The first thing people usually think of when hearing the word “drama” is a script of a sad emotional nature. The next thing that comes to mind is something like a “drama queen,” someone known to blow any minor inconvenience out of proportion or create extreme emotions where none need to exist. However, drama has a much more specific meaning in the arena of literary genres.
Drama is any literature in the form of a script. These scripts can be sad, humorous, satirical, historical, and more (or all the above). This means that while movie/television scripts and plays fall within the drama genre, so can things like text message exchanges and interview or court transcripts.
Like prose, the verbiage in drama is typically that of natural speech. However, unlike prose, there is not typically a narrator. Instead, the characters in the drama speak for themselves and reveal their personalities and the plot of the script through their own words and actions. Additionally, while prose is often written in past tense (though not always), works of drama happen in the present.
Drama literature is written in script form. Instead of being organized in chapters like prose, drama exists in scenes and acts. Instead of sentences being organized into stanzas (like poetry) or paragraphs (like prose), drama exists in the form of lines and character dialogue. Often, there will be stage directions in brackets throughout the script indicating what characters are supposed to do on stage.
Here is an example of how literature from the drama genre appears (from the screenplay from Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling:
Annelle: Sammy Wayne Desoto, what is this in my Frigidaire?
Annelle: I don't care what you do with your refrigerator, but you will not keep liquor in mine.
[dumps the beer out in the yard]
Sammy: Oh, Annelle, for Christ's sake!
Annelle: Who? Who did you say?
Sammy: Christ, Christ, Christ!
Annelle: Are you speaking of our Lord? Is that whose name you're taking in vain?
Sammy: That's the one.
Annelle: Well, I'm sorry, Sammy. But I am not about to spend the next fifty years of my life with someone I'm not gonna run into in the hereafter.
Sammy: Oh, Annelle, goddammit!
Annelle: I think we should pray.
Sammy: I'd rather eat dirt!
Performance of Drama
One of the first challenges to using drama in oral interpretation is selecting a piece. It is tempting to many beginners in oral interpretation to use a script from a popular movie scene or television show because it is familiar to them. However, literature that is popular with the masses may not always be the best fit for oral interpretation because audience members familiar with the work already have expectations in their minds of what the characters should be like. If the performer deviates from those expectations, the audience is often disappointed or thinks the performer is simply imitating something that has already been done. So, challenge yourself to find unique and compelling pieces with which the audience may not already be familiar.
You can use the following standards when selecting a drama piece for an oral interp performance:
- Do you identify with the main character, theme, conflict?
- Can you envision yourself portraying the main character (voice, face, body)?
- Will the audience be somehow moved by the main character(s)? Will they care about their conflict?
- Does the language of the script engage you as a reader?
- Is there a wide variety of levels with which build to the climax or shape of the performance?
- Does the ending leave us with a strong resolution?
Since character is so critical in drama, aim to give detail and depth to each character you emulate in a dramatic interpretation. There is no narrator present to describe the setting and reveal character feelings, relationships to others, and backstories, so the words and lines from the characters themselves are critical to the entire piece. A performer must carefully analyze the characters of a drama script and show the depth of those characters through carefully controlled physical mannerisms of the voice and body, and it is crucial that these characters are consistent and distinct throughout the performance so that the audience can discern between them. For example, you may choose to slow down the voice of an old man (rate), while a cheerleader character may speak with a louder-than-usual volume. For a talking pig character, you may bend over significantly at the waist (posture) while a young child character would be constantly wiggling her feet (movement). When selecting a work of drama for performance, interpers should choose pieces with a manageable number of characters for their skill level. The characters’ nonverbal mannerisms should be unique, and focal points should be used to add further distinction to these characterizations. If a work has more than a few characters, it may become too difficult for a performer to communicate the differences between them.
Adapted from https://moodle.linnbenton.edu/course/view.php?id=4645.