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Improvisation, Play-Building and Acting

There are many ways in which an actor can use performance skills and the elements of drama
to engage an audience and device ideas, situations and characters for the stage. When used
successfully, the elements of drama all combine to create dramatic meaning. They are the
keys that open up the understanding of dramatic action, the foundations on which the action
is built and give it its own unique shape and form. The elements of drama include; focus, role
and characterisation, tension, situation, place and time, movement, symbols and atmosphere,
and mood. Performance skills include; presence and energy. Workshop activities improve the
skills required to apply the elements of drama practically. Different workshop activities target
different skills and elements.
Every form of dramatic activity, from improvisation to a full-length play contains certain
crucial elements. If an actor can understand the elements of drama thoroughly, they will then
be able to utilize them within their piece or play correctly. This knowledge will enable them to
achieve many things that are imperative to any successful drama. They will be able to
establish and sustain focus, respond to changes in focus, establish and sustain character and
role, create and develop tension, respond to changes in tension, respond to changes in timing
and tempo, use and modify space, recognise and respond to symbols and symbolic action and
appreciate and critically evaluate dramatic action.
The performance skills of an actor are energy and presence. Having presence and confidence,
using energy in performance, building and maintaining an actor-audience relationship, having
the ability to develop and memorise words and actions and sustain character are all vital for
an actor to utilize. Having energy onstage is essential to any performance because it comes
across to an audience if you are lacking energy and the performance will be flat. This takes
away from your character and will undermine you as a believable.
Focus makes it clear, where the action is. There are two types of focus; internal and
external. Internal focus is the performers focus. Helps portray character. External focus is the
point where the dramatic action is directed. Without focus the audience can become
disengaged and lost due to the unclear direction of focus onstage.
Both role and characterisation need to be used together to establish a clear character in a
piece or play. Role includes everything about a character. Characterisation is the process of
developing the role into a complex character with personality and background.
Tension is the force that drives all drama. As tension rises and falls, it changes the way the
audience feels and different emotions are evoked.
Situations are the circumstances or predicaments which the characters find themselves in.
Characters and relationships may be affected by situations. The situation may also be created
by what the characters want and how they go about getting it. Situations make a play, and it
is different situations that keep the audience focused and intrigued. The interplay of other
elements combined can result in the creation of unique and interesting situations.
Time is when dramatic action occurs and place is where it occurs. Both of these elements are
imperative in drama in order to establish a clear setting and period that you are performing
in. Time and place help you to create a play that makes sense and they must be made clear in
order for the audience to follow the play and not become lost.

Movement is essential in creating drama onstage. The amount of movement creates energy
and an atmosphere on the stage. Lots of movement frantic. No movement suspense. No
movement should be done onstage without a reason or purpose behind it. You can use
movement to draw focus, create tension, build atmosphere etc.

Drama is about making meaning and whatever the form of drama, its purpose is to increase
our understanding of ourselves and our world. Meaning is created through the use of symbols.
Everything that happens onstage carries meaning; nothing in drama is done by accident or
unintentionally. Symbols help to create situations in drama and carry the meaning behind a
story; adding another layer of depth, captivating the audience even more.
Atmosphere and mood, like tension, engages the audience and evokes emotions within them.
Often related to place, atmosphere and mood help to determine what is going on in the scene.
You can use lighting, dialogue, set and costume to create mood and atmosphere.
Many of the elements of drama are linked with others and they all complement each other.
When they are used in conjunction with one another, great pieces of work are created. The
elements of drama are important in developing characters and scenes and then portraying a
performance to an audience. When we did play-building this term we used all the elements of
drama as a guide and it really helped to create scenes and different characters.
In conclusion, it is evident that there is not a need for one but all elements of drama and
performance skills to be employed by an actor in order to create situations, characters, ideas,
and to keep an audience engaged throughout a performance. Workshops, performances and
characterisation methods all help to develop the skills that are needed to use the elements of
drama and develop an actors performance skills. Play building utilizers all of these skills and
the elements of drama to create dramatic meaning and a satisfying performance.
The Crucible understanding another time and place
Wolf Lullaby Duologue tension and focus
Play building improvisation, situations and everything!