Five Stages as a tableau vivant

Student activity
English: Year 9 and Year 10

This is the student activity 1 of 2 of the The five stages of inebriation learning activity.

Key inquiry question #1

The Five Stages of Inebriation: Charles Percy Pickering (between 1863-1868)

Task No. 1

Fives Stages as a Tableau Vivant

The Five Stages of Inebriation seeks to change attitudes and behaviour by presenting a negative role model. The viewer is meant to consider the consequences of drinking alcohol for the individual in the photographs. The intention is that the viewer should be scared or warned off drinking because they do not want to be like the character depicted.

Tableau and tableau vivant

A tableau is a kind of acting snap shot. It creates a scene with body language, facial expressions and perhaps a few well-placed props. The actors freeze or hold the same pose as the characters they play from the photograph. Each of the five photographs in The Five Stages of Inebriation resembles a tableau. 

The tableau vivant, from the French for 'living picture', combines aspects of a theatrical performance with painting and photography. In a tableau vivant, a group of costumed models or actors are carefully posed and often lit with theatrical lights.  Throughout the display the actors do not speak or move. Tableaux vivants might recreate scenes from literature and paintings. An extremely popular form of entertainment in the period in which The Five Stages of Inebriation was created, it was fashionable at the time to represent scenes from Shakespeare, history and Greek mythology using tableau vivants. The sets and costumes were often highly elaborate. 

The tableau vivant remained popular until the rise of film and television.


In small groups you are to design and create a tableau vivant consisting of five scenes and present this to the class. The purpose of your tableau vivant is to warn a young adult audience against the dangers over time of a particular behaviour, and to change their behaviour and attitudes.

Your public education program could use a negative role model to present:

  • Five Stages of Chocolate/ Caffeine Drink Addiction
  • Five Stages of Smartphone Overuse
  • Five Stages of Gambling
  • any other sensible choice of behaviour relevant to the target audience that you believe should be dissuaded

Alternatively, you might choose to focus on educating your audience about an undesirable behaviour that does not necessarily have stages. For example:

  • Five Antisocial Acts on Public Transport
  • Five Acts of Sexism
  • Five Acts of Stupidity on the Road
  • Five Acts of Rudeness Using a Mobile Phone
  • Five Ways not to Succeed at School
  • Five ways not to treat staff members in shops or cafes

Before you begin

Make sketches of the composition of each of your five scenes.

Consider the use of:

  • facial expression
  • body language and positioning
  • simple props and costumes 

​Building on the tableau: audience participation

Ask each performer or group of performers to present the tableaus that are part of their public education campaign.

Invite a member of the audience to tap one of the frozen performers on the right shoulder. This is the performer’s cue to explain what their character is saying, doing or thinking at that moment.

A tap on the left shoulder is the performer’s cue to explain the behaviour or attitude they wish to change.

The audience member might also tap a prop or costume element and ask for its role or significance to be explained.

This activity can work well if students are asked to represent a key scene or event from a film, poem, narrative, play or digital text they are studying.

Option: Photograph your tableau

Make a record of your tableau vivant, by photographing each scene. 

Option: Alternative Tableau Activity - Positive Education Campaign

Some public education campaigns seek to change behaviours and attitudes by presenting positive role models. Imagine you have been asked to design a series of images for a public education campaign targeted at young adults that models and encourages acts of kindness as a strategy to deal with bullying.  Create a tableau that depicts Five Acts of Kindness, or as a group devise your own topic using the start "Five Acts of...".