Dance & drama: Roll up, roll up
21 January 2008Add to My Folder
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Use Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster to inspire dance and drama
At the circus — animals perform too!
Learning objectives: To understand the lives and views of circus performers in the 19th century; to use debating skills to consider whether animals should perform in circuses.
You will need: Poster, ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’; first, second and third of the ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’ activity sheets, ‘Diary of a circus performer’, ‘Circuses – for and against’ and ‘Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’; music reminiscent of circuses such as ‘Overture’ from Barnum by Cy Coleman, or ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ from the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band or the ‘Finale’ from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Explain that everyone is going to be invited to ‘enter a painting’ and watch quietly and carefully to see what goes on. Say: We are invited to… (then open the poster) ...take our seats at the circus!
Give the children a while to look at and then discuss the circus. Points may include:
- Why are so few seats filled?
- Note the ringmaster’s facial expression and whip.
- Why are two clowns performing at the same time as the horse and rider?
- Approximately what date do they think it might be?
In role as audience members, ask the children to discuss what they have heard about the ringmaster, circus conditions, the performers, and why so many people are staying away. You can also use drama strategies (see ‘Tips & techniques’, below).
Ask the children to fill in the first of the ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’ activity sheets, ‘Diary of a circus performer’ and use the circus sound effects to inspire ideas, (available to subscribers as part of the Interactive resource, ‘At the circus’).
Tell the class that the reason the circus is not supported is because some people have objected strongly to animals being used to perform. They say that this is cruel.
Give children copies of the second of the ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’ activity sheets, ‘Circuses – for and against’, then divide the class into ‘For’ and ‘Against’ groups. Explain that it is important that they are in role as 19th century circus audience members and not as themselves, then hold a class debate. Read The Guardian’s debate articles on circuses by visiting www.guardian.co.uk and typing in ‘circus animals’ in the search box. What conclusion can the class reach? Children can read the third of the ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’ activity sheets ‘Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’, for the background of the painting’s artist.
Tips & techniques
Many of the Primary National Strategy’s drama techniques can be used to enhance the circus drama. The painting itself is a freeze-frame, enabling us to examine a moment in time. Thought tracking and hot seating can be used on the characters in the painting. Paired improvisation can be used between audience members, a forum theatre can use children as actors to bring the painting to life, and after the debate a conscience alley can provide the class with an opportunity to explore the feelings of different characters.
Learning objectives: To examine the range of movements suggested by the circus and use them to tell a story; to use good teamwork to build a dance.
You will need: Poster, ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’; suitable circus music (see ‘Drama’, above); fourth of the ‘At the circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’ activity sheets, ‘Circus dance ideas’; circus sound effects (available to subscribers as part of the Interactive resource, ‘At the circus’).
The drama activities (see above) should be run prior to this session. It is important that children have studied the painting and the third of the ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’ activity sheets, ‘Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’ before starting the dance activities. Ask the children to look closely at the painting and write down their movement ideas in section one of the fourth of the ‘At the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster’ activity sheets, ‘Circus dance ideas’. The movements should reflect the relationships in the painting brought out in the drama session, and not solely the action of the performers (see ‘Tips & techniques’, below).
Play the music track to the class and ask them to fill in and discuss section two as they listen. Invite the children to try out some of the movements, experimenting individually and in pairs or groups. Decide as a class which movements from both lists should be included, and record these in section three.
Work on building up the dance. The sequence of the movements will be determined by how the children want to tell the story evoked by the painting, and by what fits with the music (see ‘Tips & techniques’, below). Tell the children to record the final order in section four.
Tips & techniques
Movement ideas might include: tumbling, balancing and audience movements such as boredom, applause and delight. They might also include facial expressions between characters to show relationships (lack of understanding between employers and performers). A simple storyline might be: audience enters, reacts in various ways to ringmaster/animals performing, clowns/rider appears – happy in ring but proves to be otherwise, story ends with one of them upset/crowd enraged or supportive.