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Improvisation is a vital dramatic skill. You never know when something is going to go wrong onstage, and cast members will need to make it look like everything is going as planned. Improvising in class fosters group cohesion, cooperation, and teamwork.
This series of articles provides a long-term lesson plan to guide students through the process of developing a story into a dramatic performance. This takes many skills to be built upon. Previous articles in this series discussed the use of pantomime improvisations. Now, lets plan the next step: an activity in which students perform improvisations and speak.
Divide your class into small groups, about three to five students per group. Have your handy hat full of index cards ready, and each group can pick out a card that has a given situation already written on it. Give the groups about five minutes to confer, but remind them that this is improvisation, so they do not have to have a complete plan from beginning to end.
After about five minutes, call the class together and, one at a time, each group can improvise and perform their given situation.
Here are suggestions for what to write on the cards, feel free to use these and add your own:
* Escaped prisoners stop for gas. The station attendant is old and slow.
* Inexperienced waiters in a fancy restaurant.
* A student misbehaves and gets thrown out of class.
* An elevator gets stuck. Riders all react in different ways. (Claustrophobia, Impatience, Heart Attack, Have to Use the Restroom, Use Your Imagination.)
As the class works on their improvisation skills, it is appropriate to start letting the audience make suggestions, then have the actors perform one more time.
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Your students may be interested to know that a traditional form of Italian theater, Commedia Dell'Arte, always functioned as an improvisation with a given situation.
Commedia Dell'Arte was most popular during the Renaissance. The theatrical form had stock characters who wore specific masks and sometimes specific costuming. Arlechino the Clown always wore a diamond-check suit, and Pantolone the Old Man's mask is famous for its long nose.
Commedia Dell'Arte plays were simply given situations, complete with a prologue, scenes, and acts. Every performance, the actors would improvise through each scene. Today, Commedia Dell'Arte "scripts" are compilations of what the actors of old developed while performing.
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