In the spaces of side conversations that occur at Teacher Research, ideas germinate.
Ellen, a teacher at a prestigious private school in the region who also teaches International Baccalaureate (IB) shared with me a way she uses improv when teaching the classic play “A Doll’s House.”
To anticipate the reaction of the protagonist’s reaction to impending maritial doom, Ellen has her students act out how Nora and Torvald will work their way through the damning letter that reveals Nora’s financial secret. She likes having the students experience what this scenario would feel like and then comparing their performance to how it plays out in the text. I like the activity and will implement this idea when I teach the play. I will envision it differently, though.
Through constructive dialogue, we hashed out other ways to implement this strategy. I am interested to see how students perceive issues of agency and identity in a marriage, especially through the filter of the modern context of marriage in which multiple iterations of the power dynamic can manifest.
Here is a list of some open-ended improvisations that can get students thinking about themes in the play:
1. A husband and wife are discussing finances. One discovers that the other has been making purchases on a credit card. Now there is a debt/payment requiring lifestyle/budget changes the couple did not anticipate.
–credit card user: think about justifying the expenses or apologizing…invent a story and
–other spouse: are you understanding and forgiving, or do you follow a different direction?
2. An employee has recently been fired from a job and discovers leverage against his or her former boss, such as an accounting error or embezzlement. The boss, however, is not aware of the mistake he or she commits.
3. You have knowledge of a secret that could ruin the marriage of a couple you are fond of. You desire to tell the spouse that you know, and offer advice to potentially save the marriage.
–friend’s objective: invent a secret and reveal that secret to the same gender spouse.
–spouse’s objective: deny the secret and the severity if the secret were true…assure friend that things are under control
4. You are the elder friend of a handsome married couple. You are attracted to one of them.
–elder friend: you are trying to complement and express that you feel that spouse is attractive and why you feel that way.
–spouse: decide how to react to this complement; it is unexpected and could change or fracture the friendship.
I would improve one or more of the scenarios as an anticipation activity for studying the play. Most importantly, I would play each scenario twice, reversing the gender roles. For instance, in scenario 1, the first time card user would be wife and second time card user would be husband.
I also see two different approaches that could be interesting. I could have the same pair of actors role reverse, or recruit new actors for the reversal. Items of exploring improvisation and varying identities of gender and power, it would be interesting to revisit with the same duo. On the other hand, having a different pair improv the scenario with roles reversed accesses the activity to more participants.
What do you think of this approach to studying drama? How might you envision creating scenarios for another play? Share examples with me and others. I think The Crucible, A Raisin in the Sun, Death of a Salesman, and Othello would all provide intriguing improv examples.