What is EFL Theatre?
Children’s EFL Theatre Club is based on the idea of using Theatre as an activity for students of English as a foreign language. The basic idea is simple. Getting students to practise the English they already know or are learning in the classroom, in a real context. That real context is amateur dramatics, by which I mean short plays specially designed for young learners of English. The plays can be used an exciting, rewarding and challenging classroom resource in their own right. But the real joy of doing theatre both for the children as well as the teacher, comes from performing the play in front of an audience. Be it of fellow students, and teachers, parents, or both.
The idea of using drama in E.F.L is not new. There are quite a few excellent resource books available dealing with this area, books which show how drama techniques such as mime, improvisation etc can be incorporated into the classroom. However, although Theatre Club does involve “drama”, the emphasis is deliberately on “Theatre” rather than “Drama”. The idea for Theatre Club came to me a few years ago when I was asked to run a free extracurricular activity for young learners. Wonderful, I thought, a chance to do theatre! The problem was that although I had had a lot of experience of being on a stage, I had none of directing or organising other would-be actors. The first day of the new “Theatre Club”. came along and there I was in the classroom facing fourteen smiling faces, all of them looking at me in obvious excitement and expectation, and I looked at them with less than obvious panic. “What exactly do I do now?” The first idea that came to mind was improvisation. Now, I wasn’t exactly sure what “Improvisation” was or how you did it, but I was sure that this is what you did in “Drama”. So I got everyone to be trees. This worked very well, for oh, at least about the first five minutes. This is what I remembered doing in my drama club at school when I was their age, and funnily enough, it was just as boring. In fact the children told me so in no uncertain terms. And so I asked them what did they want to do? “A play! We want to do a play, act it out, do theatre!” So that week I went away and wrote a very short play, about witches, princes and princesses. And in that inauspicious way the first play was born. Of course the play wasn’t very good, there was practically no plot and lasted about six minutes from beginning to end. But the surprising thing was that the children loved it. Probably being in a foreign language helped disguise the fact that it was pretty silly. But it didn’t matter, we had a whale of a time and the excitement and obvious pride with which they finally performed “The witches of Castelldefels” in front of their parents, convinced me that this was definitely something worth pursuing.
Of course, in reality involvement in Theatre has an immensely positive effect on a student’s English. The scripts are deliberately not linguistically challenging, i.e. they are written at a level of English the student will be familiar and therefore comfortable with. (To modify Steven Krashen, one could call it “ Input minus 1”) The linguistic benefit of involvement in Theatre lies in the increased confidence it gives students in their own oral abilities. To some extent this will help improve fluency, but the real benefit is more subtle. When the students are acting out the play, the English is full on. Even low level students who only have a few lines to say, nevertheless have to listen to and contend with a huge volume of spoken English. They have to follow the script to know when to say their few lines. And the amazing thing is that they can do this. Very low level students become used to a fairly long complicated, linguistically for them, script, and mange to pipe in at exactly the right moment. In fact it may well be that it is the very low levels which feel the maximum benefit of Theatre Club. Students who in the classroom are only (necessarily) expected to produce short utterance can be made to take part in and extended dialogue. Do not overestimate the effect on such young learners. They are, of course, simply repeating a script they have learnt off by heart, but the boost in their confidence cannot be emphasised enough.
I have been teaching English as a Foreign language for ten years and although there are many aspects of the job I love, doing theatre in English has been by far the most fun and rewarding experience of all. As a classroom activity it is wonderfully motivating, rewarding and effective in boosting the speaking confidence of children. However, it is the putting on of a final performance, for another class or even parents, which really makes it worth it. Were you to just put the children on the stage and let them act out the play, the result would be fun and well appreciated by the parents. But that wouldn’t be theatre would it? The real fun is to try to put on a show. With a little bit of scenery made from painted cardboard boxes, a few well chosen props and the odd sound effect, the final performance can become enormously entertaining and a night that the parents and children won’t forget for a long time. Once any teacher starts practising a play, the urge to really turn the final performance into something special is irresistible. We are not just practising English, we are not just going over a script in class. What we are doing from day one is preparing for a thoroughly entertaining show, a night that the students will be utterly proud of. That is EFL Theatre!
This is an example of a very simple play with 7 parts. You can download this play for free as a microsoft word document below, as well as a version with 14 parts.
The Vampires of Planet X
Dominic Streames © 2011
Characters: Wendy Jane Diana Zaramon Krion Inspector Policewoman 1
Scene 1 Somewhere in (your town)
(enter 2 or 3 children who stand at the front of the stage and say “Scene 1 Somewhere in …… “ then exit)
(Enter Wendy and Jane)
Wendy: Ah, what a beautiful day.
Jane: A very beautiful day.
Wendy: The sun is shinning.
Jane: The birds are singing.
(Enter Diana and Sarah)
Wendy,Jane: Hello Diana.
Diana: How are you today?
Wendy,Jane: Fine, thank you. And you?
Wendy: I’m hungry.
Diana: Are you hungry?
Jane: Yes, I am.
Wendy: Let’s go for a picnic in the forest.
Jane,Diana: Fantastic, let’s go.
(They all exit)
Scene 2 Somewhere in space
(enter 2 or 3 children who say “Scene 2 Somewhere in space “ then exit)
Zaramon: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Zaramon.
Krion: My name is Krion.
Vampires: We are ......... vampires. we are the vampires of Planet X.
Krion: We are bad.
Zaramon: Very bad.
Krion: We are hungry.
Zaramon: Very hungry.
Zaramon,Krion: We want......................Blood!
Zaramon: Look, the planet earth. Let’s go to the planet Earth.
Krion: Yes, let’s go to the planet Earth.
Zaramon: Prepare to land.
(sound of spaceship landing as lights go off)
Scene 3 In the forest
(enter 2 or 3 children who stand at the front of the stage and say “Scene 3 In the forest “ then exit)
Wendy: Where are we?
Jane: Yes, where are we?
Diana: I don’t know.
Wendy: Can you see the path?
Jane: No, I can’t.
(They come across a spaceship and are all very surprised)
Jane: What is it? (Pointing to a spaceship on or off stage)
Wendy,Diana: It’s ... It’s ... it’s a spaceship.
Diana: Look! The door is opening!
(Sound of door opening)
Diana: Quick, hide!
(They hide in the corner of the stage)
(The alien vampires slowly exit the spaceship)
Krion: Where are we?
Zaramon: This is the planet Earth.
Krion: What is it?
Zaramon: I can smell something ........ I can smell ............ humans!
Wendy: Atchooo! (Sneezing)
Krion: What’s that?
Zaramon: I don’t know.
Zaramon: What’s that?
Krion: I don’t know.
Wendy: A .....a....a....a ....chooooooo!
Krion: Hands up!
Zaramon: Who are you?
Wendy,Diana,Jane: W...w...w....we… are ...ch...ch...ch...children.
Zaramon: I like children. like children .......for dinner!
Wendy: Call the police, call the police.
Jane: Police, police, help, help.
(Sound of police siren)
Inspector, Policewoman 1. Don’t panic, don’t panic, we are ......the police!
Inspector: We are fast.
Policewoman 1. We are strong.
Inspector: We are brave.
Inspector, Policewoman 1,2: We are ....the super police!
Inspector: What is the problem? (looking around)
(Policewomen 1 and 2 suddenly see Zaramon and try to tell policewoman 1, but the inspector continues looking the other way)
Policewoman 1: Inspector!
Inspector: What is the problem? (looking around)
Policewoman 1: Inspector!
Inspector: What is it?
Policewoman 1: It’s ...it’s ...it’s (Pointing at Zaramon)
(The inspector turns around and sees Zaramon)
Inspector, Policewoman 1: It’s an alien!!
Zaramon: Yes, I am an alien and you are .....my dinner!
Policewoman 1: Hands up!
Zaramon,Krion: Ha, ha, ha! You cannot stop us!
Inspector, Policewoman 1: Oh yes, we can!
(They shoot Zaramon)
(Zaramon and Krion die)
Wendy,Diana,Jane: You saved us! thank you!
Inspector, Policewoman 1: It was no problem, for ....the super police!