Playwrights and Contemporary Performance Practices

by Laura Taylor

Unit Objective:

Students will be able to identify many playwrights of the dramatic canon, as well as some of their most influential works by participating in research and analysis about the individual and performing one of their most famous works. Students will also broaden their understanding of playwriting and what makes a playwright by briefly researching some contemporary performance groups, and participating in contemporary performance practices/playwriting.


Enduring Understandings:

Theatre artists exist in a variety of appearances, including students. Theatre artists can create new meaning from old text via contemporary performance practices.


Essential Questions:

What does it mean to be a playwright, or a theatre practitioner? What qualifies as “good work?” How can we relate to those who have come before us? Should we? How can plays or the work we create transcend time? How can we create new meaning in old texts?


Prior Experience:

Students do not need any prior performance experience to complete this unit, although it is helpful if they at least have class monologue/scene performance experience.


2014 National Core Arts Theatre Standards:

TH:Cr2.1.HSI a. Explore the function of history and culture in the development of a dramatic concept through a critical analysis of original ideas in a drama/theatre work.


TH:Cr2.1.HSII  a. Refine a dramatic concept to demonstrate a critical understanding of historical and cultural influences of original ideas applied to a drama/theatre work.


TH:Cr2.1.HSIII  a. Develop and synthesize original ideas in a drama/theatre work utilizing critical analysis, historical and cultural context, research, and western or non-western theatre traditions.


TH:Pr6.1.HSI  a. Perform a scripted drama/theatre work for a specific audience.


TH:Re7.1.HSII  a. Demonstrate an understanding of multiple interpretations of artistic criteria and how each might be used to influence future artistic choices of a drama/theatre work.


Advanced TH:Re7.1.HSIII  a. Use historical and cultural context to structure and justify personal responses to a drama/theatre work.


TH:Re8.1.HSI  a. Analyze and compare artistic choices developed from personal experiences in multiple drama/theatre works.  b. Identify and compare cultural perspectives and contexts that may influence the evaluation of a drama/theatre work.


TH:Re9.1.HSI  a. Examine a drama/ theatre work using supporting evidence and criteria, while considering art forms, history, culture, and other disciplines.  c. Formulate a deeper understanding and appreciation of a drama/ theatre work by considering its specific purpose or intended audience.


TH:Cn10.1.HSI  a. Investigate how cultural perspectives, community ideas and personal beliefs impact a drama/theatre work.


TH:Cn11.2.HSI  b. Use basic theatre research methods to better understand the social and cultural background of a drama/theatre work.


1994 National Standards:

Content Standard #1: Script writing through improvising, writing, and refining scripts based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history


Content Standard #2: Acting by developing, communicating, and sustaining characters in improvisations and informal or formal productions


Content Standard #4: Directing by interpreting dramatic texts and organizing and conducting rehearsals for informal or formal productions


Content Standard #5: Researching by evaluating and synthesizing cultural and historical information to support artistic choices


Content Standard #6: Comparing and integrating art forms by analyzing traditional theatre, dance, music, visual arts, and new art forms


Content Standard #7: Analyzing, critiquing, and constructing meanings from informal and formal theatre, film, television, and electronic media productions


Content Standard #8: Understanding context by analyzing the role of theatre, film, television, and electronic media in the past and the present



11 lessons for a beginning-intermediate theatre class


Grade level:

10-12th grade




Students will understand that……

The definition of what a playwright is can exist in many different forms (both contemporary and traditional). They’ll also understand that “good work” also exists in a variety of forms, but is relatable, and transcends time. Additionally, students understand that they, too, are playwrights.

Essential Questions


What does it mean to be a playwright, or a theatre practitioner? What qualifies as “good work?” How can we relate to those who have come before us? Should we? How can plays or work we create transcend time? How can we create new meaning in old texts?

Students will know…

Students will know many different influential playwrights and plays, many different contemporary performance groups and practices, and they’ll know how to critically analyze new meaning that can be created through contemporary work.

Students will be able to

Understand how to apply contemporary performance practices to a traditional show to create new meaning, analyze meaning and content, and they will be able to collaboratively devise a contemporary scene.


Learning Activities:

-Presentation of famous plays/playwrights

-Presentation of contemporary performance groups

-Media mini-workshop

Class discussions

-Brainstorming worksheet

-Analysis of performance choices

-Peer reviews and responses

-Unit reflection




Lesson 1:  Choosing Strong Work and Playwright Bio

Learning Objective: Students will begin to think about and understand the role various influential playwrights have made on both American drama and drama as a whole. They will also critically analyze important things to look for when choosing “good work” to perform or audition with and think about how this reflects on the work of the playwright.


Lesson 2:  Presentation Research Day

Learning Objective: Students will learn more about their chosen playwright, his/her influence, and influential works by researching them in the computer lab and synthesizing that information for their presentations.


Lesson 3: Rehearsing With Famous Playwrights

Learning Objective: Students will contextualize what they’ve learned about their playwrights by performing a scene from one of their most famous works. While students rehearse and perform their scenes they’ll think about their connection to the work, and analyze why it’s “good work,” and why it became so famous.


Lesson 4: Playwright Presentations and Performances

Learning Objective: In groups students will give their presentations on their specific playwrights where they will show that they have analyzed and evaluated how the playwright and their work(s) affected both the past and present. Students will also perform scenes from one of the playwright’s most famous plays where they will also analyze why the play is considered a masterpiece.


Lesson 5: What Contemporary Performance Artists Do

Learning Objective: Students will broaden their interpretation and understanding of performance (specifically in relation to famous works of the dramatic canon) by creating modern, devised adaptations of the scenes they just saw performed. Students will also achieve this new understanding, application, and interpretation of theatre by watching and discussing some of the work and practices that experimental contemporary playwrights and performance groups use to give traditional works new meaning.


Lesson 6: Thinking Like a Contemporary Performance Group

Learning Objective: Students will specifically learn what types of work and conventions different leading experimental contemporary performance groups practice by briefly researching them and presenting what they’ve learned to the class. They will also synthesize their understanding regarding what these groups do by coming up with 3 ways they/their school could implement these practices in their work.


Lesson 7:  Getting in the Contemporary Performance Practice Mindset

Learning Objective: Students will practice applying the performance practices they just learned about by coming up with ways they could apply them to the famous scenes they recently saw performed. Students will also discuss and analyze how these performances should give new perspective and interpretation to the original plays.


Lesson 8: Making Contemporary Performance Practices a Reality in Our Work

Learning Objective: Students will apply what they’ve learned about contemporary experimental performance groups, their processes, and work as they analyze and synthesize the relationship between playwrights/work from the dramatic canon and non-traditional contemporary plays/playwriting practices by picking a play of a traditional playwright and creating a performance using contemporary non-traditional practices.


Lesson 9: Justifying and Practicing Thoughtful Performance Practices

Learning Objective: Students will practice applying contemporary performance practices to their work by carefully analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting choices/techniques that will best create new meaning for their work. They will show this process by writing an analysis of the choices they’ve made detailing why they chose them, how they benefit the piece, and what new meaning or understanding they bring to the work.


Lesson 10: Peer Performance Review for Group Progress

Learning Objective: Students will evaluate the effectiveness of their work and choices by performing a preview for 1-2 other groups where they will self-evaluate, receive feedback, and give feedback to other groups.


Lesson 11: Contemporary Performances and Reflection

Learning Objective: Students will show their understanding of the importance/influence of both traditional and contemporary playwrights and playwriting by performing a piece they’ve created that applies contemporary performance practices to a work of the dramatic canon, critiquing themselves and the other groups, participating in a discussion, and by turning in a reflection.


Playwrights and Contemporary Theatre Practices Unit of Lessons.Laura Taylor