ALEX Learning Activity


Performance & Writing: How to Write a Short Open Scene for Theatre Students

A Learning Activity is a strategy a teacher chooses to actively engage students in learning a concept or skill using a digital tool/resource.

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  This learning activity provided by:  
Author: Michael Merritt
System:Madison City
School:James Clemens High School
  General Activity Information  
Activity ID: 1698
Performance & Writing: How to Write a Short Open Scene for Theatre Students
Digital Tool/Resource:
Open Scenes for Acting Practice
Web Address – URL:

Open scenes are great ways to get kids on their feet and acting. Open scenes are open to interpretation and should be purposely vague or ambiguous. The purpose of having kids write and later perform these short scenes is to get them on stage, help them start interpreting lines and trying to attempt to understand and play the subtext in dialogue. The scenes are short (16-24 lines) and can be memorized easily. The digital tool provided will show students an example of an open scene.

This activity was created as a result of the Arts COS Resource Development Summit.

  Associated Standards and Objectives  
Content Standard(s):
Arts Education
ARTS (2017)
Grade: 9-12
Theatre: Proficient
10) Shape character choices in response to given circumstances in a drama/theatre work.

Unpacked Content
Artistic Process: Performing
Anchor Standards:
Anchor Standard 4: Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.
Process Components: Select
Essential Questions:
EU: Theatre artists make strong choices to effectively convey meaning.
EQ: Why are strong choices essential to interpreting a drama or theatre piece?
Concepts & Vocabulary:
  • motivation
  • origin
  • rising actions
  • climax
  • protagonist vs antagonist
  • Alexander Technique
  • diction
  • consonants
  • vowels
  • motivated movement
  • blocking
Theatrical production
Skill Examples:
  • Students will discuss in a classroom setting the differences in dealing with friends, family, fellow workers, employees or a boss: how you speak, listen and react differently in each of those relationships.
  • Students will have improvisational scenes using those roles as starting points in the scenes.
  • Students will study Viola Spolin techniques in class and use those techniques in classroom scene work.
  • Students will research scenic painting and how it can enhance scene aesthetic for their various plays and performances.
  • Students will create Living Newspapers for their classroom audience, using modern articles, various roles for each student and rehearsal to refine the final performance.
Arts Education
ARTS (2017)
Grade: 9-12
Theatre: Accomplished
5) Collaborate as a creative team to make interpretive choices for a drama/theatre work.

Unpacked Content
Artistic Process: Creating
Anchor Standards:
Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
Process Components: Develop
Essential Questions:
EU: Theatre artists work to discover different ways of communicating meaning.
EQ: How, when, and why do theatre artists' choices change?
Concepts & Vocabulary:
  • Author research
  • previous productions of the specific play
  • Text breakdown
  • Expositions
  • Public Solitude
  • Biomechanic
  • Lessac
  • Laban
  • Accents
  • Method of Physical Action
  • Warm ups
  • Laban
  • emotional memory
  • sense memory
  • substitution
  • affective memory
  • given circumstances
  • ensemble work
  • lighting
  • innovation/evolution of technical theatre
  • technical crews and their jobs
Theatrical production
  • World of the play
  • Production concept
  • Copyrights and the right of the playwright
Skill Examples:
  • Students will pick one of 10 plays that represent plays from across multiple genres. They will begin the design process using research about prior productions of our play. They will work together to present their design for the play. Their research will be a large part of their grade.
  • Students will study lighting in class. They will have lecture and discussion about the evolution of lighting in theatre. They will also discuss how lighting has allowed them to accomplish more with less instruments. Additionally, the students will "invent" their own lighting instrument that will fix the issues that they are currently experiencing as designers and technicians.
  • The students will begin studying the acting technique of Stanislavski and The Method. They will demonstrate their new knowledge in their monologues for class.
  • Students will work together to create a performance of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology. They will work together to find pieces for every student in the class that work within the intent of the assignment. Students will create strong characters based off the short monologues in the play. Students will pair and critique each other during the process. Students can perform for other classes or film themselves for a final review after the performance.
  • Students will create costumes, lighting, sound and a set design for their performance of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology.
Learning Objectives:

1) Students will collaborate and invent their own open scenes with guidance from the teacher. 

2) Students should assist one another in shaping character choices based on the given circumstance they create for their open scene.

While shaping character choices (writing the character's lines), students should remember that the goal of the open scene is to be able to take the scene in a multitude of directions. Therefore the lines must remain rather open and ambiguous.



  Strategies, Preparations and Variations  

  1.  Explain to students the purpose of short or open scenes for creating opportunities for young acting students to have some material to work with while learning about acting. Refer to the digital tool. Read over it with your students as preparation for this activity.

  2. After students have completed the brainstorming activity (see Advanced Preparation), partner them up with one other student. Each student should read their partner’s brainstorming sheet. If there are some similar answers for the partners in any column, that might be a great theme/subject to write about.

  3. If there is an odd number of students, create one group of three students.

  4. Each student is responsible for writing eight lines of dialogue with the partner (total of 16 lines of dialogue or 24 lines if there are three in a group)

  5. Students should focus on writing lines that could be interpreted in any direction or way. They should purposely write lines that might be vague or ambiguous so that there are multiple options to play when acting out the scene.

  6. Before starting the writing, each group needs to decide:

    1. Who are you?

    2. Why are you here?

    3. How do you know each other?

    4. Are you strangers?

    5. What are your feelings towards one another?

    6. What is happening right now in this scene?

    7. How do you convey the meaning using only the words available to you (that you have written)?

    8. Where are you?

  7. As the writing begins, give your students a set amount of time to complete this, five to ten minutes max. When a time limit is set, it is good for the young artists because they need a certain amount of time to produce, just to simply produce the work, they can do re-writes later. The longer you give them, the longer they might procrastinate. Make them get in there and just start writing.

  8. Set a timer with an alarm and tell them, “Your time begins now”, give them a warning when there is one minute remaining.


Assessment Strategies:

1) Check for collaboration through formative assessment by asking each student (individually) what parts of the character lines they contributed and why. 

2) Through formative assessment, question group members about roadblocks (or writer's block) they encountered while creating their open scene and address ways to work through those difficulties when applicable.

3) Allow students to read their scenes to the class. After scenes have been read, allow peer feedback to address how character choices could be shaped through different variations of line delivery. This peer feedback (with teacher guidance as needed) will serve as a formative assessment and help students understand if their scene, in fact, an open scene.

If there are a multitude of ways the lines could be delivered and therefore interpreted, then a successful open scene has been created.

Advanced Preparation:

  1. Complete your own brainstorming activity and write down some of the things you hate/love/etc. Have these lists ready at the beginning of the class to share with students.

  2. Allow students to read over a previously written open scene and have a student partner up with you (the teacher) to do a read-through of the scene in front of the class.

  3. Discuss different directions (and interpretation) the open scene could take.


Students will brainstorm about things they:

  1. hate

  2. love

  3. have as a pet peeve

  4. are passionate about

The students should write down about ten things under each category. They can feel free to write more if they have more than ten things to write down.  All of these topics or items on their list could be stimuli for their open scene.


Variation Tips (optional):

Have a selection of open scenes ready to pull from, and let students simply focus on performing the open scenes with partners. Allow one class period of different groupings and different open scenes to be read or played in front of the class. Let this day be the warm-up day before the students actually write their own open scenes the following day.

Notes or Recommendations (optional):

Do not let students tell you they have nothing to write about. Look at their brainstorming sheet and give them a topic or a theme if they are stuck and not writing, pull the idea from their brainstorming sheet. Do not let students worry about the quality of their writing. It is simply an exercise and the class is not doing this activity to perfect the art of playwriting, but just as a way to create short scenes to play in class.

Example of an Open Scene (find more examples online or write your own)

A:  I found it.

B:  Really?

A:  I did.

B:  Feel better?

A:  Exceptionally.

B:  I knew it.

A:  You did.

B:  Anything else?

A:  Yes…

B:  Ohhhhhh…..yeah….almost forgot.

A:  Want me to?

B:  I can.

A:  I can too…

B:  I’ll do it.

A:  I’ll be right here.

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