Drama Unit Study

Drama studies can open the door to a career in the performing arts.

A drama unit study can be used to teach students about the many aspects of theatrical productions. Students can learn about the history of theater beginning with the Greeks to seeing modern day performances held locally. For many students, delving into drama studies leads to other interests including the performing arts, writing and classical literature. Where will your unit studies take you?

Drama Unit Study for Middle School

While drama can be taught at the elementary school level, middle school students may have the attention span to delve more deeply into the subject. Unit topics may include theater history, acting, performance etiquette, writing and producing a play. A sample drama unit study for middle school students is as follows:

Theater History

In order to understand theater, students must understand the historical past as well as learning about present day productions. Students will learn about different cultures and the time in which specific plays were written. This will help them develop an understanding between our past and present day theatrical productions.

History Topics

  • Play Structure - what are the parts of the play- story, plot, exposition, dialogue, conflict, complications and the climax
  • Types of Stages - proscenium, theater in the round, thrust stages
  • Parts of the Stage - proscenium arch, deck, fourth wall, skene, backdrop, stage house, wings, legs, teasers, apron, orchestra pit, flyloft
  • Stage Terminology - stage right, stage left, center stage, house left, house right, upstage, downstage
  • Time Periods - beginning with the Greeks to present day
  • Cultural References - plays were often written to make political statements and many still do today

Discussions About Theater History

The discussions that you have with your students about theater history can help you decide which direction your drama unit studies go next. The following are just a few of the conversation starters you can use to discuss theater history:

  • How can plays help to create an understanding of cultural diversity?
  • Why are some plays, even though they are decades old, still played out today?
  • What does modern drama reveal about today's society?
  • What role does a theater play in a community?
  • What types of drama were performed in the past?
  • Why did men play women's parts in the past?

Drama Unit Study for High School

Older students in grades 9 to 12 who have a basic understanding about theater history and culture will want to explore the specific aspects of a theatrical production. Unit topics that may be used include scenery and lighting, makeup, costumes, directing, sound and production. A sample drama unit study for high school students is as follows:

Staging and Production

Students studying staging and production will gain a greater understanding of the technical aspects of creating a theatrical production as well as the hierarchy of the team members. What happens behind the scenes of a production greatly affects how the audience perceives it.

Staging and Production Topics

  • Scenery and Lighting - how sets are made, props gathered and how lighting affects the mood of the scene
  • Makeup - makeup plays a big part in some plays, for example, Kabuki theater makeup
  • Costumes - how costumes are made, period costumes and how they affect the actors
  • Directing - how to direct actors, how a director may affect the performance of the actor
  • Sound - sound effects are used in many plays and is especially important in musicals
  • Producer - the producer may wear many hats in getting a production seen by the public, including paying for all aspects of it
  • Management - how the managers are responsible for keeping all of the separate parts of a stage production running smoothly

Discussions About Staging and Production

Older students may have many questions about theater productions, especially if they want to put on a play themselves. The following discussion ideas will help spur conversations on the subject:

  • How are props selected for a scene?
  • How are sets created?
  • Who decides what the costumes will look like?
  • How is color used in making the scenery and backdrops?
  • Why is it important that all members of the stage team work together?

The Play's the Thing

All students who are studying a drama unit should see several plays and performances, as it will add to their understanding of the topics covered in class. Plays can be viewed at local theaters, including those on college campuses as well as at festivals held throughout the year. Any exposure to productions, no matter how big or small, will add to a student's academic experiences that can be drawn upon later in life. Perhaps a student's exposure to drama may inspire them to become the next Shakespeare of his or her time.

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Drama Unit Study