Some plays to play with

In the last 6 weeks of the school semester I thought it would be fun and challenging for my classes to play around with some complete play texts and decide on the staging and ensemble building process. Which of course link in with the director’s notebook and collaborative project.

I selected 3 plays that have the entire cast involved nearly all the time, so we could play around with the work on the ensemble, group dynamics, movement and use of minimal set. The only set I made available to us were 15 small black boxes, 2 benches and a set of steps. The idea was that we would use these same set pieces for all 3 plays.

The plays that I chose for us to work on were:

  • ‘Our Day Out’ by Willy Russell
  • ‘The Conference of the Birds’ by Carriere and Brook
  • ‘Sparkleshark’ by Philip Ridley

I have three grade 9-10 Drama classes so I gave one play to each group. These plays are ideal for the director’s notebook, as they each require quite a lot of research to put them in context of time, purpose and location, each being rooted in some particular culture or belief.

The process we went through was:

1. Research the background of the plays:

  • Willy Russell’s life and Liverpool
  • Sufism and the journey to enlightenment
  • London schools and bullying

2. Decide as a group what we think the purpose of the play is, the intended impact and the target audience

3. Decide on the space we will put the play  in & the rationale for that

‘Our Day Out’ was end stage: to allow for entrances and exits of large groups, also the movement of the boxes was needed to create the spaces, so we needed to have off stage for changing scenes and costumes.

‘Conference of the Birds’ was in the round: to show the cyclic nature of the sufi journey, also we wanted the audience to be involved in the performance and as close to the birds as possible. Actors never left the stage, they went back to their ‘perches’ when not in a scene, so no offstage required.

‘Sparkleshark’ was thrust: to allow for the entrance to the roof and also to create the idea that the roof was an enclosed space with audience all around.

4. Casting and any editing

Students chose 3 possible roles each for themselves then I did the final casting.

5. Props and costumes

This was done as a group as we progressed through the play, we kept notes on the board and on google docs.

6. Rehearsals

I directed most of the play, but so we could be efficient I did have a few student directors do scenes that we could rehearse simultaneously.

7. Performances

We performed to the HS, MS and ES school with the play ‘going on the road’ to various rooms and different campuses (we are a 2 campus school). I kept the lighting and sound out of all plays to make ease of transport AND the set and props were also minimal – all planned well in advance to allow for ease of transport.

To see how the plays turned out, please see the link below for ‘Conference of the Birds’. I hope they give you some ideas for minimalism and ensemble performance:

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