Many of the following Streetcar Named Desire resources are tweaked from tried and true materials and ideas mainly from Teachit and Julie Blake’s Full English. The idea is to give students five ‘ways in’ – imaginative, cognitive, emotional, visual, tactile – to that elusive topic dramatic tension, by identifying and tracking how and what playwrights manipulate within a scene and across the play as a whole.
FOR STARTERS: A TENSE ROLE-PLAY
Using imagination, developing perception and building an emotional vocabulary from experience.
· A fun starter is a teacher role-play. Tell students you are going to role-play and ask them to play along. With a newish AS group, I pretended that I was fed up with their lack of homework and uninventive excuses (message writ large!).
· You need to use lots of facial expressions, threatening body language (tower over, get in their face), variations in tone (bellowing fine here but sinisterly soft can be even better), variations in language and syntax –rapid fire questions that you don’t give them time to answer, slow deliberate declarations, rhetorical questions …
· When it’s over, tell the group the purpose and get them to feed back on how they felt, making sure they identify exactly what you did that made them feel that way. Students have to use as many different words as possible that can go into an ‘emotional vocabulary glossary’.
AN EXAM QUESTION GRID: THE FOCUS THAT ALWAYS GRABS ATTENTION
Close reading and thinking ahead.
· Dramatic tension exam question grid: start off with discussion of the question’s key words – what do we have to explore to start building an answer? These words then become ‘key words of the day’. Plan for five minute ‘breathers’ so students can fill in their grid as you go.
· Ongoing revision: because the questions draw on different scenes, the grid provides a helpful continuity across the play. For example, the first question uses Scene 1 as a focal point – but students will also have to discuss two other scenes. So, as you cover new scenes you can return to relevant questions, add new information, think about dramatic links between scenes, and consolidate earlier work.
· Exam questions as a starting point are indispensible for helping students move away from the characters-as-people syndrome. Plus, by the time the unit is over, you’ll have a ready-made revision pack on key ideas, form, structure and language, and students will have learned some exam skills, not least – how to read a question. Hopefully.
HOW DO DRAMATISTS PRODUCE TENSION – QUOTE QUEST ON WHAT ISN’T SAID
Close reading and oblique angles.
· Use the quote quest grid to draw attention to what characters don’t say as well as how the playwright manipulates language to project tension when they do talk, say, by using easily spotted exclamatory sentences – then you can elicit more subtle effects like ellipses.
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER: IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
Imagination, acting and close...