• Kieran Burgess

Research Presentation: Working with World Theatre Traditions

Scroll down for downloadable resources on the Research Presentation and Noh Theatre

The Research Presentation (RP) is worth 30% of the SL IB Theatre grade, and 20% of the HL grade. It requires you to research a world theatre tradition (and this must be chosen off the list that IB provides, see resources below) and present your knowledge of the tradition and its contexts, before focusing on practically exploring one convention and applying it to a moment of theatre. You wrap up this video recorded presentation/lecture with a reflection that compares this tradition to another theatre practice you know.

The IB Theatre course is best taught with mock tasks that are teacher led throughout the first year, and then taking the training wheels off for second year students who must choose traditions (and theorists, plays etc) that have not been studied or taught before in any depth. For teachers, this task can be traumatic if you have no in-depth knowledge of any of the traditions on the list with which to lead first year students through a scaffolded mock version. However, there are options!

The list includes the rather generous broad labels of 'Comedy and Tragedy, Ancient Greece' and 'English Renaissance Theatre'. Many Theatre and Liberal Arts courses that teachers may have experienced in their student days would have covered Shakespeare and/or Ancient Greek Theatre, and with the abundance of research material and lesson resources online for these traditions these may be your safest bet for a teacher-led unit. Remember of course that anything you choose to teach is then ruled out of the student choice for the final, submitted assessment tasks.

Pedagogy of the unknown is something that applies to teachers teaching an area they are not experts in, and there are strategies that you can use to learn alongside the students. Be open, be transparent about learning along with them, and you will find that not only do you gain the perspective of the learner (which will improve your teaching practice), you will develop stronger relationships with your students and will all enjoy the benefits of social constructivist learning methodology, which goes hand in hand with the IB philosophy. Your aim as a teacher in this first year attempt at the task is not necessarily to teach them about a tradition (though this of course has value too), but primarily to teach them how to research, apply research, synthesise knowledge across different realms, and evaluate the impact that learning has had on them.

The other option, and one that I have taken more recently after enjoying learning alongside my students at first, is to become a learner yourself in the form of engaging your own tutor. Artist educators such as Fenella Kelly (Kathakali) and Mark Hill (Butoh) are available directly or through ISTA. Such artists gear their services towards international schools, and are well used to coming in for a day, a week or longer, and understand how IB Theatre works as well as the international school world more broadly. Then, in your local context, will be masters in the local theatre tradition. For example, when I lived in Japan, I found a wonderful sensei who tutored me through some of the techniques of Noh Theatre. Through a series of lessons I became more able to perform and teach the practical side of Noh movement, chant, use of the fan and stage. I am now at a level where I am able to teach Noh in the workshops on this RP task I give to students and teachers all over the world.

The next version of the RP task, coming in 2021, is much less onerous on students, but for now there is a lot to remember. Whilst the list will change slightly, it is still mostly going to look the same, and so any investment you make into actively learning a tradition is likely going to serve you well for this task for many years to come. Here are my top tips:

Choosing a Tradition

Yes, it must be off the official list (download my Student Info Sheet below), but it must also be one that you can find adequate resources for in the country you are in and the language you can read. If you can read Korean and have a Korean grandmother who used to be a traditional performer, you may be able to access a wealth of reliable sources on Korean Talchum mask dance. If you are an English student in an industrial estate in Berkshire, you may not find much. See my 'Questions to Consider' document below too, for prompts to help you narrow down.


This is the biggie - it's all well and good having great research, citing properly during an oral presentation (don't overlook this either), and demonstrating a proficient level of skill with your new tradition knowledge. But if you spend 12 minutes on explaining the tradition and context, it is likely that you will not have time to score anything in your reflection, and probably not much in your moment of theatre either.

Rehearse, often, and with a stopwatch. Whilst the teacher can only give you feedback on one run of your presentation, peers can help you more often - though ensure the work is your own and you cite any additional help or insights. On this note let me move onto...

...Practical Explorations

It is imperative that you conduct a good chunk of your time on your feet (so to speak - Rakugo is mostly kneeling). Your practical exploration and experimentation will not only be directly assessed in criteria B and C, but will also aid your understanding of your convention and tradition which is explained in criterion A, as well as 'feeling' either similar or different to other theatre types you have acted: these 'feelings' are in the body, and your chosen convention MUST be corporeal. This is why the guide insists on it fitting into the body, voice, gesture, movement, face category(ies). It is easy to view this task as a Research one, and thus spend too much time reading and watching videos, and not enough actually doing. But do not fall into this trap. It is still mostly practical. Using classmates to explore together is enormously helpful - reflecting on seeing a discovery in another during a workshop can be more enlightening than feeling it in yourself.

Moment of Theatre

Spend a good 2-3 minutes on this 'workshop performance' element of your presentation. Explain how you got to it through your explorations, then show us a chunk, stop and explain an important discovery, and show us some more. Stop-start approach is good, but some students take this too far: stopping after 5-10 seconds of demonstration and talking for 1 minute before showing another 5-10 seconds of practical application is not going to hit the standards for criterion C.

Which traditions have you found successful? What other tips would you like to add? Let me know!

Downloadable Resources

Research Presentation (RP) Student Info Sheet

Research Presentation (RP) Questions to Consider

Video: Performance extract from Oimatsu

The section of Noh Theatre used in the workshop led by Kieran

Extract from Oimatsu

Noh play section used with suriashi and kata workshop led by Kieran.

Conventions of Noh - summary

Reproduced from Edsitement.

Kata of Noh

As used in the Noh workshops led by Kieran.

Extract from Dojo-ji

Noh play, used in Noh workshops led by Kieran at ISTA TaPS 2017

©2020 web design by Kieran Burgess.