Dotty Potty's Grand Adventure

play by Bill Condon and Dianne Bates , illustrated by Queenie Chan

Learning Intention:

I am learning how to consider aspects of social context so that I can recognise social roles and responsibilities in a text.

Success Criteria:

  • I can define the term social context and recognise its features in a text.
  • I can explain how social context has influenced conversations in the text.
  • I can complete a role play based on my understanding of social context.

Essential Knowledge:

More information about how social factors influence the construction of a text can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Context.

As a class, conduct a reading of the play. Ask students to read their lines in a flat or neutral voice for the initial reading.

After reading the play, discuss why a neutral voice was not the most appropriate way to read the play. You may wish to use the following questions to prompt discussion:

  • What is the problem with reading all lines in a neutral voice? (Students will most probably discuss first how you cannot convey emotions using a neutral voice.)
  • Can you think of any other problems with using a neutral voice? (Prompt students to recognise that people use a different tone of voice if they are speaking to someone more or less powerful than them.)
  • Rank characters in terms in terms of their social power in this play. (The King, then Captain Dotty Potty, then Captain Giles Golightly, then the sailors then the unseen characters such as headhunters, cannibals and zombies. There might be some disagreement on this ranking, for example students might think that the green sailors have less power.)

Explain that this is a text where the social context of the characters has a massive impact on how lines are delivered.

Use ‘The School Magazine’ video to broadly define the term for students. Then provide a simple definition of social context: the social environment or social situation where something happens. Identify features of social context in the play: Dotty Potty lives in a kingdom, therefore she must follow the King’s orders, or it is treason. Dotty Potty is also a captain in the navy, which means that her sailors must follow her orders, or it is mutiny. Some aspects of the social context are unusual as historically women could not be in the navy and had less power than men, but Dotty Potty is more powerful than her male sailors.

Ask students to demonstrate how tone of voice, use of pauses and gestures vary according to social context. You may wish to provide scenarios for students to experiment with aspects of social context. Some example scenarios include:

  • A King ordering his knights into battle.
  • A principal lecturing a student who was talking during assembly.
  • A child asking their parents for a raise of their pocket money.

Reread the play as a class, this time with a consideration of social context. After reading, annotate the play with examples of how social context impacted the delivery of lines. Consider how tone, volume, pitch and pauses will vary according to social context. Some example annotations are below:

KING:   I have a grand (booming emphasis) adventure for you, (pause) Captain    Potty.

DOTTY POTTY: Cool! (Loud, excited tone)

KING:   However, (pause) it will most likely kill you. (Matter of fact tone)

DOTTY POTTY: Suddenly I don’t feel very well. (Nervous tone)

KING:   Unless you (emphasis) accept this mission, (pause) your head will be chopped off. (Threatening tone)

DOTTY POTTY: But I’m very attached to my head. (High pitch, pleading tone)

KING:   Do you accept it or not? (Long pause after question)

DOTTY POTTY: Oh, (long pause) all right. (Sad tone)

Finally, break students into groups and instruct them to play the improv game Day in the Life. This game requires the group to interview a student about what happens in a typical day in their life. Students then need to improvise a dramatic retelling of this day. In their delivery, students should consider aspects of social context and consider the impact it will have on other characters in their improv skit.