Multiliteracies in the Drama Class:

Theatre Critique & Review; It’s all in Perspective

This unit plan relies on two main online resources which will accompany further lessons on structure and technical composition. The hope is that by looking at other examples of published and un-published work, students will begin to not only think critically of the productions they are reviewing, but also the word and work which they have read for inspiration. The nature of theatre review is highly subjective and students need to be able to assess whether the report is reliable, online or in print.

Resource No. 1: The Blog
Praxis Theatre, dispositio, The Slotkin Letter]

Theatre critique is a crucial by-product of performed work and peer reflection is a major component in class development. In the professional world, traditional forms of review have been published in print by a few, respected writers. Newspaper, however is quickly becoming an obsolete technology and it is social/online media that is replacing it.

In my class I would first utilize Praxis Theatre’s blog to inspire students to familiarize themselves with the layout and discovering the blog. Utilizing the post “101 Sentences About Theatre,” I would begin with flow charts and brainstorming sessions to create sentences about what we (the class) know about theatre, what we identify with in the reading as well as our own. From there we would move into a theatrical staging such as tableaux to investigate a deeper meaning.

However, after this we will move into the “online” nature of theatre. Praxis Theatre has the most developed online theatre presence in Ontario, arguably in Canada. Praxis focuses on cultivating online discussions about theatre and similarly, the theatre produced by Praxis is cutting edge and non-traditional. We will compare this with the traditional print reviews and marketing strategies. From this starting point, we will move into further research of theatre-based blogs, including dispositio and The Slotkin Letter. How can we trust the information that we are receiving? What makes these authors more or less reliable than another author?

Like many businesses the effective use of online media (social, ad placement, etc.) is crucial to reach a new, younger audience and theatre is struggling to engage a new, younger audience. Younger populations engage in online activities far more frequently than they do with traditional methods of information retrieval. For example, they access breaking news immediately via Twitter or Facebook, versus their waiting for the local news cast. However, this access and speed also means that more people can comment and react to what they see and hear online.

Further discussion will develop from the use of these technologies. Praxis Theatre uses a blog as their home webpage, versus the tradition webpage used by say Stratford Festival. Does this structure change our perception of the company using the technology? Which resonates with the students and how does this influence/narrow the intended audience?

I want to use the information we find in these blogs to influence our art, but I also hope to encourage students to look beyond the information presented. Being able to identify the intended audience and how the information is streamlined, in content and design, is crucial to how we process this information. It is my intent that students will start to apply this critical eye to other sites and blogs.

Resource No. 2: Twitter/Facebook
[Personal vs. Commercial]

The students in our class have grown up in a society that has always know Facebook and/or Twitter and for this reason, there is a generation of students who have constantly had their thoughts, feelings and proclamations evaluated by a wide peer group. This is a strange parallel with theatre; Constant evaluation. In a generation which has been bombarded by minute-by-minute, personal reflections, how do they begin to digest and fairly evaluate the information they are provided with?

I would ask that the students collect/look-up 10 tweets and/or Facebook status posts and present a 10 frame tableaux with audio narration overtop of the scenes. The challenge is to interpret the phrases in a new and dynamic manner. Maybe the scene is being spoken by farmyard animals?

After the performances, students will be asked to write a reflection based on context and performance. How can a script/tweet/facebook post be interpreted differently from what is intended? As we discuss this dynamic in class, I will begin to relate this to our previous research into online theatre blogs.

We will then create a list of theatres who utilize Facebook and/or Twitter and investigate the type of posts they are doing, the images they use/post and the ‘conversations’ they engage in with their public. How does this theatre portray themselves to the following public? If they have a website, we will compare content between the two. Is it just a regurgitation of information and images or do they tailor to the prospective audience?

Now understanding how information can be molded to suit the perspective of the reader, the students must refer back to our discussion and work with the blogs and written reviews. Have the authors developed a narrative voice which caters to a specific audience? We will look at the prospective of audiences and begin to relate this back to Facebook and Twitter. How is this any different than 'friends' commenting on a personal profile versus a Theatre company with a profile and their 'friends' posting on theirs? Do we trust this information? How should we process this information?

The crucial element that the students begin to process is the flow of information and how it is often unreliable in delivery. This concept will hopefully transcend other forms of media and begin students on a path of media literacy.

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