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The Arts Unit @home Art Bites – Characterisation – 3. Melodrama – Characters and performance

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JANE SIMMONS: Hi, everyone. I'm Jane Simmons from The Arts Unit, the Drama Performance Officer for the Department of Education. You may have seen the last episode where we started on melodrama. So, this is the extension of that or you could do it completely separately. That's fine.

So, I'm going to give you a quick recap on melodrama just in case you missed everything last time. So, melodrama was a bit like a morality play that was very popular in the 1800s. Good wins. Evil is defeated. We have stock characters, villains, heroes, heroines. And often our characters are in extreme danger, which makes us as an audience really, really cheer for our characters or boo our baddies when we see the situations that our characters have been placed in.

So, our melodramas were designed to teach our audience to be virtuous, to be good, that crime does not pay. And so how they did that on stage was to create huge emotions and huge characters and over-the-top acting. So, we're going to take all of that and we're going to use that for our activities today. So, let's go straight on to Activity 1.

Activity 1, we're going to play with character, gesture, movement, and voice. And we're going to start with our villain. And we're going to create some tableaux for our villain. So, do we remember what tableaux were? So, remember, tableaux were a still image captured in a moment of great excitement, extreme emotion, because, remember, that's probably when they closed the curtains to leave the audience trying to guess what was going to happen next. So, our tableaux is a big still image.

So, let's start with villain and let's start with his movement and maybe his voice and then a tableaux. All right, so picture in your mind what you think the villain looks like. Have you ever watched the 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' shows? I know I'm showing my age when I say that. But they did have a little section there called 'Dudley Do-Right,' and you'll know in those cartoons, and you can go on YouTube and search those out. That's classic melodrama. So, you have the strong-chinned hero and the villain, and I bet they look exactly as you are picturing them.

So, let's start with the villain. So, what does the villain look like, and how does the villain move? Well, let's give him a little bit of a hunchback, all right? And he probably has a moustache that he twirls. And he had a cape that he would use to disguise himself if he needed to. And he maybe would creep, and he would maybe just be a little bit creepy in lots of different ways.

So, our villain, who's so much fun to play, is the character we're going to explore today. So, in a moment, I'm going to give you a line and you are going to practise saying that line as the villain. So, think a little bit about gestures. As we said, how do we make him evil? How can the audience see straight away that he's a character we don't trust?

So, practise with the face and practise with the hands and practise with the walk. Just maybe do that right now as I'm talking about the villain just to think about what he looks like. Play with him right now. And then when we're ready, I'm going to give you the line.

All right, so I'm going to put the line up on the screen so you can practise with me. So, that line is, 'You'll never escape me, so hand over the money or face the consequences.' Can you see it there? 'You'll never escape me, so hand over the money or face the consequences.'

So, practise saying that line a couple of times until you've got it there in your memory. And practise saying it maybe at different registers. What happens if you say it really low register? What happens if you say it really high? What happens if you say it quickly or slowly? How does the line change? What's the best way that you can say it as a villain?

And maybe, when you're practicing, you can say it with a big evil laugh at the end so that there is no mistake of how evil you are. All right, so why don't you practise that, and maybe then you can press pause here, and when you're ready, let's move on and do the next activity.

I think that you were potentially the scariest villain I have ever seen. So, now let's move on to Activity 2 where we're going to look at other melodrama characters. So, once again, think about the walk. Think about the voice. Think about the gestures. And think about your big tableaux finish.

So, let's move on to the heroine, our damsel in distress. Remember, our heroine has to be rescued by someone, and often she's in a dangerous position, which is why she is prey for the villain. In a lot of melodramas, often the heroine might be in a situation where she is forced to go and marry the villain because he's going to evict her family.

So, in this particular line, let's have this line as, 'I don't love you, but I'll marry you if it saves my family.' 'I don't love you, but I will marry you if it saves my family.' So, I'm going to put that up on the screen now.

So, now we're going to practise doing the same things we did for the villain, but now we're doing that for the heroine. So, how is she saying that line? Is maybe she a little breathless? Is she saying it with resolute because she's strong and she's determined that this is how it's going to be? But how do we also show everyone that she is a victim, a martyr to the terrible, evil villain? So, have a practise saying that. Explore voice, delivery, and movement. And give yourself a few minutes to practise that. And then when you're ready, press play.

All right, so in Activity 3, we're going to look at another melodrama convention called asides. Now, an aside is like a piece of information that a character reveals to the audience, but where the other characters pretend they don't hear it. And it might be that the other characters stop and freeze in that moment while one character says to the audience what they really think or feel or what they're really about to do, what we call their intention, and then they return to the action and keep playing, or maybe other things are going, but the other characters, they don't hear. That's just for the audience.

And that's to make completely clear to the audience what this character really wants. So, for instance, if our heroine is forced into marry our villain, she might turn to the audience at one stage and say to us, but my true love, Daniel, will never know how much I love him. Oh, I wish I could have told him one last time. Alas, not to be. And then she'll go back to the action, or maybe our villain has an aside and he turns to the audience and he says, little do they know I have set a trap for Daniel, and he will fall into the big bear pit and be destroyed forever should he cross this threshold, and then he returns to the action. And it's like nobody knows except for the audience. We call that, also, dramatic irony because we as an audience know something that the characters don't know.

So, in this activity, I'm going to ask you to write an aside for one of the characters you've just played-- so for your villain or your heroine. You've got a line in which you've already practised. Now, can you add to your scene by writing and practicing and performing an aside as that character? So, what might the villain be revealing to the audience about the situation? What if he is going to throw the heroine's family out on the street anyway? What would the heroine reveal to us?

So, just write a line now that could be an aside that tells the audience something really important that that character wants us to know but the other characters not to know. And then, when you're ready, press pause, do the activity, and then press play when you're ready to continue.

Well done. So, now we are ready for our final activity. And this one will take you maybe a little bit of time, but I think you're going to have fun with it. Because what I have done is I have written a short melodrama script with just the villain, the heroine, and the hero. And I want you to perform that script.

Now, you can perform that script playing all three characters, and you can do that in lots of different ways. So, if you're going to film it, you could film yourself doing all of the villain's parts and then all of the heroine's parts and all of the hero's parts or you could even do it as a live performance where you just have a tableaux at the end of each line or moment to make it clear, and then you quickly become the other characters. And you can play with costume, And remember your big emotions and your tableaux or you could get your family involved and just get them to play different roles. So, you can cast your play, be a casting director. Get them to audition for you. Oh, it's going to be magnificent.

So, you've got so many different ways you can do this assignment. So, think about some of the things that you have learned. So, we understand about stock characters or archetypes or tropes. We also understand about asides and tableaux. And we understand about stock emotional poses, and we also understand about dramatic irony, things the audience know that the characters don't.

I want you to also think about contrast, because to make it really clear who is the villain and who is the hero and who is the heroine, particularly if you're playing all three, then you must make them very different. Slightly different voice, slightly different gestures, slightly different movement. So, think about contrast. That's really going to help you as well.

So, when you have finished your assignment, then maybe you can send it to your teacher and they can send it to us. Maybe you could get someone to film it for you or maybe you can tell us just how much you enjoyed it. But we hope that you did. And we hope to see you for our next episode where we're going to move on to more three-dimensional characters. Thanks, everyone.

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