Chamber Theatre in the Bunkhouse
by Charles Barniskis, Minnetonka High School, Minnetonka, Minnesota, 2007
Post-novel activity, grades 7-12. About four days to complete: two to plan and rehearse, two to perform. The length of preparation and performance will vary according to instructor’s desire to have students memorize their lines or not, the size of the class(es), and how formally you want their written responses to the scenes to be.
“The work I am doing now is neither a novel nor a play but it is a kind of playable novel. Written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands.”
-John Steinbeck in letter to agents 1936
“Introduction,” Of Mice and Men (1994)
In creating the “play novelette”, Steinbeck was attempting to reach a new level of audience participation with his work. On one hand, readers could reach the work as a novel. On the other hand, players could perform the novel to intensify the audience participation even more into the world of George, Lennie, and the ranch hands. Your work with this assignment will also serve two purposes.
- Create a three to five minute dramatic re-enactment of a scene from the story. Students should review the Chamber Theatre Guidelines with their teacher prior to beginning this project.
- Explain your rationale for choosing the scene you did and the manner in which you performed it, especially the role(s) you performed. (About a 250-word, double-spaced, typed response).
Chamber Theatre Guidelines
- Select a two to three page excerpt from the story.
Keep all the characters’ spoken words exactly the same as they are in the text.
- The narration can be shortened or skipped, depending on your needs. A member of your group can read the narration, or characters within the scene can read the narration themselves.
- Characters’ position and staging within the scene should reflect your interpretation of the scene. For example, having a powerful character like Curley standing over Lennie would reflect his [Curley’s] economic power over him.
- Every group member will be involved in performing the scene. Decide if you want to work by yourself or with up to two partners (no more than three people total for the group).
- Find a scene in the book that is two to three pages long (allows for proper focus on your scene) that you would like to work with. More than one group can do the same scene because interpretations will vary.
- Take turns reading your scene aloud in your group to get familiar with its words.
- Select a role to perform within the scene. Remember, a “Narrator” character can be created to help the audience along.
- Begin rehearsing the scene. You will probably discover how to stage your scene once you begin rehearsing it.
- Perform the scene to your class.
- Write your reflection piece about the “how” and “why” of your scene (see goal #2).