Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Dramatic elements:

Drama on stage often reflects the drama of everyday life, but it also concentrates life, focuses it, and holds it up for examination. Aristotle outlined some elements of drama in his critical analysis of the classical Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex written by the Greek playwright, Sophocles, in the 5th century B.C. The elements involve: Thought, Theme, Ideas; Action or Plot; Characters; Language; Music; and Spectacle. Since plays are written with the intention of performance, the reader of the play must use her imagination to enact the play as she reads it.

Readers of the play need to imagine not just feelings or a flow of action, but how the action and the characters look in a theatre, on a stage, before a live audience. Thus, there are many elements that make up a drama. Right from the theme, plot of the play, till the costumes, dramatic representation to the audience that actually makes the drama a success by viewing it! Thus, let us study the elements that encompass the making of a drama.

1. Theme
It refers to what the play means as opposed to what happens (plot) or it refers to the main idea/ though/ theme within the play. Sometimes the theme is clearly stated in the title. It may be stated through dialogue by a character acting as the playwright’s voice. Or it may be the theme is less obvious and emerges only after some study or thought. The abstract issues and feelings that grow out of the dramatic action.

2. Plot
It refers to the order of the events that happen in a play. In actuality it refers to what happens rather than what it means. The plot is usually structured with acts and scenes and the action and movement in the play begins from the initial entanglement, through rising action, climax, and falling action to resolution. The interest generated by the plot varies for different kinds of plays. The plot of the drama is shown in the `through-line` of the drama - its beginning, middle and end - although it does not have to be presented in a linear structure. The characters in a play are also part of the plot. The action of the drama consists in the events that the characters take part in as they act the play. The content of the drama lies in the themes it deals with, example bullying, the responsibilities of power and the bravery of ordinary people.

3. Audience
Theatre requires an audience, since live audience also has an important impact on the way plays are created. The physical presence of an audience can change a performance, inspire actors, and create expectations. The presence of live actors on the stage in front of live audiences sets it apart from modern day films and television. The presence of live actors on the stage in front of live audiences sets it apart from modern day films and television. Hence, authors calculate for the effect of the audience rather than for the silent response. With this in mind, most plays written deal with topics that are timely.

4. Dialogues
It refers to the word choices made by the playwright and the enunciation of the actors delivering the lines. Language and dialogues delivered by the characters moves the plot and action along, provides exposition, defines the distinct characters. Thus, in short, the dialogues also provide the substance of a play.

5. Stagecraft
The stage creates its effects in spite of, and in part because of, definite physical limitations. Setting and action tend to be suggestive rather than panoramic or colossal. Both setting and action may be little more than hints for the spectator to fill out.

6. Convention
This is the starting point of the theatrical performance. This element is considered as the domain of the playwright in theatre. It is the pure process by which the playwright’s work is brought to realization by the director, actors, designers, technicians, dancers, musicians and any other collaborators that come together on the script, scenario, or plan. This is the works in progress stage.

7. Genres
There are different genres of plays, which are divided into the categories of tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and tragicomedy. Each of these genre/forms can be further subdivide by style and content.

Tragedy: Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude. The tragedy is presented in the form of action, which will arouse pity and fear in the audience as it witnesses the action. It allows for an arousal of this pity and fear and creates an affect of purgation or catharsis of these strong emotions by the audience. Tragedy is serious by nature in its theme and deals with profound problems. In classic tragedy and the modern problem play, tragedy is a play in which a central character faces, and is finally defeated by, some overwhelming threat or disaster. The hero or heroine is an active participant in the event through a tragic flaw, a shortcoming of the protagonist, i.e., pride, rashness, indecision.

This reinforces the emphasis on action derived from character, which explains the psychological and moral interest of much great drama. Another common type of tragedy focuses not on how the protagonist brings about but on how he meets his fate. Tragedy will involve the audience in the action and create tension and expectation. Tragedy so defined celebrates the triumph of the human spirit over physical necessity. With the climax and final end the audience will have learned a lesson and will leave the theatre not depressed or sullen, but uplifted and enlightened.

Comedy: Comedy should have the view of a "comic spirit" and is physical and energetic. Traditionally Indian comedy and humour is defined as a play that bestows on its characters good fortune, or more popularly, a happy ending. In comedy there is absence of pain and emotional reactions. Different kinds of comedy illustrate different ways a playwright may leaven grim truth with humor or temper the playful with the serious. There are situation comedies, romantic comedies, sentimental comedies, dark comedies, comedy of manners, and pure farce. The comic devices used by playwrights of comedy are: exaggeration, incongruity, surprise, repetition, wisecracks, and sarcasm. It may deal with the loves and jealousies of the young, and the reluctance other elders to give their blessings or the necessary funds. The behavior of the characters presented in comedy is ludicrous and sometimes absurd and the result in the audience is one of correction of behaviors.

Melodrama: Melodrama is drama of disaster and differs from tragedy significantly; the forces outside of the protagonist cause all of the significant events of the plot. All of the aspects of related guilt or responsibility of the protagonist are removed. The protagonist is usually a victim of circumstance. He is acted upon by the antagonist or anti-hero and suffers without having to accept responsibility and inevitability of fate. Melodrama has a sense of strict moral judgment, where all issues are resolved in a well-defined way. The good characters are rewarded and the bad characters are punished in a means that fits the crime.

Tragicomedy: Tragicomedy is the most life like of all of the genres. It is non-judgmental and ends with no absolutes. It focuses on character relationships and shows society in a state of continuous flux. There is a mix of comedy and tragedy side by side in these types of plays.

8. Characters
These are the people presented in the play that are involved in the perusing plot. Each character has a distinct personality, age, appearance, beliefs, socio economic background and language in the play. A playwright’s success ultimately depends on his ability to create a character that an actor can "bring to life". Thus, the way an actor plays a role, using his/her acting skills to create a character in a drama, is known as characterization.

9. Music
It means the sound, rhythm and melody of the speeches. Music can encompass the rhythm of dialogue and speeches in a play or can also mean the aspects of the melody and music compositions as with musical theatre. Each theatrical presentation delivers music, rhythm and melody in its own distinctive manner. But, music can be included to mean all sounds in a production. Music can expand to all sound effects, the actor’s voices, songs, and instrumental music played as underscore in a play. In the aspects of the musical the songs are used to push the plot forward and move the story to a higher level of intensity. Composers and lyricist work together with playwrights to strengthen the themes and ideas of the play. Character’s wants and desires can be strengthened for the audience through lyrics and music.

10. Spectacle
The spectacle in the theatre can involve all of the aspects of visual elements of the production of a play; the scenery, costumes, and special effects in a production. The visual elements of the play created for theatrical event. The qualities determined by the playwright that create the world and atmosphere of the play for the audience’s eye. It also refers to the shaping of dramatic material, setting, or costumes in a specific manner. Each play will have its own unique and distinctive behaviors, dress, and language of the characters. The style of a playwright is shown in the choices made in the world of the play: the kinds of characters, time periods, settings, language, methods of characterization, use of symbols, and themes.

11. Dramatic Structure
It refers to the form of drama and the way the story is told, the way the characters play their parts, and/or the way the themes are explored. Dramatic structure involves the overall framework or method by which the playwright uses to organize the dramatic material and or action. It is important for playwrights to establish themes but the challenge comes in applying structure to the ideas and inspirations. Understanding basic principals of dramatic structure can be invaluable to the playwright. Most modern plays are structured into acts that can be further divided into scenes. The pattern most often used is a method by where the playwright sets up early on in the beginning scenes all of the necessary conditions and situations out of which the later conditions will develop. Generally the wants and desires of one character will conflict with another character. With this method the playwright establishes a pattern of complication, rising action, climax, and resolution. This is commonly known as cause to effect arrangement of incidents.

12. Contrast
The use of contrast in drama productions like stillness contrasted with activity, or silence contrasted with noise - is a useful way to focus the audience’s attention. A drama being played with no change of pace or rhythm, mostly fails to hold on to the audience’s interest, but can be brought to life with the use of contrasting sights and sounds. An example of such contrast could be in a courtroom drama.

13. Symbols
Dramas are produced to a great extent through the use of symbols - or representations - standing in for real things. Many of the following can be understood as symbols; like props, gestures, expressions, costume, lighting and setting.

Most commonly in most of the drams screened today, the audience will find a mixture of all the elements discussed above. Since many playwrights tend to utilize a bit of all the elements. But the examples cited above are plays demonstrating one predominant element almost to the exclusion of the others. Thus, artistic consideration in playwriting requires selection and arrangement. Art is skill acquired by experience, study, and clear observations. Before writing a play it is important to understand the medium for which one writes. Writing for the stage demands an understanding of two fundamentals: the essence of drama and the nature of theatre.

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