A Beginner’s Guide to Drama

Introduction to Drama

Introduction to Drama

What’s Drama

Drama is a form of literature acted out by performers. Performers work with the playwright, director, set and lighting designers to stage a show.

Live actors act as someone else called a character.

A play consists of:

  1. dialogue – where characters talk with each other
  2. action – what characters do in the play
  3. gesture – what the character shows through motion(s) and expression(s)

A script, written by a playwright, gives the actors words and cues to perform the dialogue, actions and gestures of their characters on stage.

As a reader, you can only imagine what the gestures, expressions and voices of the characters are like. Remember you must imagine the “sounds,” actions and scenery when you are reading a script.

What’s Reading a play Like?

Reading a play is like listening to a conversation, and using your imagination to guess at what the characters are like. This conversation is what actors will perform on the stage and will give you an idea of how other people, including the playwright, imagined the play to be.

If you have read a play and then see it, you may be surprised because the play may be different from what you had imagined. This is similar to reading a story and then seeing a movie of that story.

it is rarely exactly what you had imagined.

Types of Drama

There are three basic types of drama:

  1. Tragedy: a serious, solemn play based on an important social, personal, or religious issue.
  2. Comedy: a play that shows the humorous actions of characters when they try to solve social, personal, or religious problems.
  3. Tragicomedy: a play or novel containing elements of both comedy and tragedy.

Analyzing Drama

How you react to a play will depend on:

  1. your individual perspective of the world
  2. your sense of humor
  3. you political attitudes
  4. your moral values

Aspects of drama to enjoy and interpret a play


The scenic design and props. These add meaning and historical context to what characters do and say in the drama. Some components of the setting are as follows:

  1. The orchestra, the performance and dancing area for actors and chorus.
  2. The lighting is used to show
    • illusion of time
    • highlight an action
    • emphasize an event or character
  3. Costumes are used to portray
    1. age
    2. class
    3. profession
    4. ethnic culture.


The way a play is organized into sections. Most plays are divided into acts and scenes. A traditional play follows the structural pattern of a traditional short story or novel. It has

  • an introduction (exposition)
  • rising action
  • climax
  • falling action
  • resolution (denouement).


Characterization refers to the way the actor portrays the character’s qualities and characteristics, these could be:

  • traits
  • moral qualities
  • physical presence
  • voice
  • Qualities (either physical and superficial or psychological and spiritual)
External characteristics


  • names
  • physical appearance
  • physical nature
  • manner of speech and accent
  • manner of dress
  • social status
  • class
  • education


  • friends
  • family
  • community interests
  • Internal characteristics
  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • emotions



Types of Characters

  1. Protagonist: The main character of a play, the one who is the center of action and holds your attention.
  2. Antagonist: The character who causes problems for the protagonist.
  3. Foil: The character that acts as the butt of the jokes. Also a character used to show contrast with the main character.
  4. Confidant: Friend or servant of the antagonist or protagonist who by “listening” provides the audience with a window into what the major characters are thinking and feeling.
  5. Stock Characters: Superficial roles. (Ex: comic, victim, simpleton/fool, braggart, pretender).


The central purpose or message of the play as developed by the playwright (i.e. the playwright’s message for the audience).

Dramatic Irony

The contrast between what the character thinks the truth is and what the audience knows the truth to be. This occurs when the speaker fails to recognize the irony of his actions