Contentless Objectives and Tactics

Lesson #2: Contentless Objectives and Tactics



Students will explore how to achieve an emotional objective through a partner using tactics in contentless scenes.



What does it mean for a scene to be “contentless?”

How do we connect actions and feelings?

How are our feelings influenced by our relationships?

What happens if you try saying the same thing in different ways.



The experience of writing something and then trying to say it different ways gives us new information about it.

The voice that we hear in our head is not the voice our audience hears.

Relationship adds a subtext to a performance that may not otherwise be there.



Materials Needed: 

Contentless or Open Scenes



The quote for this class is:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou


Step 1:  The Vampire Game — (Augusto Boal). As per Boal’s Instructions:
“The title of this exercise is slightly alarming – and so is the exercise itself. It goes like this: everyone walks around the room with their eyes closed, their hands covering their elbows in the manner described on p. 115, without touching each other or colliding. The Joker [in this case, the teacher] applies a little squeeze to the neck of one of the participants, who then becomes the first ‘vampire of Strasbourg’ – after a couple of seconds, his arms extend in front of him, he gives a scream of terror, and from this point on he must seek out necks in order to vampirise others.


“The vampire’s scream gives the others a clue as to his whereabouts so that they can try to escape him or whoever vampirised him. The first vampire finds another neck and gives it a little squeeze. The second victim screams with terror in the same fashion, her arms rise in front of her and now there are two vampires, then three, and four, etc. Sometimes one vampire will vampirise another vampire; when this happens, the latter lets out a cry of [relieved] pleasure and drops his arms to his sides, having been returned to normal human status. Of course when participants hear such a cry, it indicates not only that someone has been rehumanised, but also that there is still a vampire beside him. The participants must flee the most vampire-infested areas.”


My only adaptation to this is that it is done in the dark, and sometimes I will add a few other vampires to the group to start out so that the threat is there from the onset. After the game has been played for a while (probably 5-10 minutes) turn the lights back on and have the students sit in a circle.


Step 2:  Reflect — Ask the students to discuss how they felt during the game and why. Ask them if they knew who got them each time. Ask them if they counted how many times they were gotten and not gotten. Help them bridge this game with the Maya Angelou quote. Ask them if they used tactics and had an objective from the get go. Did their objective change?


Step 3:  Write a contentless or open scene — Provide the students with a few short examples of contentless scenes.  See link above for reference.  Have students get with a partner and write their own scene. This portion should take a very short time. The only thing the teacher needs to do as they write is to ensure that the scenes are truly contentless. Explain that they should have no nouns, and as few verbs as possible. Each actor needs only 5 lines, but can have as many as 8-10 if they so desire.


Step 4: Rinse and Repeat — Students will do the following steps with their partner and contentless scenes three different times with each of the different practices. 


  1. Students will graffiti write on the board following a prompt (see below).
  2. Students will select 3-5 things from the board and begin layering them into their contentless scenes. Their goal is to see how applying different ideas to their contentless scene changes the meaning of it.
  3. Students will demonstrate the 2-3 best ideas for their scene to another pair of actors and collaborate on what their best practice is.
  4. Students will reform a circle in the class and discuss their findings until each group has finished. The thing they determined was the best will be the choice they stick with for the next part(s) of this process.


The prompts are as follows:


  1. Write as many strong emotions as you can think of that you could act as a character. (Students will then apply these to their scenes as laid out in steps 2-3; for example, students could write words like “rage, misery, hunger, lustful, surprised, and hurt” and could take some of those, or words written by other students and begin doing their scene with that as the emotion they play.)
  2. Write as many reasons you could feel a strong emotion as you can think of. (Same steps, but examples may include “Lost love, winning a contest, lost job, death, facing a fear, being called by someone you hadn’t seen in years, etc.)
  3. Write as many relationships you can have with other people or things as you can think of. (Friend, lost friend, lover, ex, parent, child, teacher/student, robber/victim, doctor/patient, etc.)


Step 5:  Performances — When the students have returned to the circle the last time, ensure that they have selected an emotion, a reason and a relationship with the help of peers and are ready to perform. When this is certain, have the students perform for one another.


Step 6:  Bringing in the Closer — Ask the students to discuss what was and wasn’t clear about the scenes their partners performed in. What relationships were clear? What things surprised you? Can you articulate any of the words they said that stood out? What about how this made you feel? Consider the Maya Angelou quote from the beginning of class. Explain to students that they are going to begin writing poems and sharing them with the class.