The term “improvisational drama” (sometimes called “improv” or even “impro”) refers to a kind of drama activity in which there is no pre-written or pre-rehearsed script. The context of a story and the broad elements of the situation will be set up from the beginning, as will the different characters. But thereafter, the actors or participants, in effect, create the story as they go along, by responding to each other and the situation in keeping with their particular characters. The details of the plot develop as they perform.
Improv is a way of imaginatively experiencing something we have not actually experienced (like an historical event, for example). And because it involves many participants, it is an intriguing way of exploring various propositions in a situation in which there may be many points of view.
Although there is no script, there are rules for improvisational drama, such as:
- You need to stick to your role and remain “in character” – how would your character (not the real you) respond?
- You need to let others speak, listen, and then respond or react to what you have heard. Pay attention to where the story takes you!
- You do not know the outcome until it unfolds in this kind of play – you know where you have been, but you don’t know where you are going. This is one of the joys of improv.
Now you have an opportunity to explore for yourselves the different points of view around Jackson Hlungwani’s hotly debated agreement to sell his artworks.
You will enact this debate as an improvisational drama – that is, as a drama that unfolds as you perform, creating the story as you go, without rehearsing.
It is important that you discuss fully beforehand the particular role you will each play within your group. This is essential, so that you understand and agree on the different points of view that people hold.
- One person will take on the role of the sculptor, Jackson Hlungwani, an artist, healer and religious leader.
Read about him again on pages 36 and 40, to be sure you understand him as well as you can.
- Four or five learners should take the roles of Hlungwani’s family members, with each holding a different opinion about his decision to sell the work. For example, one person will argue that they need the money that the art dealers can offer, while another wishes instead to keep the beloved sacred carvings where they feel they belong, in New Jerusalem; another does not trust the dealers, whom they believe are in it only for themselves – and so on.
- Four or five learners will take the roles of the art dealers and museum directors from Johannesburg coming to visit Hlungwani. They should each have different attitudes as well. For example, one might want to get rich from selling the work for a big profit; while another thinks the wider world should see Hlungwani’s genius for themselves; and another is an expert in the conservation and preservation of artworks. What other opinions might they hold?
- One or two learners perhaps take the roles of religious members of the local community, who have been part of the “congregation” of Jackson’s New Jerusalem.
- One takes the role of a local tour guide who organises pilgrimages and trips to New Jerusalem for tourists.
- You may also think of other relevant people, with their own points of view, to add to the drama.
- Finally, all the other learners can “create” the New Jerusalem itself, by each becoming one of the many sculptures that stand on the site. (The learner playing Jackson Hlungwani can be the one to first “sculpt” these, that is, to place or position these learners.)
Begin setting up the scene as soon as each of you knows your role and your point of view. The group of visiting art dealers and museum people should come into the Hlungwani site only after it is ready – arriving, greeting, and announcing themselves.
This is similar to any real-life debate or discussion, except that you speak the parts of people from the past. See where the drama takes you. Don’t be constrained by the actual, real-life outcome: yours may be different!
Talk About This
Discuss the outcome. Did it differ from that in real life?
What is your own view in this debate?
Did it feel easier to understand other people’s views when you “stepped into their shoes”?
What did you think of the process of enacting this drama?