Dramatic Techniques for Storytelling

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Part 1: How text, body movement and gesture interact in the production of meaning.

Part 2: How to integrate objects/paintings/photos, in the story.

Duvelleroy's Fan Language from the 19th Century

Before books existed we passed on information orally. We conveyed messages not only through speech but through a variety of gestures and poses. Our body was part of the communication vehicle. Gestures and poses were an integral part of the language.

Telling stories orally is a different experience than reading them a story aloud. We are comparing two different media, one is closer to theatre, the other one to literature. In oral storytelling we perform the story as if the events were unfolding in front of our eyes.

  • Duration: 1) Private lessons with me, any amout of meetings in English/ Hebrew/ Spanish ( see contact at page bottom)

Where? For the coming year, due to the pandemic, the meetings will be done via zoom.

  • For whom? Beginners or advanced students, amateurs and professionals.

  • Teacher: Dr. Patricia O’Donovan is both an artist and a scientist with a PhD in biology, and a theater teacher and performer with more than 40 years experience as an actress, puppeteer, teacher, storyteller and director.( see full CV here)

  • How? Each lesson consists of a warm up, acting exercises, analysis of homework, a theoretical lecture, the viewing and analysis of videos of storytellers in different cultures , and preparation of homework.

  • Requirements: Simple, comfortable, plain colored clothes, no accessories. Capability of filming homework. Space to do exercises during class.

  • To see a show of mine click here.

The aim of the course is to make storytellers aware of how nonverbal communication and the mirror mechanism that support empathy, are integrated to the spoken word. We all use mimicry and gestures and express emotions automatically in daily life. However a storyteller and/or puppeteer that switches from character to character, from character to events, from enactments to descriptions needs to be conscious of how they are used when needed, not automatically but as part of a technique that allows for a wide and rich range of expression.

Leaving behind the dualistic approaches of mind versus body, intellect versus emotion that lead to acting practices that are either psychological or physical, we will work on body/thought as a unit. Before choosing a story to work on, we will work on movement and gesture in silence and continue until ideas and feelings arise from the movement. Only then we integrate the spoken word.

New technologies such as fMR ( magnetic resonance imaging)I, PET (positron emission tomography)and MEG magnetoencelography), allow us to see what parts of the brain are activated when we move, feel and speak and when we see what others do and feel.

We now know that when perception, reason, language, memory and imagination occur, also motor areas ( related to action and movement) of the brain become active. Moving and thinking are related, vision and action are related, feelings and thoughts and movement are related.

We will learn the difference between the literary structure of the written story and the dramatic one to be enacted orally. The written story tells us what are the wishes and needs of the characters and what they do to solve them. But an oral story is not a book that can be put down to continue the next day. We need to understand the dynamics of space and time, the use of suspense, silence, humor, and how to balance narration with acting to advance the plot and keep the story alive.

Finally we will learn how to integrate props and toys and choose from a few options: 1) work with one or more objects, 2) a Japanese traditional form of storytelling with pictures called Kamishibai, 3) Cantasoria

Japanese Kamishibai

  • Our questions:

  • Why should the audience care?: What makes a story good or bad?

  • How do I analyze a written story to tell it orally? (relationship between the structural and performative aspects of storytelling.)

  • Unimodal versus multimodal communication.

  • The shapes of stories on the 2D written page and in 3D space: Storyboards and storybeats. Thought verbs and action verbs, which ones advance the story?

  • Narrative information versus embodied experience: On the basis of what do I choose the parts of the story to tell the audience and which ones to show/act out?

  • Who’s story is it? Point of view of the narrator.

  • How much do I know? Levels of insight.

  • Empathy is physical and based on the connection between vision and action: How do I provoke empathy and how does it work on the audience?

  • What is a significant end? Working from the end to the beginning: building the drama from message to conflict.

  • How do I create suspense and humor? What makes things funny? : the Benign violence theory of humor.

  • What is the role of rhythm and silence?

  • Storytellers and puppeteers shift from character to character, how can characters be created in terms of situations and actions and not of “identification’?

  • How do I use posture, gesture, gravity, balance and voice for each character?

  • How does the body express needs and wishes through body tension, movement in space and voice?

  • The 4 main categories of gestures: beat, deitic, iconic and metaphoric.

  • How does gesture add meaning to the spoken word?

  • When do I begin and end a gesture in relationship to spoken words?

  • How do eye movements communicate thought?

  • How do emotion, gestural actions and speech correlate?

  • How does the storyteller embody emotion in fictional circumstances?

  • Why is metaphor so common in language?

  • What is its function in thought?

  • What are the metaphors in my story?

  • How can I visualize metaphors through movement?

  • Which parts of my story can be communicated only by movement, without words?

  • How can actions be metaphorically applied in the vocal delivery of a line?

  • If I want music in the story, how do I choose it? What can the role of sounds and music be?

Mewarnai Wayang Beber

The theoretical background to our exercises comes from the work of:

  • Antonio Damasio ( Neuroscientist) The role of feelings in cognition and decision making. What is consciousness, mind and self?.

  • Lisa Cron (Writing instructor, story consultant and author). Brain wired for story.

  • George Lakoff . ( Cognitive linguist and philosopher) Metaphorical thought. How we use physical, body processes to understand and communicate abstract reasoning. Neural theory of metaphor.

  • Irene Mittelberg ( Professor of linguistics and cognitive semiotics) Image schemas and force gestalts.

  • Paul Ekman (Professor of Psychology). Nine pathways to generate emotions.

  • Maurizio Corbetta ( Professor of Neurology): relationship between visual attention and eye movement.The 5 S’s.

  • Vittorio Gallese ( Professor of Psychobiology, neuroscientist) Mirror Neurons and empathy.

  • Michael Chekhov (Actor, director, theorist) The psychophysical gesture.

  • Jacques Lecoq’s (Performer and theater pedagogue ). Seven levels of body tension. The Neutral mask and the essentialization of dramatic scenes.

  • Francis Glebas ( Disney storyboard artist). Directing the story, storyboards and storybeats.

  • Kathy Foley ( Professor of Theater Arts, puppeteer) Movement, voice and gesture in the character types of traditional Indonesian wayang theater. Character types as embodiments of abstract cultural ideas.

  • Agnes Limbos ( Object Theater performer)

  • Christian Carrignon ( Storytelling with toys)

  • My own work.

Painting by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829–1896

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