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Teaching Australian Gothic Theatre through Angela Betzien
Compiled by Bryce Berrell
(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Intern Exhibitions
  • Introduction

  • The unit of work below has been created to study The Dark Room, by Angela Betzien. The work covers both practical and theory elements which allow students to build on their knowledge throughout the progress of the unit. The lesson plans are purely examples which are adaptable and have the ability to be re-worked to meet specific class needs and circumstances.

    Please Note:

    The Dark Room is recommended for Senior Drama. The play encounters strong language in which discretion is needed alongside potential permission to study from students parents/caregivers. Furthermore, concepts and ideas presented by the play are related to the brutality of Australian History, in particular that of Indigenous Australia, and should also be noted before reading the play.

  • The Dark Room

  • image of person or book cover
    The Dark Room Play Cover

    'A lonely motel somewhere in the Northern Territory. Deep into the night, six lost souls play out a small, distant tragedy of lovesickness and social breakdown – only it’s not the same night.

    'The Dark Room is Angela Betzien’s beautifully-formed thriller about the startling idea that, no matter how far apart we are in distance and time, we are all responsible for each other’s lives.

    'The Dark Room is a timely reflection on the conflict between what we ask of society and what it asks of us.

    (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    Characters

    Anni

    Grace

    Stephen

    Emma

    Craig

    Joseph

    Themes

    Strangers and Outsiders

    Assault

    Domestic Violence

    Murder

    Self-Harm

    Belonging

    Escapism

    Police

    Isolation

    Setting

    Three-star motel room in Northern Territory. The action take place in the same room with characters moving in and out of focus and time.


    Angela Betzien's website link for The Dark Room.

  • Initial Response

  • The aim of this stage is to gain an initial idea of student knowledge. The activities below will assist knowledge building and act as a primary point of reference for the play.


    Introductory Activity

    Two concepts are used by Betzien as the foreground of the text in which the main action is explored around. These include:

    • Children in Foster Care
    • The Little Children Are Sacred Report

    To gain a basic understanding of these concepts and to introduce the heaviness of the play, ask students to read the Foreword of The Dark Room published by Playlab and pages 12 to 18 of the report document for Little Children Are Sacred. Students should jot points down about key ideas presented to be able to draw upon these after reading the play.


    Personal Response to The Dark Room

    Set class time aside to read The Dark Room. After reading the play, ask students for homework or as an in class activity to write a critical reflection by drawing upon the play, the concepts of Foster Care and The Little Children Are Sacred Report and their own thoughts on the text. Use student responses to stimulate classroom discussion to be able to explore the coarse nature of the play.


    Key Elements of the Text


    Plot

    The play covers multiple plot lines that interweave between characters and time. This can be difficult to follow and connect with at times. Furthermore, it can be seen that the play does not have acts/scene in which it is broken into. Ask students to consider this aspect:

    • Obviously the play is successful in its own right but does the structure add to this success?
    • What is the purpose of having this structure?
    • What if the play was broken into acts/scenes? What will be added but more importantly, what would be lost?
    • Break into groups and assign each group a plot line (either the Aboriginal Boy or Grace). Firstly, ask students to explore the play in regard to each of the plot lines and pull out an specific scenes that directly relate. Further, is there at any point where these two plot lines are explored within one another. Secondly, ask students to create a short performance that tells the plot line of each of the characters.

    Staging

    Take into consideration the landscape/setting of the play. Consider the following questions:

    • In specific detail, the play is set in a 3-star motel in the Northern Territory. Discuss potential reasoning behind this. Would there be a difference in setting it in a 3-star motel in far-west Queensland or in rural New South Wales? Explain.
    • Why only stage the one motel room when there are three sets of stories? Why did Betzien do this? What would be represented/symbolized?
    • Split students into groups of 5 or 6. Depending on the size of the group, give students the below scenes to work through. The aim of this activity is to explore the staging in having all characters on stage at the same time with interlocking dialogue. Students will also need to consider the characters actions when and when not speaking. Scene possibilities include, but not limited to:
    • Group of 5: Page 53 (Emma's line - "Hear that?") to Page 56 (Stephen's Line - "They'll deliever it by mid-week. Fuck it.").
    • Group of 6: Page 81 (Anni's Line - "Hey it's ok Grace.") to Page 84 (Boy's Line - "Take me?").

    Themes

    Consider time as a theme. Think about the questions below and provide explanation and examples from the text to back up your thinking.

    • It is suggested that the time lapse of the play is over a one year period, do you think this is correct? Can you offer another perspective on the time lapse of the play?
    • Think both about the past and present in regard to time. Where are the characters situtated?
    • Is it possible to pick out the past and present of the play?
    • Time is powerful in recollecting events, which section of the play needs more information?
    • What is missing from the context of the play?
    • Listen to the audio on Angela Betzien's The Dark Room Webpage. Get students to lay down on the floor with their eyes closed. Ask students to concentrate on the sounds that they can hear. What image is created? What does the sound remind them of from the play? After listening to the audio, ask students to form groups and pick a theme that is evident within the play. Place it into a physical performance with the audio as a backing tracking.
  • Close Study

  • The aim of this stage is to dig deeper into critical thinking, exploration and understanding of the play. Students will draw on their own interpretation and will also concentrate on the hidden messages in the text.


    Semiotics of Drama

    • Voice: The Delivery of Dialogue – dynamic range, intonation and vocal quality.
    • Sound design: The meaning and effects of diegetic and extra-diegetic sounds and music.
    • Costume: The appropriateness to individual characters.
    • Set design: Consider the use of space vertically/horizontally, colour, mass, texture, flexibility. The conveyed meaning to be explored.
    • Lighting: How it is used - realistically/symbolically, passively/dynamically? Consider the relationship to the staging, characters, overall aspect of the play
    • Proxemics: The spatial relationships between actors, actor to set/prop and how it contributes to the meaning.
    • Kinesics: The movements of actors and how do they establish character. Furthermore, how is it related to the overall factor of the play.

    Consider the below images from the Belvoir Downstairs Theatre Production in 2011. Either as a class, in small groups or individually, discuss the similarities and differences in the understanding to that of the original text. Provide reasoning and specific examples from both text and visual aid in relation to the semiotics above. Be precise and ensure visuals are analysed critically and in a reflective manner. If the students close study of visual aids are not what they expected or interpreted, ask them to show/describe how they would portray the scene.

  • Belvoir Downstairs Theatre Production, 2011
    flickr.com
    211
    317
    assertion
  • Belvoir Downstairs Theatre Production, 2011
    yellowagency.com
    521
    261
    assertion
  • Belvoir Downstairs Theatre Production, 2011
    flickr.com
    216
    328
    assertion
  • Belvoir Downstairs Theatre Production, 2011
    flickr.com
    475
    324
    assertion
  • To further the close reading skills of the class, select one or as many as needed of the below and get the class to think both critically and reflectively about The Dark Room.


    Characters

    • Break students into small groups and give them a character from the play to focus on. Ask students to discuss the relationship their character has with everyone else. What is the central motivation for that character? When you say your characters name, what is the first thing you think about? Provide, what I like to call, an 'information vomit'. Jot down everything (no matter how big or small) about the character. This activity should create high-order thinking and should not simply skim the surface - try to get students to question their own questions.
    • Is there a difference between the characters lives in the present to what they were in the past? If yes, explain. If no, why are they still the same? Is it beliefs, morals or something else?
    • While a silenced character and only spoken of - explore the play and highlight instances that tell us about Grace's mother. What are we noticing about her? What relevance does she have to this text?
    • Who is the main character? Why? Present an argument with sufficient justification.

    Symbolism

    The Heart

    • How does each character embody the symbol of the heart? Are some clearer than others? Provide textual examples and analysis.
    • What does the heart shape locket reveal? What is being represented?
    • What does the ice-cream heart say about the relationship between Grace and Anni?
    • Discuss the heart and life. What does this simple relation have to the entire play?

    The Dog

    • Readers first come across Grace when she is wearing a 'dog' mask. What would be the initial representation of this? Come the end of the play, what does the mask stand for now?
    • Dog best describes the relationship between Joseph (Aboriginal Boy) and Grace. Explain and discuss this further. What connection is Betzien creating? Is it relationship based or plot line based?
    • What various meanings and definitions are portrayed by Dog in the play?
    • What relationship lies between the Dog and the heart symbol? What is the agenda of its existence?

    The Sunflower

    • The sunflower can symbolise loyalty, adoration, longevity. How is this represented in the play? How does the Character of Grace, in particular, juxtapose with the idea of the sunflower?
    • How would you describe a sunflower? Can you see this in any aspect of the play?
    • Going back to the image above, the sunflower is noticeable within the set. In what way does the sunflower connect with Gothic Theatre? Is it more of a juxtaposition to the theatre style?

    In Play Relationships

    • How do the characters interweave through each others plot line. E.g. can we relate the character of Anni to Joseph or Craig?
    • How does the plot, characters and themes relate to the Northern Territory?
    • In small groups, discuss what could be said to happen to the characters after their final moments in the play? Did they die? Did they flee? Did they live with guilt and remorse? Decide on multiple possibilities and choose one to act out. Make sure the possibility doesn't impact or change the direct intention of the play.
  • Significance

  • The aim of this stage to understand the multiple perspectives of the play. Allowing students to gain insight into its significance and idea that the play text offers in hindsight.



    THREE WAYS OF READING

    Personal (Key Words/Phrases)

    Below are dot points of words or phrases that are key to the play. These words/phrases relate directly to particular individuals. Answer the questions below the list to explore these further:

    • You're safe now it's safe here.
    • It's a heart. It's forever. It's for you.
    • Retard.
    • Client.
    • Abortion.
    • Someone here.
    • Cunt.
    • Eeny meeny miney moe catch a faggot by the toe if he squeals cut his prick off eeny meeny miney moe. That means you're a faggot.

    Most of these words/phrases have personal attachment to particular characters. What is the meaning portrayed? How does it relate to the characters? Look at how it differs from character to character.

    Think about the original meaning of 'Eeny Meeny Miney Moe'. Why would Betzien explore this in a new style within the play? What is it suggesting? Think about all the characters (both in regard to the original/play version).


    Political/Historical (Foster Care/ Little Children Are Sacred Report)

    • Barnardos Australia's mission statement is: "When children experience violence and trauma, the effects devastate communities, ruin childhoods and in the worst cases kill." (Barnardos Australia). Explore this in regard to The Dark Room by providing significant scene analysis and a timeline leading to the heightening of emotions of the Foster Care aspect that Grace faces. For more information on Barnardos Australia visit the website.
    • Barnardos Australia highlights qualities that a Foster Carer should hold as a person. These qualities can be found in the following image:
  • Foster Carer Qualities
    barnardos.org
    assertion
    • Split students into groups and ask them to select a quality (from above) that they best relate to. Students will need to select a section from the text that explores that particular characteristic. In showing complexity to their knowledge, get a few groups to select sections from the play that involve characters that don't necessarily relate to the Foster Care aspect. Ask them to demonstrate if those characters could be a Foster Carer of a child themselves.
    • Little Children Are Sacred Report states in its overview that "A number of underlying causes are said to explain the present state of both town and remote communities. Excessive consumption of alcohol is variously described as the cause or result of poverty, unemployment, lack of education, boredom and overcrowded and inadequate housing." (Northern Territory Government of Australian). Explore this quote in relation to the play? How does child abuse, in both Grace and Joseph, relate to this quote? Where does the finger point? Is Grace of Indigenous Heritage? Is Grace an victim of Child Abuse?
    • Consider the three types of child abuse: emotional abuse, physical abuse and neglect. How are these evident within the text?
  • Informed Reaction

  • The aim of this stage is to finalise and expand on information and knowledge taught throughout the unit of work. This stage is most useful for assessment purposes and therefore, would allow teachers to assess students ability and comprehension of The Dark Room.

    Forming

    • For this task, students will write a 5-6 minute dramatic Monologue, approximately 500-600 words, that informs the audience further about a character's life. The monologue must be able to fit within the plot line of the play and not change the outcome of any of the characters. Students must submit along with the script a notes page that gives a synopsis of the monologue and where in the play it fits. Allow students an opportunity to present their monologues in a class after the assessment is due

    Presenting

    Below is a list of review titles of The Dark Room at Belvoir Downstairs Theatre, Sydney, 2011.

    Individuals all together but falling apart.

    A valid reason to feel uncomfortable.

    Paint it Black.

    • Ask students to form performance groups and at random, assign each group a title and a hard copy/URL to the review. Students will take this title, along with sections of the text of their own selection, that best reflect the title they received. Get students to create a 6-8 minute performance piece. The piece should reflect the title in depth and offer a new insight for other students. Students should draw on concepts and knowledge learnt to present a cohesive, polished piece of theatre. No boundaries in regard to the selection of script (i.e. script can be reordered to best fit the title).

    Responding

    • Students will write an analytical essay that discusses the following question: What is the purpose of the characters remaining on stage for the duration of the performance? Students will need to draw on the play and the image (below) as one collection and class work and information on Gothic Theatre as another. The word count for this essay is between 1000-1200 words and will need to have a strong argument to support the claims made.
  • Belvoir Downstairs Theatre Production, 2011
    angelabetzien.com
    551
    363
    assertion
  • Please Note: These are only examples and can be altered, changed and/or adapted to individual teaching needs.

  • The Australian Curriculum

    Please Note: As each state and territory has its own Senior Drama Curriculum, the following draws upon common connections and units that are taught across Australia.

    The above class work and assessment will allow students in Grade 12 to successfully meet multiple requirements that are needed to receive a passing grade. By studying this selected text, teachers will be able to ensure that students:

    • Address concepts and ideas that Australian Drama presents.
    • Study Drama with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective.
    • Study Australian Gothic Drama.
    • Draw upon cultural, social and political points of view within texts.
    • Work with the elements of drama to build performing, responding and forming skills.
  • The Australian Curriculum

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