Poem Tableau


I learned this activity at a Theatre teacher institute at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre 8 years ago. I had forgotten about it until I was going through some files recently and came across the activity and thought it would work well with both my English language learners and my mainstream drama classes. It was a hit for both. Basic structure is this: Students are in teams of 4 or 5. Each team either chooses or is given a topic to create a poem tableau about. The topics could be concrete: school, restaurants, taxis, transportation, etc. or more abstract: freedom, childhood, friendship, etc.

Then the each individual in the group comes up with a word or a phrase that they will repeat related to the topic or theme. In addition, they come running in from one end of the room, shouting their word or phrase and then freeze in a pose that should, if possible, relate in some way to their word or phrase. Then the next person comes in and does the same, ideally in some relationship or at least physically close to the first person. This repeats until the whole team has shouted their words and are on stage in a group tableau. While this was happening a student in the audience wrote down the phrases and when the leader calls “Poem”, the note taker reads all the phrases while the tableau remains still. It is a prose poem of the topic.

A variation on this is to have the students not rehearse at all. No planning. Topic is given by the leader and the students must spontaneously create their words and images as they come into the performance space. You can vary it as well by setting boundaries: only one word; only one syllable words; first four people get one word, final person gets a phrase, etc.

I thought the activity went well. I can see an extension that I will try soon and post the results here will be for the original team to get their words that were written by the notetaker back and that they could use that as the core of an actual poem that they construct.

The first two videos, the restaurant, and the airport, are planned tableaus from my newcomer class. The next two videos represent unplanned, improvised examples from my mainstream drama 7/8 students.