Year 7’s often arrive with lots of enthusiasm for formally studying what is essentially a ‘new subject’, but lack the spatial & audience awareness when performing, or the vocabulary to articulate specific staging decisions. Fast forward to GCSE and A-Level, when they have to write about how they would stage a scene from a set text, on a specific stage space, with all the pros and cons of designing , directing and performing in such a stage space carefully considered. Therefore, with most of our Key Stage 3 lessons in classrooms this year, what are the best strategies & resources for teaching the fundamentals of stage space?
This article offers you some effective strategies and resources for introducing the fundamental aspects of the four key stage spaces in the drama classroom. Many of them can also be applied to online learning too, including four editable Evaluating Stages Spaces templates we have created for you to use in your Key Stage 3 lessons, whether you are teaching in a studio, classroom or online. These can be easily downloaded at the end of the post.
Students’ knowledge of stage space is so integral to drama, once you have introduced these key ideas and subject specific vocabulary, this will be revisited and revised in pretty much every unit through to Key Stage 5. When planning your Key Stage 3 curriculum for drama, ensure that students have an opportunity to explore stage space over several lessons near the start of Year 7. My first scheme of work on this is called ‘Audience Awareness’ and aims to allow students to explore all four stages in detail using short practical exercises, discussion and structured worksheets. In a practical setting, this would build towards students staging a scripted scene in groups of five on a stage space of their choosing. To help students understand why they are learning it, explain to students how it to links with the Key Stage 4 and 5 curriculum and their developing knowledge of theatre design.
Evaluating the Pros & Cons of Four Stages Spaces
Even if you are in a classroom, it is still possible to evaluate the pros and cons of working on the four key stage spaces: End On, Thrust, Traverse and Theatre-in-the-round. I would dedicate one lesson to each of the stage spaces and allow plenty of discussion time around the pros and cons of each stage space for both actors and audience, in conjunction with students sketching their own aerial view stage spaces & looking at a range of visual examples. Over several lessons, I would also use recaps and retrieval practice (usually in the lesson starters) to recap and build on key knowledge from previous lessons. My post Six Effective & Engaging Starter Activities for the Drama Classroom has lots of ideas on this. Here are some more specific ideas around evaluating each stage space along with some key considerations & terminology to introduce:
End on and Proscenium Arch
This is a great opportunity to introduce theatre history and the Proscenium Arch stages of the Victorian era. Introduce this stage space in a classroom setting with this Proscenium Arch Video Clip & some structured questions.
It is important for students to understand how such a stage space has been used throughout history, with changing audience etiquette. This article, from the British Library has some interesting background on this. Mostly, this stage space is suited to the audience observing but not participating, with this stage shape suited to emotional interactions, with minimal, naturalistic movement and a focus on spoken dialogue. It is important to consider the challenges for actors performing on a large proscenium arch stage and some research can be undertaken into declamatory acting. The lack of intimacy and audience interaction is one factor to discuss around the disadvantages for the audience. There are opportunities to introduce the following key terminology & concepts too:
Naturalism & Stanislavski’s ‘Fourth Wall’
Areas of the Stage- upstage/ downstage etc
Mechanics of the stage & auditorium- e.g. Wings/ curtains/ scenery/ backdrop/ boxes/ stalls etc.
Levels/ Sightlines & Blocking
Thrust Stage Space
Students may well have already encountered a Thrust Stage space when studying Shakespeare prior to Key Stage 3, as early modern playhouses such as the Globe utilised thrust or apron stages. The playing space ‘thrusts’ out into the audience creating greater intimacy and more opportunities for interaction between the actors and the audience. In this stage configuration, the audience can feel as if they are part of the action. Once again, there are opportunities for students to research and look deeper into theatre history here, by focusing on Elizabethan playhouses. This final scene of the film Shakespeare in Love is a great way to introduce a Thrust Stage Space and Elizabethan Playhouses to students. Questioning and task-setting around this clip should focus on the minimal scenery & set on a thrust stage space, due to sightlines, and the need for the audience the use their imagination. They also need to consider the effect of actors entering and exiting through the audience and delivering ‘asides’.
Traverse Stage Space
Commonly known as an alley or corridor stage, this form of theatrical stage in when the audience is predominantly on two sides, facing each other. The production of The Railway Children at Kings Cross & Waterloo Station was performed in traverse, with the railway track running along the traverse. Here is a great clip about how they built the sophisticated set for the show.
To show your students an example of a traverse stage space on a smaller scale, show them set designer Anna Reid’s Opera Scenes , staged at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama last year. This will give students sense of how immediate and intimate traverse stage spaces can be. A great tip is to use theatre designers online portfolios, to show students examples of set and costume designs- there are some many amazing designers with portfolios online.
Theatre-in-the-round is certainly the most challenging stage space for actors and directors to work on. For a designer, the set must work from all angles and the size and scale of set pieces are an important consideration due to sightlines. Blocking is also tricky for directors on this stage space, especially with several actors on stage. Students need to grasp the idea of spacing and movement on a theatre-in-the-round space, so that the audience does not see the back of one actor’s head for too long. I like to get the students to research purpose-built theatre-in-the-round spaces, of which there are only a few in the UK, including the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme and the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
A great idea for this academic year is to set practical mini projects and allow students to share their creations online. Creating a ‘Shoebox Set Design’ on a specific stage space is a great way to consolidate what they have learnt about stage spaces in the classroom. This idea from Futurelearn focuses on film but the idea can easily be adapted for theatre. They can then be uploaded and shared online through Padlet, such as these examples here.
If you are lucky enough to have a decent budget, I would say it is definitely worth investing in a Stage in a Box. Students love working with this and it is an invaluable resource for GCSE & A-Level, especially when they are exploring production concepts. With the lack of practical lesson now in schools, this is the next best thing to exploring stage space practically.
When planning your Key Stage 3 curriculum for drama, ensure that students have an opportunity to explore stage space over several lessons near the start of Year 7.
Explain to students the importance of learning stage spaces due to links with the Key Stage 4 and 5 curriculum and knowledge of theatre design.
When planning your curriculum, ensure that there are opportunities to revisit and build on their knowledge of stage spaces in Year 8, 9, 10 and 11.
Use a range of video clips and images in the drama classroom as professional practical examples of pinnacle productions on a range of stage spaces. This includes looking at a range of theatre designer’s portfolios online.
Use our editable pdf Stage Space templates for Online Learning and to consolidate the work explored in class. You can download the templates from the We Teach Drama Resource Library by filling out the following form:
And finally, we'd love you to join us for a FREE Webinar- Think Like a Set Designer on 23rd Jan with professional set designer Richard Cooper. The webinar will involve a Q & A about Richard’s role as a set designer and specific takeaways for drama teachers looking for approaches to teach set design. Richard will take you through how to guide students through analysing a script from a set design perspective. It is totally free and will include some bonus worksheets and resources to use immediately in the classroom. If you sign up to the webinar you will also be able to stream it digitally for a month afterwards to use in your lessons. Click here to book your place!
#onlinelearning #classroomdrama #dramainthenewnormal #stagespaces #thruststage #endonstage #prosceniumarch #theatreintheround #theatredesign #setdesign #audienceawareness #indepedentlearning #resourcelibrary #weteachdrama #freecpd #theatredesign #ThinkLikeaDesigner #ClassroomDrama #OnlineLearning