Euripides’ Greek tragedy The Bacchai (or just Bacchai) is a brutal, wild and darkly comic play. I saw Kneehigh’s wonderful production of it in 2004, and when I was looking for a text from an unfamiliar theatre tradition which would offer rich exploratory potential for my students it seemed like the perfect choice. The focus of this scheme of work is an exploration of the play as a director and as an actor, and the ultimate outcome, in assessment terms, is a mini ‘practical performance proposal’ or ‘PPP’. In order to understand and contextualise, students will need to develop some knowledge of Greek theatre, but this is not primarily an exploration of a world-theatre tradition.
In addition to learning about the play and the style, and the role of the actor and of the director, the unit will enable exploration of Stanislavski’s ideas and a comparison with those of Brecht, and will touch upon Artaud. I developed this scheme of work with the notion of ‘synthesis’ in mind (one of the criteria for assessment of the ‘theatre performance and production presentation’, or TPPP), and I place it right at the end of Year 1 of the course – for me, the idea here is to enable students to make links between past areas of exploration. It offers a balance between ‘theatre in the making’ and ‘theatre in the world’, and it includes elements of performance. As well as the mini PPP, the scheme includes a presentation and research, thus helping prepare the students for the assessment tasks in Year 2 of the course.
It is a standard-level scheme – for higher-level students you can work complementary areas of study concurrently (I explore masks and chorus with my higher-level students with a research investigation into a theatrical tradition using masks). It does rely on a certain level of prior knowledge, but, if your students haven’t explored Brecht thoroughly, for example, this scheme could be a vehicle for them to touch upon his ideas. I think it’s pretty flexible and adaptable, and the individual tasks within it could be adapted – bits added in, bits taken out – to suit your students. I first taught this to a group of just two students, which is absolutely do-able, but it will work well with a larger group too. I really recommend Colin Teevan’s translation of the text, which is meaty and lyrical.
- A basic theoretical knowledge of Greek-theatre traditions
- Engaged as an actor and as a director in practical exploration of the play
- Applied the ideas of Brecht, Stanislavski and Artaud to the text, in theory and in practice
- Engaged in ‘synthesis’ through exploring relationships between an unfamiliar theatre tradition and the ideas of three dramatic theorists
- Conducted research
- Orally presented their ideas about theatre to the class
- Produced a mini PPP in response to the text.