Content used in the brochures for one of The Improving Co.’s Showtime series.
Madrid’s leading enterprise in educational entertainment for learning English, The Improving Co., presents MYSTERY TALES, a SHOWTIME series, for junior high and high school students. The plays are based on some of the most famous works of the mystery, horror, and gothic literary genres. As usual, the content and language used in the plays correspond to the grade level of the students.
- DRACULA – Puppet show.
- TEN LITTLE INDIANS – Mask theatre.
- THE BLACK CAT – Shadow play.
- FRANKENSTEIN – Video and karaoke show.
- THE CANTERVILLE GHOST – Magic show.
- THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE – Object theatre.
- THE INVISIBLE MAN – Live concert.
- THE TALKING CHAIR- Radio show.
Today, when it comes to teenagers, vampires are cool, and Dracula is the coolest of them all. This show is a short comical adaptation of the famous novel written by Bram Stoker in 1897, about the vampire whose fame remains immortal to this day: Dracula.
Format: Traditional puppet show with a small puppet booth. Marotte or hand puppets are normally used in the Improving Co.’s shows.
Plot: Just like in the original, we follow the young lawyer Jonathan Parker on his business trip to a castle lost in the middle of Transylvania, where he meets Count Dracula. The Count, fascinated by the picture of Mina Murray, Parker’s girlfriend, travels to London to meet her. Once in England, he tries to seduce Lucy, Mina’s best friend. From that point on everything gets turned on its head for comic relief, but without losing the essence of the story.
Stage Props: Traditionally decorated puppet booth with marotte puppets of the main characters.
Participation: The puppets interact with the students throughout the show and ask them to participate.
Discussion questions: Is Dracula a horror story a love story or both? What influence has the story of Dracula had on literature and film since its publication?
TEN LITTLE INDIANS
Ten Little Indians is our adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous detective novels. One of the previous titles of the book was “And then there were none,” published in 1939. Designed for the classroom, the students will go wild trying to find out who the real killer is!
Format: Mask theatre.
Plot: 10 people who have gotten away with murder are invited to spend a weekend on an island. After they find out that they are surrounded by murderers like themselves, one by one they are killed off by an unknown killer in mysterious circumstances.
Stage Props: Carton masks and foam rubber objects.
Participation: The students participate by playing the different characters. They hold up a carton frame as if they were inside a comic book strip with a caption stating who they are and a speech bubble quoting one of their lines.
Discussion questions: Describe some of the characters. How did they die? What crimes did they commit? Why was the title of the story changed?
THE BLACK CAT
Since the theme of this Showtime series revolves around the mystery and horror novels of the late 19th and early 20th century, obviously we could not leave out Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat, written in 1843. This piece is considered to be one of the most blood-curdling works in the history of literature.
Format: Shadow theatre.
Plot: A kind gentle man gets married to a woman who loves animals just as much as he does. Their favorite pet is Pluto, a big black cat. But as the years pass, the man begins to change as he becomes an alcoholic. One day, in a fit of rage, when he feels that his cat is avoiding him, he loses his mind and kills his cat. Little does he know, the consequences for his act will be deadly, and terrifying!
Stage Props: Shadow puppets. Lantern.
Participation: With the students’ participation using shadow theatre techniques, we recreate the sinister setting of the tale.
Discussion questions: What role does the black cat play in the story? Why does it have such an impact on the main character?
Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818, and considered a literary masterpiece, and perhaps, the first modern work of science fiction, this show uses an unusual medium to adapt the book into a 25 performance. The repressed emotion and passion of the outcast who only wanted to fit in, gets expressed through song and dance.
Format: Video show and karaoke.
Plot: In an attempt to create the perfect human being, Doctor Victor Frankenstein constructs a monstrous looking creature using the body parts of dead criminals. Soon after Frankenstein regrets his creation but it’s too late. The monster harasses and terrorizes the doctor, his family, and the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. At the same time as the monster inspires fear and scorn, he also earns our sympathy and compassion because deep down he is just a living being that is alone and without love.
Stage Props: To tell the story of Frankenstein, we show video clips of the most important parts of the film adaptation made in 1931 starring Boris Karloff. The show concludes with the most modern musical adaptation of Frankenstein: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE BRIDE, by the group Blood On the Dance Floor.
Participation: One of the students will play the role of Frankenstein’s creature and then two groups, one with just girls and the other with boys, will participate in the karaoke.
Discussion questions: Is Frankenstein’s creation a monster because of how he is created or because of how he is treated? Does this story criticize man’s attempt to play God by controlling nature? In what ways? If you could create a human being, what would he or she be like?
THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
What better way to bring to the classroom stage this story from 1887 by Irish novelist, Oscar Wilde, than to turn it into a magic show! All the quirky haunts of ghost in the old castle will be acted out with the students as they are directed by a mischievous magician!
Format: Magic Show.
Plot: Otis is an ambassador from the United States looking for a home in England for his family. The Canterville family sells him their old castle, but not before warning him that their reason for leaving was because it was haunted by a ghost whose haunts could sometimes have fatal consequences.
Stage Props: Whatever the magician needs for his tricks: handkerchiefs, cards, paper, chains, etc.
Participation: The students play the roles of the members of Otis’s family and watch the special effects carried out right in front of their eyes of the ghost (magician) as he tries to scare everyone away.
Discussion questions: What does the ghost of Canterville really want? What does he do to get it? Describe some of the things you saw the ghost do. Do you know how the story ends? If you do, tell it. If you don’t, make one up.
JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
This work is so famous, people quote it without having even read it. That’s because everyone can related to having an inner self that his hidden from the rest of the world. If only we were granted the power to let our secret out. What would happen? That’s what we explore in this adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Format: Storytelling with objects and masks.
Storyline: This show portrays the never-ending duel between the extreme forms of good and evil embedded in one person, the scientist Dr. Jekyll. What at first seems like nothing more than a scientific experiment ends up turning the doctor into the evil Mr. Hyde, or better yet, allowing the doctor to be Mr. Hyde!
Stage Props: A mask, some hats, a cane, three books made of foam rubber all unpacked from a suitcase.
Participation: As the actor narrates the story, following his instruction, the students play the roles of various secondary characters from the story. These characters include The Mayor of London, Dr. Jekyll’s girlfriend, and his best friend Gabriel.
Discussion questions: Why is Dr. Jeckyll interested in becoming Mr. Hyde? Do we all have our own special Mr. Hyde that we hide from everyone? What would your Mr. Hyde be like?
THE INVISIBLE MAN
This is a music show based on the science fiction novel by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man, written in 1897. Carlos Gamerro in his prologue to the translation in Spanish, sums it up best: “To see without being seen is to be outside of–and above–that reciprocity which is inextricable from a society built upon egalitarian values. Let there be no mistake, warned Wells, in spite of its seduction and exhilaration, the dream of being invisible is a dream of impunity, and therefore, of power.”
Format: Live concert.
Storyline: Griffin is a scientist who discovers a way to change the refractive index of one’s body to that of air. This way the body will no longer absorb or reflect light, and therefore become invisible. Griffin achieves this process after experimenting on himself, but when he is unable to reverse the process, he begins to fall into a state of mental turmoil.
Stage Props: Guitar and printouts with original lyrics.
Participation: The students will learn to sing a new song composed by Moises, called Boogie Man, which is based on the novel by H.G. Wells. Moises will also select some of the students to be soloists.
Discussion questions: Why does the invisible man become so violent? Why would someone want to be invisible?
THE TALKING CHAIR
Based on The Story of the Bagman’s Uncle by Charles Dickens, published in 1866, this show brings to life the fantasy tale whose main character is a ghost with a very unusual appearance: a talking chair.
Format: Radio show
Storyline: One rainy unpleasant night, Tom Smart arrives to an inn for a rest. In the middle of the night, one of the strange looking chairs in the room starts talking to him and offers him a way to win the love of the innkeeper.
Stage Props: : Microphone and speaker plus the necessary materials for the sound effects: plastic tubes, plastic plaques, coconuts, glossy paper, rain sticks, and thick paper…
Participation: The narrative is carried out by the actor and some of the students who help provide the music score for the show.
Discussion questions: What could be a more realistic version of the story? Could the conversation with the chair have been just a dream? But then how would the man know about the letter?