The Master/Servant Scene is a scene designed to allow students to improvise within a form that requires them to play status. By presenting a simple scene within the form, students strengthen their skills in devised theatre as well as timing, character development, sharing the stage picture, and saying yes. Here’s more work.
SAY HELLO– Mill and seethe. Tell them to greet each other like their parents, like their teachers, like kindergarteners, like senior citizens, like insert your high school stereotype here. Mean girls, gangsters, gamers, people who are at the wrong party.
BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN– From Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s teacher training. Walk and monologue for one minute about the benefits of being in charge. Lay down on the floor and list the benefits of being a servant. Scoot up and get a partner.
PROSPERO AND ARIEL– From OSF and Globe Education. Yes, you can just throw Beginning students a Shakespeare scene, as long as it’s short. No, you don’t have to teach them about Shakespeare’s life, summarize the plot, or have them build a scale model of the Globe. They can just read an awesome master/servant scene in English.
So cut 2:1 from THE TEMPEST to this (courtesy of Globe Education), and hand it out to the partners.
ARIEL All hail, great master! grave sir, hail!
PROSPERO Hast thou, spirit, perform’d to point the tempest that I bade thee?
ARIEL To every article.
PROSPERO My brave spirit! Ariel, thy charge exactly is perform’d: but there’s more work.
ARIEL Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains, let me remember thee what thou hast promised, which is not yet perform’d me.
PROSPERO How now? moody? What is’t thou canst demand?
ARIEL My liberty.
PROSPERO Before the time be out? no more!
ARIEL I prithee, remember I have done thee worthy service;
PROSPERO Dost thou forget from what a torment I did free thee?
PROSPERO Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot?
ARIEL No, sir.
- Have the students sit back to back and read it once. Ask:
- Who are these people? Who’s Prospero? Who’s Ariel? What does Prospero want? What does Ariel want?
- Have them turn around and face each other, and read it again, this time with a poke or a pat. Each line, they either poke or pat the other performer. Ask: Who pokes more? Who pats more?
- Have them get on their feet. Prospero should walk away from Ariel on each line, each time, turning when Ariel says something. Reverse it. Now Ariel has the power.
- Tell them all to sit back down. Last people down perform their scene. They can poke, they can pat, they can walk away, but they have to make choices. Applaud wildly. Tell them to pick two more volunteers. Repeat one more time. Ask.
You’ll get responses like this:
- “Sometimes the servant has more power than the master.”
- “All three scenes were very different.”
Responses you may not get, but will be received at least partially:
- “Shakespeare is English. If I can read English, I can perform Shakespeare.”
- “Gestures arise out of what is being said.”
1,2,3,4- From ComedySportz. Put a 1, a 2, a 3 and a 4 onstage. One chair. Tell 1 they are in charge, they make all decisions, they have to come up with everything that happens in the scene. Tell 2 they work for 1 and want 3 to do all their work. Tell 3 they work for 2 and want 4 to do all their work. Tell 4 they work for 2, and can either try to do everything they tell them, or try to do nothing.
Now tell them all that they work at McDonald’s, or what works a lot better where I work, that they have 10 minutes to plan and execute a high pressure project for their rocket science class.
Watch the scene.
Afterwards, ask them all how they felt. Ask the audience what they saw.
Pleasing the Ruler- 3 students on stage, one chair. One student is the ruler, leader, master, the other two work for him or her. Game is simple. Master issues orders. Servants follow. Master can “fire” one servant the first time he or she is displeased. This leaves the winner as the new master. Watch the dynamics in this ongoing scene, because you want to look for patterns.
Types of masters and servants will appear. These are some I have noticed in my classes over time, and I usually hand my students a chart to look at. My students are very mathy, so it helps to literally break character work down to pieces like a commedia actor would. A great into into discussing archetypes.
- The Dictator. Voice may vary. May be rapid and incomprehensible or loud and overly pretentious. Grandiose, ridiculous, unnattractive, flamboyant. Seeks power, flattery and mastery over situations. Never gets any of it. Will send a servant down to the quarter store to purchase uranium, likes uniforms, uses malapropisms. High energy, verbally dominant. Capitan esque, A bit Dottore with occasional touches of Pantalone.
- The Evil Genius. Creepy, nerdy, petulant, scientifically or computer oriented. Has a complicated lab that he or she can’t explain. More Pantalone. Feels skinny or pasty. Voice in the nose, hands creeping out of elbows, posture.
- The Diva. Easily accessible to today’s youth. Very hip-hop or Hollywood, glitz and bling and the cult of personality. Surrounded by expensive things that he or she does not use. Emotionally fragile, sensitive to cracks about his or her appearance, sentimental, throws tantrums.
- The Pushover. Elderly and myopic, or granolaesque and clueless. Think that substitute teacher who doesn’t make you do work but regales you about her trip to Greece in 1962. Easy to pacify, but obsessed with certain details or criteria. If you meet these, you can get away with murder. May insist on manners, nutrition, or a quiet environment. Often kills with kindness. Usually female.
- The Nice Guy. A middle manager, passive aggressive. His way or the very nice highway. Uses words like “team”, “Pal”, and “What I’m gonna want you to do is”. Tasks assigned are impossibly bureaucratic. Not very creative, a rule follower, expects the servants to be as well.
- The Fusser. Straight lines, perfect pillows, fears of food-borne illness. Orthorexic. Exact numbers, perfect crafts. An artist. May melt into diva or dictator if crossed.
- The Yes Man. Does everything told efficiently and amazingly. Lays complements down in order to get ahead. Thrives on being perfect. When alone, is actually evil, mocking, or slavishly devoted to the master to the point where if fault is found or employment is terminated actual insanity may take hold. Watch out.
- The Smiler. Stands around like a mannequin on display. Uses attractiveness to distract the master. Not incredibly bright, but really good at surviving.
- The Slacker. Did not hear you the first time you called. Is late. Expends the least amount of energy possible. Possesses a negative attitude. Sometimes even hostile. May possess more than one phone. They’re doing you a favor by working for you, and they’re not doing much.
- The Fool. Often doesn’t speak or speaks in grammelot. Everything is a great adventure. You won’t get what you want, but you may get a wonderful surprise you didn’t want. Off balance.
- The Nervous Wreck. Incapable, incompetent, clumsy, drops things, cannot understand simple directions, loses everything, creates chaos. Fire them and they will cry loudly until you rehire them.
Encourage your students when you see one of these. Give them the tips and tricks to strengthen the characters.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR GOOD CLASS CULTURE
- We NEVER want to actually feel sorry for a servant. Encourage masters towards the hyperbolic, not the sadomasochistic or revolting. Certainly stop anything racial or stereotypical not created by a performer themselves in its tracks. Talk about it. Let people be heard. This is what drama class is for.
- NEVER let a kid start a scene by calling their servant by the servant’s real name. We can’t play if we feel it’s “us.” Have a list of accessible names at your fingertips, throw the kids onstage and say “Your name is the Heatmeiser and your servant’s name is Pancake. Go.”
- ALWAYS applaud a big performance, a clever task, a wonderful retort from a servant.
- STOP every few scenes during “Pleasing the Ruler” and analyze what people are creating.
Next week, the big summative assessment, plus a couple more exercises to make it work.