The Drama Machine

screenshotBehold, The Drama Machine.  This is an interactive application that demonstrates the variables that we always deal with in production.  It randomly combines factors: Script, Director’s Concept, Venue, Budget, and Time. It churns out the circumstances for a hypothetical production with gaudy special effects and noises.

In my classroom, I use this on a Smart Board.  Students come up to the machine, one at a time, and generate a new set of circumstances.   I usually have the student wear silly goggle while they operate the machine, and I have them slowly go through all of the buttons, top-to-bottom, before they return to their seat.

If you do not have a smart board, you can still use this.

  • It could be used with a projector or other type of screen.  I would suggest coming up with some way to make a big deal out of pushing the next button each time.   Maybe a drum-roll.
  • Students can operate this on their own, either in class, or as an assignment.
  • Students can operate this on their own devices in groups.
  • I have a former student who uses this in the classroom to generate design paper assignments.  Students run the machine in class and are then required to write a design concept statement based on the results.


  1. Wait until the page has full loaded,  You should hear a cacophony of machine noises.   I totally recommend that you turn your sound up a bit.
  2. Press the giant green START button.  You will see the machine ripple into life.
  3. Begin at the top of the page, top-right.  “The basic story is …” Press the button with the image of a storybook.  You will receive a randomly selected plot premise.   Be sure that everyone present is familiar with the basic story displayed.
  4. Wait for each premise to fully load after you press the buttons.
  5. Work your way down the buttons, one at a time, slowly.   Discuss the situation with each new piece of information.
  6. Finally, for the last button, the hypothetical Director has chosen a piece of artwork on which to base the visuals for the production.  Savor the moment before you reveal this image.
  7. After you click “SHOW ME,” discuss how you will manage this show visually, given the information provided.
  8. When you feel that the class is satisfied and is ready to move on, press “RESET.”  Run the machine again.

This turns your class into a game show for the day, and inspires extraordinary discussion about how designing is always problem solving.   This also works extremely well for brainstorming playwriting.


Click here to Start.

Exercise Contributed by Matt Kizer

Matt Kizer is the webmaster for and is the head of the Design & Technology Program for Theatre at Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH.

  • Author Spotlight

    Matt Kizer

    Matt Kizer lives with his wife and son in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He is the resident scenic and lighting designer for Plymouth State University, where he has been the head of the design and technology program since 1996. He designs for theate and dance companies, tours, and colleges in many parts of the Unites States. He serves as a regular designer for Auburn University in Alabama. He served as faculty lighting designer for Operafestival Di Roma in Italy, where he designed lighting for L’elisir di amore and The Magic Flute, both produced with the Orchestra Sinfonica dell’ International Chamber Ensemble at Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in central Rome. He has designed for dance and movement in Potsdam, Germany at T-Werk in Schiffbauergasse with A-Fortiorni.He holds a BA in Theatre from Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Design from The Ohio State University. He serves on the International Activities Committee for the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. His work has been included in the The Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space as a part of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology's representation of work from the United States. Read Full
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