What Is a Tableau in Drama?

Aleksandar Bondikov/CC-BY 2.0

A tableau in drama is created when every actor in a scene stands in place to represent a specific character. A tableau helps actors organize a complicated scene that involves a lot of movement and characters. This technique can also be used for studying history and literature.

Tableaus are used in drama classes to help students delve more deeply into their characters. The process helps an actor understand the context of what his character says and does in relationship to the people and objects around him. Usually, the students stand in a circle around the performance area, and the teacher introduces a theme. Each student then steps into the central space and establishes a “still image” or pose in relation to the other students. While standing in the tableau, the actors say lines or talk to each other about what each character thinks, feels and wants.

Tableaus can be also used as a teaching method. A history or current events teacher can give small groups various newspaper reports of the same incident (or differing accounts of an historical event) and have the students produce a tableau, character by character. Literature classes can discuss the students’ perspectives on a novel they are reading and act out those perspectives in a tableau.