My task for the controlled condition test was to construct a 15-minute presentation centred around the thematic area of IRONY and things that aren’t as they seem. Although irony played an important part throughout our performance we were able to closely link it with a particular form of irony named dramatic irony. This is the irony that occurs when the implications of a situation, speech etc are understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play.
Our presentation was about a pair of 18-year-old twins played by Sophie Wong and Rachel Steyne and their best friend played by myself, on a holiday near the beach. An argument occurs between one of the twins (Rachel) and the friend resulting in the murder of the twin. The surviving twin can see her spirit but the friend cannot. The murderer is a schizophrenic, with two personalities, the evil side played by Alison Verona and the good side played by Johanna Thorpe. The dramatic irony within this is that the audience knows she is dead but the characters do not.
We chose to work in a group of five as we all take dance and drama and so would be able to concentrate on both performance techniques closely and as a group with no interference. Working as a five meant we were able to use a variety of characters and techniques in the performance, which was needed to accomplish an adequate and well-depicted story line. I felt comfortable working around these people as I had worked with most of them before.
We chose to portray dance and drama in a number of ways and for a number reasons. Dance played an important role in our performance and we were able to incorporate a total of 2 dances into our presentation, aswell as a variety of dance techniques. As a group we agreed that dance would make our performance more stimulating and would be a proficient way of stylising our piece and giving the audience a more in depth perception. We concluded that communicating our story including the use of dance and dance technique would increase the performance’s depth, allow emotion to be exhibited and highlight prominent components of the performance that would therefore enforce meaning and importance of a particular part.
Using drama was the base of our performance and would introduce characters, the storyline and the theme of irony. We decided that we would be able to use a variety of techniques such as narrative, mime and pace to build up any potential tension, mood and atmosphere used in our storyline. It would also give us means of introducing dance as so to integrate both performance techniques. Some parts of the performance may have been more appropriate in communicating through drama than others and so we felt it necessary to begin our performance using drama and slowly integrate dance once a sufficient understanding of the storyline had been introduced.
Because we felt that the theme of irony would be hard to compose through dance we decided that the foundations of the performance would come from drama.
The theme of irony was hard enough for us as a group to tackle and so we decided that our audience would have be one with a capable perception of irony and with the capability to handle such topics as death and schizophrenia. Our storyline was potentially confusing and at times quite in depth and would only be fully recognised by a mature audience.
As a group we understood that any ideas we may have would have be closely linked to previous studies such as ‘Ghost Dances’ and ‘Cabaret’ and ‘a talk in the park’ and so brainstormed relevant words and phrases that might inspire any ideas. From Cabaret we used the idea of contrasting scenes within scenes and tableau with acting around it, from a Talk in the Park, we wanted to exert a sense of fakeness we were able to represent this with a photograph and fake smiles. From Ghost dances, we assembled much of the basis of our theme for the presentation and this was spirits. We used the exact routine taught to us in previous projects within our presentation to portray to the audience that one of our characters was a ghost.
Having clearly understood irony, we thought of instances, which would efficiently fit under this theme. We considered using domestic violence as our theme but quickly rejected this as we thought it was too unoriginal. We were quick to think of a new idea as Alison and I brought up a play we had seen in the summer called ‘Blithe Spirits’. The story tells of a married widower Charles who is haunted by the ghost of his deceased first wife Elvira, though not haunting him she does taunt him and poor scorn upon his new wife Ruth who is unable to see the spectre. We thought this was quite relevant to the theme of irony and also because it includes a ghost and so adapted it with a storyline of our own and with characters that we felt we would be able to play suitably. Over the weeks our story progressed and further characters were introduced. We didn’t reach a final storyline until weeks into the project as sections were added, adapted and removed. I wouldn’t say this was a weakness but perhaps if we had discussed more in depth and completed the performance scene by scene verbally then we would have been able to work more smoothly.
Each member of the group volunteered to research different things, usually according to their character or their access to resources. The first piece of research I carried out was finding out the meaning of irony, as none of us were sure of its definition. I looked it up in the dictionary, also noting the interpretation of dramatic irony as when seeing this I thought it was incredibly relevant to our storyline and might be the basis for further inspiration. It gave us an idea of its meaning and how to use it accordingly to ensure we were using irony in the right context.
I had previously learnt a short piece of music by Coldplay played in major. I performed the piece to others in my group and we decided that because of its sinister tone and the fact that it included repetition would make it suitable for certain scenes in our piece. It then became a very frequently used piece in our performance, used in dance and narration to symbolise sombre moods, it created tension, and atmosphere and was reoccurring for the benefit of the audience’s awareness of the mood. Although none of the people in our group took music for GCSE we decided it should take an important role because it provided us with a chance to include integration of dance and drama.
As a group we wanted to take a photograph which would exemplify the argument between the twin and the friend in the first scene and would harmonise with the narration beginning with ‘this is the final photo.’ We discussed how we could use a photo and came to the conclusion that we would print a photograph on to OHP paper and screen the picture on a backdrop during the performance. We had to acquire a digital camera and take a picture in the positioning of how we would stand on stage for example Sophies character standing between the brawling twins, wearing the same clothes and later printed it onto the specific paper. This proved quite time consuming but very effective when used.
Further inspiration for our performance came from a well-known pop singer called Rachel Stevens. We wanted to create a dance using some form of leash on the deceased twin so we would be able to control her. This piece of music called ‘sweet dreams my LA ex’ uses ribbon to control the singer in a synchronised dance. We studied the video and composed our own short dance using similar techniques, however we later got rid of this as we found it very complicated. As I have also said, we used the play named ‘Blithe Spirits’ by Noel Coward which gave us the idea of the ghost and the dramatic irony.
By this stage of the task we had decided on some techniques to be used in our controlled examination such as narration to communicate to the audience, freeze frames to be used during the opening scene with the photograph, the use of tension and atmosphere to build up the audiences awareness of the mood. We concluded that we would begin with a scripted scene to introduce characters and a mixture of pause and pace, again to conduct a mood of awkwardness between the characters. We were aware that our piece had to be integrated suitably and decided that to achieve this effectively we would use dance techniques within the drama including unison during the narration incorporating speed and the use of levels between the characters. We used music throughout as a basis for integration.
As I was to play a character who had to act around someone in the scene that was not visible to me, I watched a video production of Blithe Spirits with my aim to watch the on stage relationship between the character who I would effectively be playing- Ruth. I observed her facial expressions, body language and viewed her movement around the staging, taking in how she used the stage to prove that her perspective was different from the audience.
Over the weeks our piece developed increasingly with new ideas and changes made to each scene.
The following changes were made to the drama. In weeks one and two we changed the narration in scene one because we felt it was not long enough to reveal the story sufficiently. We therefore added more depth and more information about the situation the characters were in. In week 4, after gaining teacher feedback, we completely substituted the first scene as we felt it did not communicate enough mood and atmosphere to the audience and didn’t give an adequate reason as to why the argument had occurred. We created a different setting of the beach to make the audience more aware that we were on holiday and opened the scene with the twin and the friend sitting in complete silence, sat apart and motionless. This built up a query of what was happening and created a heavy atmosphere with suspense of who would talk first. We developed the dialogue, still using the argument but making it more fierce and tense for the other twin sitting between the two. We then incorporated a freeze-frame and included our idea of the picture on the OHP.
During week 6 we added a new scene which was the high point of the drama where major clues were given away indicating the girls death. We called this the breakfast scene and used this setting, as it was one that all 3 girls could be included in an environment where a perspective could be added of myself not seeing the dead twin. We also decided that the schizophrenic would have 2 personalities because it would make the character more interesting and allowed us to use techniques such as characterisation, mime for the side of the character not acting and integration of 2 characters into one. We then added a news report scene, which was for the purpose of audience awareness.
We included mime of my character around the news reporter. During these two scenes we incorporated techniques such as a use of pace to build up tension among the characters, a variety of tones of voice to further enhance our character portrayal and their feelings and a range of facial expressions to again highlight feelings of confusion and anger. Initially we connected this scene with a confrontation between myself and the schizophrenic, however we felt that it would be more effective if we were to divulge a little more information to the audience and so we incorporated a ‘packing scene’ whereby the tension among all the characters is shown at its height. The argument about the ripped T-shirt, which is prevailed, right at the beginning of the performance and is the basis for the argument and the girls death is repeated to display it’s pettiness and how it has effected all the characters.
Here an argument takes place, involving a use of pace for the build up of tension, different tones and volume of voice to highlight emotion. This is later followed by a dance and finally a scene which portrays a conversation between Rachel and Sophie but which is shown in my perspective where it seems that Sophie is talking to herself. Here we developed the storyline by using a bracelet of Rachel’s which again was for the audience’s understanding as was the use of a star tattoo, both familiar characteristics of Rachel’s character which physically portrayed to the audience her death but ironically did not to Sophie until the finishing scene.
We included another news report, summarising clues that had been left throughout the play. Here we recited lines familiar to each person’s individual character. This concluded our play as well as creating a feeling of apprehension. An atmosphere was built up slowly by the reaction of the character to the newsreaders truthful words. We included a range of tones of voice, speed and volume of voice and facial expressions to exemplify the stress and panic of the character.
Despite only including 3 dances and 2 uses of dance techniques in our production we made various changes because we felt that as there were few they would have to be highly effective and well integrated so as to produce an competent audience perception. The first use of dance was used in the opening scene. It was a motif in unison symbolising a long lasting friendship but recent rift between Rachel’s character and my own. It was a short clockwise movement of the right hand above the floor as though making ripples in the water. We each entered this dance in canon and initially keep the movement very simple. We later decided to develop the movement to show the growing tension and increase how interesting the movement appeared on stage.
The next dance we included was named the ‘dream dance’ we initially used the idea from our research on Rachel Steven’s ‘sweet dreams my la-ex’, using material to control Rachel. At first she was positioned on a bench and it was from here that we were able to have power over her character but soon realised that the fact that she was above us did not justify us having authority over her and so discarded the use of this implement and based our dance on the floor. Initially we surrounded Rachel when lying on the bench and recited important lines made by our character concluding in merging canon because we thought it built up to a dramatic climax.
However, this was time consuming and so with the bench discarded, we decided to blend all of these techniques into one, eventually circling Rachel by way of step tapping and after 2 counts each taking it in turn to recite our line resulting in the lines blending into one with a build up in volume. This created a sense of tension among the characters and how dramatic the dream was for Rachel. Without the use of the material we mimed its use without. This was more effective than using it because we were able to move more freely and place more emphasis on our movement.
We used Christopher Bruces ‘Ghost Dances’ almost exactly as it was performed on stage. In the first instance Rachel illustrated the dance first to exhibit her separation from the rest of the characters, however due to lack of time left we displayed the dance together, however I do not think this was as effective but still depicted the fact that she was marginalised because she was positioned in the middle of the rest of the dancers.
Our third use of dance again symbolised the separation of two characters- Rachel and myself. Initially there was no dance integrated in this as we simply walked past one another. However, we felt this was to improvised and needed development and it was a beneficial place to include a dance because the drama was reaching a point where it was important for the audience know that my character was unable to witness Rachel’s presence. Therefore, we included a dance in canon, using techniques such as mirroring to show separation, use of levels and a range of pace. A narration was read over this and we illustrated the words through dance. Sophie’s character was included in the dance as a way of symbolising that she was in the middle of the dispute between the 2 characters. We added in repetition and motif to certify the meaning of the narration and provide the audience with a movement they could relate to, stressing the narration.
The next change we made was during the ‘breakfast scene.’ Initially Rachel and I entered the scene and went straight into acting. However, we thought we could integrate a dance technique into this by making the characters walk behind one another starting with long, slow steps to stress three things to the audience. One, that despite our simultaneous movement we would never make contact, two, that I was unknowingly following in her footsteps and finally it was an exaggeration of a movement to emphasis the first two points I have made, to the audience. We then sped up the pace as if resuming reality and once again slowed down our movement when reaching into cupboards. Here we used levels to further develop our motif and indicate that we could not make contact.
The last dance we included was a dance to introduce and fully demonstrate the split personality of the schizophrenic. Here, Johanna and Alison worked on point incorporating simultaneous movements, unison and canon aswell a range of pace and exaggerated movements such as jagged movements of the arms. Each characters movements contrasted with the other to express the clash in personalities.
Our presentation was extremely successful, we made very little mistakes, and mistakes that were made were cleverly disguised and did not hinder the performance greatly. I think as a group we used out time very well, every week was spent adapting, changing, removing and rehearsing scenes. We were all very keen to gain a good mark and realised the importance of using our time appropriately. We rehearsed numerous times as one thing that became a problem for us was fitting our piece into the designated 15 minute time slot. We found that every time we rehearsed it seemed to go over this so we tried to overcome this by cutting down the dance and speeding up the silences in the first scene which I think did not do us any favours as it lessened the tension. I think certain points of the performance were rushed for example the scene at the door when I am met by the schizophrenic, I believe this happened because we were aware that we might be exceeding our time limit.
I maintain that we chose our audience and target group effectively. Infact, as our piece progressed we came to the realisation that it was more in depth and complicated than we first assumed it would be, therefore proving that our suggested audience was appropriate. Although we did not express murder and schizophrenia to a gory extent it was still a hard story line to effectively grasp. Our language was not particularly daunting but it may have been harder for a younger audience to relate to any of the characters and this would have lead to lack of understanding. Because most of our scene we blended and not presented one by one it may have caused confusion and therefore needed a mature and knowledgeable audience on this issues we were divulging.
I think we integrated the art forms very well. Using music, although not taken by any of our group provided us with a major base for intertwining dance and drama. We were able to place dance techniques into scenes majoring in drama and this was something we hadn’t thought to do in previous controlled tests. We made sure that our scenes flowed with one another I think this was effective because it ensured that there were two ways of portraying the meaning of a scene in one scene in a stimulating way.
Overall, I was very pleased with the outcome of our performance, the way in which we worked as a group and how we tackled any difficulties on stage. I think as a group we had more strengths than weaknesses particularly in the development and presentation stages of the project. We were able to work effectively as a group, putting our ideas together and voicing our opinion if we thought anything should be changed or added. We used our time competently and evenly distributed the roles of characters and when they would appear on stage. However, we encountered a few weaknesses and these appeared particularly in the performance whereby we rushed slightly, as we were aware the time limit. We also found it difficult to sit down and discuss an idea without the aid of dramatic improvisation which was contained in the criteria of the project and I don’t think this was beneficial to our performance as from the beginning of the project we never had a definite outline of our storyline.
I enjoyed playing my character, as I was able to explore a range of moods and play a character having to act round someone who wasn’t there from my perspective. This was quite challenging at first but as the weeks progressed I became used to using this technique. However, I don’t think my character had much of an in depth personality, as it was quite like myself in real life- a teenager. This prevented me from exploring different characters, which perhaps would have held more interesting characteristics. Having said this, I was able to use a variety of facial expressions and take part in an assortment of different environments within a scene. Next time I would prefer to play a character more challenging that I have little in common with so as to assist me practicing different techniques within drama.