Approaches to the written paper
You will have studied one of the following plays in class:
In your exam you will need to show you can give advice to actors, directors [director: The person who supervises the drama and instructs actors ] and designers which should be able to work on stage.
Look at this typical exam question about acting.
The example deals with a character from the play Death of a Salesman but you can adapt the information to fit the play you are studying.
As an actor how would you communicate the role of Linda to an audience in this section? In your answer, you should refer to character motivation, performance ideas on voice, movement and gesture and interaction with other characters.
Break your answer into sections to help you cover all the areas.
Linda's main motivation in this section is her grief at her husband's death. She is also shocked and bewildered that no-one has come to his funeral. Throughout their married life Willy has led her to believe he is very popular and successful and today she realises the truth. There is also a sense of disbelief that he is dead and her final speech shows that, in her mind, he is very much alive. When Linda says her first line, “Why didn't anyone come?” the tone of her voice would sound surprised and hurt. The tone of bewilderment should carry on into her next speech and she might even give a little laugh when she says, “He was even finished in the dentist” to show the irony of the situation. Her tone should sound quite dreamy when she says, “He was wonderful with his hands” and the pace could be quite slow as she reminisces about their past.
In her final speech there is a questioning tone as she tries to come to terms with what Willy has done. The volume at the beginning of the speech could be quiet and controlled but, as the speech continues and Linda breaks down, her voice could become louder. Her voice would also be broken up by the sobbing. I think she would shout the final, “We're free....We're free” almost as if she wants Willy to hear this news wherever he is. Because the play is set in America the actress must use an American accent.
At the beginning of the scene the actor would be very still and her focal point should be the grave. Her hands could be clenched together to show her desperation. Even when she speaks eg “Why didn't anybody come?” she should remain very still - this would give the impression that she’s locked in her grief and it would also help to emphasise her isolation. When the others are leaving, I think the actress would turn her head slightly to acknowledge Charlie, perhaps putting her hand on his to reassure him and to acknowledge his concern. In Linda's final speech the actress’s movement should contrast with the stillness. Although the play states she sits, she could kneel at the grave. Linda's movement becomes far more animated. She could smooth the grave tenderly to show her love and care for Willy but, as she begins sobbing, her body would convulse to show she can no longer hold in the grief.
On the final words “We’re free.....We're free” she might raise her head to the sky or turn her head to look at the house. She should leave the stage heavily supported by Biff as this would emphasise that she is near breaking point with grief. Because Linda is locked in her own world there is very little interaction with other characters in this scene. Her key interaction is with the grave which symbolises Willy. Although she is asking questions it's to no-one in particular. I would position the other actors behind Linda to emphasise her isolation. Once again it is in her final speech that most of the interaction takes place because, even though Willy is dead, she interacts and talks to him as she always did. The final interaction is with her son Biff. Perhaps the fact that she leans on him offers her some hope for the future.
This answer would score high marks because:
Activity: Watch the following video clip. Think about how the actors in the scene use voice, movement and interaction to communicate meaning to an audience.
Costume is a key element in any play and you will need to understand how costume enhances both the character and the play's interpretation.
Look at this typical exam question about costume.
Shelter is a character from the play StoneCold but you can use the information to answer on characters from your chosen play.
Describe a suitable costume for the actor playing Shelter in this section. In your answer refer to the period, garments, colour and how costume choice, hair and make-up would emphasise elements of character.
Now read the following two answers to the question above - which do you think is better?
The period of the play is the 21st century. Shelter would wear a coat and trousers and the colours would be dull. He wouldn't wear make-up because he is a man. His hair would be short. Shelter would look neat and tidy.
I would set my production of Stone Cold in 2010 and Shelter's costume would reflect this period. In this scene Shelter is going out to try to catch a victim but he must not appear obvious. I would dress the character in a smart black coat; he would also wear a white shirt and black trousers with a sharp crease down the front. His shoes would be highly polished. This detail would highlight his army background. He would also wear a grey scarf. The colours I have chosen emphasise his dark nature and would make him appear like a shadow as he hunts for his victims. Shelter's hair would be short and neat and, once again, emphasise his army background. The character would look clean shaven and I would use make-up to give the character a healthy complexion because I think he would try to keep fit because he is a man of strict regimes. The most important thing about the character's costume is that he must look smart and like an upright citizen - someone you could trust but not a mass murderer.
Which answer do you think scored the highest marks? Although answer one covers all the criteria, it is vague and lacks detail. Answer two shows a detailed knowledge of the character, his function in the play and any costume designer would be able to follow this advice.
Dos and Don'ts to remember when answering the costume question:
The staging question tests your ability as a designer and how you would stage a specific scene. It tests your knowledge of the play, your understanding of technical elements eg set, lighting and sound and your creativity and imagination.
Which stage to use?
Revision Bite One: Decide which stage would best suit the play you are studying.
Revision Bite Two - Once you have chosen your acting area, you need to be able to draw a basic ground plan. Remember to consider:
Where are you going to position the entrances and exits?
Where are you going to position the audience?
|Thrust Stage||Arena Stage||Traverse Stage||Proscenium Arch Stage||In-the-round stage|
|Describe where the audience will sit in relation to the acting space.|
|As a member of the audience, how does the location make you feel?|
|How effective is the acting space with regards to conveying the mood of the play?|
|Which stage do you, as an audience, think is the most effective and why?|
Question 4b on the exam paper asks you to explain your design ideas for a specific section of your chosen play.
You will need to cover the following areas in your answer:
You must remember to concentrate and refer to the specific scene - not the whole play.
Revision bite one: Even though you won't know which scene will come up in the exam you can prepare your ideas before the exam and adapt them.
Revision bite two: Each play has important factors that would influence the staging.
Use the grid below to help you decide on how you would stage scenes from your chosen play.
Written for Theatre in Education. Lots of different locations would suggest minimalistic style. The audience must feel involved in the action in order for the message to have an impact. Theatre in the round/Traverse would be effective stages to use.Only three actors might suggest a more intimate acting space.
Twelve different locations ranging from bedrooms to cliff tops. The playwright states: “The playing area on which all the scenes are played should be bare. Only the smallest of changes, of minimal props, costume and furniture need to suggest location.” A floor-cloth designed as a newspaper with articles/facts about teenage drinking/car crime could be effective.
Contrasting moods in each of the scenes from the bright colours and happy atmosphere of the disco to the bleak desolate atmosphere of the cliff top. Make a list of the key colours to use in each scene. Main use of colour will come through lighting.
Because of the minimalistic style, lighting and sound effects are key in helping to create colour, mood and atmosphere. The use of gobos [gobo: A lighting device that creates patterns of projected light on the stage ] could help to create location in a simple but effective way. Depending on the choice of stage, projected images could be used to suggest location or present key facts to the audience.
Written for Theatre in Education. Lots of different locations would suggest minimalistic style. There is a strong Brechtian influence throughout this play and the audience are directly involved eg in the final scene. This involvement is crucial in order for the message to have an impact. Theatre in the round/Traverse would be effective stages to use. Only three actors might suggest a more intimate acting space.
Lots of different locations - it is imperative that scene changes are swift to keep the action flowing. Minimal set should be used to suggest location. In the original production dolls were used to represent the children but don't be afraid to experiment, lots of theatre companies have eg one company used old tatty boots. Once again a floor cloth could present a powerful image eg a huge swastika. Don't forget - if you are using theatre in the round, the space above the stage can be used. Think about what you could hang from there
Although the play deals with a dark time in history, the play takes place during a very hot summer suggesting bright colours. Some scenes are indoors; the orphanage is quite poor so others take place during the night. Sometimes colour is used symbolically and as a direct contrast eg the bright colours when the children are taken to the station and the yellow stars fall to the ground. Make a list of key colours in each scene and how they are used.
Because of minimalistic style, lighting and sound effects are key in helping to create colour, mood and atmosphere. The use of gobos could help to create location in a simple but effective and dramatic way eg in the final scene when the children are taken to the station, the sound of trains stopping and then moving into the distance would be a powerful sound image of the terrible fate of these children. Depending on the choice of stage, projected images to suggest location or present key facts to the audience would be effective. This would tie in with the Brechtian style of the play.
Originally adapted from a novel this play has lots of different locations and a fairly large cast. Almost a cinematic feel to the play. This play lends itself to lots of different staging ideas. Shelter's house is important because this is where the murders take place. Would work well on Proscenium or thrust using levels to create different locations. Depending on the scene, could be naturalistic in style - others could be minimalistic.
Lots of different locations. Some areas (like the café) could be simply suggested by using tables and chairs. If Shelter's house is a permanent fixture this could be quite detailed. Remember - his house is an important symbol. It should look warm and cosy, in direct contrast to life on the streets but ultimately this hides the horror of what happens in there. If you decide to use a proscenium arch or thrust stage you could use a facade of house fronts at the back which stay permanently.
Colour is dependent on location. The scenes on the streets could be quite drab to suggest the loneliness and seediness of these people’s lives. Shelter's house could be in bright colours as a contrast. Make a list of the key colours in each scene and how they could be used.
Lighting and sound are key in creating mood and atmosphere and can also be used symbolically eg in scene 11, initially the light is bright to suggest a warm, comfortable location but, as Shelter lifts the knife, lighting could be used symbolically and change to red as he raises the knife. Projected images would work well in this play.
A detailed set is described at the beginning of the play, which would work well on a Proscenium Arch Stage or Apron Stage. The style is naturalistic. However, don't be afraid to experiment eg this play would work in theatre in the round with a floor cloth representing a huge satellite dish. Think about presenting scenes symbolically. Only one location throughout the play.
The area is abandoned and disused - the set should represent this. Also the objects chosen need to be used in a variety of ways eg boxes for seats but also think about how these objects could be used in the stories.
The day is bright but the actual area is quite grey and bleak. Colour could be used to great effect during the stories. Make a list of the key colours in each scene and how they could be used.
Lighting could be used to great effect during the stories as the children are transported to a different world. Sound could also be used to great effect eg the sound of the televisions at the beginning of the play to suggest actual location as well as more symbolic use of sound during the stories.
There is a fusion of styles found in this play from expressionistic -the towering buildings at the back of the Loman house; symbolic eg the Loman house representing the American dream but also with elements of naturalism th9e fridge etc.) Lots of different locations and flashbacks. This play needs a fair amount of space and would work well on a Proscenium Arch stage.
The set you would use would depend on the location within the given scene eg When he is in the motel with the woman, a bed could be brought on to the front area and bright neon signs could be flown in above. The house remains on stage the whole time. Remember - this is a play rich in symbolism and each piece of set you choose should have a very specific meaning.
The play shows many key moments from Willy Loman's life, some hopeful eg when the boys are young; some bleak eg Requiem. Make a list of the key colours in each scene and how they could be used.
Lighting is key to mood and atmosphere; it is also key in defining the flashbacks to contrast with real time. The recurring sound image throughout the play is the flute which is adapted to suit the mood. Sound effects could also be used to great effect eg the car crash at the end of Act two.
Revision Bite Three: Dos and Don'ts to remember when answering the staging question:
Stage areas are named so that people can easily say where an actor needs to be. The areas of the stage are always related to the actor, so stage left (SL) would be on the actor's left when facing the audience. The director, watching from the audience, would see stage left on his or her right.
|USR - upstage right||USC - upstage centre||USL - upstage left|
|CR - centre right||CS - centre stage||CL - centre left|
|DSR - downstage right||DSC - downstage centre||DSL - downstage left|
Make sure you know where these areas are - you may need to write them on your script [script: The text of a play or drama production - usually the script will give suggestions for the setting of the scene and contain direction for the characters ] or use them when directing members of your group. You may also need to write about stage areas in your evaluation of a live theatre performance in your portfolio [portfolio: A collection of your work, completed over the duration of your studies ].
Remember - films often make effective use of colours. Two good examples are Schindler's list and Road to Perdition where the director and designer use colour to create mood and atmosphere
Now look at this typical exam question about staging:
The question is based on one of the set texts, Dr Korczak's Example, but you can use the information to answer the staging question on your chosen play.
Look at Scene 20 of Dr Korczak's Example. Give a full written explanation of your design ideas for this scene. In your answer you should refer to:
Now look at these two answers. Which do you think would score the highest marks?
I have chosen to set my production of Dr Korczak's Examplein Theatre in the Round. I have chosen this type of acting area because I would want the audience to feel involved in the action and throughout the play the actors talk directly to the audience. The style of the play is influenced by the methods of Brecht who wanted to break the illusion of the fourth wall and to constantly remind the audience that they were watching a play and not caught up in the illusion of theatre. Theatre in the round would suit this concept.
In keeping with Brecht's ideas the style of the play would be minimalistic with only key props being used. Also, because the play is a TIE production and would be moving around a lot, it would be important to keep things simple. The floor-cloth would be a collage of yellow stars which would represent the persecution of the Jews and it would give the idea that they are trampled under foot by the Nazi regime. Above the acting area I would hang a huge Nazi flag to symbolise the power of this nation. David Greig, the playwright, used dolls in the original production to represent the children but I would use old brown battered suitcases, with names roughly painted on the sides. I would place these around the stage facing the audience. I would use sad music throughout the play, perhaps from Schindler's List to remind the audience of this terrible time in history. The lighting would be quite dark and gloomy in the scenes set indoors but bright and sunny in the scenes outside.
I have chosen to set scene 20 of Dr Korczak's Example in Theatre in the Round. I have chosen this type of acting area because this is a particularly intimate scene between Adzio and Stephanie and I would want the audience to feel involved in the action. Also, in this scene, Adzio is talking about leaving their small environment of the orphanage and exploring the world. The shape of the stage would represent this.
The play is a TIE production and would be moving around schools so it would be important to keep the staging simple. Also throughout the play there are many different locations and quick scene changes therefore, to keep the action fluent, I would use a minimalistic style. This scene takes place in a dormitory in the orphanage but my staging would be symbolic rather than naturalistic. I would use a floor-cloth which would comprise of a collage of yellow stars. This would represent the persecution of the Jews and it would give the idea that they are trampled under-foot by the Nazi regime. However, because this is a scene of hope as they talk about escaping and their relationship develops, I would light them to give the impression the moon is shining on them and, instead of looking downtrodden, they would look as if they were glowing quite brightly.
Above the acting area I would hang a huge red Nazi flag to symbolise power but in this scene it would not be lit brightly. It would appear in the shadows because in their own way Adzio and Stephanie are talking about their victory over the regime. David Greig, the playwright, used dolls in the original production to represent the children but I would use old brown battered suitcases, with names roughly painted on the side. I would place these around the stage facing the audience.
At the beginning of this scene the actors would move three of the suitcases to the centre of the acting area to represent the bed and one by the side to represent a chair for Adzio to sit on when he enters. I would also use an old grey blanket to represent the orphanage and which Stephanie would use almost as a security blanket throughout the scene eg at the beginning, when she is frightened, she would hold it very tightly to her almost like a shield. As the scene takes place in the night the lighting would be minimal. As I stated earlier, I would want to create the idea of bright moonlight. However, this scene is one of hope so, as the scene progresses, I would gradually want the lighting to create the idea of dawn breaking because Adzio and Stephanie's conversation gives the idea of hope and possibly a new dawn or beginning for them - “A farm we'll grow vegetables, and cows....”.
On the last line “She kisses him again,” I would have a slow fading of the light as the kiss indicates how close and intimate their relationship has become. At the beginning of the scene I would have the sound of planes in the distance to remind the audience that the play is set during the war. However, when Stephanie says the line “We make a team”, I would quietly underscore from this point to the end of the scene with bright happy waltz music from scene 16. This would emphasise the idea of hope and optimism for their future.
Both answers give:
Although both answers contain some very good ideas and both candidates are not afraid to use original ideas that are not specified in the actual text, Answer A would not score highly because it is far too general and fails to answer the question criteria by referring to the specified scene. Answer B consistently makes reference to the specified scene as well as covering all of the specified criteria and would therefore be awarded the higher mark.
You can prepare notes on your basic staging ideas before the exam and adapt them to whichever scene is given.
Section B of the written exam is linked to your practical performance from a published script, usually performed in April or May.
The play we used for our practical performance was Macbeth by William Shakespeare. My role was acting and I played the part of Macbeth
The play we used for our practical performance was Macbeth by William Shakespeare. I was responsible for the lighting design and lighting our chosen scenes
The play we used for our practical performance was Macbeth by William Shakespeare. My role was costume and make-up designer for our chosen scenes.
Look at this evaluation of a performance. Look how each area is covered with specific reference to the scene:
The play we used for our practical performance was The Crucible gan Arthur Miller. My role was acting and I played the part of Elizabeth Proctor. We performed the first part of Act two. (Title of play and role clearly stated) When the character first enters the stage she gives the impression of being very cold and there is definitely a distance between her and her husband John. I showed this by keeping my body extremely stiff and holding my arms by my side.
My fists were clenched as I felt she is full of anguish as to why John is late home. In the opening I didn't make eye contact with him at all. I wanted the audience to get the impression that it is a very uneasy relationship. When I was doing the simple household tasks like preparing the meal, my movement became much more fluid and relaxed as I felt these simple tasks would help take my character’s mind off what had been going on.
Also Elizabeth performs these tasks every day and I felt the movement would be second nature. I also thought the way we used the table was effective as John sat at one end and I sat at the other and it provided another barrier in our relationship. My movement in the opening was definitely a strength as I felt it showed the contained anguish of Elizabeth and also her desire to try to provide normality for her husband.
Another strength of my performance was how I showed the changing relationship between Elizabeth and John in this scene. When John asks me for cider I jumped up almost as if I was ashamed of myself because I imagined that she desperately wants to please him. I also imagined that she would feel slightly afraid of him when she tells him Mary Warren has gone to court. I used a very quiet tone to my voice when I said the line “Mary Warren is there today” and kept my head slightly down.
I used Stanislavski's method of emotional memory and I imagined I was a child confessing to a parent. It helped me understand that John, as man of the household, had to have the highest status at this point. However, when he confesses he was alone with Abigail, Elizabeth regains the higher moral status. I used a very cold facial expression and looked at John directly in the eyes and, holding my head high, started to walk from the room.
I felt it was a key dramatic moment when I turned to him on the line “Woman I'll not have your suspicion” and, with a cold and bitter tone, said the line “Then let you not earn it”. The atmosphere had changed from the cold, tense opening and became much more angry and direct. (Outlines strengths. Gives specific examples from the scene. Gives clear performance examples. Analyses rather than describes)
One area for improvement would be to work on my vocal variation. In a short space of time my character showed coldness, regret, anger, annoyance and frustration and I did find it extremely difficult trying to express the different tones and expression. In the part when she tells John about Mary going to court it’s almost as if the words come rushing out and I did find the oval pacing of this scene quite difficult. Getting the balance right between rushing the words and making sure the audience could understand what I was saying was challenging.
One area I am going to improve on is my understanding of the subtext of the scene. By performing this scene I learnt that what a character doesn't say can be just as powerful as what they do say and a look or gesture or how you say a line can give an audience a very powerful message eg when John tells me I should bring some flowers into the house I had to remember that the house, like Elizabeth, lacks warmth but I also had to try to please him when I said the line “Oh I forgot. I will tomorrow.” (Outlines areas for improvement with specific examples) Although I found this scene challenging to perform I found it helped to develop many of my acting skills and helped me understand how to present a character on stage that engages the audience. (Brief but suitable conclusion)
The play we used for our practical performance was The Crucible by Arthur Miller. My role was costume and make-up designer. I designed the costume and make-up for John and Elizabeth Procter for the beginning of Act Two. (Title of play and role clearly stated)
I felt the costumes in terms of performance, historical accuracy and how they defined the characters were definitely some of my strengths. For the character of Elizabeth I had designed a long black dress of heavy cotton which covered all of her body. She wore a white cap and a white pinafore. The costume was in keeping with the period of the play, 1692, and also in keeping with the puritan religion. In this scene Elizabeth has to look cold and self-contained, I felt the design and colour of the dress kept her extremely stiff and upright, especially when she made her entrance at the beginning of the play. I had made the sleeves quite long and I liked the way she held on to them almost as if they were like a comfort blanket.
The apron was important in this scene as she is preparing a meal. I decided that it must look spotless and very stiff, almost like Elizabeth herself and it also helped to define her character as a complete opposite to Abigail. On the day of the exam we had difficulty in fixing Elizabeth's hat as it was essential that the actress didn't feel the need to constantly check it was safe as this would have detracted from her performance. I felt the hat was effective on stage as it helped the audience to focus on Elizabeth's face, especially in the scenes when she was accusing John.
John's costume also looked effective. He was a farmer and a far more relaxed character. I chose brown and grey colours. I made the waistcoat out of leather and I thought that, when John made his entrance, it looked as if he owned it for a long time. It also had to come off quite easily as John washes for supper. This moment worked well and the actor was able to slip it off without lots of fiddling and hindering the action of the play. When they sat at the table for supper I was particularly pleased with the costume contrast. Elizabeth was quite stiff and sexless in her black dress and John looked relaxed and quite sensual in his white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I had also quickly sewn up Elizabeth's skirt prior to the performance as I felt it was a little too long and I didn't want her to trip up at a key dramatic moment.
The costumes also worked well under the lights. The contrast of the black and white made Elizabeth looked very severe and the materials and colours I used for John's costumes looked earthy and soft. (Outlines strengths. Gives specific examples from the scene. Gives clear performance examples. Analyses rather than describes)
One of my weaknesses was not considering how shoes show character and enhance or hinder performance. I chose brown leather boots for John which looked good but when he said the line “I was planting far out to the forest edge”, I realised that they looked far too new and shiny and didn't belong to a farmer.
For Elizabeth I chose a black court shoe with a small heel but in the performance they were quite noisy, especially in the scene when the silence heightens the tense atmosphere. All you could hear were the shoes tapping - it was annoying and did spoil the dramatic tension of the scene.
Also the make-up didn't look particularly effective under the stage lights. I gave John quite a tanned complexion because he is in the fields all day. This worked well but, in contrast and with the black of the costume, Elizabeth's complexion looked drained and her features undefined. I learnt that you must never make up characters in isolation but always compare them and look at them under stage lights. (Outlines areas for improvement with specific examples)
Although I found the design for this scene challenging, it helped me understand the need for historical accuracy and how costume and makeup can have a massive impact on the actor's and audience’s understanding of character and the play's themes.(Brief but suitable conclusion)
Revision Tip :
Immediately after your practical exam and while the experience is still fresh in your mind, you can prepare your answer for the written paper and simply revise it.