Reading Drama Study Guide: GED Language Arts, Reading
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
The word drama refers to a story that is specifically intended to be performed, whether on a stage in a Broadway playhouse or on a screen in a movie theater or on the television in your living room. By performed we mean that the story is acted out by real people—actors—who portray characters within the story and speak the words that are written by the playwright or author of the play.
Drama shares many of the same elements as fiction, as does poetry. You will remember that one large difference between fiction and poetry is that fiction is intended to be read off the printed page, while poetry is intended to be spoken aloud. In the same way, drama is not intended to be read off the printed page but to be acted out in front of an audience. That audience might consist of living people who are sitting in a playhouse, watching live actors perform the story, or it might consist of the people who will watch the movie or television show at a later date.
In the case of film or television, we tend to think of the camera as taking the place of the audience, while the actors perform their roles in front of the camera so that real people can watch the performance at home or in the theater. Before the prevalence of television, the same approach was used in radio, where live actors treated the microphone as their audience—whether the real people were listening in front of radios at the same time, or the show was recorded for later broadcast.
How Drama Compares to Fiction
Before we delve into the unique elements of drama, let's take a moment to review what elements drama has in common with fiction and poetry.
One of the primary things that drama and fiction have in common is plot structure. We discussed this fully in Chapter 3, so we will only summarize it here. Refer back to Chapter 3 for a fuller treatment of these elements.
You will remember that a vital aspect of plot is conflict—there needs to be some element of conflict within the story, whether it's between several characters or within a specific character. The same holds true in drama: There needs to be some sort of conflict, some struggle taking place as the story unfolds.
The structure of plots in drama is essentially the same as in fiction, involving the elements of (1) exposition, (2) complication, (3) climax, (4) falling action, and (5) resolution. Here is the diagram again to refresh your memory. The numbers refer to the elements of exposition and so forth.
Setting and the Set
Drama, like fiction, takes place in a setting—the time and place where the story occurs. In fiction, the setting must be described by the narrator or by things that the characters say or do. In drama, however, the setting can be explained to the audience simply by the visual elements of the story, such as scenery and costumes.
In drama, we refer to the setting as the set, the visual space where the drama is performed. Stage plays are performed on a stage (obviously) in a playhouse, and the set consists of many elements. There might be a painted backdrop at the rear of the stage, perhaps a picture of distant mountains or a sandy beach. There might be props (short for properties) on stage, such as the front of a building with stairs leading up to a balcony. Placing that balcony prop in front of a painted backdrop of distant mountains will help the audience recognize that the story takes place at some mountaintop castle.
The time period in which the story takes place can be explained to the audience in many ways, as well. Costumes and props can convey the time period instantly, for example. An audience watching a man leap onstage with a drawn rapier, wearing a long cape and a broad-brimmed hat with a feather, will immediately surmise that the play takes place during the time of the Musketeers.
Speech patterns can also give clues to the time setting. Arthur Miller's play The Crucible has the characters speaking in a sort of 1600s style of English, referring to one another as thee and thou, and this alerts the audience to the fact that the play is set in Colonial America.
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