Drama Lessons for High School from an Award Winning Drama Teacher
You may not know me or be familiar with my work. I’m Deborah Baldwin (but my friends call me Deb.) I am a recently retired award winning drama teacher for thirty-eight years. In that time, I directed over 250 plays and musicals with students and adults as well. I taught every grade level, but the bulk of my time was spent with secondary students. I’m also an award winning director and middle grade author.
Here is my resume if you’d like to see it: DeborahBaldwin.net
My Teaching Style:
Drama is a hands-on class. To this end I’m always on my feet modeling for my students while teaching them a host of concepts. It is not unusual to hear my classroom in chortles of laughter because humor is an outstanding way to gain a student’s attention. I empower students at an early age.
Although I am always mindful of my learning objectives, I think it’s vital for students to experiment within the confines of my instruction. I encourage students to be independent and creative thinkers.
Many less confident or reluctant students benefit from my teaching methods as together we hit the challenges they encounter. I am creative, intense, driven and brave–these are qualities I nurture in all my students and generally receive outstanding results in them.
If you are looking for drama units, lessons and plays for your students, I can help you. Here are a few of my lessons for high school students:
Radio Play Performance
(Here is a production of this script by an ESL class in Tiblisi Georgia!) “The Invisible Man” Radio Play
- Radio Theater Unit Plus Radio Play of “The Invisible Man”
- The Producer
- Rent, the Broadway Musical
- Theater Artists You Should Know Growth Mindset
- Bundle: Biographies of Theater Artists–Lin Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Hugh Jackman, Meryl Streep, Cynthia Erivo, Denzel Washington and Ming Cho Lee
- Bundle: Stage Makeup -Zombie, Fantasy, Basic-Old Age, Circus
- Bundle: Costume, Stage Props., Set and Sound Design (sold separately as well)
- Bundle: Tony Awards & Broadway Musicals
- Hamilton, the Broadway Musical
- NEW! Daveed Diggs Theater Artist Biography
- NEW! Camille A. Brown Theater Artist Biography
- NEW! Billy Elliot, the Broadway Musical
- NEW! Something Rotten Broadway Musical
- NEW! Choice Board–Theater Around the World
Most lessons lasts at least two days. The units’ length range from several days to three weeks.
I have lessons for younger students, too! Check them out:
If you’d like a FREE lesson, be my guest and pick up one:
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DeborahBaldwin.net
Today, I’d like to share about the question, What is Talk Like a Pirate day?” Simply put, it’s a non-official day where people talk like pirates. It’s just fun!
Here is the origin:
Talk Like a Pirate Day is the brainchild (if that’s the right word) of two friends, John Baur and Mark Summers, who thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to have one day a year when people shake off their serious side and talk like pirates?’ The idea for the day actually originated on June 5, 1995, during a game of racquetball, when one of the men was injured and yelled “Aaarrr.” However, out of respect to the anniversary of the World War Two Normandy landings, the men postponed their celebration. They later chose September 19 because it was Summers’s ex-wife’s birthday and therefore would be easy to remember. (That is so funny!)
Since September 2002, when syndicated columnist, Pulitzer Prize Winner Dave Barry wrote about the idea, John and Mark have been deluged with letters and e-mails about how “Talk Like a Pirate Day” can be applied in various settings.
An observer of this holiday would greet friends not with “Hello, everyone!” but with “Ahoy, maties!” or “Ahoy, me hearties!”. The holiday, and its observance, springs from a romanticized view of the Golden Age of Piracy.
English actor Robert Newton is the “patron saint” of Talk Like a Pirate Day. He portrayed pirates in several films, most notably Long John Silver in both the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island and the 1954 Australian film Long John Silver, and the title character in the 1952 film Blackbeard the Pirate. Newton was born in Dorset and educated in Cornwall, and it was his native West Country dialect, which he used in his portrayal of Long John Silver and Blackbeard, that some contend is the origin of the standard “pirate accent”. This was parodied in the 1950s and 1960s by British comedian Tony Hancock.
That’s so fun!
What is Talk like a Pirate Day?
You know who loves stuff like this? Our students.
If you know me, you know I teach theater with a twist. I thought, “How can I teach some acting skill, explore a radio theater play and celebrate Talk like a Pirate Day simultaneously?”
Enter: Talk Like a Pirate Day drama lesson!
I loved working on this lesson. I decided to introduce dialects and accents through it.
Plus, how about reading aloud The Frozen Pirate radio theater play? If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m really just a kid at heart.
When I began adapting radio plays for the classroom, I ran upon The Frozen Pirate. I’d never heard of the story, but it’s a good one.
Who is William Clark Russell, the author?
At the age of 13 Russell joined the United Kingdom’s Merchant Navy, serving for eight years. Wow! The hardships of life at sea damaged his health permanently, but provided him with material for a career as a writer. He wrote short stories, press articles, historical essays, biographies and a book of verse, but was known best for his novels, most of which were about life at sea. He maintained a simultaneous career as a journalist, principally as a columnist on nautical subjects for The Daily Telegraph.
Russell campaigned for better conditions for merchant seamen, and his work influenced reforms approved by Parliament to prevent unscrupulous ship-owners from exploiting their crews. His influence in this respect was acknowledged by the future King George V. Among Russell’s contemporary admirers were Herman Melville, Algernon Swinburne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Frozen Pirate is a story of a ship captain and his valet whose ship runs ashore on a desolate, icy island. While scavenging for a place to protect themselves from the storm, they find a pirate ship frozen into the rocks. I’ve adapted it into a radio play.
The ship is full of loot, gold and oh yes, several pirates. The valet makes a fire and guess what? One pirate warms enough to come back to life!
Teaching with a Twist
This is a good example of how I teach theater with a twist–I view trendy topics and figure out how to assimilate them into a drama classroom.
Tableau and movement do great with subjects of Thanksgiving.
Students can study stage properties through viewing video examples on holiday movies. There are scads of them. Also, another good costume design lesson is that of The Nutcracker Ballet.
It’s not that the usual methods are poor. Everyone does monologues, scenes, improvisation, etc. That’s important. However, I have found that if you teach any length of time, you are going to grow bored with the tried and true resources you use. Frankly, every lesson but acting is interesting to reluctant learners. Acting makes you feel vulnerable and they don’t want that. Check out: Ten Ways to Teach Reluctant Students in Your Theater Class
So how about trying something new?
Once, a director suggested to me I deliver a particular line in a play differently each night. I was portraying the part for several weeks and I worried about becoming stale.
There’s an old exercise where we teach students the differences in the meaning to “Close the door. Close the door. Close the door.”
At first, I stayed with something safe such as, “You are welcome.”
Over time, I adapted the exercise with other lines. You know, it worked! Suddenly, the lines became fresh to me all over again as if I had just picked up the script for the first time.
That’s why my resources work too!
Try a different lesson with a different perspective, like this Talk like a Pirate Day lesson.
What are some of your favorite lessons you have created? I’d love to hear from you.
Contact me at email@example.com or DeborahBaldwin.net
Circus Themed Lessons–a New Twist for Drama Classes
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages”–You know, I don’t think I’ve heard a circus master of ceremonies actually say this, have you?
It must be from the movie, Dumbo which was one of my favorites when I was a child. This is probably the reason I love elephants so much, too.
Recently, I saw a preview for the new Dumbo movie coming out soon and it reminded me of a couple of lessons I created about Cirque Du Soleil. Students don’t study Cirque du Soleil per se, but they focus on Cirque Du Soleil lessons through a new twist: the performers costumes and makeup.
In case you don’t know me, I taught drama at every grade level for over thirty-five years and as many as ten different subjects within it. Everything from creative dramatics to technical theatre–second through twelfth grade.
I had a good drama teacher when I was in high school during the Civil War (well, it feels like it sometimes). Mr. Kent Chapman of Emporia High School got me started and for that, I am always grateful. I loved everything about his classes–his warm ups, lessons, assignments and of course, direction of the plays.
Like most educators, we emulate what we liked from our own teachers. Over those many years of teaching, although I was modeling my lessons after Mr. Chapman’s it became dull and robotic.
As a result, I realized I was getting stale because I kept doing the same things over and over again.
However, if you are going to repeat yourself (for thirty-eight years) you may as well toil on an assembly line someplace and make better money. As a I was a creative person I couldn’t abide by it.
If you keep teaching the same thing over and over it’s easier, right? It’s way boring, though.
That’s just not my style. I like to build a better mousetrap.
Cirque Du Soleil Lessons–a New Twist for Drama Classes
When our daughters were young, we traveled to Disney World and just happened to get tickets for our first Cirque Du Soleil show, La Nouba. Oh my gosh, we were awestruck the entire time. If you haven’t seen it or any of their circuses, you are missing out! Here’s an example for you:
As you can see, their shows are magnificent!
Who is Cirque du Soleil?
According to Wikipedia, “Cirque Du Soleil is a Montreal-based entertainment company and the largest contemporary circus producer in the world. Located in the innter-city area of Saint Michel, it was founded on June 16, 1984 by former street performers Guy Laliberte and Giles St.-Crois. Like many new entertainment ventures, they had a great idea but not much money to make it happen. Then in 1983 they received a government grant from the Canada Count for the Arts to perform as part of the 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier’s voyage to Canada. Its theatrical, character-driven approach and the absence of performing animals helped define Cirque du Soleil as the contemporary circus that it remains today.”
When I returned to school that year, I got to thinking about how I could use La Nouba in the classroom. First, I created a lesson on costume design about it. Kids just LOVED it!
As a result of my attendance to the show, we’d see video snippets about La Nouba. I’d talk them through the various acts pointing out the costumes and makeup in particular. Then the students would study costume design and its importance in theatre and finish by designing their own Cirque costume.
Since writing was a big push of ours at our school, I thought they needed to do more than design. So, I also assigned them to write a letter to a family member as if the student was hired by Cirque detailing their employment and subsequent training in the circus.
Time to Study Stage Makeup
Next it was time to study stage makeup–why not continue with the Cirque Du Soleil focus?
For Grades 6-9
We did so, and I was amazed at their wonderful designs and ideas. Here is one:
Isn’t this awesome?
I thought other teachers may like to use these lessons as well. Each lesson is about two days in length which could be stretched to a week if you did both. That’s a heck of a week of learning if you ask me.
Cirque Du Soleil Lessons–a New Twist for Drama Classes
For Grades 4 to 7.
Check out the product here: Costume Design with Circus Performers
Purchase at Costume Design with Circus Performers
These elements of drama lessons study costume design and stage makeup using circus performers (in particular Cirque Du Soleil) as their focus! These are great for an elementary gifted class or middle school drama class.
Students love to study stage makeup! Even boys enjoy it as you can see from the above.
Costume Design and Stage Makeup Design:
Costume Design includes:
- The History of Costume Design
- The Rationale for Teaching Costume Design
- Costume Notes for Students
- Teacher’s Script–what I say and how I say it!
- Materials List
- Source & Video link list (Cirque De Soleil, Ringling Brothers, etc.)
- A Warm-Up—engaging and creative
- Circus Performer list & skills
- Two Assignments–one drawing and one creative writing
- Student Examples
Stage Makeup Design:
- Warm Up Game–Zip, Zap, Zop (MY version)
- The History of Stage Makeup (separate file of Power Point slides & teacher’s lecture notes)
- Teacher’s Script–what I say and how I say it
- Materials List
- Source & Video link list (Cirque De Soleil makeup tutorials, Circus Shmurkus, Barnum and Bailey, etc.)
- Pinterest board link with examples
- Two Assignments–one drawing and one creative writing
- Theatre Quote page–great to use for discussion and/or bell ringers
Check out my advice at: Why You Should Use These Effective Teaching Methods, Part Two
I hope you get a chance to see both Dumbo and a Cirque Du Soleil show soon. You won’t regret it!
My favorite act at the circus is the trapeze. What is yours?
I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DeborahBaldwin.net
Let’s talk about steps in producing a play or musical: stage makeup
This is a true story.
When I was in seventh grade, I wanted to wear makeup. Of course, that was about 100 years ago, so let’s keep it in perspective….. My mother wasn’t ready for that step in my life quite yet, but I was. Boy, was I ready. I read in a Seventeen magazine that I could make my own “home made” mascara using charcoal and petroleum jelly. I went to work!
Now I’m not known to be very patient (although I am better now that I have grown older), so I looked around our house for the two ingredients I needed. Hmmm. I found a jar of petroleum jelly in my bathroom cabinet, but charcoal?
The only charcoal I knew of was charcoal briquettes. Being my impatient self and not taking into account that perhaps a charcoal briquette was the wrong kind of charcoal for my DIY mascara, I mixed it into the jelly anyway. Yes. I. Used. A. Charcoal. Briquette.
Needless to say, it was a flop. Upon entering our dining room for dinner that evening while modeling my “homemade mascara”, my mother let out an “Oh my!” Soon after she drove to a Merle Norman store and enrolled me in a class about makeup.
I have refrained from making any other makeup products since that day. I will admit that whenever we grill burgers over charcoal briquettes, I grow a bit misty eyed remembering my DIY makeup days..
The Thrill of Wearing a Costume
Like a costume, stage makeup ranks up there as one of the most popular aspects of theater. For some people, donning a costume and applying makeup IS theater.
A costume and makeup psychologically comforts the actor and helps him to feel “safe.” A good director, especially in amateur theater, must be careful not to lean on a character’s costume and makeup as the only characterization of an actor.
In that case, let’s just put the costume designer on stage and let her perform the show (I doubt she would appreciate that…) because the character solely originates with her and not the actor. Tsk,tsk…
Stage makeup is different than street makeup (makeup worn for everyday use). It is durable, saturated color and easily blended. It’s sturdy–you can cry, eat and have water thrown in your face and the stuff stays on!
Since this series of posts concerns producing a play or musical and the critical steps one must take for a successful production, I knew I should discuss stage makeup.
Do you have a makeup designer? If not, a good place to find one is through hairstyling salons. Most hairstylists are trained to do makeup as well as hair. Many hairstylists LOVE this kind of work, because it is so creative.
If I need special makeup (say, for Ursula in Lil Mermaid), I give them photos of my ideas first. Like set and costumes, a designer needs somewhere to begin in their designing. In your budget, you need an amount for stage makeup.
I include wigs and hair needs in that budget, too–hairspray, bobby pins, hair nets, etc. If a designer must build a mustache or beard, that is an additional cost. If you have someone who is familiar with stage makeup, so keep them around. They are invaluable.
If you don’t have budget money for a designer, perhaps you could acknowledge them through your program and give them complimentary tickets to the production?
Specific Makeup Products
Every cast member should own their own makeup, however some things can be shared if you are on a tight budget. If the makeup is selected ala carte, then I suggest you purchase:
- foundation–several shades (I like crème foundation, but some people prefer pan.)
- hi-light and shadow for contouring
- translucent powder to match the foundation
- eye brow pencil
- blush–several shades
- eye shadow–several shades
- makeup sponges
- spray sealer
- makeup remover
- eyeliner (should not be shared with others)
- mascara (should not be shared with others)
- lipstick (should not be shared with others)
You are going to pay more ala carte, than if you buy a kit or collection. Your actors may find that they like owning their own makeup. I have my own makeup when I perform.
There are several companies and different size kits as well. Like a “one size fits all” tee shirt (I have never understood that phrase), you can buy kits such as fair/lightest, to brown/Dark. Ultimately, I suggest you find one close your skin color and work from there with the color provided in the kit.
Ben Nye Makeup is very good as is Mehron. I’m partial to Ben Nye myself. The kits can run as little as $20.00 and upward to $150 for a comprehensive collection. You’ll find what you need quite easily on line.
I played Nellie Forbush in South Pacific when I was in my twenties. This was NOT a character I ever thought I’d play. In my mind, she was “101 pounds of fun” as the song says. I wasn’t that poundage by a long shot. The part called for a bright, cute, sincere and naive young woman. I worried that no one would believe my performance.
My favorite part of the whole experience (other than my husband, then fiancé who was the conductor) was the shower scene.
I actually washed my hair and yes, danced with shampoo in my hair. Then I’d rinse it under ice cold water (!) while speaking with another character, wrapped it up in a towel and exited. In the next five minutes, I dried my hair, reapplied my makeup and donned an elegant full length evening gown, drop earrings and elbow length gloves. It was a blast to do!
Something about those two scenes helped me past the worry. Every night as I stepped on the stage, I knew I was surrounded by a wonderful armor which carried me past my fears and supported my character in a way I could never have done all by myself.
That’s what makeup and a costume can do for you.
As you may know, I have a store on Teacherspayteachers.com I have created several lessons about stage makeup which you may be interested in using in your classroom.
Stage Makeup with Circus Performers
Or……here’s a bundle of all four of the lessons! Bundle: Stage Makeup Lessons