Elements of Drama: Tension

Part 3 in a series exploring the use of various dramatic elements.

My definition of tension:

Tension can sometimes be used as an interchangeable term with conflict.  But where it differs, lies in the development of suspense in a performance.  As the audience anticipates certain outcomes in the plot, the tension builds.  An obvious example of rising tension is in a mystery or whodunit.  The development of tension usually parallels the advancement of the plot, leading to a crisis or climax. Tension is closely linked with timing.

After a bit of workshopiing and analytical discussion, my Drama students concluded:

  • tension should preferably have the opportunity to build in the drama
  • if tension builds too slowly, it will die in the middle of a scene
  • if tension builds too quickly, it may appear ineffective or artificial
  • pace now becomes a key factor in the development of tension
  • tension can occur when performers raise their voice > shouting
  • the opposite is also true, as tension can also occur with stillness and silence in the drama
  • tension can be created by the unknown
  • tension can be created simply by the audience following where characters look on (or off) stage
  • tension can be created via heavy use of emotion/s with and between characters
  • blocking (positioning of actors) can also create tension

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27 Responses

  1. Ruby says:

    Hey, I need some one to please tell me what the other elements of drama are?

    Like, The

    Tension, Mystery, Relationship etc. i cant remeber the others, and i REALLY need them for my drama assignement,

    thankyou, X

  2. Frances says:

    Role, Relationship, Situation, Tension, Focus, Mood, Symbol, Language, Movement, Space, Ti

  3. Matt McC says:

    Contrast, Climax, Conflict, Mood, Rhythm, Sound, Symbol, Space, Timing, Tension, Language, Focus

    there the ones we sorta focus on

  4. Wanda Oberdorfer says:

    My theatre class just finished a production of Dark of The Moon. Tension is the most important element. Watching the performance, I can now say that tension is very simply two people sharing the same space with different needs or even the same needs. The problem is one is matter, the other anti-matter. As long as they don’t make contact the “tension” between them can be measured by the physical distance, the psychological/emotional distance……tension can be created by two people standing at the farthest end of the stage from each other, or two people only arms length apart….tension is a psychological war…tension is fighting for one’s existence …tension can be those same two people struggling to come together…when all forces are against the union…tension is very simply internal struggle physicalized and bouncing off a resistant force. I think it is really that simple. Tempo-rhythm plays a significant role in sending that message to the audience. The playwright is directly responsible for building “tension.” The structure of the play will either build to the most electric moment, or if mistimed by superfluous writing, the tension can be lost. I’ve discovered my students find it organically if the text is well-written.

  5. Nicole says:

    A question for Wanda.

    Just wondering where you got a copy of Dark of the Moon as it sounds interesting and I need to find 4 class plays this year?

  6. Renee says:

    I think Tension can best be described as the anticipation of what is to come. That is the how I teach it and it seems to be the best way of communicating this to the students!

    • The Student says:

      hey Renee,

      just a question, from a teacher’s perspective, what do you think of this website and what age group fo students do you teach? how long have you been teaching and what kind of experiences have you had working with your students? sorry if you think im prying im just alittle curious

      thanks you Renee,

      The Student

  7. Adrian says:

    My list of dramatic elements are as follows:

    Role
    Character
    Situation
    Focus
    Tension
    Place
    Time
    Dramatic Structure
    Language
    Sound
    Movement
    Moment
    Space
    Rythym
    Symbol
    Atmosphere
    Dramatic Meaning
    Audience engagement

    Enjoy.

  8. Kehinde-Agbeyangi Priscilla says:

    please i need a brief explanation on the people involed in drama

  9. chantal says:

    hiii how can we use tension focus in sentence??

    please reply :)

  10. wadza says:

    l think thats cool

  11. john miguel c. velasbasta says:

    estoryaheee. it is not the one .

  12. Liv says:

    Can anyone define relationship

  13. bobby jones says:

    hi there are only 12 right
    :)
    ;)

    • Justin Cash says:

      If you’re doing VCE Drama, yes. If you’re studying drama or theatre elsewhere, the list may be different.

  14. chelsea says:

    Can anyone please tell me how tension and mood are both similar.

    I woud also like to know how tension is different from mood.

    I really need this for a drama assignment at school…can anyone please answer?

    Thank-you

  15. Justin Cash says:

    Tension can be a key contributor to the creation of mood in a drama and vice-versa, where a particular mood can also contribute to tension between characters in a scene. Tension and mood sometimes (but not always) work hand in hand. Often tension and mood do not work together because they are different elements in a dramatic piece. A mood can be light and fluffy and have no relation at all to tension. More serious or dramatic moods, however, are closely linked to tension and this is where tension and conflict become similar elements, and furthermore where tension and timing work together. I often say to my students its like MasterChef, where all the elements of drama are the ingredients that work together to create an effective theatre piece, but certain elements are not always related in particular circumstances.

  16. Laura says:

    Thank you! I need help for my drama project and y ou got my lots of helpful hint to help me act out :)

  17. Pondering Student :) says:

    Hi, I am wondering what context and what does it mean in my drama assignment when it says Tension of Relationship ?? :/

  18. Justin Cash says:

    Many people divide tension into four separate types that can be created for a novel, stage play, film etc:
    – tension of MYSTERY (the unknown)
    – tension of SURPRISE (plot twist, shock)
    – tension of the TASK (objectives need to be achieved, obstacles get in the way)
    – tension of RELATIONSHIPS (between characters)

    In theatre, tension of relationships is concerned with character relationships in the play. Obvious relationships are those that are bound by love or marriage (husband/wife), but also think of the tension in relationships in some of Shakespeare’s plays between siblings with differing motives or ambitions (brother/sister) and also parents and their children (King Lear and his three daughters, for example). Status is often a factor in character relationships, defining which characters are more important. Tension is integral to all character relationships. If you think of everyday life, a single relationship between any two people is often defined by factors such as circumstance, environment, wealth etc. Relationships can be casual, romantic, family, professional. Relationships can also be open or closed (secrets withheld from each other). All of these types of relationships occur in plays for the theatre, as playwrights to some extent are attempting to mirror familiar aspects of real life on stage for their audience. Tension in character relationships can be achieved by plot, dialogue, movement, gesture, body language etc.

    Hope this helps you a bit with your drama assignment, Pondering Student :-)

  19. Ronnie Mok says:

    What is the dramatic elements of tension?

  20. Ronnie Mok says:

    This question for my homework which is due tomorrow.

  21. Ronnie Mok says:

    How did the integration of this element enhance your performance?

    This question is for my homework which is due tomorrow.

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