Video transcript
The Arts Unit @home Art Bites - Characterisation - 2. Melodrama

>> Back to video

[music playing]

JANE SIMMONS: Hi, everyone. I'm Jane Simmons, Drama Performance Officer here at The Arts Unit for the Department of Education. Today, we're going to extend our series on characterisation, and we're going to look at melodrama. All right.

So, we're going to look at stock characters and archetypes. I'm going to define those for you, so don't stress. Then we're going to explore under the dramatic form of melodrama what those characters look like and how we might play them. Ultimately, you're going to put on your own melodrama, playing all of those characters.

So, let's talk about what is melodrama. Well, melodrama was a very popular type of theatre that attracted the masses in the 1800s or the 19th century. There was no television, there was no cinema, there wasn't even radio. There was certainly no internet. So, the most popular form of entertainment was theatre, and melodrama was the most popular one that there was, because it attracted a lot of poor people who would not have gone to the theatre.

Up until then, theatre was an elite space for a lot of people. So, unless you had money, you didn't go. But they understood, a lot of theatre companies, that theatres were there for people to attend, and they built these huge theatres for melodrama. So, think of melodrama a bit like a daytime soap opera like 'Days of Our Lives.' It's a cross between that, and maybe a superhero film, and then maybe some of those cartoon characters, where you see them, because they all have clear villains or baddies and heroes.

The audience used to love to boo the villain and cheer the hero, so we had to make sure that those characters were really clear. So, we call them stock characters, because they need to be easily identified. We don't want the audience to have to figure out who is the baddie and who is the goodie, so we made sure that the audience understood from the very start who was who. So, who were our characters in melodrama? Well, let's look at those.

So, in melodrama or music drama, as it's defined as, because it used to have live music that would accompany moments of action, had very clear characters that we call stock characters. So, they're taken all out of the same box. So, our characters? Well, you had to have a villain. The baddie is the most fun to play.

So, you had a villain, you had a hero, our champion, our brave soul. We had a heroine, right? And our heroine was like the damsel in distress that had to be rescued. Interestingly enough, in Australian melodramas, different from our European counterparts, our heroines could ride horses and shoot guns. They seem to have a whole lot more guts, but that's what it is to be an Australian, isn't it?

So, our characters were very clearly defined, and sometimes our hero might have a loyal sidekick, and a villain might also have an assistant who probably wasn't very smart. Each of those plays, they all had slightly different plots, but all had to fulfil the same function. So, when we have characters that have to fulfil a function as the villain, or the hero, or the heroine, or the sick mother who needs help that puts the heroine in a precarious situation, Or a father who gambles the rent money. What shall we do? Those sort of characters are called archetypes, because an archetype is a character that serves a particular function in a story. So, once again, not being a fully fleshed out three-dimensional character, but a character that's easy to recognise that has a function that will keep the story moving.

Another name for our archetypes or our stock characters is tropes. Now, a trope, right can be used in a story or any of those things. But once again, it is like an easy to recognise function of what needs to happen. So, here, our characters are tropes. They are types. They serve a function. So, they're our characters.

So, how do we perform our characters? Well, here's the fun part. What we have here needs to be completely over the top acting, a little bit like I do every day. So, with this, that meant that our villain had to be really obvious, because also, remember, these theatres were huge. So, in order for someone to see right from the back or if you're sitting at the front, I needed to recognise as soon as that character came on stage, so I played that big. I would play big emotions and big mannerisms. So, we're going to start with a little bit of action and over-the-top acting as our first today.

So, to help you before we move on to this activity, let's just talk a little bit about what those characters looked like and the sort of things that they did, because that will help us later. So, the hero had to be brave and dashing. Our villain, once again, was often hunched over, much older. Our heroine, our damsel in distress, beautiful, innocent, virtuous.

A melodrama was a little bit like a morality play, so they wanted the audience, once again, that big audience that they had never seen before and a lot of people from very poor backgrounds as well. We wanted to teach them morality, a little bit like a church did in medieval. So, they wanted to say to the people good always triumphs. Bad is always defeated, and virtue is valued. So, that created these characters, and they created a particular style of acting that would appeal to the masses, because they wanted the audience to be able to take that journey with those characters.

So, the first activity we're going to start with today is tableaux. Now tableaux, think of tableaux like a frozen picture or a still image, and it's often caught in the middle of very exciting action. So, a tableau was often the very last image that would happen in a scene before the curtains close, so then the audience would be left in suspense. What will happen now? So, we're going to do some actions, and then we're going to finish in a still pose that's called a tableaux.

All right. So, before we move on to our tableaux, or our frozen pictures, our still images, we're also going to just talk about emotions or what we call stock poses. So, when they did acting training back then, it wasn't like now where you go to school for three years to discover all the internal workings of the characters and the given circumstances. We'll come back to that in later episodes.

They learned stock poses so that they had emotions where there was a pose that went with every emotion. So, for instance, if I say the word frustrated, it's the idea that we should have a pose that shows frustrated. So, let me give you that example. All right, I've just said frustrated. I'm going to give you my frustrated pose. Frustrated, constipated? Fine line, all right?

So, what we're going to do in this first activity is I'm going to give you an emotion, and then I want you to give me a big over-the-top tableaux of that emotion. Are you ready? Let's start.

All right, I'm going to give you a word, and then I want you to give me that big image. All right, here's our first one. Happy. Can you show me the tableaux of happy? Sad or grief. Show me the very opposite of how sad can you make that tableaux look to make my heart break?

All right, here's our next one. Desperate. Can you show me desperate, pleading, supplication? Show me that image.

Here's our next one, fear. Show me fear. You're so afraid. What will happen?

OK, here's our next one. Can you show me pride. You are so proud of yourself. Show me that one.

Our next one is rage. Can you show me rage? You're not just angry, you are extremely angry. Let's see rage.

Now, show me innocence. How can you show me that you are the most innocent person on the planet? You are not capable of doing anything terrible. Innocent.

Our next one. Can you show me strength? Show me how strong you are. Show me that you could defeat anything.

Well done. It seems that you could go straight into a melodrama play right now, and you would be perfect. So, there's some tableaux, some images, and think about that, because when we get to scene work later on, we're going to finish each of those scenes with a tableaux, so it's really good that you've just practised that right then.

OK, we're now ready for Activity 2. In Activity 2, we're going to just extend our tableaux out a little bit by creating some action and some emotion with them, right. That's not just a still image, so we're going to do a little bit of movement and attitude before we freeze into our tableaux.

Now, I'm going to give you some everyday activities, and then I want you to show me how you or your character feels about those activities, and then finish with a frozen pose. Now, you can make sound effects, right, sighs, groans, yawns. You can make sound effects. No dialogue, all right? We're just working with sound, and movement, and frozen image.

Here we go. So, I'll do one for you to start with. So, imagine that the first offer was doing your homework. Well, I've probably got a couple of ways that I can respond to that. So, the first one is if I didn't want to do my homework. Is that maybe I'll do a little bit of a tantrum or I'll look bored. So, it just might be.


No! Oh! [hiss] Maybe that's how I feel about the homework.

But then maybe I'm someone who loves my homework, so maybe when they said doing your homework, I might go, yes! Oh!

See? Two different ways that you can respond. I hope that you appreciate my Oscar-winning performances there, because now, it is your turn. So, I'm going to give you some everyday situations, and then you're going to create just a simple 10 second scene for me. All right.

Here's your first one. I want you to show me eating your favourite food. So, how do you feel about it? Give me the sense of all of that, and then freeze once you've got your final pose there, OK?

Here is the second one. This one is asking mum or dad for money, all right? So, create that scene for me, give it sound effects. Plead, really. Maybe you're begging. You've really got to go over the top, and then freeze.

OK, third one. This is you arriving late for class. Maybe it was in the middle of a test, or maybe you're always late. So, think about, once again, your attitude, and show me that with your big over-the-top acting, and then freeze in your final pose. Great.

Number four is trying to put books into your locker. Now, this might be that you have lots and lots of books, and maybe your locker is already packed full of stuff. So, once again, how can you make this over the top, putting books into your locker. And then once you've done that final one, and you're trying to hold them in the locker, freeze.

Our next one is winning the Olympic gold medal. Maybe it's on the track. Show me those last few steps as you go over that line first, and then freeze in your pose of victory. Great.

Now, show me you trying to hide from someone. Maybe it's someone, you don't want them to see you, or maybe you don't want to see them, but you are hiding from them. How can you make it obvious to your audience that you're trying to hide with that character pretending they don't see you at all.

Next one is, you are waiting for a very late train. How do you feel about it? Look at that watch. Ooh, where is that train? This is so frustrating. Maybe you had a job interview. Maybe you were getting a train to your wedding. I don't know. But here, show me how you feel. Big actions, and then freeze.

So, how did you go? Do you feel like you're a professional melodrama actor now? Well done.

All right, so let's look at some of the things that we have learnt then in this episode. We have learnt about tableaux, and archetypes, and tropes, and stock characters. So, we've done very well. Look at all of that, and we've put some of that into practise. Now, when you're ready, you can go on to the next episode, where we're going to start to put all of that together to create our own melodrama play, so I'll see you then.

[music playing]

End of transcript