February 17th, 2005
Lon Chaney
Procedures for Teachers


  • Make sure that the students have access to a photocopier so that they can copy the scripts that they will write.
  • Obtain copies of the following movies and cue them up to the scene the students will be working on
    • THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) — directed by Rupert Julian and Lon Chaney. Lon Chaney stars as the Phantom.
    • THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) — directed by Wallace Worsley. Lon Chaney stars as Quasimodo.
    • OLIVER TWIST (1922) — directed by Frank Lloyd. Lon Chaney stars as Fagin.
  • Review all Web sites that will be used with the students.

Introductory Activity

1. Ask your students what they think Reader’s Theater is?

2. Solicit their remarks and then explain to them the details of the activity.

What is Reader’s Theater? Reader’s Theater allows students to take any piece of literature, analyze it and adapt it into a script. There are many variations of this form of minimal theater, but they all share similar traits.

  • No full memorization. Actors/readers use scripts during performance.
  • No full costume. If they are used, they should be partial and suggestive, or neutral and uniform.
  • No full stage sets. If used, they should be simple and suggestive.
  • Narration provides the framework for dramatic action.

Learning Activities

1. Watch the Lon Chaney episode of the AMERICAN MASTERS SERIES.

2. Students should then go to the American Masters Web site at
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/chaney_l_homepage.html and read the essay about Lon Chaney. Discuss:

  • What are the roles he is most famous for?
  • Why were his roles in OLIVER TWIST, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA important to American culture and entertainment?
  • What did he bring to the interpretation of the story, especially given that these were all silent movies?
  • What was the public attitude at the time and what was going on in politics and history? (Use the timeline on the American Masters Web site to help students situate the films in their historical context.)
  • Would the response to these films have been the same today — why or why not?

3. Break the class into various groups, depending on the size of your class.

  • THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA group — you’ll need 10 people
  • OLIVER TWIST group — you’ll need 6 people
  • THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME group — you’ll need at least 10 people

4. Each group should do a K-W-L (What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Have Learned) chart to determine their previous knowledge about the story in question.

Students should also include information they learned from the essay or the AMERICAN MASTERS episode on Lon Chaney. (Visit http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/lessons/native_americans/kwl.html for information about K-W-L charts.)

5. Each group should conduct its own set of research about the story so that team members have a basic understanding of the plot of the book they are working with.

6. After researching the books and Lon Chaney, give each group the URL of their chapter for the Reader’s Theater.

7. Each group should download the chapter and transfer it into a Microsoft Word document so that they can easily adapt the chapter into a script form.

The teacher should hand out copies of the chapter (already double spaced) so the students can start reading it and figuring out how to divide up the dialogue.

  • Students should also select one person who will type up the script based on the discussion about the text. This student should not have to re-type everything. Students will be using the original dialogue from the book and changing it into script form for their Reader’s Theater presentation.

8. Give students the rest of the session and at least two full class periods to read, analyze, rewrite, and rehearse their chapters.

Before they work on rehearsing their scenes, the teacher should show brief clips of Chaney’s movies (avoid the scenes that the students are preparing) and of the American Masters episode so that students can watch and even mimic the actor’s movements. Remind students that, as noted in the American Masters episode, all of Chaney’s work was in silent film. He was very skilled in portraying the grief, anxiety, and turmoil of his characters through facial expressions and movements alone. He could not rely on background music, sound effects, or dialogue in his performances.

Culminating Activity/Assessment:

1. During the last class of this activity, the groups will present their scenes. Before each presentation, the group should summarize the plot so that the entire class knows what is going on in the book at that moment. After each scene, solicit comments and questions from the class.

  • Does the interpretation of the scene allow you to understand what’s happening in the story?
  • How did the group’s readings add to the mood of the chapter or text?
  • What is the conflict that the characters are experiencing?

2. Then, play the corresponding scenes from Chaney’s movies to see how professional scriptwriters interpreted the story and how professional actors performed it.

  • Compare and contrast your scenes.
  • Was the movie version effective? Explain your answer. (These answers should be interesting since Chaney’s movies were all silent films.)
  • What would you do differently now that you’ve seen a movie version? How was your perception of your scene affected by seeing it performed without dialogue?


Students can finish reading the book that their group started. They can discuss the text in a book group format. Book groups are also known as literature circles. Visit http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/month3/demonstration.html#groups to see information about book groups. The lesson featured in this Concept to Classroom workshop, “Teaching to Academic Standards,” is geared toward middle school students, but it can easily be adapted for high school.

Cross-Curricular Extensions

  • Music — Learn to sing and/or play some of the music from the Broadway play THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

  • Architecture and History — What is the significance of Notre Dame? What makes this place so special? Create a tourist’s brochure for this site.

  • Art — You have been assigned to be the makeup artist to create the Phantom’s face or the character of the Hunchback. Draw your ideas. Then compare your work to Lon Chaney’s Phantom or Hunchback of Notre Dame. You can find these clips in the American Masters episode or from the movies themselves.

Community Connections

Community reading projects are growing in popularity. The city of Chicago did it with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, and Cornell University did it with Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. For information about Chicago’s reading project called “One Book, One Chicago,” go to http://www.chipublib.org/003cpl/onebook/intro.html. This is a great opportunity for your students to be the “experts” and to lead book discussions with other high school students, teachers, and parents. Go to http://www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/one-book.html, which is the Center for the Book’s Web site about the “One Book” Reading Projects. At this site, you will find an extensive listing of the books that cities across the country have chosen to read as a community.


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