Exploring Emotion Through Drama
Updated: May 5
Glenn D. Wilson said “Theatre is rehearsal for life", and when we think about how one might learn a skill like empathy, literally trying to walk in someone else's shoes is a great way to do it. In Drama, children are encouraged to understand themselves and develop self-regulation, and also to understand others by exploring different stories, situations, and people through pretending to be them.
Making up our own characters and trying to convey what these characters are doing and how they are feeling is something we do regularly in Drama Class, and an activity we do regularly is playing Emotions.
In Emotions, children draw a random card from a pile. Each card has a different emotion written on it, and children are paired up and instructed to find a space to work collaboratively to come up with a short scene (10-30 seconds) to perform. With a time limit of 5 minutes, children quickly generate ideas and think creatively about where the scene could be set, who their characters could be, what event/s will occur and how they might convey the emotion on their card.
To show the emotions of our characters, we use our Actor's Toolkit:
Face - we start off doing what comes naturally, and then start breaking it down to increase our focus on specific movements of the eyes, eyebrows and mouth to communicate ever more subtly/in a nuanced way.
Voice - our volume, tone, pitch, and the speed at which our character speaks can tell us much about how they are feeling. We also use dialogue to provide clues as to what's happening in the scene and show our emotional response (without saying the specific emotion!)
Body - stance/posture, gesture and movement are used in a variety of ways to reveal what a character is doing and how they are feeling.
Each pair of actors gets up in front of the class (our 'audience') to perform their short scene. When we are part of the audience, we listen actively, to analyse the ways that the actors use their faces, voices and bodies to show us how their characters are feeling. The audience tries to guess the emotion at the end of the scene until we get it right!
Practising in this way helps us to become proficient at 'breaking the code' of non-verbal communication to more deeply understand both dramatic performance as an art form, and importantly, develop our communication skills for life.
Exploring the many different ways that humans communicate how we are feeling to others benefits all children, as they learn to navigate increasingly complex social interactions and expectations.
If children can better understand the most subtle forms of non-verbal communication they are able to respond appropriately in a wider range of contexts, including in the classroom, in social interactions with adults, and perhaps most importantly, in friendships with other children.