Dramatic tableaus bring literature to life. Actors highlight different books by re-creating a crucial moment in the story without using words or movement. When centered on a particular theme, dramatic tableaus underscore a point or open up broad discussions on a topic. Themes are effective in classroom settings, as well as theatrical or museum productions.
Moral Certitude–Are the characters justified in their beliefs? How do they act believing they are right? Does the reader agree with them? Characters from Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” to Antigone confronting her uncle over her father’s death, and the disappointed British sailor arriving on the island in “Lord of the Flies” offer fine examples for study.
Moral Quandary–Rich scenes can be found from Huck, Jim, Duke and the King escaping the mob in the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to Hamlet’s regrets in his final, bloody battle.
Shakespeare’s Heroines–much has been made of Hamlet and Othello, but what of the Bard’s leading ladies? What can we glean from Lady Macbeth’s ambition, Ophelia’s madness, and Kate’s stubbornness? Shakespeare’s plays offer strong tableaus where action is easily implied.
Fighting the Good Fight–Examine how underdogs fight the system. Are certain rules just? Do we pull for the characters? Do we expect comeuppance? Literature lives on this question, from Winston in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” to Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter,” and the orphans of “Oliver Twist.”
Antihero–Always a fascinating subject, antiheroes make for a complex study of motive. Raskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment,” Long John Silver in “Treasure Island,” and Ahab in “Moby Dick” are three such examples.
Don’t limit dramatic tableaus to English class. Certain moments in history make for classic still lifes to study such topics as justice or democracy. Have actors recall the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Boston Tea Party, Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomattox, or the Nuremberg Trials.
Ancient myths are a rich resource for dramatic tableaus as stories that have stood the test of time. Pick a particular culture–Greek, Norse, Hindu, or American Indian, and re-enact myths from those particular peoples.
Find the Similarities–Diverse cultures sometimes create similar myths. Create moments from these stories, such as flood myths or creation myths, to examine viewpoints of the world.
Perhaps the most difficult to discuss, but potentially the most rewarding. Build stories from recent headlines. See if the audience can tell which issue is being presented. What are their reactions? Do activists and pundits present complex issues in equally simple snapshots?
After the scene has been established, tap an actor on the shoulder, so he can explain who he is portraying and his role in this story. Alternately, shine a flashlight or spotlight on the person to speak.
Although a dramatic tableau is by definition one specific moment in a story, it gains real action with a simple twist. Turn off the lights and have the actors create another scene later in the story. See if the audience can establish what has happened in the interim. For example, Oedipus is seen with his wife but next learns her true identity. The dramatic change should be startling.
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