Friday, April 6, 2012

Dramatic Forms and Convemtions in Australian Theatre

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“Drama and Theatre in their content and style reflect the society from which they spring”

To what extent is this true for Australian plays and productions?

Cheap University Papers on Dramatic Forms and Convemtions in Australian Theatre

Segregation of minority groups in society is a common occurrence in Australia. Segerga

tion can lead to isolation, loss of hope, detachment, a struggle for survival and the re

liance on family for support. Segregation is a major theme in both Gary’s House and

The 7 Stages of Grieving. Through the use of Dramatic Forms and Conventions such

as set, characterisation, tension, and the language used, we grasp an understanding

of the underlying meaning of the play and its social context.

Gary’s House focuses directly on the survival of one’s environment, whether it

be physical, emotional or one’s upbringing. Gary’s House is about people who dont fit

in but are desperately trying to do so. Australia is a country where the standard of living

is relatively high and employment and home ownership expected. Yet sometimes those

that are estranged from society and have to struggle even harder in order to survive in

these harsh environments, are often forgotten and their efforts to make a place for

themselves, discounted.

The 7 Stages of Grieving is a contemporary Indigenous performance. Whilst

appropriating western form and using traditional storytelling, The 7 Stages of

Grieving gives an emotional insight to Murri life. Its a one-women show that follows the

journey of an Aboriginal “Everywoman” as she tells serious and humorous stories of

grief and reconciliation. In an environment where Indigenous Australians battle racism,

death in custody, a history of violence and anguish over lost land, The 7 Stages of Grieving is a reminder of Indigenous Australian’s struggle to survive, and our sense of

humor and irony.

Set Design is an important Dramatic Form and Convention, as the building of Gary

and Sue-Anne’s house is a solid metaphor for the chaotic journey that people make as

they try to build there lives. It also represents the getting over of Gary and Christine’s�

emotional, physical and previous experiences that have been holding them back.

The houses physical appearance also represents how the characters are coming along

in their journey for survival. When Christine experiences a loss of hope she attacks the

house. As shown in Act Two, Scene Ten, Christine attacks the house out of anger and

desperation, she no longer sees her life has any direction and is starting to tear down

the one thing that represented survival and direction in her life. This stage direction only

reiterates that the house is a solid metaphor for survival.

The 7 Stages of Grieving also uses the Dramatic Form and Convention of set de

sign to give us an insight into the struggles faced by Indigenous Australians. In,

1. Prologue, the scene is set

“A large block of ice is suspended by 7 strong ropes. It is

melting onto a freshly turned grave of red earth. The performance area is covered in a

thin layer of black powder framed by a scrape of white.”

The layers of black and white earth represents the two races’. There is a great deal

of significance of the use of dirt in this design as it symbolises the two races trying to get by sharing the same land. The white earth surrounds the black earth much the

same way as white society has boxed itself around Aboriginal history and tradition.

Compacting their traditions and values, allowing no room for freedom of movement.

The 7 strong ropes represent the 7 stages of grieving. Suspended by the ropes is a

large melting block of ice. The ice is dripping onto the red earth, this give a visual image

of crying, its as if the melting ice is crying out of grief for Indigenous Australians over

the land that is being ripped away from them by white society. The use of this design

has powerful emotional depth to it. The audience feels drawn to the performance on an

emotional level. The design layout has immediately personalised the performance and

sent a powerful message as to what the content of the play will address.

The characterisation of the characters in Gary’s House is also a very important

Dramatic Form and Convention as the audience is able to grasp an understanding of

the socio-economic stasis of the characters, allowing a greater depth of understanding

of the play and it’s social context. This Dramatic Form and Convention, is vital to the

performance as it reflects the on the audience’s understanding of the society in which

the characters are surrounded. Gary and Sue-Anne are portrayed as “Great Aussie Bat

tlers”. This image sets them apart from society as they struggle to survive. The charac

ters in Gary’s House are all very stereotypical. Gary is an angary, lonely and handwork

ing male. He is trying to make a go of whatever card his life has dealt him. He is a prod

uct of his childhood and lack of integration into society. The performance allows the

audience a look at to why Gary is the way he is. In, Act One, Scene four, Gary states how growing up in foster homes without a “proper family” and the chance to experience

love has made him they way he is. There is also a greater depth to Gary as the audi

ence sees his understanding of his lack of sociolisation within society, when he says,

“I watch other people- with their friends and their kids and that- and I copy

how they talk to each other. I’m trying to learn.....

But....Someone says something to me and I get it wrong and-y’know...”

Although this is just a basic understanding of Gary’s personality, the point is that he has

an understanding. No matter how insignificant it may seem, Gary understands in some

way that it is because of his childhood and lack of integration into society that he has

become who he is. He also realises that its too late to change, that he cant learn these

traits just by looking at people its something that is taught as a child. Although Gary

never had a chance to experience love from family as a child, he often expresses his

love for Sue-Anne, which begs the question, do we learn to love or are we born with an

innate ability for it? This home is Gary’s last chance- in and out of foster homes all his

life he finally has a go at a real family and future.

Dave is portrayed as a distant character, who is afraid of commitment, as seen in Act

One, Scene Nine, when Christine begs Dave to “please stay”. Dave turns his back

and walks away. Dave is drawn to family hence he doesnt leave when he is able to.

Through Dave staying we see a transformation of his character when he is the one

begging Christine to “please stay”.

Sue-Anne displays many childlike qualities. She is self-absorbed and is always reliant

on someone to take care of her. This is stereotypical of her socio-economic standing.

Gratitude, affection, respect, sympathy and empathy are all feelings Sue-Anne has no grasp of due to her own cultural and social displacement.

Christine is a hard product of society. She has a cold demeanor and comes across as a

force to be reckoned with. She is stereotyped as a woman of power, placing emotions

behind in order to succeed in her career. The character of Christine is a representative

of feminism. Christine has also had a hard life but has taken a more educated and

isolating path than Gary. She expresses her feelings best when she says,

“I dont expect anything from anyone and I’m not disappointed.”

Throughout the performance we see her transform into the very thing she was trying to

surpress, but ultimately she has realised that what she was trying to surpress is the one

thing that makes her happy.

The 7 stages of Grieving uses the Dramatic Form and Convention of characterisa

tion to appeal emotionally to the audience concerning Aboriginal issues. The perfor

mance has family orientated characters and is performed in a family portrait style. The

actor expresses her own personal grief as well as Indigenous Australians as a whole.

Characters are only ever mentioned in the performance and are all portrayed by the

same person. This makes it seem as if the actor is a representative for the Aboriginal

community and is trying to reach for some sort of empathy from the audience.By telling

deeply emotional stories to the audience the actor is giving a deeply intimate portrayal

of life as an Indigenous Australian.

With the use of Naturalised based experiences the performance gives the audience a

lot to think about. In 1. Mugshot, the actor only presents the facts, allowing the audience to make up there own mind.

The Dramatic Form and Convention, tension is used in Gary’s House and plays a

significant role. The tension in Gary’s House is created by information we know about

the characters. Information such as the characters moral and value codes, for example,

just the mere fact that Sue-Anne and Gary are unmarried and pregnant, and that Gary

is old enough to be Sue-Anne’s father as well as the language that they use, makes the

audience aware of a moral point of view. The tension of the play provokes the perfor

mance as well as the audience to question society. It is also through the socio-

economic stasis of the characters that we see a context for the play form.

The Dramatic Form and Convention, tension created in The 7 Stages of Grieving

is one of upset of Indigenous Australians towards Anglo-Saxons and Police. The perfor

mance is primarily about raising awareness, creating remorse, guilt, understanding and

“sorriness”. This tension is created by putting the essence of the performance into the

hands of the audience. Its the audience’s interpretation of the performance that gives it

meaning and tension. It is through the intensity of emotions that the actor creates, that

delivers tension to the performance.

The Dramatic Form and Convention of language used throughout Gary’s House is

highly significant to depicting the characters struggle to survive in Australian society,

and the experiences had by them.

The performance is dominated by colloquial, Australian slang speech.

Sue-Anne describes Gary and herself as “derros” in Scene One, Act One. The use of

the word “derro” reflects on Sue-Annes social, economic and educational stance. This

language suggest Sue-Anne has had little education and limited or no socialisation

skills. Each Character in Gary’s house has a style of emotive language that is individual

to that character. Christine for example has a sophisticated speech that contains a lot

of anger,

“ Is it too much to ask one of my solicitors to ring me back?

[pause] Don’t get a tone with me missy.”

Where as Gary’s language is uneducated. He finds it hard to understand things. Gary

too has a lot of pent up anger that he sometimes releases,

“When I was ten years old I marched into the Tae Kwon Do

school and I said ‘Teach me how to kill a person.”

Both actions and words are equally important in Gary’s House. By the way the charac

ters act we grasp an understanding of the message being told. Sue-Anne takes up

smoking after she has the baby, and repeatedly is told off by Vince and Christine, yet

Sue-Anne still isnt able to grasp the concept that what she is doing is damaging for the

baby. This tells the audience about Sue-Anne’s self-absorbed and childlike personality.

The 7 Stages of Grieving uses Traditional tribal language and Aboriginal pronounci

ation (broken english). The purpose of using tribal speech is mainly to educate and give

insight to the audience about Indigenous Australian traditions. The use of broken en

glish words such as “Gubberment” is included as it reflects the social, economic and

educational background of who is being portrayed. Words carry the weight of the perfor

mance as it is primarily of a storytelling genre, where colloquial and generalised language is symbolic of Aboriginal people. This language encourages an air of intimacy

between the actor and audience.


The actor pauses after speaking a lot in order for the audience to reflect on what was

just said. The actor has direct dialogue with the audience and talks about things she

has experienced which again creates an air of intimacy between the two. This is shown

in, 11. Murri Gets a Dress,

“have you ever been black? You now when you wake up one

morning and your black?”

The language used throughout The 7 stages of Grieving gives the audience and emo

tional insight into the Aboriginal culture as well as reaching out for some understanding

from us.

From the use of the Dramatic Forms and Conventions discussed, we can see clearly

that Gary’s House and The 7 Stages of Grieving do in fact reflect the society from

which they spring. The use of Dramatic Forms and Conventions adds a deeper under

standing of the social, economical, educational and emotional context of the perfor

mances and the characters. It is with these Dramatic Forms and Conventions that

meaning is added to the performances

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