Tableaux Lesson Presented at Sutter's Fort

August 23, 2014

Theatre Arts Lesson: Early California Tableaux Grade 4                                                 


Grade 4--Visual and Performing Arts Standards Addressed 

(Details on page four)  


1.0 ARTISTIC PERCEPTION 1.2,                                                                                                2.0 CREATIVE EXPRESSION 2.1                                                                                               4.0 AESTHETIC VALUING 4.1                                                                                                    5.0 CONNECTIONS, RELATIONSHIPS, APPLICATIONS   5.1 and 5.2  COMMON CORE STANDARDS –LITERACY 4.4       


Essential Question: How does one create a tableau from an image?                         


Time: 50 minutes                                                                                                            

Floor Plan: Classroom with an open area for presentations.                                  

Materials Needed:  Any selections of art reproductions or photos that coordinate with             your curriculum.                                                                                             

Purpose: Students will practice being in the moment by creating and performing             tableaux based on historic art.                                                               


Background: An acting technique that actors often use is commonly referred to as “being in the moment.” When using this technique, actors concentrate or focus all their energy and thoughts on only that moment in the performance. This technique makes an actor’s performance more believable. As a staging technique, modern directors often use a tableau to begin or end a play or scene.                                                                               Creating tableaux from fine art was especially popular entertainment around the turn of the 19th century and was performed in early California.  In addition, every year the city of Laguna Beach, California still holds a public art event where teams create tableaux.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


*Character—the role played by an actor as he/she assumes another’s identity (physically,                  mentally, and emotionally).                                                                                                

*Levels—(high, middle, low) visual interest is added to a play through the use of multiple and/or changing levels.                                                                                                   

 *Plot—the “what happens” in a story. The beginning events, middle events, and the ending in which the problem is resolved.                                                                

*Tableau—a scene on stage with silent, motionless actors. French for “living picture.” A scene on a stage, a float, or in a parlor entertainment in which costumed actors pose motionless in imitation of a famous painting, a literary, historical, or mythical event—very popular during the 19th century.                                                                   

 *Rehearsal—to practice in preparation for a public performance.                     *Performance—a public, theatrical presentation before an audience.


Actual Lesson Sequence

  • Explain to the students why “being in the moment” is an important acting skill. You may add that a play is really many moments put together into a plot.

  • Model: Show a picture to the students and identify one character. Try to “be in the moment.” Take the exact physical position of the figure. Adopt the expression and attitude. Then freeze. Stay frozen. Then stop and bow.

  • Assignment: The students are to work in a group. Each group will work with a different picture. You may do this assignment with any picture or photograph.

    • Study the picture. Pick one character to become. Each person must pick a different character. If there are more characters in the picture than there are students in the group.  Suggest the students to choose the main characters.

    • After the students have identified their character, they are to stand up and work as a group. Each person should arrange themselves in relationship to the other characters just as they are positioned in the picture.

    • Students should rehearse their tableaux so that they can enter the front of the room, have one student announce the title of the picture, and then the group should just freeze in the positions of the painting.

      The audience should look at the painting, compare it to the tableau, and       then applaud. The group then should bow and be seated. Then the next       group presents.                                                        


Assessment: Peer and Teacher Observation

Advanced: Group is well prepared and volunteers. The performance is focused and clearly communicates the original image. The students clearly demonstrate “being in the moment.”

Proficient: Group is prepared and is ready to go when called on. Theperformance is mostly focused and communicates the original image. Thestudents demonstrate an understanding of “being in the moment.”
Approaching: Group is not prepared and needs encouragement to perform. The performance is unfocused and does not clearly communicate the       original image. The students are not “in the moment.”

Other Considerations:  For visually impaired students, stories or descriptions of events may be used. Identify a moment in the text and create a tableau.


Possible Extensions:

  •  Add moment before and moment after. What the students have just created is one moment of the painting. Now they may add the moment after and the moment before. In their groups, have them study the painting and decide on what happened the moment before and the moment after. They rehearse these tableaux and then perform them in beginning, middle, and end order.

  •  Add dialogue. Once the students have three tableaux, direct them to add one line of dialogue per person, per tableau. The students will rehearse again, and then present the speaking tableau. At this point you may also allow the students to add movement.


Additional Ideas to Get the Most Out of Tableau

·       The tableau doesn’t just have to be a mute frozen image. Students can be told in advance that they will be tapped during the presentation, and that they will have to say aloud a phrase, sound or sentence to provide a clue as to who or what they represent in the tableau. Alternately, the teacher or a student could act as a reporter and conduct short interviews with individuals acting in the tableau.

·       The teacher might choose to facilitate a discussion with the audience by highlighting certain tableau details through questioning. For example, you could ask, “Why might this character be smiling?” or “What do you think this character is thinking?”

·       Tableaux can also be a series of frozen images that, together, tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.

·       Depending on the subject, the tableau might be more effective with sound effects or music. Students can choose what sounds to play as part of the process of planning their tableau.

·       Groups might want to use slow motion to transition from one tableau to the next.

Times Examples This technique offers an effective way to get Times articles and other nonfiction readings “on their feet” for students.


Visual and Performing Arts Standards Addressed:                                                                                                      

1.0 ARTISTIC PERCEPTION                                                                                              Processing, Analyzing, and Responding to Sensory Information Through the Language and Skills Unique to Theatre-Students observe their environment and respond, using the elements of theatre. They also observe formal and informal works of theatre, film/video, and electronic media and respond, using the vocabulary of theatre.                                                                                 


Comprehension and Analysis of the Elements of Theatre: 1.2 Identify a character's objectives and motivations to explain that character's behavior.


2.0 CREATIVE EXPRESSION                                                                                          Creating, Performing, and Participating in Theatre -Students apply processes and skills in acting, directing, designing, and script writing to create formal and informal theatre, film/videos, and electronic media productions and to perform in them.                                                                                                                                  Development of Theatrical Skills: 2.1 Demonstrate the emotional traits of a character through gesture and action.


4.0 AESTHETIC VALUING                                                                                              Responding to, Analyzing, and Critiquing Theatrical Experiences -Students critique and derive meaning from works of theatre, film/video, electronic media, and theatrical artists on the basis of aesthetic qualities.                                                                                                       

Critical Assessment of Theatre: 4.1 Develop and apply appropriate criteria or rubrics for critiquing performances as to characterization, diction, pacing, gesture, and movement.


5.0 CONNECTIONS, RELATIONSHIPS, APPLICATIONS   Connecting and Applying What Is Learned in Theatre, Film/Video, and Electronic Media to Other Art Forms and Subject Areas and to Careers -Students apply what they learn in theatre, film/video, and electronic media across subject areas. They develop competencies and creative skills in problem solving, communication, and time management that contribute to lifelong learning and career skills. They also learn about careers in and related to theatre.                                                                                                       

Connections and Applications: 5.1 Dramatize events in California history.                              5.2 Use improvisation and dramatization to explore concepts in other content area.


COMMON CORE STANDARDS –LITERACY 4.4                                                  

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:  Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

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