We have been exploring the theme of oppression for the past few weeks in our drama lessons and we have been finding ways through dramatic devices to understand and empathise with this concept. One of the first reactions to the theme “Oppression” were generally negative, and solemn; it seemed to be somewhat of a serious, depressing theme, and at first, on a personal level, I thought it seemed to be a rigid topic to experiment with (there was no immediate way in being able to fulfil different tasks, in an altered, effective way, each time) However, this also intrigued me into seeing what tasks we would be using to explore this theme effectively.To show my responses (this includes personal thought, adverse and sometimes somewhat surprising realisations/reactions to the process and results achieved in different tasks) to the theme “Oppression” I will list the activities we completed and write about the things I have resulted in seeing/understanding from the drama used. They show how they helped me understand and be able to empathise and respond with Oppression, thus being able to respond with the drama effectively also.To begin with, we started from a logical point; we needed to familiarise ourselves with the concept, so, we, as a group, listed words which we associated with this theme. A few of my own responses are shown below.
..This was a good starting point, as this enabled me to see one word from different perspectives, thus being able to see how the dramatic aspect of oppression can expand so easily.
One of our next tasks was a symbolic movement and comparison, of freedom through to oppression. This was a strong comparison where you could see the extremes of both sides either fade, or suddenly become extremely different. This helped me see the extremes, and the way it progresses. Our group used things a still image to begin with, and a beat began to clap, in a very solemn out-of-place manner; this changed the mood, and the body language of the piece entirely, showing control and authority, and the sheer helplessness of those who are oppressed. This helped “get the feel” of the comparison between such things as our lives, which are privileged and we have freedom, but those who aren’t, and are what we are looking at under the title “Oppressed” have almost opposite lives to us. This was good preparation for us to get in-role for the other tasks we were going to complete. I will comment on this exercise more in the Development Phase.We also used the dramatic device of crosscutting; the normal way of simply showing two scenes, which could be happening at the same time.
However we used this method slightly differently; we did this to experiment with the use of portraying large comparison, and almost “rubbing salt into the wound” We used method is used to emphasise things. This, as a consequence, made things very strong, both visually and mentally. My reaction to this was surprising; as it was so effective, I found others pieces fairly moving.
For example, one group’s example of the “oppressors” and the “oppressed” using the method at the end of their piece, by swapping words describing how each group felt. The oppressors being somewhat vindictive, proud and uncouth; the oppressed being foreboding, scared, and helpless. The words were so highly contrasting, and the cutting between the two, was highly effective.
Forum theatre was a highly useful method as I saw a positive side of Oppression! We looked at hatred amongst different races, and to demonstrate this we picked a highly ridiculous, and ambiguous example of this, we chose to do brown eyes vs. blue eyes. By having speakers for a group, it was very good at showing the progression and reactions of others.
It started off very timidly and by the end everyone was screaming and shouting at one another! I found this very amusing and I also noticed that it showed a lot about Oppression itself; being growing off everything happening, getting slowly more our of hand until it erupts, which was good to be able to understand I saw in this, was seeing the ridicule in prejudice, and to see that Oppression that we have, can be for such stupid reasons sometimes, and can be laughed off, like we did after the exercise had ended!We did a short exercise of physical and sound moving through three different levels of oppression; we showed this through three people, each acting a different stage. My group, for example, showed that of an oppressed person in a metropolitan world, being forced through depression to a shooting. Other groups demonstrated things such as terrorism. This exercise helped me realise and respond, and empathise with what oppression can drive people to.
One of the final pieces we did, was that of looking at Prose extracts about Emmeline Pankhurst, a suffragette who died in protest for the women’s vote. This was good as to see, again, in a different situation, what oppression can drive people to. Firstly we did a spotlighting improvisation of Emmeline at the races, as a duologue and spotlighted the different work of groups. This was good at getting into role. We used five points to go by this, to show shocking contrast through every step – Realistic -Silence -Sound -Stillness -Movement.Our final piece of drama was a piece on futuristic oppression.
We did a short warm up to help us to get into role of trying to portray futurism in short few words, sound, movement or still image. Our final piece was a relatively short (5 minute long) performance of this. Our final piece was thoroughly intriguing and good to play with, as it was futurism, it lay any possibilities out to us, but at the same time, we had the experience and responses from our other work so far, to interpret the Oppression into the future, in any way we wanted. I will develop and elaborate on this final piece more in the Development Phase.Development PhaseThis phase is different to the last, as I will be explaining how, and why the development of the drama we did took place.
I will also explain the dramatic devices and how the physical portrayal of our pieces contained different devices, to achieve different effects; I will state why these made a difference, and I will state the intention behind the things we did in the task.The first activity I will describe exactly how I developed the symbolic movement ; sound and used it as a comparison of freedom through to oppression. Our piece consisted of a still freeze frame to begin with, and suddenly the freeze frame was broken by one person clapping a strong heavy beat, which got faster and faster.
All the people in the freeze frame started marching heavily to the beat and came into a line and all began clapping with the first person who clapped in the middle. Eventually the first person stepped out of the line, in a very sanctimonious way, and the rest of the line immediately stopped clapping and bowed their heads.The freeze frame to begin with, was a way of showing everyone happy, and then the clap was simply a harsh way to break this. As the silence was broken, it came almost like a gunshot, and the way the reaction of the stamping was so militant and aggressive, the instant contrast created an emphasis.
The speed of the beat, getting faster and faster, was there to build tension, and the line symbolised and showed the conformity. Until it was broken by the stepping out. And suddenly everyone was bowing their heads, in an almost mournful manner, giving a negative, tense end to the piece.However, there was more to our final piece.
We firstly started with our general response to the task given… we developed this with a brainstorm of suitable ideas… (see sheet A – included with this work) Although, as you can see, it seemed like an unorganised process, it helped us to deduct our ideas to a smaller, more manageable plot.
We decided we would portray this in a futuristic way by taking elements of such books as ‘1984’; as we agreed that the futurism portrayed in such a thing as that, was highly effective through simple elements, such as the use of slightly differed language and movement, and equality in dress etc. However, to follow this through, we realised we would need an element of surrealism, we understood from observing from previous exercises (such as the one previously observed) movement, and body language was a very powerful factor. We also agreed things such as lighting, and music would link into this effectively (I will reference on this all later…)However, for our plot we eventually came up with equality and identity. This developed into our plot. Our basic plot became of a time where the human race had been stripped of any real identity.
They were identified by numbers, used for labour, to go elsewhere, they had no say in anything, and they knew no real difference. They were controlled by the “PM”. Until a small amount of doubt began going through their minds. And they found a person who agreed to help them rebel out of this. Eventually this folded out, this was a plant. And one of them were destroyed in demonstration, when they would not conform.
We had 5 scenes in our play; so on average each scene was about a minute, as it was so short, we could not include huge chunks of speech, so we needed to demonstrate things in other ways, using dramatic devices, which an audience would respond to. So we used a lot of symbolism, rather than realism. In things as huge as masks, and as little as the lights, we tried using symbolism to an extent were it would be fairly clear without using speech.
For example, we used movement as one of our most powerful ways of showing the attitude, and mood of the piece. Movement was rigid and angular, and at times seemed somewhat paranoid from the “Oppressed”. The “Oppressors” were very regal, and sanctimonious. They were intimidating, and self righteous to those who he was oppressing.
This was highly portrayed in things such as walking; tall, stuff, and proud; and in comparison to the insecure, and angular movement of the Oppressed, it was emphasised by each other. It was all very constructed/almost robotic, and through this, you could see the lack of emotion, which made this almost eerie, which was the desired effect. There was a lot of structure within this, and the formations were angular and ordered..
. some of the formations used are shown below (annotated to show the effect used)The dramatic devices we used consisted of monologues; these were directed at the audience to make them feel involved, have them empathise with the audience. We had subtle use of freeze-frames, to show ends of scenes etc, and Although the scene was not used (as it was not time effective…
) we did consider using cross cutting in one of our middle scenes, to show the ignorance of the “oppressed” and the bitterness of the “oppressor” to be effective. We considered this would be a way of getting the audience involved, and effectively portray/rub-salt-into-the-wound of the (what could be described as…
) tragedy that was just to occur.The use of masks were very strong in our final piece; we originally came up with the idea when we decided that we wanted the piece to be based around lack of identity, and it seemed to be a strong, shocking way of inducing this, as a face with no expression is often scary, and can be somewhat odd, and surreal (an effect we decided would help culminate a feel of surrealism which would add to the feel of futurism) We wanted to cross out any real traits, or physical aspects in people. To demonstrate our basic theory behind this I will include a sketch below…To break up scenes, and to end pieces, we used music.
The music used in our piece was alternative; we used the “Leftism” album, which contained a variety of somewhat obscure music, which had been mixed to sound different, and as this was a new, different sort of music, it had an element of futurism within it, which was suitable for our piece. We also understood, that music can alter emotion, and therefore, mood, highly.Some songs were fast and tense, and others slow and mysterious, so we decided to use a variety of this at different intervals during the play when the mood differed. As we had changes of atmosphere and mood, we listened through the album to find a song of a suitable beat and feel. For example, at the beginning of our piece when we wanted to leave the audience intrigued for a while before letting them know exactly what was going on, to contain their interest, we needed a slow, unpredictable beat; thus choosing song 1, which lacks rhythm or any melody for at least 30 seconds into the song.
The use of lighting was large in our piece. I have annotated the lighting plan we used (see sheet B) to show the effects we intended to create through our lighting.The whole effect achieved by the end of this piece, was fairly effective. The oppression was shown mainly in the body language and lighting side of our piece, but as we wanted to make clear that it was futuristic without saying it, we put effort into using symbolism in that, in an as strong way as we could.In this phase I have gone into detail of exactly how I have effectively developed the theme of Oppression through my drama, in 2 exercises.
I have obviously developed this in a similar way through every exercise, but I have chosen to go into detail with the ones I feel have a good range of the development I often used.Evaluation PhaseBy exploring the theme of Oppression, I have not only learnt new dramatic devices, such as cross cutting, spotlighting, etc, I have also learnt the way to effectively deal with themes such as Oppression, in an orderly, adult fashion. At the beginning of this topic, I saw Oppression as a fairly rigid, unversatile theme to experiment with, but honestly I could not have been more wrong. It gave me the chance to experiment with different ways of looking at it.
For example, the work on Emmeline Pankhurst was serious, and solemn but the forum theatre showed that Oppression an be ridiculously and can be laughed off if we have the heart to! I have learnt a lot from this theme.On a dramatic side of it, I experimented with many different dramatic techniques, this improved my experience and has given me different routes to go down, and explore many different angles of looking at a drama piece. I can see that by starting from a simple point (such as the word association) it is amazing if you keep an open mind you can expand and learn from every exercise you are doing, to understand, therefore empathise, with Oppression, (or, for that matter, whatever the theme or feel to a dramatic piece you are performing itself) then it is surely going to improve your performance?So from a personal and dramatic point of view, I feel I have benefited from this as I have been able to see the importance of responding to every task I do, to understand and empathise with the drama Im doing, and I know respect this will improve my performance.My ideas I incorporated, I can now see as trial and errors; for example in our final piece I feel everything ran smoothly, however I can also see from this that perhaps, when doing the Emmeline Pankhurst duologue, it was important to really know what character you were playing, and at least roughly what was happening before trying to do a spot improvisation! The work of others has also helped me greatly, and it has been useful being able to see the techniques I have been using also, be used in other situations; by evaluating and analysing their work, I can see through comparison and reference to the future what would be effective, and more importantly why.For example, the use of freeze frames, a group used to portray a past event, with a narrative over the top, was effective, as it kept it simple, thus making it clear, and as the freeze frames were strong, this left a lasting impression, and from now forth I can think back to techniques, which other groups used better than I did, or that I didn’t use at all, and be able to use them to a good standard, without having to have done anything other than watch and listen!