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Drama Workshop ~ What is it? and How-to?

The first post in this topic is a Drama Workshop "manual" from Amy Crane, one of our most prolific drama and puppet lesson and idea contributors here at Rotation.org. The third post in the thread is an older Drama Workshop manual that shares some different ideas and and additional tips.

For more "ideas" look through this Drama forum. For prime examples of great Drama Workshop lesson plans and ideas, see our Writing Team Lesson Sets (supporting member access required).


The "Drama Workshop" is a specially designated and designed classroom in the Workshop Rotation Model through which different grades rotate each week. The lesson scripture and lead teacher stays the same during the rotation --meaning each week the teacher gets better and better at the Drama lesson. By designating a room as the Drama Workshop, it allows that room to develop staging and supplies that you don't have to remove after one use. Traditional Sunday Schools can easily adapt Drama Workshop lessons for their use.



Updated in 2018

The Drama Workshop  ~ An Introduction and How-to

 by Amy Crane

I originally wrote a version of this manual for the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church in Tampa, Florida where I first taught in both Drama and Puppet Workshops in the Rotation Model. You can see many of my lessons and ideas in the Bible Story Lesson Forums, and I have been helping the Rotation.org Writing Team write it's Drama Workshops as well.

Since I originally wrote this manual, the concept of what you can do in the Drama Workshop has greatly and creatively expanded. There is perhaps no greater resource for all these new and exciting ideas (with full lesson plans) than the Rotation.org Writing Team Lesson Sets.

In the Drama workshop these days, teachers are using elements of storytelling, puppets, skits, music-videos, making videos, and shadow plays. We've added ideas and lessons that use Blacklight Theater (moving to a song or scripture in blacklight), and we've created a small-scale drama workshop we call the LEGO and Storytable Workshop.

The following manual shares some general concepts and techniques and setup ideas, but to soak up all the possibilities, you'll need to peruse the lesson forums, Writing Team Drama Lessons, and other topics in this Drama resource forum to help you and your students bring the Bible's story to dramatic life.

What is the goal of the Drama Workshop?

The Drama workshop is where kids "act out" in a good way.  Drama is a form of creative play for the purpose of telling a truth. What separates it from the puppet and storytable workshops is that in the Drama Workshop, the kids are the ones doing the acting, not a puppet or storyteller.

They usually act out the Bible story, but often also act out different versions of the story, or different modern life scenarios where the story's meaning is made fresh. 

The end goal is not to produce a polished performance, or to simply follow some script. Rather, our goal is for our kids to explore and experience the story from its "inside" as one of the characters. Acting it out focuses their attention, and helps them remember the story and its meaning in a vivid way. 

Finding that "truth" in the story at hand, and figuring out how to "stage" it with the actors and props so that the audience "gets it" --is a big part of the student's preparation that's part of every Drama Workshop. 


But what about "scripts"?  That's what many people assume the Drama Workshop is full of, and indeed, you will find "scripts" here at Rotation.org.  The problem with simply "dramatizing a script" is that the kids end up focusing on "getting it right" instead of "finding the truth" in the story (its BIG point) and figuring out how to act it out. 

Scripts can squash student creativity and ratchet-up their performance anxiety.  Thus, I typically do not include "now say this" scripts in my lessons. Instead, I prefer they think about the story at hand, about the characters and their feelings and motivations, and create their own outline, keywords and lines to say, and feelings and scenes to include, then rehearse it and perform it for each other. If something is left out, I can prompt it, or we can talk about it, or I can mention it so the next group includes it. (Yes, I like having more than one performance and performance group in the Drama Workshop because their differences and creativity is where many of the teachable moments are.)

Our goal is not to repeat word-for-word what's in the Bible, but to take what we have read and turn it into a story that has all the key elements, characters and insights we have gleaned. In this kind of drama workshop, the teacher acts less like a "script monitor" and more like a guide and questioner as the students outline and then dramatize the story. Some lesson plans do include a script skeleton to help the teacher direct the class's thoughts creatively.

Increasingly at Rotation.org, we are exploring and exploding the convention of what a "script" might look like and what the actors might be doing.  

By refraining from being "script-centric" and by keeping the performance informal, we also reduce problems with stage fright and shyness, and reading level.  I am much more interested in saying to the audience, "what did they leave out from the Bible story?" and jogging their brains like that, than stopping the drama to remind someone to follow the script.

The Drama technique you use is often dictated by the Bible story you're teaching.

Sometimes you simply need to re-enact the story and let its obvious truth shine through the words and scenes. The crucifixion and resurrection are two such stories that are good to simply re-enact. Lazarus' story is another. But other stories and scripture verses require other approaches. Take for example, when Jesus says the Beatitudes. Those lines come with no scene other than Jesus sitting on a mount somewhere. Yet, the words themselves are full of images and ideas that can be acted out.  Or take for example, the Feeding of the 5000, re-enacting it would be "ok" but what would be better would be to come up with a whole new slew of things that little boy brought that day and shared.  Baskets of justice, baskets of forgiveness, baskets of forgiveness Jesus wanted them to share in their communities and with their enemies. To only re-enact the original story would be a missed opportunity.

The Drama Technique you choose is often dictated by who you are teaching.

Have a bunch of shy students? Try shadow drama or blacklight drama. Have a bunch of non-readers?  Have them try to act out something being read that you've worked with them to prepare. Have a great group of self-starters? Break them into small groups and give them different tasks: 1-Retell the Bible story, 2-Retell it in modern setting, 3-Retell it without using words.


Preparing Your Space/Props

Acting is play. So after they've prepared what they're going to do, you want to make sure they have the fun stuff and set-up to encourage them to "play hard!"

You don't need elaborate staging. Some simple costumes, a few props and a fun background are all you need for most Bible stories. Add a few "spotlights" (clamp lamps) and turn down the overhead classroom lighting --and you have a "stage." 

As a fan of the Workshop Rotation Model, I firmly believe that the more special and unique we make our learning environment, the more your students will feel that something special is taking place. The "stuff" of a drama helps them "get in the mood" and get playful. Have plenty of it to choose from. Even if you are using space that is shared with other groups, you can put together a couple of buckets of costumes and props, and hang a fun backdrop to get up and running quickly, and be able to take it down quickly.

Consider creating a special seating area where the class gathers to hear the story and plan the day's drama. This allows the children to escape the everyday world when they enter the room. The group could be like Moses and the Israelites, wandering in the desert and gathers around a fire in front of a tent to hear stories. Maybe you are gathering in a synagogue sometime after the death and resurrection of Jesus to hear stories from both the Old and New Testaments. Maybe you are Christians gathered in the catacombs to hear stories of the faith. Try decorating the doorway like a time-machine and have the students put on Bible-time costumes when they enter the room (of course, you are already wearing your costume) and everyone is ready to explore a different time and place.

You will need open floor space so that there is room to move and create dramatic scenes. Use words to set the scene: "Come, let us sit here around our campfire (a few small logs) on this starry evening. See how the stars twinkle? That reminds me of the story of Abram." A few trees made from carpet tubes "planted" in five gallon plant containers with plaster and decorated with construction paper leaves or palm fronds don't take up much space and can be pushed out of the way when other groups are in the room.

Use the furniture that is already in the room -as long as it isn't "clogging" your floor space. Your set could be a simple tent or cave defined by a blanket over some chairs or a table. Chairs can be arranged in a circle for a sheep pen or a boat.

If you have a space where you can leave your set up during the week, try building a more elaborate set. Use PVC piping (see Resource suggestions) to create a frame for a tent and drape fabric over it. To create a synagogue, have the students sit on benches facing a shelf holding your Ark (a box, cupboard or niche where the Torah is kept); use a higher shelf with brackets to attach a triangular shaped piece of wood and hang fabric as a curtain to enclose the Torah shelf. If you are meeting in a church basement or other room with annoying support columns, turn them into scenery! Cover them with papier-mâche and paint the room to look like caves or catacombs.  Cardboard sheets painted to look like brick walls and homes are great to have in your drama stockpile.

If you share space, make a tent or stable that folds up against the wall when not in use. Tack a large sheet of paper to the wall or hang a piece of fabric with a curtain rod. The other edge is supported by two poles in buckets of plaster. Pull the poles out for a lean-to type tent and push the poles against the wall when you don't need the tent.

Many stories have boats (for example: Noah, Jonah, Jesus calls the disciples, Jesus walking on water, Jesus calms the storm). If you have space, have a handy member of your congregation build one out of wood. Use an appliance box for a boat that can be folded or discarded when you are done.

Flattened appliance boxes can be easily stored and brought out when you need them. A refrigerator box can be a backdrop or a building. A stove or washer box can be a boat or can be turned on its side to be a cave. Behind a piano is a great hiding place for a folded box.

However you choose to decorate your gathering area, make sure that there is sufficient space for all the children to sit comfortably. They should be able to see the teacher clearly, and if possible, be in a circle or semi-circle so they can see each other. (Refer also to the Photos section for the Drama Workshop to see pictures that will spark your creativity.)

Classroom Equipment for the Drama Workshop

You'll need a flipchart or chalkboard to break down the stories, make "cue cards," and provide the occasional quick backdrop. Butcher paper on the walls works great too. 

Having a video camera on a tripod is a fantastic addition to any Drama Workshop. Kids love to see "how they look," and the shout, "recording! action!" often is just what everyone needs to get the drama done right.   

These days, having a tripod to hold a cellphone to record the class is a great idea. Just remember to have a cord that connects the phone to a TV for playback.

It's fun to have a little bit of special lighting on your stage area. Clamp lights work great.

Costumes

Costumes need not be elaborate. A simple long vest-type tunic with a belt will take a child out of the everyday and allow him or her to imagine herself in Bible Times. Consider your climate before layering too many warm costumes and bathrobes over your students' Sunday clothes.

A good source for do-it yourself costumes and props (many of which the children can make themselves if your class time permits) is Bible Times Crafts for Kids: Experience Ancient Life- Styles and Customs with Kids from Preschool to Sixth Grade (Gospel Light, 1993).

For simple headgear to suggest a costume, look for the Paper Hat Tricks books. Several Hat patterns bookbooks have patterns for making "hats" out of paper specifically for Bible stories (including some great helmets for soldiers and guards). See the Resource, Supplies, and Props section in the Appendix for contact information.

Check costume and party stores around Halloween and Christmas (especially during the after- holiday sales). You might find inexpensive angel wings, helmets and shields, shepherds' crooks, wigs and beards and other useful costume items.

If you need something special, especially for an adult guest storyteller, costume rental shops carry all sorts of elaborate costumes for reasonable prices.

Props

The performances are meant to be done with minimal equipment. However, if you have storage space you may want to collect some things to have on hand for when the need arises.

The following list is some "Good Stuff" to have on hand in your "magic" closet (you never know when something might come in handy!):

  • musical instruments and noisemakers (including bells, whistles, kazoos, party noisemakers, harps, toy drums and xylophones
  • sound effect junk (cookie tins, sticks, plastic jars or boxes with sand or rocks inside, pieces of PVC pipe, sandpaper and pieces of wood, aluminum pie plates, large pieces of posterboard, . . .)
  • baskets
  • bead necklaces
  • logs for a campfire (no matches!)
  • brown paper grocery bags and newspaper (Stuff the newspaper in the bags for a lumpy sort of rock and staple them shut. Use paint to cover the advertisements if you want something that looks nicer and is more permanent.)
  • large building blocks, Chubs Wipes stackable boxes (they are shaped like giant Lego -- ask the people in the congregation with babies to use that kind of wipes and save the boxes for you), or small boxes (which can be painted to cover up the writing)
  • walking sticks
  • a doll for stories with babies (or two dolls -- one "people-sized" for drama and one "puppet- sized" for puppetry)
  • tinsel garland for angel halos
  • a baton or decorated stick for a king's scepter
  • inexpensive crowns for stories with kings and queen
  • small treasure boxes and brass bowls or vases (especially for the three magi in the Christmas story)
  • swords (can be found at costume and party stores, especially around Halloween, or cover cardboard with foil)
  • play money or doubloons
  • a fishing net

Also keep construction paper, cardboard, markers, tape, glue, staplers, and scissors handy for when inspiration strikes.

If you have open or easily accessible shelves and if time permits, you may let the children "shop for ideas" before a performance. They may find a creative use for an odd item that you are not sure why you have.



Helpful Hints for (Almost) Effortless Performances

* If you are excited about the project, the students will catch your enthusiasm. Keep the activity fun.

* Use plenty of positive reinforcement. Congratulate everyone who tries.

* When asking for volunteers for parts, ask "Who would like to be David?," not "Who would like to play David?"

* If necessary, choose characters by drawing names or some other impartial method. Don't let the children argue.

* If a girl wants to take a male part, or vice-versa, no problem. For minor parts, you can change the character a bit - a traveler can be a woman instead of a man. (Remember that in Shakespeare's time, all the characters were played by men.)

* If the story has a crowd scene, everyone can participate. Otherwise, those without parts will be a very important part - the audience. Make sure those children have first chance at parts for the second run-through.

* Do not force anyone to perform. Find reluctant participants a non-speaking part or let them manage props. It is also good to have an audience to react to the performance, even if it is only one person. Do encourage reluctant participants to take part in the group warm-up activities.

* Do warm-up exercises in front of the mirror so children can get instant feedback and adjust their facial expressions or the way they are using a puppet.

* Keep the story moving without obviously directing the actors. It may be necessary to create enthusiasm by playing a small part or by asking leading questions: "What do you usually do at parades?", "Are you worried?", "I'm hungry. What should we do?" Prompt entrances when necessary: "I think I see someone coming down the road."

* Encourage other students to suggest possible dialog and reactions when someone is at a loss for words.

* Never correct a child while the story is in progress; do not permit another child to do so.

* When working with older students, allow them to have more leadership and direction. Allow one of the students (or a team) to do the narration and to ask the prompting questions. (You may want to select a leader a week in advance so she or he can study the story and prepare.)

* Add sound effects: children can use their voices and bodies, noisemakers, musical instruments, and junk.

* If a child is mishandling puppets or props, give him or her one warning, then have him sit in the audience. Explain that it is important to keep our equipment in good shape so that others can use it for a number of years.

* When videotaping, unless the cameraman is experienced, it is best to have a stationary camera and have the children orient their performance toward the camera. Include time to play back the video so the students can see the results.



Basic Performance Pointers

Review these pointers with the students (as necessary) before beginning the performance part of the session.

* Never laugh at anyone; laugh with them.

* Listen considerately when others are speaking; when it is your turn, you will want the same courteous listening.

* We are all individuals and interpret stories and characters differently. Remind the students that there is no right or wrong answer, and if they feel there is a different way to act out a part or to respond, they will have a chance in the next run-through of the story.

* If they saw the story on video, the way things happened in the movie is not necessarily the only version. For example, a video of the Good Samaritan may show the priest hurrying by because he is late for lunch. Jesus did not say why the priest did not stop, so in the drama the student can determine his or her own reason.

* Try not to turn your back (to the listeners when you're speaking.

* Speak slowly, loudly, and clearly.

* These are informal productions. Not all props and scenery elements mentioned in the story will be on hand. Encourage the students to use their imaginations and think of ways to help the audience see these things.

* Generally, a teacher will serve as narrator to keep the story moving along.

* Freeze rule: Establish a signal for "freeze" before beginning (e.g. leader claps twice and yells "Freeze!" or blows a whistle). This is necessary when drama activities have gotten out of control (too noisy or off track) or when time is up. Practice freezing during the warm-up exercises.

* If more than one person volunteers for a part, let the others know that if everyone cooperates, there will be time to do it more than once. Try to remember who was promised a part for the second run-through. Or draw names, or reward students who were sitting attentively by selecting them for choice parts (and let the others know why you selected the polite listener).

* Everyone must participate in some way. Not everyone has "lines" to speak: some stories have crowds of people shouting "Hosanna!" or sheep baaing. Some stories need people to manipulate props: the tree growing to shade Jonah and then dying, the Red Sea parting. The audience is an important part, too, both for interaction and reaction during the performance and feedback afterwards.



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  • Hat patterns book
Last edited by Luanne Payne
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