YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND PAGE 35
The workshop was the last in a series of four workshops held
that day and took place immediately before the group went to
see Druid’s production of Big Maggie by John B. Keane in the
Roscommon Arts Centre. These exercises can be applied to any
production of any play.
Duration: Ideally it would take 1 ½ – 2 hours.
The times beside each exercise are only an approximate. As
always, use your own judgement. It’s important that you spend
a reasonable amount of time discussing the actual production,
but all the other exercises are important too, so don’t feel you
have to rush them.
• To introduce and familiarise the participants with the
elements of theatre.
• To allow the participants to have a greater understanding of
the context in which work is created and produced.
• To hone their observational skills.
• To prepare them for viewing a particular production, Druid
Theatre Company’s Big Maggie by John B. Keane.
Watching Theatre Workshop by Alan King
The title of this workshop may seem obvious and unnecessary
but it is an interesting and valuable approach when bringing
a group of young people to see a production. It really helps to
prepare a group before bringing them to a show. If they are
unfamiliar with a style of theatre or performance they may
either feel they are unqualified to view it, or they may not have
the context to view the work and understand and enjoy it fully.
Subsequently, this may hamper their engagement with and
enjoyment of the piece.
This workshop contains a lot of exercises that I would use while
facilitating the Young Critics Programme, and have all proved
valuable and worthwhile.
This version of the workshop was delivered to a mixed group of
members from Co. Roscommon Youth Theatre and Co. Leitrim
Youth Theatre Company on 17th December 2011. It was assisted
through NAYD’s Youth Theatre Support Scheme.
Above: Druid’s Big Maggie (Paul Connaughton, Sarah Greene, Aisling O’Sullivan, Charlie Murphy),
Photo: Robert Day.
PAGE 36 YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND
Preparation and materials
There is some advance preparation of materials required.
• Enough production stills (20+) from recent high quality Irish
theatre productions. Include two or three production stills from
the production under discussion. Have an idea what these
productions are or use shows that you have seen and enjoyed
yourself. Use professionally shot, well-lit images from shows.
These can be found on theatres’ websites. Avoid using famous
people. Do not use cast snaps or shots from amateur or youth
• Copies of the production programme.
Well in advance, break the programme down into different
sections and make enough photocopies. (Maybe 5 sets of each):
• The biographies of cast and crew – The Creatives. (A)
• Production Notes – Theatrical Context. (B)
• Biography of producing company – Company History. (C)
In addition to the programme:
• Find any biographical material on the author of the play. This
can include personal details, but also titles of other plays, their
themes and production histories. (A)
• Information on the production history of the play being seen –
Historical Context. (B)
• Information on the historical context in which the play was
written/set/originally performed. (B)
• Additional biographical material on the producing company.
The company website is a good place to start. (C)
• Full colour production shots from the production under
discussion, printed (and laminated if possible) on A4 sheets. –
Visual Clues. (D)
• Any promotional material for this current production, including
posters, flyers, features and cast interviews (these are additional
and not essential but should not include any reviews. (D)
• If it is a known play such as Big Maggie include a full and
accurate synopsis of the play, including major character
Bundle the above materials into the relevant packs, as indicated
A The Creatives
B Theatrical & Historical Context
C Company History
D Visual Clues
E The Play and its Characters
• You will also need enough A4 sheets, pens, markers and
flip chart paper for your group.
First, get the group standing in a circle facing inwards. The
facilitator also takes their place in the circle.
• Breathing re-energiser (2 mins)
Ask the group to stand with their eyes closed and, mentally, take
stock of where they are. Ask the participants to become aware
of their breathing. After a few moments ask them to gently
breathe IN over a count of four then breathe OUT over four. Ask
them to repeat 3 or 4 times. Now ask them all to open their eyes.
• Anyone who? (10–15 mins)
This is a very familiar workshop exercise. The facilitator stands in
the middle of the circle and makes a series of statements. If that
statement is true for any person in the circle, that person crosses
the circle and finds a new place in the circle. Use 3 or 4 obvious
one, such as: ‘Anyone who…is a girl,’ ‘Anyone who…has brown
eyes,’ to warm them up and get the group mixed up a little.
Then.... Anyone Who…
Has ever acted in a show before?
Has ever worked backstage before?
Has been to the theatre in the last year?
Has been to the theatre in the last 6 months?
Has been to see a local or amateur production? What?
Has been to a show in your local arts centre?
Has been to see professional theatre?
Has been to see a show at the Abbey or Peacock Theatre in Dublin?
Has heard of Druid Theatre Company before?
Has ever had an ‘Oh WOW moment’ watching a play?
Has ever been to a show by Druid before?
You can further investigate some people that moved with more
insightful questions such as, ‘What did you enjoy about it?’
‘What elements of the production really worked for you?’ ‘What
didn’t work for you?’ ‘What are the expectations of going to see
a show in the Abbey?’ ‘Tell us about your ‘Oh WOW moment’.’
‘What’s the difference between amateur and professional work?’
This exercise should move quickly. It’s getting the ball rolling, so don’t
get too bogged down in long conversations. If you know the group
really well then maybe you can think of some more creative questions
to get started. Try and speak to each participant at least once. This is a
really good way of spotting those who may be very articulate or those
who may be not too comfortable talking in front of the group. You can
gauge the level you can converse with an individual beyond yes and no
answers. You can quickly move on to the next person without causing
embarrassment to anyone. It is also a useful way of introducing key
phrases, words and noting the differences between amateur, youth
theatre and professional work.
• Image work – Change Three Things. (5–10 mins)
Divide the group into pairs. Quickly let them decide who is A and B.
A silently strikes a dynamic full body pose with an emotion. B
observes for 30 seconds.
Now B closes their eyes. Ask A to physically change three
obvious things, unseen by B.
B opens their eyes and now tries to spot the three things.
B then asks A, for example, ‘Did you have your hands in your
YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND PAGE 37
pockets, but now they are down by your sides?’ If they are correct
A says, ‘Yes,’ and moves that one thing back to its original position.
The exercise is continued until all three changes are found.
If they are not correct in their observation A says, ‘That is not one
of the three things.’
Continue until all pairs have finished the exercise.
Facilitator’s Feedback – ‘What was that like?’ ‘Did you find it
difficult?’ ‘Were the changes clear?’
B makes the changes and A observes.
New instruction. This time B makes the changes much subtler.
Feedback – ‘What was different from the first time?’ ‘Who found
it difficult spot the changes?’
This is an exercise in observation.
The participants’ eyes are being trained to look out for and pay attention
to detail, and recognise the importance of those details in a production.
If some groups are working more quickly than others get them to
silently observe those still working. If one group is working very slowly
get the whole group to watch and get that group to repeat it for everyone.
It is also an exercise in ‘Objective’ and ‘Subjective’ viewing. A may
have the intention of their pose meaning one thing and B may see
something different. This will help in the discussions later about what
the author or director intended for a production and what we actually
took away from it.
• Image work – Working with Production Stills. (20–25 mins)
Keep the same pairs. Find a space in the room and sit facing each
other, about two feet apart. Each pair is given two production stills
face down, one for each person. On a given signal from the
facilitator, all the A’s are asked to close their eyes. All the B’s
keep their eyes open and pick up their production still and look
at it. B now starts to describe their photograph aloud to their
partner. They must only describe the Objective Facts of the
photograph; what they can see in the photograph. (E.g., ‘The
woman is wearing a blue jumper. There are four men sitting. It
is dark.’ They must give as much detail as possible. Focus on
composition, perspective, colour. (2 minutes)
This is an important instruction. They must not speculate or offer
Subjective Opinion, (e.g., ‘The woman looks about 25 and she looks sad
because her cat has died.’)
Once time is called, the B’s are asked to hold the production still
a comfortable distance in front of A’s face. On a given signal, A’s
open their eyes and see the image for the first time.
Feedback and discussion – Let the partners discuss this amongst
themselves. General chat. (1 min)
The facilitator then leads a large group discussion, taking all
offers as they come – ‘Was it how they expected? Did their partner
describe it well? What was different? Did they miss anything?
How difficult was it for B to describe what it was?’ (2 mins)
• Still in those pairs, ask B to turn over their picture and place it
on the ground in front of both partners. Both have their eyes
open. B describes what they think is going on in the picture
while A just looks and listens. B should read from expressions,
body language, staging, costume and lighting. What is your
opinion of what is happening here? What do you think is going
on? What do you think the mood of this image/scene is? A
is not allowed to ask questions and must only listen. They
cannot speak to disagree with what B is telling them. (2 mins)
Feedback – Let the partners discuss together. Did A see the same
things as you? What was different? (2 mins)
The facilitator takes a Production Still from one group and asks
the B of that group to describe what they think is going on. What
is the story of this picture? What supports their opinion?
The facilitator passes the photo around the whole group so
everyone gets to see the picture.
The facilitator then asks of the A in that group:
Do you agree with B? What is the same? What is different?
If the facilitator picks up on a significant clue that the viewer
didn’t see they could ask the viewer/group to answer/
speculate. (E.g., ‘The man is holding a walking stick- what is
this telling us?’ ‘The woman is wearing a crucifix- what is this
suggesting?’ ‘Why do you think that character is wearing red?’
From this picture:
What type of play is this? Is it contemporary, modern,
What’s the genre of this play? How is this suggested?
Add in any other relevant questions you can think of.
If you could give this play a title what would it be?
Take suggestions for the title and then tell the group its actual
title, who the play is by, what genre it is, when it was written
and what the relationships between the characters are.
Repeat this for two or three more groups.
It really helps if you know these plays, so use images from productions
that you know, or plays you are familiar with.
Now select one of the still images from the production you will
be seeing. Some of the pairs should have been working with
these already. With this image you can really ask some more
As before, ask the A to describe what is going on in this picture.
If someone has already seen this particular production, knows what the
play is, ask them to be patient and not answer just yet. At the end of the
exercise these people can be first to say what they think it is.
Then ask the group and investigate and discuss:
What are the relationships between the people in this picture?
Why do we think that?
What is telling us this?
What do we think is going on in this scene?
PAGE 38 YOUTH DRAMA IRELAND
When and where do we think this play is set?
Do we think this play is a modern, contemporary play?
What do we think the genre is?
If we were to give it a title what would it be?
You can then ask anyone who thinks they know what it actually
is to let the group know. If no one knows, you can reveal it to be
Big Maggie, for example.
You should already have some knowledge of the play/production
from the research material, so you can prompt some questions like:
Do you recognise any of the actors in this photograph?
Have you seen them in anything else? What?
What do the set, costumes and lighting suggest about the
budget of this production?
If it is a high, medium or low budget, how does that affect our
expectations of the production?
You can ask any other questions that the discussion may prompt.
• Investigating the Elements Of Production (10–15 mins)
Divide everyone into 5 small groups and give each group enough
markers and 1 sheet of flip chart paper.
Now ask the group to brainstorm the elements of a theatre
production. (5 mins)
Call time and randomly ask a group to call out their ‘Elements
of Production’ As they do, ask the other groups to mark off
matching answers with circles on their page. Typically answers
will include acting, writing, costumes, audience, etc.
You can ask people to clarify if they mention something unusual.
Then continue with each group and ask them to call out anything
that hasn’t been mentioned already. (Drawing circles will stop
The facilitator can ask why they think certain things are important,
(e.g., ‘the text’or ‘good acting’ or ‘ story’).
The facilitator can now point out that these are all the things
that go into a production. Each of these has relevance and
importance and as such, we should be aware of every element
of a production and not just the ones we are most interested in
ourselves, (e.g., acting).
• Investigating the Elements Of A Night At The Theatre (10 mins)
On another sheet of flip chart ask the groups to brainstorm the
‘elements of a night at the theatre.’ (2 mins)
Some of these may have been mentioned and discussed in the
previous exercise, but it’s useful to investigate these fully. To
clarify you can ask them to also think about ‘the things you may
need to do if you are going to see a play.’ These are the other
factors that will have an influence on an individual’s viewing of a
As before randomly ask one group to begin, and discuss the
answers at the end.
Typical answers may include, ‘buying the tickets,’ ‘comfortable
seats,’ ‘the price of the tickets,’ etc.
Discuss how these other influences will have a bearing on your
own appreciation and enjoyment of a production.
• Detective work on The Play (30–40 mins)
Remaining in the same groups, give each group one of the
A The Creatives
B Theatrical & Historical Context
C Company History
D Visual Clues
E The Play and its Characters
Give each group enough time (15-20 mins) to sift through the
material and find out as much information as they can about the
production they are about to see.
Ask them to nominate one spokesperson that will feed back to
the whole group at the end of the exercise.
Give them pens and A4 sheets to take notes.
The idea is that each group will be exploring a different aspect of the
Allow the participants to discover things for themselves rather than
spoon-feeding them with answers, but if people are quiet you can float
between groups to prompt discussion.
Call time and call the groups back into a circle, sitting on the ground.
Ask each group in turn to present their findings on the play.
After each spokesperson, the facilitator can sum up what they
said and maybe add other facts that they may have missed.
After everyone has presented you can lead a short open
discussion on what the keys things are that we should be on the
look out for. (E.g., ‘What does a play like Big Maggie have to say
about Ireland in 2011?’)
At the end of the exercise, the group should have a good
understanding of the play they are about to go and see.
Call the group into a standing circle and end the workshop with a
small finishing exercise of your own choosing.
Alan King is Youth Theatre Officer at NAYD. He was a freelance
actor and director for many years, directing many professional and
youth theatre productions.