• Kieran Burgess

Directors Notebook: The most fun task in IB Theatre

It really is the most fun task. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that if you teach or study IB DP Theatre, you like making theatre. Now imagine that you have an unlimited budget and a team of experts to put in place the amazing ideas you have. You really can do anything you like (so long as it's feasible in the collective imagination) without the limitations of actually welding and sawing bits of set.


This task is going to change a fair bit in the next IB Theatre course in 2021, but it will retain the core value: it will always stretch your knowledge and understanding of how theatre is constructed, and will challenge you to express this unburdened by the limitations of actuality.

I sketched out this dummy set plan for a hypothetical Director's Notebook version of Equus just to model for teaching the DN task. A few years later, I came back to it and turned some of it into reality for a real version I directed.

The key to this task - as always - is to pick a focus that you are passionate about. It is too easy, and actually not permitted, to choose a text you've studied in depth in Literature or Theatre, or anywhere else in the DP, and this perceived ease will lead you down blind alleys where your brain simply will not be able to create meaningful and intelligent symbolism as it will only ever see what others have done before you. For this reason I also strongly discourage watching a version of the play you choose by someone else - the subconscious is too strong. So your passion must come from a place where you believe in a message or a theme, or perhaps the context or setting for the playwright, or perhaps you've enjoyed something else they've written. Most of all, ask yourself,

Why is this relevant to my audience today?

Whilst relevance is the most important operator here, there is also great agency in the word, "My". Your audience does not have to be in your school, or even in the same town or country. Perhaps your 'home' country needs to hear your message. Perhaps a place you fell in love with on holiday inspires you to want to connect emotionally to it through the medium of art - and you have found just the play that sings to the special environment you feel you were made to call your next home. Whatever the reason, your audience is at the heart of it - and don't forget that, as this is a hypothetical production you are staging only on paper, you get to choose who, when, where, and why. Just make sure your play is relevant to them, in that place, and that time.


So, once you've chosen a play and an audience who will find relevance, there are some other - more minor - tips for success. Scroll right down to download resources that will help you in this task.


Know Your Play

Criterion A is the only part of this task that actually cares about the literary analysis of textual interpretation. And this is the section that students clearly love more than any other, as the literature essay often spills out into the other sections. Do your research, know the context of the playwright, and the contexts of the original audience of the first production, as well as notable re-stagings later. You'll need to unpack themes and messages (called 'ideas' in the criteria) with some degree of authority.


Watch Live Theatre - But Not That

You should have been doing this throughout your course, but if you're reading this as you prepare to begin teaching or writing your DN task tomorrow, it is not too late. Watch. Live. Theatre. As much as you can. If you were a football player, you'd be a better player if you watched actual football, with actual players. Just like by watching Ronaldo you would have an appreciation for the highest standards in the game, or by watching your overweight Dad in Sunday league you'd appreciate how you might do things better - such analogies transfer beautifully to theatre making too. If you have an opportunity to watch something at your local village hall, do it. A play by Year 7 at your school? Go. Professional production requiring a weekend away? Make it happen. I've been teaching in Asia for quite a while and sometimes it's hard to find good theatre here - but here's the magic: live theatre recorded onto video and watched in the comfort of your school or living room counts as live theatre by the IB. Digital Theatre Plus is expensive, but doable for a lot of schools. The best version of Hamlet I've ever seen (and thankfully the shortest too) is free on Youtube. You'll find many more gems of your own. Speak to your colleagues/teachers in the English department. I keep finding they have stashes of 'live' theatre recordings that they never tell you about.


Differentiate Between Criteria

As I've said, criterion A is essentially literary analysis of your play.


Criterion B is 'What could you do with the play?' - Offer some potential angles, what would be relevant, brainstorm, mood boards, collages, etc. But don't pin anything down yet.


Criterion C is 'What will you do with the play - the whole play?'. Now you should be pinning down. Thinking about the play as a whole, your colour palette, general lighting style, LX plan, soundscapes, set and staging formats, major costumes and so on. General performance elements can come into this section, such as casting and maybe gait, posture, accents etc, but this section will be mostly production elements.


Criterion D is 'What will you do in that specific moment?' This is where you need to be quite specific about blocking, use of levels, pause, movement, interaction with set and props - think symbolically and specifically. Paint a clear picture for each moment to an examiner who doesn't have login details for your recorded video of your live production, can still visualise the details.


There are more details in my Student Info Sheet, below. What plays have you seen success with in this task? What other tips have I left out? Let me know!

Downloadable Resources


Directors Notebook (DN) Student Info Sheet


Play Analysis Table

As used in the TaPS workshops using La Llorona Llora, led by Kieran


Simplified conventions for play re-staging

As used in the TaPS workshops using La Llorona Llora, led by Kieran

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