Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Matter of Style - Ancient Mesopotamia & Egyptian Theatre and Performance

Ancient Mesopotamian & Egyptian Theatre and Performance

The earliest written drama in the world that we have evidence for is a description of a performance on the banks of the Nile from about 2500 BC. A stone tablet in a German museum and contains the sketchy description of I-kher-nefert (or Ikhernofret), and describes an early Egyptian Passion Play. Like modern Passion Plays or the Persian Passion Play of Hussein, its primary function was probably to act out and make real to people the stories, sufferings and triumphs of Gods.  

Osiris was the central divine figure in Ancient Egyptian Passion Plays. Osiris was a legendary historical ruler who ruled wisely but was murdered and his body was cut in pieces and the pieces scattered separately. His wife, Isis, and his son, avenged his murder, gathered up the pieces of his body for pilgrimage relics, won back his throne and established the cult of Osiris-worship. From records, we assume that the Osiris Passion Plays were performed in his memory once a year in the sixteen provinces of Ancient Egypt but we have evidence that performances took place in Abydos, Busiris and Heliopolis from the twelfth to the thirteenth month (Khoiak) and would involve the ritual scattering of Osiris’ limbs and their reconstitution or joining.
The style of performance was probably a combination of ritualistic and realistic. Ancient Greek historians tell of actor-warriors dying of wounds they got from battle and revenge recreations. The performances were part religious and part pageant-like re-enactments. The oldest existing records we have of Ancient Egyptian Theatre dates back to about 2600 BCE. The Ramesseum Dramatic Papyrus was written during the Middle Kingdom. Also Ikhernofret’s writings describe a festivals and plays.
Translated and published in 1928 by Kurt Sethe, the Ramesseum Dramatic Papyrus, seems to be a Master Script written by a producer or Master of Ceremonies. It has descriptions and illustrations of the scenes, the dialogue and narration and staging explanatory commentary.
The temple reliefs at Edfu also give descriptions of a New Kingdom Passion Play religious drama performed during the Horus festival. The relief’s text seems to have directions about the staging of the stories and festival and give a sense of the number of actors needed for this spectacle along with the use of props such as statues, and elaborate painted backdrops were used. Symbolic dances and rituals are also alluded to. According to accounts of the a play based around Seth, a live hippopotamus was killed on stage by a priest and the death of Seth occurred when a hippopotamus cake was carved up and eaten.

Some other plays have elements of morality plays with didactic and psychological elements. Creation Dramas were also performed in temples, which were considered to had been the abode of the creator god before the act of creation had occurred. Masks were probably used such as the only surviving ancient Egyptian helmet mask known as the Anubis mask. Masks such as these were probably used by Priest Actors and would represent Gods.

Some performances and festivities were divided into three parts or acts:
·      the defense of Osiris by his son Upuaut
·      the fight of Osiris himself and his downfall
·      the triumph of Osiris when his enemies are defeated.

Here too, in this same precinct of Minerva at Sais, is the burial-place of one whom I think it not right to mention in such a connection. It stands behind the temple, against the backwall, which it entirely covers. There are also some large stone obelisks in the enclosure, and there is a lake near them, adorned with an edging of stone. In form it is circular, and in size, as it seemed to me, about equal to the lake in Delos called "the Hoop."
[2.171.1] On this lake it is that the Egyptians represent by night his sufferings whose name I refrain from mentioning, and this representation they call their Mysteries
Herodotus, Histories II – from Project Gutenberg.

The involvement of the public during these public displays was at times frighteningly enthusiastic:
    ... at Papremis they do sacrifice and worship as elsewhere, and besides that, when the sun begins to go down while some few of the priests are occupied with the image of the god, the greater number of them stand in the entrance of the temple with wooden clubs, and other persons to the number of more than a thousand men with purpose to perform a vow, these also having all of them staves of wood, stand in a body opposite to those: and the image, which is in a small shrine of wood covered over with gold, they take out on the day before to another sacred building.
    The few then who have been left about the image, draw a wain with four wheels, which bears the shrine and the image that is within the shrine, and the other priests standing in the gateway try to prevent it from entering, and the men who are under a vow come to the assistance of the god and strike them, while the others defend themselves. Then there comes to be a hard fight with staves, and they break one another's heads, and I am of opinion that many even die of the wounds they receive; the Egyptians however told me that no one died.
    This solemn assembly the people of the place say that they established for the following reason:--the mother of Ares, they say, used to dwell in this temple, and Ares, having been brought up away from her, when he grew up came thither desiring to visit his mother, and the attendants of his mother's temple, not having seen him before, did not permit him to pass in, but kept him away; and he brought men to help him from another city and handled roughly the attendants of the temple, and entered to visit his mother. Hence, they say, this exchange of blows has become the custom in honour of Ares upon his festival.

Herodotus, Euterpe (Histories II), Project Gutenberg

Ancient Egyptian Comedies and Satires
While Ancient Egypt is mainly known for the religious and ritualistic dramas, comic plays and satires also were enacted. Local myths supplied story lines for many plays which often had satirical overtones. One drama is related where a pharaoh received five hundred lashes, his wives deceived him, he couldn't make up his mind and became a slave to his advisors; and his architects robbed his wealth. Sometimes the Gods were mocked also in these plays. In some plays a council of gods deliberate for twenty four years about who should inherit Osiris - Seth or Horus. The debauchery of Seth was equal only to his stupidity and Horus wept like a baby on being beaten. These pieces involved dramatic dialogue which was probably sometimes recited and sometimes sung to audiences.
Ancient Egyptian Theatre Practical Exercises and Discussion
1.    In what sense is Ancient Egyptian Theatre like the storytelling drama of earlier times and in what sense does it seem more like Ancient Greek Theatre and Medieval Christian Drama?
2.    Why do you think Ancient Egyptian Theatre moved towards more formal theatre and religious conventions and forms in developing its drama?
3.    Read the story of the life of Osiris and create your own ritual drama which involves dance and movement, as well as narration, to act out the story. You may also want to do this as a Reader’s Theatre style piece. An explanation of Reader’s Theatre (which is a modern approach or form of drama) is available at http://olc.spsd.sk.ca/De/PD/instr/strats/readerstheatre/index.html

The following website has the story of Osiris: http://www.egyptartsite.com/osi.html

4.    Read the following retelling of an Ancient Egyptian Satire Drama story and create your own Ancient Egyptian Satire drama. This may involve imitation, mime, narration and acting out characters. Once again, you may want to use a Reader’s Theatre approach.

After a considerable while Hathor, Lady of the Southern Sycamore, came and stood before her father, the Universal Lord, and she exposed her vagina before his very eyes. Thereupon the great god laughed at her. Then he got right up and sat down with the Great Ennead. He said to Horus and Seth: "Speak concerning yourselves."
Seth, great in virility, the son of Nut, said: "As for me, I am Seth, greatest in virility among (the) Ennead, for I slay the opponent of Pre daily while I am at the prow of the Bark of the Millions, whereas not any (other) god is able to do it. I should receive the office of Osiris."
            Then they said: "Seth, the son of Nut, is correct."
Onuris and Thoth let out a loud cry, saying: "Is it while a bodily son is still living that the office is to be awarded to a maternal uncle?"
Then said Banebdjede, the living great god: "Is it while Seth, his elder brother, is still living that the office is to be awarded no the (mere) lad?"

Ancient Mesopotamian Performance
Probably the earliest writer whose work was performed was the Sumerian (present day Iraq) poet and writer Enheduanna (Sumerian) 2285 BC – 2250 BC. She is probably the earliest female or male writer whose work was published and performed. Her work is often regarded as lyrical and ritualistic and the performances of her poetry probably had some of the ritual elements of Ancient Egyptian rituals and theatre. She was of royal ancestry and was appointed high priestess at a young age. She composed at least 42 hymns to be sung and performed with rituals and performed actions accompanying the sung lyrics. Below is a portrait of Enheduanna from a frieze and a copy of the lyrics from one of her performed hymns.

“Beloved of Enlil - You made it (the storm) blow over the land,
You carried out the instructions of An.
My Queen, the foreign lands cower at Your cry,

In dread (and) fear of the South Wind…”

Further Readings and Resources
   Aldred, C. 1998, The Egyptians, Thames and Hudson, London
      Aldsworth F.G., Barnard H.; 1998, Berenike survey in: Sidebotham S.E., Wendrich W.Z. (eds.) Berenike 1996, Report of the excavations at Berenike (Egyptian Red Sea coast) and the survey of the Eastern desert. Leiden (CNWS) 1998
      Allen, Thomas George ; 1936, Egyptian Stelae, Field Museum of Natural History: Anthropological Series; Vol. XXIV, No. 1, 1936, Chicago
      Baines, John; Malek Jaromir ; 1980, Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt
      Breasted, James Henry ; 1916, A History of the Early World, Ginn and Company, Boston
      Bunson, Margaret R., 1991; Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Facts on File Inc., New York
      Campbell, Joseph. 1990. The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work. Edited and with an Introduction by Phil Cousineau. Forward by Stuart L. Brown, Executive Editor. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.
      Campbell, Joseph. 2008. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 1st edition, Bollingen Foundation, 1949. 2nd edition, Princeton University Press. 3rd edition, New World Library, 2008.
      Eady, Dorothy L. ; 1989, Toys and Games in Ancient Egypt, RSUE 6-7, 1989-1990
      Egypt Art Website. Story of Osiris. http://www.egyptartsite.com/osi.html
      Edwards, Amelia B. ; 1891, Pharaohs, Fellahs and Explorers, Harper and Brothers, New York
      Frankfurter, David ; 2000, Priests, Stereotypes, and Spells: the evolution of the Magos in Late Antique Egypt.
      Herman, Tzvi ; 1979, Man and the Sea, Toren, Israel Maritime League
      Herodotus Histories, Volume 2 , Project Gutenberg
      Pinch, Geraldine ; 1995, Magic in Ancient Egypt, University of Texas Press, Austin
      Wilkinson, Richard H. ; 2003, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, London.

Useful Websites:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Origins of African Drama and Storytelling

Origins of African Drama and Storytelling

As a place, Africa has had the longest record of human activity of any part of the world. Many archeologists and anthropologists believe rituals of performance, storytelling involving music and masks probably date back to about 40,000 years ago in parts of Africa. There is also archeological evidence that around 10,000 years ago, African societies near modern day Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and in places in what is now the Sahara Desert, started to develop microlith technology for hunting and harvesting and as a consequence started to develop more intricate storytelling rituals involving drumming, body decoration and perhaps even masks. Rock art of this period show many representations of performance rituals and a 7,000 year old stone Africa mask has been found.
African cultures are diverse and rich and their drama traditions are founded in oral cultures and traditions, use of drums and percussion instruments, use of dance and movement and use of costume and mask. Performance rituals in ancient times probably took place at night a meal. The African oral traditions normally involve a folktale being recited, sung, and or danced and sung.
Some African performers see that the most ancient of African storytelling performances involve three parts:
  • The opening formula or group clapping or introduction or call
  • The story expository
  • The conclusive formula
A drama session which explores and uses early African storytelling techniques normally begins with an opening formula which can involve an exchange of jokes and riddles or a group clapping or call. Then a storyteller begins the narration of the tale. This can be introduced by a signal such as drumming or hand clapping. The storyteller sets the scene, introduces the characters, and defines the conflict using all sorts of techniques. In some parts of Cameroon and Ghana, the storytellers or performers perform a real dramatic play where storytellers sing, dance and through their gestures and body movements create the imagery and symbolism of the story. Many early African forms of drama involve only a single performer who imitates many characters in the story or may use different costume items or masks for different characters. The final part of the story or the conclusive formula, sees the closure of the story with a final didactic or moral statement about an issue or message explored.
Using any of the Ananse folktales of Ghana is a good starting place for exploring early African drama styles. The performance of the Ananse stories are accompanied with music, singing, drumming, percussion instruments, clapping, and dancing.

Exercise in Early African Drama & Storytelling
1 a)  Ampe (Ghana)
This is a game best played with a group of four or more. It’s an active game, with so much clapping, singing, and jumping involved that it almost looks like a dance. It’s a game that’s been past down from generation to generation. A leader is chosen and the rest of the group either stand in a semicircle or split into groups of two. The leader begins by jumping, and when you land from your jump, you place one leg forward. Points are earned depending on which leg (left or right) meets the opposite leg of your opponent first. Everyone gets a chance to be the leader.
1 b) Nigeria
Another clapping game can involve clapping in a group. One person sets up a clapping rhythm and repeats it. The group then takes up this rhythm. Each new rhythm starts off at a medium volume and energy and then it gets softer. Then another person starts a new rhythm and the whole group repeats it until they all get sifter and someone else introduces a new rhythm.
1 c) Tanzania
Another introductory game can involving students playing with adjectives. The group forms a circle. Then one person starts with an animal that begins with A and prefixes this animal with an appropriate adjective. The next person goes on to do the same with B etc. (Adventurous Aardvark, Bellowing Bear…).

Telling a story
2 a) One easy way to start to tell a story is to start with a dance sequence or story. Try the following sequence in a group.
                Introduction: The whole group shows a slow sunrise – three-four children rising in an arc with hands held. The remaining children are the sleeping desert.
                Heatwave: The whole room becomes a baking heatwave, undulating and shimmering. All students do these actions
                Toiling in the heat: Children digging to the rhythm, weaving with their hands, carrying water containers or pots on their heads.
                Giving thanks: Children give thanks for food and shelter – all in a circle mirroring the movement of one leader.

2 b) One person begins a tale and stops after a few sentences. The next person picks up the story thread and continues it, then stops. Next person adds to it and so on until the tale comes to a resolution.

2 c) Students can also come into the centre of the circle and tell a short story on their own. They could also choose to read an African folktales (see bibliography). These stories can be accompanied by clapping or drumming by the performer or by the audience.

2 d) The audience or another performer can then recap or retell the whole story entirely in dance form. This should be shorter than the original. Alternatively, a dance can be done to recap the events of the story at the end of each section of the story.

2 e) Students can share an African Creation story. They can list the characters and each act out the characters or animals involved in the story. Each student can act out a different animal and they can use movements, masks or visual cues to show this animal.

2 f) Students think of a plant or animal from their district. Students think about what the origin of this plant or animal may be. Students create a story or performance to tell the story of how this animal or plant came to be the way it is. The story can be built around a chant and rhythm. The rhythm could be made with hand clapping or with the feet stomping.

2 g) Students can create their own creation story based on landscape. Here are some instructions which may help students to do this:
Look at the hills, mountains, rocks or any geographic features that are outside. Look at the shape of one geographic feature and think of an animal which that feature could represent. Look at other geographical features and decide what other animals each feature could represent. Look at the arrangement and relationship of the different geographical features and attempt to make up a story that tells how these animals came to be frozen in these particular poses in this particular place. Begin to develop your landscape story into a form (spoken with gesture or spoken with dance) you have chosen. Make your story 
as imaginative as you can. Don’t be too realistic. 

The Conclusion or the Moral or Message
3 a) The storyteller can come up with what the message or moral of the story was and tell this to the group at the end.
3b) Alternatively, the group or a member of the audience can get up and announce what the moral or message of the story was.

Asihene, E. 1997. Traditional Folk-Tales of Ghanaa. Edwin Mellen Press. New York.
Beier, U. (ed.) 1966. The origin of Life and Death: African Creation Myths. Heinemann, London. http://exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu/students/curriculum/m14/stories.php
Brockett, O. 1995. The History of Theatre (7th Ed.) Allyn & Bacon. Boston (pp 635-639).
Dada, O. 1970. West African Folktales. Dorrance and Company. Philadelphia.
Bower, J. 2007. Dance and Drama – The Spirit of Africa. Aston Scholastic. New York. http://education.scholastic.co.uk/content/1461
Harwood, R. 1984. All the World’s a Stage. Secker & Warburg. London (pp13-36)
Lott, Joanna. “Keepers of History.” Research Penn State. http://news.psu.edu/story/140694/2002/05/01/research/keepers-history
Owomoyela, O.1997. Yoruba Trickster Tales. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln & London.
Tembo, M. 1996. Legends of Africa. Michael Friedman Publishing Group.
New York.
World of Tales. 2004. Varna, Bulgaria. http://www.worldoftales.com/African_folktales.html
Ero. C. Kokodiko - African Storytelling. 2009.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Matter of Style – Origins of Drama and Theatre – Indigenous Australian Songdrama, Totem and Dreamtime Drama

A Matter of Style – Origins of Drama and Theatre – Indigenous Australian Songdrama, Totem and Dreamtime Drama

A Matter of Style – Origins of Drama and Theatre – Indigenous Australian Songdrama, Totem and Dreamtime Drama

The purpose of this blog is to explore and give some practical insight into different theatre and drama styles, periods, forms and practitioners. It will give information and practical lessons on theatre styles, forms, performances, staging conventions, acting and performance styles, plays and performance texts, staging conventions, costuming, directors and playwrights.

This blog is written for a broad range of readers. Firstly for those at university and college studying drama and theatre. Secondly for high school students studying IB Theatre, A Level, AP, HSC, VCE, Senior and Middle School Drama and Theatre Studies school students. Thirdly for Drama and Theatre teachers and those training to be teachers in this area. Finally, actors and professional theatre practitioners will find this blog useful to hone or improve their skills or to delve into new areas of theatre that they have not ventured into yet. It provides information, material for research and practical exercises for the study of drama and theatre as part of a World Theatre context.

Some of the work in this blog derives from a set of articles I wrote on theatre styles for Drama Victoria’s ‘Mask’ magazine during the 1990’s, a book I edited entitled ‘Drama from the Rim’ and books I have written such as ‘Australian Indigenous Drama’ and ‘The Dramaturgy of the Australian Theatre Director’.

There are many different theories about the origins of drama and theatre. I subscribe to the theory that drama and theatre had its origins storytelling, myth, ritual, dance and ceremony. Early societies passed down knowledge and history through ceremonies. They also saw a connection between the performance of certain actions by a group and the development of certain responses. A lot of interesting work and observation has been done in this area by anthropologist and mythologist Joseph Campbell. He saw that beyond the social and cultural functions of these rituals in different cultures, these rituals seemed to have fulfilled three basic concerns – those of pleasure, power and duty.

We know that these rituals probably started very early in human societies. Some date the earliest theatre to the Ancient Egyptian rituals and dramas which accompanied sending pharaoh’s to the underworld and the ‘Pyramid Texts’ dated about 2800 to 2400 BC. I will come to these rituals later. I would like to contend that the origins of drama can be traced back to earlier traditions in the peoples of Africa, India and Australia. Since it is an area I am more familiar with, I would like to start with early Australian Indigenous Drama which can be seen to date back to about 50,000 years ago.

Indigenous Australian Songdrama – The Great Father Spirits

Around 40,000 - 80,000 years ago, peoples from the Asian region crossed by land bridge to what we now know of as Arhnem Land. The stories of the Great Father Spirit and the journeys of these peoples and their encounters have been passed down in a form that can be best described as a hybrid artform. 

"I suppose it goes back to the traditional kingship of art form, the storyteller will dream the story and pass that on to the song man and the song man will adapt that and the didj player will hear that song and he will get the rhythm and the dancer will get all those art forms and display and celebrate  that through the physical spirit and the visual artist is part of that process by taking in the whole bigger picture. It is a beautiful thing. (Stephen Page 2007 in Casey 2012, p.17)

Indigenous Australian Songdramas deal with the first stage of creation - the activities of the Great Father Spirit. Often the oldest indigenous stories are kept in a half-spoken, half-sung songline form such as those used in the Whale Arrival Story of the Thurrawal tribe of New South Wales or The Three Brothers Story of the Gullibul clans and of course the stories of the famous gwion gwion or jenagi jenagi cave painting dancers (known to some as the stories of the Bradshaw Cave Dancers).

These songdramas conjure up and re-enact events of the past capturing the moods, feelings and oneness of spirit. Some examples of songdramas include stories of the Father Spirits of Baiame (from the Sitma-thang clans of the High Plains), Mungan Mgour (from the Kuranda of Queensland) and Bunjil (from the Kulin and Wotjobaluk). In her magnificent 2007 book Singing the Land – The Power of Performance in Aboriginal Life, Jill Stubington illuminates the connection of songlines and song drama to the relationship of indigenous Australian people to their history, spirituality and social structures and traditions as evident in song cycles and ceremonies.

The songdrama form is one that attempts to set the thoughts and actions of significant long ago events, people and animals into the ever present. In some ways, the indigenous songdrama is like the Hindu songdramas and dance dramas in that they attempt to conjure up the form of the ancient spirits almost like deities (Reed 1993: 17-19). Often phrases and images are repeated, and emphasis is placed upon the conjuring up of images through the almost exclusive use of the voice: its tones, intonation, rhythm and volume. These rituals are often led by songman (the singer, keeper and composer of songs) a skilled performer with an extensive repertoire of stories and vocal range and skill. A number of songdramas and the musical accompaniments are referred to in Neuenfeldt’s wonderful book The Didgeridu: From Arnhem land to the Internet

The songdramas of the legends of Baiame often give the subject Baiame, qualities such as Creator, Benefactor and First Seed (Reed l993: l7, 32, 53). The songdrama usually attempts to deal with everything in terms of metaphors e.g. instead of telling someone that your great grandfather came from Norway to Australia, you may say: ''My Grandfather is the devourer of all the seas and oceans'' or '' My Grandfather - the Whale of all seasons. The songdramas are always told proudly and intensely, perhaps this is why some European historians and anthropologists have remained sceptical about the knowledge which lies beneath these stories told in this form of narrative.  Songdramas are not just an ancient form used for ancient rituals but can be used in a modern context and within historical approaches to address specific stories and ideas from specific areas or places. Often older indigenous languages are kept alive through songdramas because they keep flourishing the stories, rituals and languages of traditions which are ancient.

Totem and Dreamtime Drama
The second order of Australian indigenous creation is dealt with in the totem dramas, where '' ... the ancestors ... recreate themselves in the spirit form in the bodies of animals and human beings who retain the mystical animal qualities inherent in the ancestor's…” (Reed 1993:67).  Many of the stories that Westerners identify as dreamtime stories, come from the totemic ancestor stories that tell of how the empty featureless landscape was sculptured by Great Spirits. These totem dramas, enact the very probable encounters of the First Australians with giant mammals such as Genyornis (the giant emu), the monster Kadimakara and the giant kangaroos known by many names. Often Totem dance dramas involve using the totem of an animal or as the central focus point to dance dramas and rituals and symbols are often painted on the face and body of participants.

The totem drama is highly ritualistic and these stories and their enactment are often linked to dances, sung stories and body painting that is linked to specific initiation and ceremonial occasions. In this sense, Australian indigenous totem dramas tend to be parochial, “… dramatizations of portions of legends ... tied down to definite local centres with each group…” (Strehlow 1986:4). Although the totem dramas of different indigenous tribes vary in content, the forms, conventions and symbols of these dramas remain remarkably consistent. A number of examples of totem dramas are evident on the 1983 Film Australia video Aboriginal Dance – Three Dances by Gulpilil and Five Dances From Cape York.

The painting of bodies with different earthen paints and colours to enact spirits, can be seen as an early form of costume, the creation of specific chanting rhythms for the aspects of different spirits and the use of a central spatial focus usually embodied in a physical symbol like the tnatantja pole (of the Aranda peoples), act as a stage design feature helping to make the totem dramas highly symbolic.

Among the Arunta, the men of the witchetty grub totem perform ceremonies for multiplying the grub which other members of the tribe use as food. One of the ceremonies is a pantomime representing the fully developed insect in the act of emerging from the chrysalis. A long narrow structure of branches is set up to imitate the chrysalis case of the grub. In this structure a number of men ... sit and sing of the creature in its various stages. Then they shuffle out of it in a squaring posture, and as they do so they sing of the insect emerging from the chrysalis.'' (Frier in Frazer 1987: l 7)

Indigenous totem and dreamtime drama like songdrama is essentially done as a sung story but unlike songdrama it involves the use of specific movements, a specific setting or built set for the drama and the enactment by actors of various parts of the drama. In totem drama the group tells the story and takes on the qualities of the creature or plant that is the subject matter for the drama. The actions are usually involve mime and exaggerated movement and frequently act out part of the story being sung. Often animals are the central characters in the dramas enacted.

Sometimes totem drama attempts to predict or create a situation that people would hope for in the near future. A totem drama or totem dance can sometimes be given as a gift to another tribe. Gestures of a tribe’s totem or respect for another tribe's totem, beliefs or land, can be expressed or given, especially when entering another tribes place or land.

Many examples of rituals of respect, welcome and healing rituals (such as those of Murray River tribes and clans shown in the Ringbalin film and project) are performed by various Indigenous peoples. Frequently, in modern times, people in contemporary Australian cities and towns are privileged enough to have members of local tribes and clans perform their own welcoming dance or ceremonies at festivals, conferences and special meetings. Totem drama can also be filled with many dramatic conventions such as stage design features, costume and makeup. Amongst many tribes, putting ochre on the forehead, the hands and the chest shows they are open to receiving or sharing, while others throw earth into the air or pick up a pebble to introduce themselves and ask for a good welcome.

Brief Timeline of some early Indigenous Australian Drama
64,000BC Indigenous peoples arrive in Australia, some evidence of early storytelling rituals seems to point to storytelling even from this period.
54,000BC Evidence from a rock shelter in Arnhem Land (400 km east of Darwin) suggest body decoration used in dance and storytelling.
30,000BC Fireplace evidence suggests rituals and dancing attached to storytelling traditions in Lake Mungo NSW and Keilor, Victoria.
Indigenous remains around the now extinct Willandra Lakes system (Mungo National Park, NSW) show evidence of spiritual and creative aspects to storytelling traditions and dance.
20,000BC Sites at Wentworth Falls (NSW) and Koonalda (S.A.) suggest art, body decorating and storytelling are linked in more formal rituals.
18,000BC  Art at Ubirr in Kakadu National Park (Northern Territory, 300 kms east of Darwin) depicts now extinct animals, the Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), and Zaglossus (the long-beaked echidna).
11,000BC Landbridge between mainland Australia and Tasmania is flooded. Some songlines and dreamtime stories of both Victorian indigenous peoples and Tasmanian indigenous peoples tell the story of this event. It is believed that some of these stories may have been passed down continuously from this time.
7,000 BC Evidence of Rainbow Serpent Creation Story from the Kunwinjku peoples of Western Arnhem Land. Earliest visual evidence of Indigenous belief in and representation of the Rainbow Serpent which becomes a continuous creation story and belief system in many Australian Indigenous cultures.
3,000BC Cave paintings dated around this period suggest the adoption of tribal and clan totems and the actual use of totems in rituals.
1,000BC Evidence in a number of cave paintings suggests the use of didgeridoos and body painting used for rituals.

Lessons and Practical Exercises
Indigenous Australian Songdrama Practical Exercises and Discussion

Indigenous Songdrama Exercises
1. Imagine a relative, friend or event that although long past, has shaped the way you are and what you have become. Facing a partner, attempt to tell the story of this relative, friend or event. Tell your partner the story using metaphoric rather than literal language.
Remember to tell the story in almost song-like tones: dwelling on the sounds and words you speak. Allow most words to find the rhythm and tone that makes them song-like.
Also remember to let your voice and thoughts do the work (so try to cut hand and facial gestures to a bare minimum). 

2. The group starts a tapping rhythm or chant. In turn each member of the group sings a short story about where they come from. You can centre it on a person, a description or an event. Try to inject some energy and drama to the songdrama. Remember that you can be metaphoric, reality is not as important as giving the 'sense' or 'feel' of the place. The group keeps the rhythm or chant going until each person has shared their story of their 'place'. 

3. Get some members of the group to sing a children's song, popular song or ballad in
their native language or dialect or in a different language or a language you don't know. The rest of the members try to learn the song or part of the song.

1. Think of a plant or animal in your neighbourhood. Think what is important or particular or what you would hope to happen to this animal or plant in the future (e.g. I hope the young ducks in my local pond/creek grow bigger and fatter and learn how to fly or I hope that the magpie with the damaged wing is able to fix his wing and learn to fly again). Using some natural material such as sticks, leaves or branches; create the setting for your drama. Now create the performance. Create the rhythm of your creature first with your feet, then with a simple arm or body gestures and then with a simple chant or the repetition of one word (e.g. ''find the food'' ''fly''). Start to build the momentum of the chant and gesture. When you wish to change or progress the action of your drama, change the rhythm that you are beating out with your feet first, before you change the actions. A game can be made out of changing the rhythms.  

2. Let every member of the group find their own space in the room. Define your space through placing a set of pebbles or some earth on the ground around your space or 'place'. Think what your animal totem for your space or ‘nation’ will be. Create a rhythm and simple sequence of repeatable gestures, actions and/or movements for your nation. You should include some actions which reflect your totem animal. You may want to extend this and tell a story or create a short one minute totem drama that shows your totem and also tells a story about the totem. Now one by one, visit or enter someone else's 'place' or ‘nation’. You should do a ritual before entering another's space. You could pick up a stone or some earth or sand doing an action with it. Once the other person enters your space, show them your ritual or movement and perhaps even teach it or part of it to them. The visitor may also want to share their totem dance or drama.

Many indigenous peoples believe that animals, animal spirits and totems give meaningful direction to individuals and groups. They believe that all living things deserve respect. To what extent does a society disconnected from animals and nature loose its sense of direction and respect?

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be identified by their totems. Totems can be an important part of cultural identity. To what extent might totem dramas and dances be important to both protect an animal and create a sense of identity for a group of people? Do dance and drama from European cultures have any similar functions?
Indigenous Totem and Dreamtime Drama
·      Totem drama is highly ritualistic
·      These stories and their enactment are often linked to dances, sung stories and body painting
·      It often involves painting of bodies with different earthen paints and colours to enact spirits
·      Uses specific chanting rhythms for the aspects of different spirits
·      Uses a central spatial focus sometimes with physical symbol like the tnatantja pole
·      Totem drama songs and dances are still shared today as seen in the film of ‘Ringbalin’ where a number of indigenous people and clans share their stories and dances to dance the lifeblood back into the Murray-Darling River.

You and students can even download the Ringbalin phone app to hear the stories and take the journey:

Totem and Dreamtime Drama Exercises
·      This can be done in pairs, small groups or in a large group
·      Think of an animal or bird or feature of the place or landscape in which you live
·      Develop a simple gesture or action which shows this animal, bird or landscape
·      Say the name of the animal, bird or landscape feature and do the action
·      Now show and say the name of your totem and the whole group repeats it back
·      You can start to add a chant if you want to build the momentum of the chant and gesture.
·      You can even define a space through placing a set of pebbles or some earth on the ground around your space or 'place'. Think what your animal totem for your space or ‘nation’ will be. Create a rhythm and simple sequence of repeatable gestures, actions and/or movements for your nation you can even have students create a sacred space and have someone visit and share in the space.
·      An extension to this involves looking at the hills, mountains, rocks or any geographic features that are outside and through using one geographic feature thinking of an animal which that feature could represent

Rainbow Serpent Myth Story

Here is a Rainbow Serpent Creation Story from the Kunwinjku peoples  of Western Arnhem Land (origin about 7,000BC). A common activity I use is Reader’s Theatre with students using Dreamtime stories. I normally chose more than one Reader’s Theatre narrators
Far out in the Dreamtime, there were only people, no animals or birds, no trees or bushes, no hills or mountains. The country was all flat.
Goorialla, the great rainbow serpent, stirred and set off to search for his own tribe. He travelled across Australia from South to North. He reached Cape York where he stopped and made a big red mountain called Narabullgan. He listened on the wind and heard only strange voices speaking strange languages.
This is not my country. The people here speak a different tongue. I must look further for my own people.

Goorialla left Narabullgan and his body made a deep gorge where he came down. He travelled North, stopping every evening to listen on the wind for his own people. He travelled for many days and his tracks made the creeks and the rivers as he journeyed North.
His next resting place was at Fairfield where he made the lily lagoon – Millilinka. Goorialla turned his great body round and round but the ground was too hard to make it deep.

One day he heard a voice singing on the wind. He heard, “Haaa! Haaa!
That was my people singing,” said sad Goorialla, “They are holding a big Bora.” As he travelled North, the singing became louder and louder…

Traditional Indigenous Dance and Mime
·      Primary and Secondary students alike love to learn Indigenous dances and animal moves. The following mimes and movements can be taught on their own or done with an audio or videoclip such as:

Some other activities can be based around using the work of Oodgeroo Noonuccal's (also published under the name Kath Walker) poem Ballad of the Totems (see Oodgeroo Noonucal 2008) or her short story Kill to Eat (in the anthology Global Tales Naidoo 1997). 

Further Readings and Resources on Indigenous Songdrama, Totem and Dreamtime Drama

Aboriginal Dance – Three Dances by Gulpilil and Five Dances From Cape York (video). 1983. Film Australia. Sydney.
Berndt, R.M. & Phillips, E.S. 1973. The Australian Aboriginal Heritage: An Introduction Through the Arts. Ure Smith. Sydney.
Casey, M. 2012. Telling Stories. Australian Scholarly Publishing. Kew, Victoria.
Bungalung (short film). Morton-Thomas, Trisha (indigenous director). CAAMA. 2007.
Marshall, A. 2004. 'Singing your own songlines: approaches to Indigenous Drama' in Mooney, M. (ed.) & Nicholls (ed.) Drama Journeys:Inside Drama Learning.Currency Press. Strawberry Hills, Sydney.
Mathews, R.H. 1905. Ethnological Notes on Aboriginal Tribes of N.S.W. and Victoria. White Publishing. Sydney.
Mullins, B. 1989. Aboriginal lore: a pictorial review of ancient aboriginal life, ritual and culture, as recorded in the marks they left on the land. Shepp Books. Hornby, N.S.W.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal's (also published under the name Kath Walker). 2008. Ballad of the Totems from the book My People – A Kath Walker Collection.
Neuenfeldt, K. 1997. The Didgeridu: From Arnhem land to the Internet. John Libbey & Co. Sydney.
Reed, A.W. 1993. Aboriginal Myths, Legends and Fables. Reed. Chatswood, N.S.W.
Strehlow, T.G.H. 1986. Aranda Traditions, Melbourne University Press. Melbourne.
Stubington, J. 2007. Singing the Land – The Power of Performance in Aboriginal Life. Currency Press. Strawberry Hills.
Woolgoodja, S. 1976. Lalai Dreamtime. Aboriginal Arts Board. Canberra.

Useful Resources for Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in The Arts and Drama
ABC Australian Broadcasting Commission TV Documentaries Unit. Frontier Stories from White Australia’s Forgotten War. Bruce Belsham [Dir.] Video (1997) DVD (2007). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQE75wmRgZo
ABC Australian Broadcasting Commission. 2005. Buried Alive: Sydney 1788-1792 Eyewitness Accounts of the Making of a Nation. ABC Sydney. Sydney. (DVD)
ABC Splash Education Website
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures
ACARA website.
Sample Curriculum Maps
Australian Children’s Television Foundation. 2009. My Place for Teachers. ACTF. Sydney. (Website). http://www.myplace.edu.au/home.html
Aboriginal Culture
Drama Australia
Drama Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Guidelines 

Drama Teachers Network
Indigenous Lesson Ideas – Play ‘Stolen’

Eckersley, Mark. (2012). Australian Indigenous Drama. Tasman Press. Altona.
Australian Indigenous Drama Blog
Haddon, A.C. 1898. Torres Strait Islanders (short film). Australian Government Film Archives. http://aso.gov.au/titles/historical/torres-strait-islanders
Miers, J. 2008. Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories website.

NSW Department of Education and Communities Aboriginal Perspectives in the Creative Arts
Aboriginal Perspectives in the Creative Arts
Aboriginal Dreaming Unit
Resources for Teaching Primary Drama with Indigenous Units and Activities
Exploring the worlds of K-6 Drama: Ancient Anna to the Cloth of Dreams (book and video) 1999
Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives Resources Page
Queensland Government, Department of Education and Training
EATSIPS (Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in schools)
Reconciliation Australia 
The National Curriculum - Knowing the Truth about Australia's History
Questions and Fact Sheets
NSW AECG Aboriginal Education Unit. 1987. A Lesson in History: 1788-1988. Sydney. (Video). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cydE-O-CJT8
South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability Framework
Aboriginal Perspectives
A number of Australian Indigenous poems are available for use at:

Yarra Healing. 2012. ‘Unit 7 Changing Lives Changing Ways’ on Teaching and Learning page (Website). CEO Melbourne (Catholic Education Organisation, Melbourne). Melbourne.