Drama – The elements of dramatic form

The building blocks of drama from children’s pretend play to classic plays

Drama starts with:

The dramatic context

  • A human situation
    • What’s happening?
    • Where?
    • When?
  • Its characters and their roles
    • Who is involved?

Organised by:


  • The dramatist's framing of the situation and characters in the human context
  • The chosen distance of the human situation from the viewer or participant

Driven by:


  • What's at stake?
    • Dilemmas faced by the characters
    • Conflict between the characters
    • Suspense about what may happen
    • Mystery of what is unrevealed
    • Tension of the task for the characters to achieve their aims
    • Surprise for the characters

Manifested in:


  • Embodied action
  • Location and setting
  • Light and darkness

Manifested over:


  • Plot and narrative
  • Cause and effect

Expressed in:


  • Voice and words
  • Non-verbal paralanguage
  • Sound and silence

Embodied in:


  • Gesture
  • Physical relationships
  • Movement and stillness

Combining to make:

Dramatic meaning

  • Symbols
  • Atmosphere
  • Understanding
  • Aesthetic effect

When performed to an audience it becomes:


  • Acting
  • Design
  • Directing
  • Staging
  • Production

The elements of dramatic form Flow Chart: the dramatic context->organised by Focus->driven by TENSION->manifested over TIME+SPACE->expressed in LANGUAGE+Embodied in MOVEMENT->combining to make DRAMATIC MEANING->when performed to an audience it becomes THEATRE

This project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.