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Greek Theatre – grade 10

In the International Baccalaureate® (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), students develop through creating, performing and presenting arts in ways that engage and express feelings, experiences and ideas. In Grade 10 this semester, students develop their understanding of Greek theatre, how it has originated from a different worldview and how it has served as a basis for Western theatre today.

By Erick Aufderheyde, MYP Performing Arts

The unit has a few practical and academic components. For instance, students are researching how to create a Greek mask, which they will use in a piece of choral speaking. The mask should have some special facial features as a metaphor for the physical movement that is dramatic and directed at a listening audience. The play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is the source; the students have been given two excerpts from this play to recite and perform. Their group presentation will be illustrated by wearing their own Greek mask that has enlarged facial features and a bed sheet as an improvised toga or chiton, a draped piece of garment that was worn by both sexes. In two groups, students will orate a strophe and antistrophe with extended gestures and a rehearsed choreography.

ISUtrecht-Greek-TheatreThey have practised and created the skills to do so by studying hand-outs and watching professional presentations online. As a teacher, I stay on the side guiding when necessary, because students need to demonstrate in this first part of the summative assessment that they can learn independently and engage themselves with the given contexts. Choral speaking is a great skill where one needs to learn to communicate to the choir members, whilst at the same addressing a large audience. It is through this practice that students acquire new skills and master those skills developed in prior learning. Students have opportunities to function as artists, as well as learners of the arts.

Ten Greek plays every human being should know about

The performing arts stimulate young imaginations and in this current unit students challenge their perceptions of this ancient theatre form. They have to come to terms with the literary aspect of theatre, and use their analytical and reflective skills from other subjects to familiarise themselves with the ‘ten Greek plays every human being should know about’ and pick one to work from. The second part of their summative assessment is the performance of a short excerpt of this chosen play. They implement now previously learned skills from grade 8 and 9 in this: demonstrative speaking (political theatre) and extended gesture (morality plays). At the same time, they need to create class notes every week in their drama Process Journal to keep track of progress, ideas and reflections.

Old-fashioned and not of this time

The Drama Process Journal is a necessary learning tool to create involvement and encourages students to understand the arts in context, supporting the development of an inquiring and empathetic worldview. A good example this year is the choice of the comic play Lysistrata by a small group of female students, who thought Greek theatre was just old-fashioned and not of this time. They were surprised to recognise a feminist point of view in this comedy, which is showing that the world hasn’t learned much from past experiences.

The play Lysistrata is the comic account of one woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War as she convinces the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace. In the view of Aristophanes, men always start wars and it’s time to question this destructive habit. Hence performing arts ask for some critical thinking. Students are challenged and might feel their personal identity enriched by choosing the right excerpt to perform in the drama studio. While studying and practicing this archaic theatre style students build awareness of the aesthetic in a real-world context.

Comparative essay

The drama course on Greek theatre is part of a vertical planning cycle, designed to enable students to learn about and experiment with a wide range of theatre conventions, genres, practices and texts from different cultures, places and times throughout the grades 6-10. In grade 10, students are encouraged to develop their creative thinking in combination with their conceptual and critical thinking through research tasks, and also, essay writing. The third part of summative assessment for our current grade 10 is a comparative essay where they have to answer the unit’s inquiry question by comparing the two plays they worked on, Oedipus Rex and the Greek play of their choice.

They can start writing and constructing their thoughts already half way through the unit. This way they keep adding and rethinking and the essay writing doesn’t become a last minute assignment. So alongside learning about theatre, our students learn through theatre, while recognising the skills they have learned in other subjects as well. The arts in the MYP play an important role in a holistic educational concept exploring issues, feelings, points of view and global concerns, and bit by bit our students learn to become independent learners with insight and knowledge of our complicated but fascinating world.