpool for a class of disadvantaged children. The play was set in the 1970’s but can easily fit in with today’s Britain. The story revolves around four teachers and ‘Mrs Kay’s progress class’ ; a class of children who are not seen as able to achieve much other than working in a factory when they finish school. Mrs Kay is a bubbly, warm-hearted and fun-loving teacher, it becomes clear immediately that she is very fond of the children and enjoys her job. Mr Briggs on-the-other-hand is a moody, strict and hot-headed teacher with a tendency to ruin the children’s fun. The progress class are very rowdy and misbehaving in the eyes of Mr Briggs, however Mrs Kay sees it as “just having a bit of fun”. Consequently, when Mrs Kay organises a school trip which would have been the first time for many of the children to go outside of Liverpool, the teacher’s contrasting perceptions clash and chaos erupts wherever the class go leaving a trail of destruction.
What picture does Russell create of the children’s home life and how does he do this?
It is clear from the beginning that the children are from disadvantaged backgrounds and are not particularly wealthy. Russell portrays this picture mainly through the dialogue that is spoken by the characters throughout the play. Mrs Kay and Mr Briggs talk one-to-one about the children’s difficult upbringing and how it has affected their education. The children speak about the animals as if they were themselves; this gives clues to how the children feel about their lives in general by looking at it through the eyes of an animal. For example Ronson talks of a bear being kept in captivity, Mr Briggs replies saying that the animal knows no different and Ronson retaliates and talks about how the bear had never been given a chance to be free. This notion can be reflected as Ronson being the bear talking about how he was never given the chance of a proper education.
Why does Russell not include scenes of the children at home in his play?
Willy Russell does not include scenes of the children at home with their families; this allows the audience to create their own perceptions of what the children’s home life may be like through – again – the dialogue and what we are shown of their school life. For example, Mrs Kay refers to the bus driver how they cannot afford sweets, this suggests they come from a poorer background, the audience are able to then make suitable assumptions from there. The play does not verify that the children are poor or undereducated, it simply gives suggestions, and therefore the play can focus around the trip rather than showing unneeded scenes regarding the student’s home life. It is also more effective by using the animal’s to reflect their thoughts and feelings; it makes the audience think more about the children’s circumstances.
What is a freeze frame and what does it allow us to explore?
During the workshop we used freeze frames to show different scenes and situations in the play. A freeze frame is a still image. Just like a photograph, a still image can be examined closely, and the audience can clearly see body language, facial expressions or the distance between two actors to give clues as to the situation or the people within the situation at that moment. It is as if the piece of action has been stopped at a particular moment, therefore allowing the audience to appreciate what is happening within the scene. The audience can make assumptions from referring to the image, the can be a simple image suggesting a simple situation, for example if someone was holding a microphone and had their mouths open it would be obvious that the character is singing. Or the image can possess more meanings; if the singer had a bored expression but was surrounded by screaming fans, it would show that they don’t perhaps enjoy be the centre of attention, that way you can begin to understand some the character’s mannerisms.
What is thought-tapping and what does it allow us to explore?
We also used another drama technique called thought-tapping which is the revealing of the characters thoughts; it allows us to explore the difference between the characters appearance and the reality of their true emotions. Character may hide their true feelings if they are ashamed, feel that it is too impolite, or just out of courtesy. Or simply, it gives the audience a better understanding of what is happening in the scene. It also enables the audience to know what someone thinks at important or insignificant moments. The audience get a better insight about how a certain character gets affected by a different situations and whether they feel similarly or differently about the situation as the characters around them. When we know more of what the characters are feeling, we understand them better therefore, the drama is deepened and the audience becomes more involved.
What is forum theatre?
Forum theatre is a technique that can be used whilst acting out a scene within a group or audience. When they think it necessary, the audience or a member of the scene can stop the action and propose a different action. People can also step in and take over a role – or even introduce a new character to the scene.
What can we explore and learn when using forum theatre in the classroom?
When devising a piece of drama, it can be quite difficult to visualize or think of what a character would say or do at a particular moment. Forum theatre allows us explore how using different characters or actions can take the scene in a new direction. You can stop the drama when in role and ask for some help from your group or audience, they can then give ideas, actions and suggest something to say next; this keeps the scene moving and prevents it from becoming repetitive and boring. They might also offer to take over the role to try out their idea – or even join the scene as another character altogether.
The Forum Theatre sessions
At first, the scenes were very chaotic and unorganised; you couldn’t see what was going on and it was generally a mess. But after some useful suggestions the scenes developed nicely and although the scenes featured chaos in their storylines, it was an organised chaos and the audience could actually understand what was happening. The first scene was set in a cafï¿½. The children steal sweets, shout and cause uproar and generally play havoc about the cafï¿½. The scene leaves the shopkeepers at a loss as they realise they have been robbed of most of their stock of sweets. The second scene was in a Zoo. The children steal some of the animals, throw a boy in the penguin pool and again – cause a lot of noise and disruption.
Scenario 1: The theft at the cafï¿½
Question or choices being explored: we tried to aim for more organisation within the scene and questioned whether Mr Briggs should take more control in order to solve this problem. By using Mr Briggs to sort out the chaos, it shows his dominant and controlling character well. We then thought about adding another shopkeeper to calm the scene down a bit.
How the scene unfolded: we turned the scene around stage-wise, so that the audience had a better view of the main action; this worked very well. We added two shopkeepers and Mr Briggs took more control; these two changes in particular helped deal with the chaos issue, the scene instantly became more structured and was more interesting to watch as a member of the audience. Mrs Kay gives money to Carol who claimed that she doesn’t have any to buy sweets; this caused some uproar but was interesting to watch and wasn’t all over the place. One boy was sent back to the bus with one of the teachers – Colin – for stealing sweets. As the children left the cafï¿½ it was a lot more structured overall and worked a lot better. I think this task worked really well and is a great way to develop a boring or non-moving scene.
What we learnt about the characters and their situations: we knew from the beginning that the children did not have much respect for anyone and have no consideration for others but this scene enhanced and confirmed this judgement. It also showed how the children are easily influenced by one another and tend to copy each other, for example, as soon as one child tries to steal some of the sweets, another will notice and will copy. We also learnt of Mrs Kay’s generosity, however this could be seen as favouritism in the eyes of the likes of Mr Briggs. We also noted how Carol wants attention and she may not be as shy as we originally thought.
Scenario 2: Stealing the animals
Question or choices being explored: Again we hoped to add a more organised structure to the scenes. We also wanted to show more the difference between the children’s behaviour when they are in the company of their classmates to when a teacher is accompanying them because at first it was the children alone in the scene and we wanted to show the comparison.
How the scene unfolded: We added more characters – teachers – to show the difference of their personalities when with teachers. The scene became more interesting and mini-events occurred within the one scene, for example, separate mini-conflicts broke out between little groups of children which were settled by the teachers. Mrs Kay took Mr Briggs away for some coffee which he reluctantly accepted and then eventually the children stole the animals.
What we learnt about the characters and their situations: The main focus was that Mrs Kay is very trusting towards the children and truly doesn’t care about leaving them unsupervised unlike Mr Briggs. We also learnt again of how the children tend to follow one another because they all end up stealing an animal.
What is the importance or significance of the Zoo scene?
The Zoo scene is an important scene because it is where we find out a lot about the children’s lives and personalities; it gives us a deeper more personal insight into the children’s emotions. It shows the children’s naivety and ignorance when the children try and attempt to steal some of the animals and the children’s behaviour leads to Mr Briggs’ realisation that the children should not be trusted after their behaviour at the Zoo.
How did you recreate the Zoo?
We staged the narrators on either side of the action – the two narrators were Mr Briggs and Mrs Kay – they gave their own perception and views of what happened while at the Zoo. Frazer played Mr Briggs in the scene whilst Abbie was the voice of Mr Briggs giving the narration and Lois played Mrs Kay whilst Lucy gave the narration from Mrs Kay’s point of view. We acted out fours scenes all together, two from Mrs Kay’s perspective and two from Mr Briggs’. The first pair of scenes demonstrated the teacher’s contrasting views regarding ‘linking arms’ with the students; Mrs Kay saw it as ‘connecting with the children’, whereas Mr Briggs saw it as ‘unprofessional’. Firstly, one group acted out Mrs Kay’s version, then Lucy gave Mrs Kay’s thoughts as a self-narration, she was looking back on the event she was apart of, the second group then acted out Mr Briggs’ version and then Abbie spoke Mr Briggs’ thoughts as if he was looking back on the incident. During the second pair of scenes we enacted the part when the children climb into the rabbit run and stroke the animals. Although neither Mr Briggs or Mrs Kay were featured in this scene, they gave their opinions as if they knew what occurred; of course, Mr Briggs saw their actions as irresponsible, Mrs Kay blamed it on their harmless ignorance. We tried to use little speech from the actor in the scene while including lots of narration from the narrators. That way, it would make it more focused around the narration which was what we were exploring during this task. We debated about acting the scenes out in mute while at the same time the narrators gave their opinions in the present, but in the end decided to go with giving the narration after the scene was performed, because it may have become more like the narrators were acting the scene out rather than recounting if it was in the present tense.
What does narration allow you to tell the audience about events and characters?
It allows thoughts that wouldn’t normally be exposed to be shared with the audience. It reveals different, and in Mr Briggs and Mrs Kay’s case, contrasting perspectives. The character’s true feelings can be revealed during narration leaving the audience with a new opinion about the character or confirming their initial judgement of the character. Concerning the events, it can bring a sense of reality to something which otherwise would not be able to be portrayed within the theatrical setting. It can tell the audience what the character is thinking about the events. Overall it gives the audience clearer picture of the situation and adds a lot of depth to the drama and can make it more intense or it can simply confirm a judgement.
Mr Briggs’ description of the day
From the start, Mr Briggs thought Mrs Kay’s idea of taking her progress class out of Liverpool for the day would be a recipe for disaster. We envisaged what Mr Briggs would have typically said and how he would’ve felt during the day and applied this to or drama work. Mr Briggs described the day as ‘unprofessional’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘a disaster’, ‘waste of time’, ‘stupid idea’ and various other negative terms. Although at the fairground, near the end of the day, Mr Briggs appears to be enjoying himself and we see a totally new side to him, when he gets back to school, he still thinks of the trip as a waste of time and a total disaster.
Mrs Kay’s description of the day
The whole point of the trip out for Mrs Kay was for the children ‘to let off a bit of steam’ and ‘enjoy themselves’. Mrs Kay is all for giving the class opportunities and takes into account that most of them have never been out of Liverpool before; therefore she wants them to enjoy their time out of the city and to fully appreciate their little break. Throughout the day Mrs Kay does not seem to be concerned when the children cause havoc, she appears to be extremely relaxed about the situation and seems to find herself often having to calm Mr Briggs down. Overall, Mrs Kay wants them to have fun and sees the day as very beneficial.
Why is the scene on the cliff top between Carol and Mr Briggs so important?
It is more or less the climax of the play and is probably the most intense scene in the play. It shows the side of Mr Briggs the audience previously never imagined he had – his sensitive side. It also reveals the true intensity of Carol’s desire to escape her life in Liverpool; potentially she could have killed herself just because she wanted to stay in Wales, therefore it is evident that she is very passionate about the issue.
Who would have been responsible if Carol had died?
I think it would have been a mixture of Carol herself, Mrs Kay and Mr Briggs. Carol because she is responsible for her own actions and makes decisions for herself. Mrs Kay beacsuse she plants false hopes in Carol’s mind and makes her think that she may oneday be able to achieve her dreams. Mr Briggs because he doesn’t believe that Carol has much of a chance to achieve her dreams and whilst on the cliff if he had moved forwards anymore when Carol had told him not to, she may have jumped like she said she would.
My confrontation role play
I produced the piece of role play with Abbie Rabbitt, our scene had quite an emotional outlook and we sympathised with the characters we were playing as best as we could. It was also quite dramatic and intense – we displayed and put across our feelings with emotion
Another group’s confrontation role play and why is was effective
Holly’s group showed a lot of intense emotion too and presented a variety of mixed emotions which gave the whole scene a lot of authenticity. The emotions they put across seemed very meaningful and believable. It really connected with the audience.
What does hot-seating allow you to explore?
We can dive down deeper into a character thoughts and feelings. We can explore a characters deeper concerns and hidden thoughts – during hot-seating you can open up the character and get to know their true self. Hot-seating develops and deepens our understanding of a character, and like narration, it can confirm an initial judgement or give us new opinions about the character.
Character Analysis: what I have learnt about Mr Briggs and Mrs Kay during the workshop
The workshop has definitely confirmed my judgement that Mr Briggs and Mrs Kay both have very different views on teaching and the methods and attitude that should be used when dealing with ‘Mrs Kay’s Progress Class’. My views on Mrs Kay have changed a lot; I used to believe that Mrs Kay was just a nice person who was often willing to put her trust in lots of people – even in children, but know I think that Mrs Kay is much too soft on the children and is a little divorced from reality. She needs to understand that the children aren’t the little angels she believes them to be and that a line needs to be drawn in order to discipline and control their bad-behaviour. However my views on Mr Briggs haven’t changed as much, apart from the fact that he loves being in control, I have realised that he has more of a sensitive side to him than meets the eye. He hides the fact that he has had fun on the trip by ruining the pictures and goes back to the old Mr Briggs we met at the beginning of the play. This shows me that deep down he has warmer feelings towards to children but these are clouded by his stern and grumpy outer appearance.
Which activity gave you the greatest insight into the teachers and their teaching methods?
The role play between Mr Briggs and Mrs Kay after Carol had supposedly died because I was one to one and showed how they dealt with a death of someone quite close – especially close to Mrs Kay. This reveals of variety of hidden characteristics which aren’t revealed until something very traumatising occurs. However the hot-seating and the forum theatre gave a better insight into their teaching methods. It showed how they coped with the children misbehaving and Mr Briggs contrasting reaction to Mr Kay’s, this says a lot about their personalities too – dealing with tough situations involving the children.