Jack The Ripper Drama Ensemble Topic

Each February, my Year 12 Drama students receive a topic (or ‘structure’) to form the basis of their ensemble performances. These self-devised pieces are individually-assessed by myself as their teacher and contribute 20% to each student’s final grades in the subject. Teachers in different schools set their own ensemble topics for their class. The aim is for students to demonstrate their understanding of various non-naturalistic (non-realistic) performance styles and conventions, as well as establishing character and incorporating various dramatic elements and stagecraft. Performances are typically in groups of three to six students.

This year, I have decided to give my students the story of the infamous Whitechapel Murders / Jack the Ripper as their ensemble topic. I am in the process of delving deeper into the writings, theories and practice of Antonin Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski and Bertolt Brecht than ever before, along the way filtering this to my students as theory preparation. I have three groups in my class and once our theory is complete (just prior to formally beginning the task), each group is to select one dominant performance style: Theatre of Cruelty, Poor Theatre or Epic Theatre. Added to this, I have prescribed a different set of dramatic elements to be included in the various performances based on the chosen style <edit: now added one area of stagecraft, too>. It would be an understatement to say that my students will be challenged with this topic, but it is also an understatement to say they are already very excited and engaged.

Below is the topic. By all means let me know what you think in the comments, if you wish. Feel free to use and/or adapt this ensemble topic with your own students. PDF download is at the bottom of this post – just copy, paste and adapt for yourself.

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Drama Ensemble Topic

‘Jack The Ripper’

Setting
London, 1888-91.

Performance Style
Non-naturalism: each group is to choose one dominant style for their performance. Aspects of other performance styles can be included.

Performance StyleTheatre PractitionerDramatic ElementsStagecraft
Poor TheatreJerzy GrotowskiRhythm / Symbol / SpaceProps*
Theatre of CrueltyAntonin ArtaudSound** / Space / MoodSound***
Epic TheatreBertolt BrechtSpace / Contrast / TensionMultimedia****

*use of props with a strong focus on transformation of objects
**sound using the actor’s voice, body, interaction with objects
***sound using technology
****multimedia with a focus on projection

Prescribed Non-Naturalistic Conventions (all groups)
Transformation of character, time, place and object.

jack-the-ripperBackground
Between April 1888 and February 1891, eleven women were brutally murdered in the Whitechapel district of London. Most, if not all of the women killed were prostitutes and many of the victims were murdered in the dark hours of the early morning. Some were mutilated; others had organs removed post-mortem with surgical precision. The murders terrorised London society as police struggled to come to grips with what appeared to be a serial killer. Each of the murders remained unsolved and some or all of them were attributed to a man who was never identified or caught: Jack the Ripper.

Plot
Your performance must focus on The Whitechapel Murders in London, 1888-91, and include scenes documenting the following:

  • Living conditions in the Whitechapel district in the late 1880s/early 1890s
  • The Whitechapel Murders of London
  • Investigations into the murders by local police and Scotland Yard
  • Possible murder suspects and links to Jack the Ripper
  • The role of the Press in the hunt for the murderer/s
  • The panic in London society as a result of the murders
  • The unsolved mystery of Jack the Ripper
CHECK THIS OUT:  Coranderrk Resources for VCE Drama

Jack The Ripper Ensemble Structure PDF

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9 comments on “Jack The Ripper Drama Ensemble Topic

  1. Hi Justin,
    I love this idea! I can’t find the PDF you refer to. Is it possible to reattach it to your post? Thanks

  2. Fabulous idea- every inspiring and thought provoking!

  3. Can you provide the scoring rubric for this assignment?

    • Hi Sonja,

      I notice you are from a US school. This is the suggested assessment criteria we use for this task here in Victoria, Australia. Four criteria x 20 marks each. Total marks = 80. Mark range with descriptors, below. Copy and paste (or adapt) and create a rubric from this for your own task, if you wish. – Justin.

      MARK RANGE DESCRIPTOR: typical performance in each range

      64–80 marks
      Use of play-making techniques to explore stimulus material for a devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Outstanding contribution to the construction of an ensemble performance. Sophisticated use of play-making techniques to explore the dramatic potential of stimulus material.

      Use of non-naturalistic performance styles to create a devised ensemble performance: Highly effective use of play-making techniques to create a complex non-naturalistic ensemble performance. Inventive and insightful use of techniques and conventions used by specified drama practitioners to devise a non-naturalistic ensemble performance.

      Realisation of characters within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Sophisticated and refined portrayal of characters and roles is sustained consistently and synchronised with other members of the ensemble. Highly sustained focus is maintained throughout the performance. A very wide range of expressive skills and performance skills are used effectively to engage the audience’s interest in characters and subject matter.

      Use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Sophisticated understanding, use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft to communicate meaning and transform character, time, place and object to enhance the ensemble performance.

      48–63 marks
      Use of play-making techniques to explore stimulus material for a devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Effective contribution to the construction of an ensemble performance through informed use of play-making techniques to explore the dramatic potential of stimulus material.

      Use of non-naturalistic performance styles to create a devised ensemble performance: Proficient use of play-making techniques to create an effective dramatic form for the ensemble performance. Confident use of techniques and conventions used by specified drama practitioners to devise a non-naturalistic ensemble performance.

      Realisation of characters within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Effective portrayal of characters and roles is sustained consistently and synchronised with other members of the ensemble. Sustained focus is maintained through most of the performance. A wide range of expressive skills and performance skills are used effectively to engage the audience’s interest in characters and subject matter.

      Use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Strong understanding, use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft to communicate meaning and transform character, time, place and object to enhance the ensemble performance.

      32–47 marks
      Use of play-making techniques to explore stimulus material for a devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Adequate contribution to the construction of an ensemble performance. Satisfactory use of play-making techniques to explore the dramatic potential of stimulus material.

      Use of non-naturalistic performance styles to create a devised ensemble performance: Mostly effective use of play-making techniques to create dramatic form for the ensemble performance. Satisfactory use of techniques and conventions used by specified drama practitioners to devise a non-naturalistic ensemble performance.

      Realisation of characters within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Portrayal of characters and roles that is generally sustained and/or synchronised with other members of the ensemble. Some sustained focus is maintained through the performance. A satisfactory range of expressive skills and performance skills are used to engage the audience’s interest in characters and subject matter.

      Use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Satisfactory understanding, use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft to communicate meaning and transform character, time, place and object is evident in the ensemble performance.

      16–31 marks
      Use of play-making techniques to explore stimulus material for a devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Limited contribution to the construction of an ensemble performance. Some play-making techniques to explore aspects of the dramatic potential of stimulus material.

      Use of non-naturalistic performance styles to create a devised ensemble performance: Some use of play-making techniques to create dramatic form for the ensemble performance with limited effectiveness. Limited use of techniques and conventions used by specified drama practitioners to devise ensemble performances.

      Realisation of characters within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Inconsistent portrayal of characters and roles and limited synchronisation with other members of the ensemble. Limited focus is maintained through the performance. A limited range of expressive skills and performance skills are used to engage the audience’s interest in characters and subject matter.

      Use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Some understanding, use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft to communicate meaning and transform character, time, place and object is evident in the ensemble performance.

      1–15 marks
      Use of play-making techniques to explore stimulus material for a devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Very limited contribution to the construction of an ensemble performance. Limited use of a small number of play-making techniques to explore some aspects of the dramatic potential of stimulus material.

      Use of non-naturalistic performance styles to create a devised ensemble performance: Very limited use of play-making techniques to create dramatic form for the non-naturalistic ensemble performance. Very limited use of techniques and conventions used by specified drama practitioners to devise the ensemble performances.

      Realisation of characters within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Inconsistent portrayal of characters and roles that are not sustained or synchronised with other members of the ensemble. Very limited focus and a very limited range of expressive skills and performance skills are used to engage the audience’s interest in characters and subject matter.

      Use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft within the devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance: Limited understanding, use and manipulation of selected dramatic elements, conventions and stagecraft to communicate meaning and transform character, time, place and object is evident in the ensemble performance.

      Source: Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Assessment Handbook. VCE Drama.

  4. This topic looks great, Justin, well done! What time limit are you setting your students? I know at the conference last year most people are sticking to the unwritten aim of 5-7 minutes, but there isn’t a specified time by VCAA.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Angie. If my memory serves me right, the time limits were deleted from the last version of the Drama Study Design (2007-13). It used to be 8 minutes of primary focus per student in the group:

      groups of three – up to 24 minutes duration
      groups of four – up to 32 minutes duration
      groups of five – up to 40 minutes duration
      groups of six – up to 48 minutes duration

      This was a hangover from the 1990s when the Drama ensemble performance was actually an externally assessed exam in Unit 4, much like what the solo is now. It was never suggested a group of students should extend their performance just to meet the time limit, nor was ‘8 minutes of primary focus’ suggesting a monologue in the middle of an ensemble. However, when the ensemble was an exam, these were the maximum times prescribed (like 7 minutes is the maximum time limit for today’s solo exam). I actually had a group of six girls in the mid-90s perform a 48 minute performance! Those poor assessors who had to sit through that one!

      Personally, my students usually find the above time guidelines a little daunting, so I adjust them a little without being too prescriptive. This year I have three groups of four students, each. With four students, I don’t expect the ensemble performance to be 32 minutes long, but I am expecting it to be around the 25 minute-mark, as any less would probably be incomplete.

      Some of us forget there are also no group sizes listed / suggested / mandated anymore. A group will technically need to be at least 2 students, but can be as large as you like, In 2010, I had a class of ten students in a single group. It was magic and mayhem all at the same time!

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