Topic(s): Acting Skills & Techniques, Theatre History & Dramaturgy
Audience: High School
Skill level: Beginner, Intermediate
Suggested Time Frame:
Keywords: comedy of manners comedy acting oscar wilde scene work improvisation improv scenes
Students will research comedy of manners, farce, and Victorian comedy. Students will compare and contrast three different plays considered comedy of manners to derive the meaning of comedy of manners. Students will prepare and perform a short scene from The Importance of Being Earnest in the style of Comedy of Manners.
Students need their StageAgent log in and the handouts in Resources.
Activity: Lords and Ladies
Divide a white board into two sides. Label one side Lords and Ladies and the other side Servants and Working People. Ask the students to determine some stereotypical markers of those groups, i.e. Lords and Ladies don't have to work or Servants and Working Class cannot sass their bosses.
Status walk: Students will draw a card from a deck of playing cards. (Jack through Ace are high-class Lords and Ladies; 2-10 are Servants and Working people). After everyone has drawn a card, start the students walking around the room greeting one another (or not) given their status. Allow students 5 minutes to explore the status stereotype. Side coach along the way.
Part 1: Define Comedy of Manners
Step 1: Have students log on to StageAgent for Schools. Using the Search Shows feature, look up The Importance of Being Earnest. Allow students time to read the study guide fully. Next, ask students to click the "Comedy of Manners" tag. Allow students time to read study guides for two more plays under the tag. (A few suggested guides are listed in Resources.) After students have read all three study guides, instruct them to extrapolate three to five similarities and two to three differences in all the plays. Once they have completed their lists, group students in pairs and ask them to compare with their partner, citing the plays they researched and their findings. Instruct students to return to the class large group and lead a class discussion on the similarities and differences. The similarities will fall in the basis of Comedy of Manners: double-lives, deceit, upper classes vs. lower classes, light comedy, banter, etc. Use this discussion to introduce students to the style of Comedy of Manners.
Step 2: Show students the Highlights from The Importance of Being Earnest clip posted in the Videos section of the Study Guide. Ask students to take three minutes with their shoulder partner and equate Lady Bracknell's quotes on ignorance to the tenets of style of comedy of manners and to our society's ideas on education. Allow pairs to share out their ideas in a round robin. Now that students are already in pairs, ask them to go to the Scenes Tab and click on the scene with Gwendolyn Fairfax and Cecily Cardew. Give the students time to read the script out loud with their partner three times and to look up any words they do not know the meaning of, or for expediency sake, refer to the printable hand out of Quick Definitions. After they have read through three times, ask for a verbal synopsis of the scene. Make sure the students verbalize the conflict and character objectives.
Part 2: Acting with Style
Step 1: Have students return to their original pairs. Instruct students to read the scene with their partner attacking each other as if it is a "you stole my man" fight. Be sure to qualify appropriate physical behavior for your school and classroom. Students can all stand and do this step at the same time. As a class, discuss the students' experiences of that reading.
Step 2: Instruct students to read the scene again. This time, they must deliver every line as if it is the biggest compliment they have ever given anyone, complete with a smile on their face the whole time. Again, students can all stand and do this step at the same time. As a class, discuss the students' experiences of that reading.
Step 3: Instruct students to read through the scene again. This time keeping the mask of Step 2, while using Step 1 as subtext. Explain that they may be saying the words, "you are pretty" when what they really mean is "I want to scratch your face off." Discuss the students' experience with that step.
Step 4: (optional depending on the group) Instruct students to read the scene again as they did in step 3, but this time, allow the mask of Step 2 to slip sometimes so that the character almost loses control and must then regain control of herself. Discuss the students' experiences with that step and how it applies to the style of Comedy of Manners.
Part 3: Perform/Evaluate
Step 1: Warm-up activity: "Yes, and" variation: How do you do? Arrange students in pairs, preferably with their partners from the previous day(s). Instruct students to face one another and choose an A and a B. Next, student A and B will shake hands, student A will initiate the handshake and speak the words, "How do you do?" Student B will adjust accordingly and respond with "How do you do?" The vignette will continue as long as the instructor chooses. Each student has a chance to respond physically when it is their turn to speak. Feel free to give a location, time period, and situation. For example: You are at a football game, it is the playoff final and A is sitting in B's seat. Or, it is in a fancy restaurant, A is a waiter, B is a customer who is on a date with A's ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. Allow enough time for the vignette to escalate to an argument. You may also introduce the situational circumstances one by one to aid in escalating the argument.
Step 2: Performance: Allow students to log in to StageAgent for Schools on their personal devices, go to the scene from the previous class period. Review the acting steps. Allow time for rehearsal. Count off the pairs as A, B, C. Put the pairs into groups of three pairs. Groups A will perform for B and C. B and C will evaluate using the Comedy of Manners Introduction Scene Evaluation in Resources. Then groups B will perform while A and C evaluate, and so on until each pair has performed twice and evaluated two other groups.
Finally, come back together as a large group and discuss personal experiences of acting the style. Focus on each students' personal experience and how this style of comedy might relate to the students' world.
Have students perform, and then submit their Scene Evaluation feedback for their peers. Students should also take the quizzes associated with the show guides they read.
Theatrial Era: Nineteenth-Century British Theatre
Writer Guide: Oscar Wilde
Test out your knowledge on this witty, nineteenth-century playwright.