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Hints and Tips Sheet for IB Theatre teachers and students

RESOURCE: Hints and Tips Sheet for IB Theatre teachers and students

How to formulate a viable Research Investigation Question

‘Hints & Tips’ Sheet for IB Theatre teachers & students

Firstly let us remind ourselves of the requirements of the RI task:

The IB Theatre Syllabus Guide states  ‘Students should select a specific aspect of a play or theatre piece from the chosen theatrical practice to research, and then formulate a research question to answer. Students should collect, edit and present their research to contribute to a realization of the play/theatre piece from the chosen theatrical practice.’


So your first questions regarding the RI assignment should be:

  1. What theatre practice or practitioner am I interested in researching?
  2. Is there a play/ text /piece of theatre from this practice?
  3. What sources of research are available to help me write an essay on a specific

theatrical aspect of this play/ text /piece of theatre?


Question 2 (above) concerning a play/text/piece of theatre is important because there are plenty of perfectly viable practices and practitioners but no play/text/piece of theatre borne out of that practice. Interesting though

these are to research (and perhaps apply to an IP) they should be discarded for the purposes of the RI.


Question 3 (above) concerning research sources is important because it can prove challenging to dig up satisfactory research on some of the more obscure theatrical practices. This is certainly not a reason to avoid researching a less common tradition, and indeed originality is encouraged, but students are strongly advised

to investigate and consult the available research first before settling on a final RI question. The ‘specific aspect’ should be a specific theatrical aspect, such as ‘masks’ or ‘lighting design’ as opposed to general aspects that happen to appear in the chosen piece such as ‘themes of violence’ or ‘socio-political

resonance’. See also the note below about Circular RI Logic.


The Research Investigation is NOT a creative exercise, it is a research exercise – it should inform a production rather than be a “how to” paper.

It is thus strongly encouraged that the RI is not addressed to a hypothetical individual taking on a specific theatrical role.

theatre1  Hints and Tips Sheet for IB Theatre teachers and students theatre1

For example, note the difference between:

  1. A) “How would a costumier design a costume for Pantalone in Servant of Two Masters?”
  2. B) “What are the costume requirements for Pantalone in Servant of Two Masters according to the costuming

tradition of Commedia Del’Arte at this time?”

Clearly in the above example Question A is addressed to a specific individual (the costume designer) and

should be avoided. Question B sets out to research the more general all-encompassing principles of thepractice as applied to costumes and is therefore a more satisfactory start to the RI task.


The ‘RI Question Validation Test’…

Formulating a viable question is absolutely essential to meeting the requirements of this assignment successfully! Starting the task with a poorly-worded or inadequate RI question means you are severely crippled from the beginning and have no hope of reaching the higher mark bands in the assessment criteria.


So once you have drafted your question check to see if it can breakdown into the following phrases:


The conventions/theories of ………………………………. (theatre practice/practitioner I

have chosen) should be applied in the various ways that I will explain in the

main body of my essay to the …………………………………. (specific theatrical aspect I

have chosen) of a realisation of ………………………………… (play/text/theatre-piece

from my chosen theatrical practice/practitioner)

for example…


The conventions/theories of ….EPIC THEATRE…. (theatre practice/practitioner)

should be applied in the various ways that I explain in the main body of my

essay to the ……….LIGHTING DESIGN………… (specific theatrical aspect)

of a realisation of….. BERTHOLT BRECHT’S ’MOTHER COURAGE’……

(play/text/theatre-piece from the chosen theatrical practice/practitioner)

Et voila!

If your RI question breaks down easily into something like the above then you’re probably good to go write the essay.

If your RI question cannot be broken down easily into something like the above then it probably lacks a key component of the task and you have little hope of meeting the assessment criteria successfully – go back to the three initial questions at the top of the page and start again!


Circular RI Logic…

Another thing to be careful of is Circular RI Logic whereby an RI question focuses on a Specific Theatrical Aspect that is already itself a convention of the practice.

An example of this is:

“How should the conventions of Epic Theatre be applied to breaking the 4th wall in Brecht’s Mother Courage?”

I advise avoiding this kind of question because otherwise this essay has to discuss how to apply conventions of a practice to a convention of that practice, which makes no sense! Unfortunately it’s often not that clear-cut because it seems to me that something like ‘Masks’ or ‘Chorus’ in Greek Theatre can appear in Research Investigations either as a Specific Theatrical Aspects or conventions or both. This is something I find students can have real difficulties getting their heads around, as indeed do I depending on the day of the week! As always, do all necessary checking well in advance before submitting a 2,500 essay that will score poorly because of a fatal confusion in the question.


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