Socially Distanced Theatre (and how to make it)


These are abridged notes for our CPD Workshop on creating and teaching socially distanced theatre, which first ran on Zoom on 10th August 2020.

The focus of this session is on devising and creating theatre, rather than how to stage it with an audience, ticketing, etc. it features a few core exercises, discussion topic, and is the basis of extensive teaching opportunities Post-Covid-19.

©Theatre Workout ltd. 2020.

The Physical Space

How you control your physical space will be determined by the space you have. It is important to understand how your space will be managed to ensure you can teach safely, allow for creativity to flow, and to meet your school’s risk assessment policies.

Open Drama have produced some advice, which may now be slightly out of date, but which may prove useful as a starting point. You can access this here: https://opendramauk.org/portfolio/sociallydistanceddrama/

The exercises discussed in our Socially Distanced Theatre Workshop can all be delivered with students positioned with social distance guidelines.


Preparation

Getting students back into the creative process requires some preparatory exercises to focus their minds. They include vocal and physical warm-up techniques, but also exercises to get them playing, thinking and behaving in a creative way.

Naming

1. Invite students to point at things and say what they see.

2. In your space, this time point at something and then point at a second thing, calling it the name of the first thing you pointed at. Continue looking around the room calling each thing by the name of the thing before it.

3. Everything you point at can be called anything other than what it really is. You can say any noun to describe it, as long as it is not the one thing it actually is.

Image Theatre

Image theatre has its basis in practitioners and performance styles including Antonin Artaud, Augusto Boal, and Commedia Dell’Arte. It works with children and adults of all ages and can be easily adapted to specific productions, themes, issues, etc. The more advanced students are the more attention to detail you make to get clarity.

Devising physical Theatre/choreography techniques

Creating solo sequences

An extension of basic image theatre-based exercises, this exercise creates expressive movement and choreography based on any stimuli and can be taught with students in isolated spaces.

During our workshop we used ALIVE, by Sia. Paintings, photography, poems, or other music can be a good starting point.

  • Discuss the stimuli and the list words to describe it – emotions, feelings, themes, etc.

  • Create images which represent these descriptions

  • Evolve the images into gestures or short movements, exaggerating them until they’re big and almost grotesque.

  • Find a way to link all five movements, adding extra movement where necessary. Start in neutral, moving fluidly from one movement into the next, then looping the sequence so the fifth image moves into the first.

  • Split the group into groups of 5-8 people and show their work. Discuss

To develop these sequences further consider various staging options. How does it change if you halve of double the speed, if it all happens on the floor or with as little contact with the floor as possible, or if you intertwine with another student’s work?

Mask Theatre

This may seem an obvious option, but few teachers we have spoken to have raised this as an option. In the early stages of returning to lessons it can provide a valuable opportunity to teach about theatre history, ancient Greek theatre, Commedia Dell Arte, culture, the use of masks in theatre and film, and contemporary companies like Trestle, Red Bubble and Vamos, not to mention the art of mask making as well as working with masks.

Mask theatre can be wordless – primarily as full masks are difficult to talk through. It relies on physicality to express the character and tell a story. Perhaps consider a specialist outreach workshop by Theatre Workout to introduce your students to the subject.

Verbatim

Verbatim theatre is made from real people’s words. A form of documentary theatre allowing theatre makers to explore events and themes through the words of people at the heart of them.

Verbatim theatre is usually created from the transcription of interviews with people who are connected to a common event or subject. The interviews are then edited into a performance text. Often, actors are involved in conducting this research and feeding it back to the writer, director or company making the piece.

This research provides the both the spoken material for the play and also a play’s characters.

Actors in verbatim plays might attempt to mimic their counterparts exactly, or decide to represent them less literally.

Choose a topic

During our 2020 online summer school we devised and improvised a verbatim performance on Lockdown. This can serve as rich material as it is a globally experienced event unlike any other, which can also spill out into Black Lives Matter, and other issues associated with recent events – family bonding, grief and loss, boredom and frustration, financial uncertainty, stress and anxiety, technology, etc.

You can see our verbatim performance here: https://youtu.be/Rp-Wzltrl3Q.

Preparation

Make lists of people to be interviewed, and what questions you will ask them.

Interviews

Interviews are often best conducted in small groups of two or three. As a small group you will benefit from sharing observations about the interview, as each person may recall different elements.

Interview skills

Ask questions, listen, but don’t judge or comment on the interviewee’s responses. It is a conversation, not a discussion, so let them talk. Document it.

Make audio recordings of the conversation but also note observations regarding physicality, body language, and emotional state. Be polite, honest about your intentions with this material

Reporting back

Report back from your interview to the rest of the company. A good way of doing this is the “hot seat”. Instead of merely relating what you’ve learnt, you “become” the interviewee that you met, and the rest of the group ask you questions.

Style and structure of the play

You might decide to hear each story in isolation – a series of monologues, or you can make it disjointed and stylised. It can be a versatile format and anything goes.

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Further resources

Further resources are available at www.theatreworkout.com/resources. Some of these are downloadable documents, others are blog posts or activities etc posted online.

Resources created by Theatre Workout cover a range of audiences from children and young people, to those looking to work in the Creative Industries, teachers, and industry professionals.

Theatre Workout specialise in bespoke workshops which are available in our central London studios, in schools as part of our outreach programme, or online.