Introduction to Drama #

Imitation is the highest form of flattery” asserts an old chestnut. Drama or re-enactments have been central to the most primitive societies as a form of entertainment and a method of passing on traditions through story telling. It has always attempted to provide a mirror to real life.

Primitive tribes tended to re-enact the day’s events after a feast, acting out the hunt or conflict with other tribes. It was their form of entertainment as well as transmission to the youth of culture, tradition and means of survival..

Modern Drama has its origins in 5^(th) Century Greek Drama and the influence of Plato and Aristotle continue to this day. Lysicrates, a wealthy patron of the arts, awarded monetary prizes in an annual dramatic festival. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote many plays, generally trilogies, in competition.

Perhaps the pinnacle of dramatic performance was the Elizabethan/Jacobean period in England during the 15 and 16^(th) centuries.

Conflict of some sort, momentous or otherwise, seems essential in drama, not just programmatic staged debates between points of view, disguised as characters, real live organic conflict arising out of – Life - one damn thing after another and normal situations can suddenly go haywire at any moment – that’s good drama . Without conflict or at least cross-purposes, there can be no tension, no power to attract.

Human communication is largely non verbal. The determining interpretive factors in live productions are spectacle: visual, spatial, aural.

“Performance always exceeds language: it is at once word embodied as action, and presence that can’t be contained by words. Writing about performance is by definition a dance with failure, an attempt to translate the untranslatable. Some shows highlight this struggle more than others. Alison Croggon

Drama scripts known as the text is merely the blue print or skeleton of a work of drama and what gives it body, shape or flesh and blood is performance. Performance, either on stage or in film, relies on sub-text to convey meaning, often sub-consciously. Linguists agree that communication is largely non-verbal (55% body language, 38% tonal and only 7% verbal.

The text is merely the blue print or skeleton of a work of drama and what gives it body, shape or flesh and blood is the performance. Especially in drama or film, body language through stance, position, deportment, facial expression, posture and thousands of subtle features convey meaning. Then there are the other factors, such as staging, props, sound effects, lighting and costumes that influence how a play derives meaning. The moving camera adds camera angles, exposure, focussing to the formula. These are factors that must valued and the director’s role is critical in determining how a play is presented and received by a live pulsating audience.

Mise en scene is the process of setting a stage, with regard to placement of actors, scenery, properties, etc.

Deus ex machina - Literally “a god from the machine,” deus ex machina is a literary device that dates back to Greek and Roman drama. In classical theater, a deus ex machina refers to a god that enters the action just in time to resolve the characters’ entanglements. Today the phrase can represent any improbable plot device that saves the day,. In the late Renaissance, a deus ex machina was the device by which actors playing gods were suspended over the stage as though in flight.

Sensual awareness is crucial so composers try to recapture scenes and objects through the appeal of the five senses: visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory, gustatory. (Sight, feeling, smell, sound, taste)

Performance communicates instantaneously – “a picture is worth a 1000 words” so language is secondary and often difficult to follow. It is through performance - action, interaction and spectacle that we experience and glean meaning often sub-consciously.

The whole point of the theater, since the Greeks, at any rate, has been to gather the citizens together, to remind us, as Shakespeare so incomparably put it, that “we are not all alone unhappy.”

This is how Neil Armfield introduced his 2007 Season at Belvoir

If theatre is a metaphor of life (and what is it but that), it suggests that there is some way out of the mess we seem to have all found ourselves in. ………You do it by listening and teaching, by raising the standards of education, by advancing informed debate by encouraging the telling of our stories in books, on our screens ‘and on our stages. And that’s what we (Dramatists) are trying, in our own way, to do. That’s our job: to tell the stories, to sing the songs of our land, our world, our past.

Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith observes:

“plays about nothing, have always been the cornerstones of political insight”.