Theatre Conventions: Dramatic Structure

Theatre Conventions: Dramatic Structure

Introduction to Dramatic Structure

  • Dramatic structure refers to the composition and organisation of a play’s elements. It’s the playwright’s blueprint for sequencing the plot, defining the characters, and steering the overall narrative direction.
  • Understanding dramatic structure is key to interpreting and staging a performance, as well as to writing your own plays. It aids understanding of character development, plot progression, and thematic expression.
  • Remember that not all plays follow this traditional structure. For example, episodic plays may include multiple smaller climaxes rather than one major one, whilst circular structures might end where they started.

Five Stages of Traditional Dramatic Structure

  • Traditional dramatic structure, derived from Greek tragedy, consists of five stages: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Denouement.
  • The Exposition introduces the audience to the setting, main characters, and baseline situation. It is the foundation upon which the rest of the play’s events will unfold.
  • Rising Action is the stage where conflicts begin to develop and tensions rise. It’s the build-up to the climax, and often involves complications or obstacles that characters must face.
  • The Climax, sometimes referred to as the crisis or turning point, is where the main tension or conflict reaches its peak. This part of the play is often most suspenseful or dramatic.
  • The Falling Action follows the climax and begins to resolve the play’s conflicts. It’s a time of re-adjustment, where the character’s situations begin to stabilise.
  • Denouement, or resolution, is the final stage where all loose ends are tied up, conflicts are resolved, and a sense of normality is restored.

Attention Points and Variations in Dramatic Structure

  • Pay particular attention to the various techniques used in the rise and fall of action, pacing, and how the climax and resolution function to complete the narrative arc.
  • Remember that these conventions vary based on the genre of the play - a tragedy will unfold differently than a comedy. Understanding the genre can aid in identifying the expected dramatic structure.