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How To Dramatize Any Story - 20 Useful Tips
Dramatizing : Introduction
One of the more fulfilling ways to bring any story to life is to dramatize it, create a play out of that story. Bringing to life a text, or adding real life character to a narration, can transform a story and help enthuse audiences and classes.
Whether you are a teacher, a dramatist, a member of a theatre group or just interested in the process of transforming stories into action I hope these tips and suggestions can be of use.
Although aimed primarily at those in education these tips would be of help to anyone involved in putting on a play or using drama to enhance study and understanding of a story.
There's nothing quite like the thrill of putting on a show or production for others. Getting everything organised is nerve wracking, scary, hard work and enormous fun.
Dramatising a story is such rewarding and hard work. I wish you well in your venture.
Table of Contents - please click
8. Warm Ups
18. Dress Rehearsal
Create a story map for your class or group. Write down the basics of the story - characters, scenes, events, props, time span etc - on a blackboard or whiteboard and make sure everyone gets a part. A story map allows you to see a clear path forward.
1. Choose A Suitable Tale or Story
You want to hit the ground running with your drama group or class so it's important to make a firm and wise choice when it comes to your tale or story. You want to present them with a story that has a full and interesting 'landscape', one that will challenge and inspire. But what kind of story have you in mind? Do you want to tackle a modern theme? Are you inspired to have a go at a biography? How about a classic fairy tale? A myth? A novel? Think carefully about the people in your class or group - how many, age, ability, sex, experience. If you're already in education the story may be an integral part of the curriculum, in which case you'll have to focus on the syllabus and achieving targets. Outside of school or college you may have freedom of choice but you still have to consider the dynamics within your group. Focus on the individuals in the group and you won't go far wrong.
You can find hundreds of stories here: www.timsheppard.co.uk/story
2. What Kind Of Play Best Suits The Tale or Story?
Will you perform a puppet play, a mime, a shadow puppet play, use masks, create a musical or simply attempt a human version!? You will have to take into account the talent and needs within your group.
If they are complete beginners you would want to keep everything simple. Use a short story with a narrator and very few spoken parts. An experienced group may want to have a go at something topical and even controversial. Whatever you decide try hard to stretch and challenge every individual taking part and try to get everyone or as many as possible on board with your idea.
3. How to Turn A Story
To turn a story you have to adapt it. This means working on the plot, structure and dialogue. Read through the whole story and make notes as you go along. Edit the parts appropriately. If the story is too long you will need to cut it down in size but try not to lose vital material. Make a note of all characters, scenes, props, objects, sounds and ideas for costumes. If you have a class you could easily create lesson plans around this topic and give your students the chance to participate directly. This would be empowering for them. Split them up into groups and let each concentrate on a specific element of the story.
4. Audience Or No Audience?
Is the play to be performed in front of an audience or kept within the class or group? Before you start any rehearsals make up your mind one way or the other. Playing in front of an audience is not an easy challenge for some people and you will need to assess very carefully all the individuals in your group should you want to perform for others. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you decide for an audience you'll need to arrange dates, venue, invite or not, tickets and seating.
5. Organise A Meeting
You need to:
- hold the first meeting where you'll appoint a director, actors, stagehands, musicians, lighting engineers (and narrator).
- create scenes in your play. This simplifies the storyline, brings ease of understanding and allows the group to manage a beginning, middle and end, which helps at rehearsal times.
- write down the characters. Decide on lead and all other roles by democratic means if possible, holding a 'character auction' or straightforward audition.
- be sensitive and flexible. There may be those in the group who prefer not to play a solo or speaking role but still want to be in on the act. Invent or allow extras to be part of the play,according to individual wishes.
For a full play you have to organise a rehearsal and performance space, scenery, costumes, lighting, props, musical instruments and writing equipment. Not forgetting make up! Teachers usually have everything to hand but voluntary groups may have to rent space or search out suitable premises for regular rehearsals and performances. Sharing resources with other like minded people/clubs/theatre groups is a cost effective way of going about your business.
You can find useful information on resources here: www.lazybeescripts.co.uk/Resource.htm
7. First Rehearsal
First rehearsal should include -
- several warm ups relating directly to the play.
- a short introduction and summary of the play.
- a read through of the first few scenes (depending on time and deadlines).
- one or two examples of dialogue with action.
- adequate feedback time.
8. Warm Ups
Before your first rehearsal the group may benefit from some simple warm ups which will allow them to loosen and relax. You could include them briefly before every rehearsal if the group is willing. They are an excellent way of easing people into a storyline but they have to be tailored in a correct fashion or chaos can ensue!
Some simple warm ups can be found here:
An example story with basic warm up ideas for the whole group to practice.
The Firebird (a Russian tale)
family love, quest, deception, danger, tragedy, magic, reconciliation.
emotional : role play involving brother, sister, father and mother.
movement : of a bird, wolf, a wizard, an old lady.
expressive : honesty, wonder, curiosity, fear, frustration, love and redemption
A wonderful book, full of great stories for you to turn into great plays.
9. Tweaking the Script
If you are the scriptwriter don't be afraid to 'tweak' or alter the script here and there if you find parts of it clunky and disjointed. It is better to do this at the earliest possible time in rehearsals, before the actors become too embedded in their characters. If you have to consult with the scriptwriter make sure you do it in time and point out the dialogue you wish to change or adapt. Discuss it with the creator!! Make certain there are no copyright issues.
10. Getting Into Character
As rehearsals progress you should go deeper into the characters of the play. For example, if a certain scene demands two people to confront one another (one telling the truth, the other being deceptive) how do you allow the scene to unfold? As director do you -
- intervene during the dialogue/interaction?
- allow the action to run its course then jump in with advice and suggestions?
The answer is both and sometimes neither! It depends on your relationships to the actors involved and their relationship to each other. Often they will want you to sort things out, occasionally they will do it themselves. Play it by ear. If you are a teacher then the dynamics are somewhat different but the principles are the same - you keep control by allowing the story line to remain the most important thing.
If you have students you may want them to do some research into their characters and build up a portfolio - photographs (video CD), examples of dialogue, reflective essay, quotes, personal opinion and so on.
There is a guide to learning acting lines here.
11. Spotlight On The Lead Roles
Most stories that turn into plays tend to have leading roles. This is something you should embrace because in my experience a lead role (or two or three) is the 'head of the comet' and carries the tail as it streaks away. Working together they usually make one spectacular whole! So do put the spotlight on individuals from time to time as you rehearse but don't forget to praise the rest.
12. Props & Objects
Props are the useful things that actors need to help them express, like walking sticks, books, jugs of wine, food and any other object that comes to hand. Mere objects are more often than not static and are only present as part of the background scenery. It is vital to get the right sort of prop for your play. Actors can get pretty het up if the prop they have to use is naff, out of date, made of the wrong stuff and so on and so forth. Keep them happy by having quality props to hand. Build up local contacts if you are short of resources and keep an eye out for bargain basement or free materials that would otherwise go to waste.
Gradually introduce the group to props and objects as you work out space, movement and timing.
Before any rehearsals start you should be sure of two things-
- you have enough costumes for all of the cast.
- these costumes fit.
Arrange a costume meeting and get everyone to try on their outfit. If some costumes don't fit, or you're short of certain items, this will give you sufficient time for adjustments and new purchases/loans.
Your first few rehearsals can be without costume, unless you have very good reasons to introduce them at an earlier stage. If your schedule is say, 11 weeks rehearsal time, 12th week performance, then rehearsal 5 or 6 should be the last, sans costume. In week 7 introduce the cast to their costumes. Because you know they now fit all they have to do is get used to wearing them. Take photographs and let them know they look a million dollars!
I like to introduce music at an early stage as it seems to pull everyone together and inspire some to go that extra mile. There's no doubt that the right music at the right time can really add to a scene or piece of action. A few bars of piano here, a low drum there - it's amazing how much the atmosphere is affected.
I've had musicians play guitar (acoustic and electric), fiddle, cello, drum, glockenspiel, wooden tappers from Africa, marimba - lots and lots of different instruments for different productions.
As a teacher I like to involve as many students as I can in the actual acting but some individuals are so talented musically I let them join the musicians proper.
To further enhance your production you should consider special forms of lighting. Coloured stage lights are well worth investing in as they can provide that extra professional touch, creating atmosphere and amplifying emotion and feeling. Using coloured lights is a bit like painting a picture -
- red and yellows for warm exotic daytime scenes.
- blues,purples and greens for cold, scary scenes.
- white lights for dawn/twilight.
- spotlights to focus on individuals.
If time is on your side you may want to take the plunge and create some scenery of your own with your class or group. Keep the project under control however and do not commit too much time to scenery production or you may find you have no time or energy for quality rehearsals. Ideally any special backdrops or stage furniture should be made by competent amateurs (or professionals if your budget stretches that far) and delivered to you within good time of the performance dates.
17.Rehearsal Without Script
There will come a time when you have to say to the actors 'without scripts please' and some of the looks and replies you'll get are well worth documenting. The more confident individuals will just get on with it but others might rebel and even refuse. Treat these gently at first and allow them the odd peek of their script. It's worth being lenient at this stage and not upsetting the whole applecart with too strict an approach. Give them a definite deadline however and work hard to enforce it. Better they learn without the comfort of the script. They'll appreciate you for it.
Dress rehearsal time is bound to create bundles of excitement and loads of nervous energy. This is the time when weeks of rehearsals and all that that entails comes to a head. In the minds of the actors will be the thought of the first performance to come and all the weeks of blood, sweat and tears they've left behind! It's your task to channel these conflicting energies into one wholesome run through. The less you intervene the better, although there will be times when you have to stop proceedings and speak your mind. In a dress rehearsal there is always added tension but also tremendous forces for good as the actors strive to get the best out of themselves and each other.
Don't worry too much if the dress rehearsal is a flop! If it's so bad you're compelled to drag your group back for extra time then be diplomatic but firm. This will be an absolute last resort!
On the day of performance make sure all members of the cast know when to arrive and where to go to change and prepare. Allocate separate areas for male and female and ensure that all costumes are clean and ready. Be around for any last minute nerves with a ready smile, a spare script and meaningful bits of advice. If you're really organised you'll have an understudy ready just in case of sickness and you'll have someone who knows the script backstage or in front acting as prompt (for those who forget their lines!).
Pay attention to superstitions and be positive at all times. Give praise no matter what the outcome.
20. Feedback To The Cast
When all the performances are over give the cast a few hours to wind down and celebrate - take them out for a meal and a drink - and let them know how much you appreciated their efforts. Try to focus on each individual in turn and give them a confidence boost with a snippet of praise or a re-run of something funny that happened in the play.
If you must be critical be constructive and upbeat. For more serious concerns and issues speak to the person in private. It's always best.
Then it's back to work to find another story to dramatize!
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© 2012 Andrew Spacey