Tableaux

This week I’ve been working as a teaching artist for a program that brings elementary school classes from different towns, pairs up the kids as buddies, and  then the buddies do enrichment activities together throughout the year. My assignment has been to “teach tableau,” something that seems to come up often in the life of a theatre educator with this age group. So it got me thinking, are there ways of “teaching tableau” that I have yet to discover?

Here’s the way I’ve been teaching the third graders I’ve been working with this week:

1.  I lead movement activities that highlight making shapes that are “high,” “medium,” or “low.”

2. – I guide students through a game of “Sculpture.” One by one students come into the center of the room to create a frozen shape. I tell the students that a dynamic sculpture will have a mix of high, medium, and low shapes that connect to each other in some way. I ask each new student to find a way for their frozen shape to touch another’s. When all students have joined the Sculpture, I give it a title. Then I pull individual students out of the sculpture and they each get to decide on a title for the evolving new creation.

3. I have partners play Artist and the Clay. One person is the Artist and is charged with creating a sculpture entitled “Angry.” I model their thinking for this project, saying that as an Artist I’m going to have to consider whether I want my “Angry” sculpture to be made up of a high, medium, or low shape, and imagine how I might use the pieces of my “Clay” in an original way. When all pairs have created their sculptures, I have all the “Clay” people gather together and we work together to mold the different shapes into a connecting picture. This is when I introduce the term “tableau”– saying that a sculpture is a frozen picture made up of clay, and a tableau is a frozen picture made up of human beings. Then I let the partners switch roles and the new “Artists” create sculptures entitled “Excited” and we mold those sculptures into a tableau as well.

4. I create groups of 4 or more students and have them decide on a book that they each have read or heard read to them. Each group then creates a tableau representing their particular book. Their tableau may be literal in that each person portrays an individual character or that the picture reflects a particular scene in the book. Their tableau can also be more abstract, reflecting particular themes, lessons, or moods in the story.

Question for the World: How would you teach a group of third graders what a tableau is? How would you use tableaux as a jumping-off-point for other dramatic exploration?

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One Response to “Tableaux”

  1. Mas Says:

    tough question as I scramble for ideas to use tomorrow in a grade 1 ‘drama’ class…. I am thinking about getting a set of art posters, posting them around the class, and asking small groups to chose their own. The grade 1s don’t read much yet so anything that is non-verbal is good. Will test this out tomorrow. Wish me well!


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