Intro to Playwrights
10-12 grade, 77 minutes
Acting by developing, communicating, and sustaining characters in improvisations and informal or formal productions
Analyzing, critiquing, and constructing meanings from informal and formal theatre, film, television, and electronic media productions
Understanding context by analyzing the role of theatre, film, television, and electronic media in the past and the present
The monologues “And Turning, Stay,” and “Bargaining” by Kellie Powell (or some other “bad monologue”), an example of a “good” monologue, scripts from example playwright for students to read as a class, scripts from desired playwrights for students to choose from for their scenes, demonstration of a presentation for example playwright, and info sheet detailing the assignment requirements.
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.
Ask students how many of them have ever performed a scene or monologue before? How many of you have ever been in a play? What were some of your favorite pieces that you performed from? (Monologues, scenes, plays?) Why did you like those works? What about them was appealing or engaging to you? What made them memorable or special? What types of pieces/scenes do you stay away from? Talk about what determines or distinguishes work they like to perform, as opposed to monologues they don’t like to perform.
So what makes “good work,” and what makes “bad work?” Allow students to comment on their thoughts about this.
Some things to think about when choosing “good work,” or material that is strong for performance/audition/competition:
-Shows off your talents and strengths as an actor
-Is this piece appropriate for where it will be performed?
-Generally avoid excessive explicit language in audition/competition pieces.
-Is the piece relatable to others?
-Do you emotionally connect with the piece?
– Do you relate to the piece?
-Does it allow you to take risks?
-Does it have a strong objective(s) you can play?
-Do you see multiple sides/facets to the character? Do you see them change throughout the piece?
-What kind of physicality does the piece allow? Is it manageable or does it ask too much?
-Does the piece display your emotional range? Does it challenge you?
-Is it accessible, or is it stuffy/boring?
-Do you understand what your character is saying/feeling?
-Does it have conflict?
-Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end?
Discuss that in large part what makes work “good” or “bad” is totally opinion based. You have to choose the right work for you, but there are some things to think about, and be aware/cautious of.
Read “And Turning, Stay” by Kellie Powell. Is this an example of good work, or bad work? Have everyone who thinks it’s good work go to the left side of the room, and everyone who thinks it’s bad go to the right side of the room. Let the kids offer some explanations regarding whether they think they’re good or not. Do they meet the requirements that we listed earlier? If students become swayed one way or another they may move to the other side of the room.
I think this is a bad monologue. Now this isn’t to say that a very talented actress couldn’t find some deep meaning and pull out a great performance, but the text isn’t really doing you any favors. It’s histrionic, and seems like the rants of a whiny teenage girl. It seems to lack true depth, and professionalism. While love and loss are very important themes to write about and perform, this seems poorly written. Again, this doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t perform it beautifully. It’s important to pick work that you relate to and find compelling, but it’s also important to pick strong work that will make others take you seriously as a true professional.
Read Sonya’s monologue from Uncle Vanya. Is this good work, or bad work? Again, have students who think it’s good go to the left, and students who think it’s bad go to the right. Does it meet the requirements from our list? Play devil’s advocate and have a true debate and discussion about this. I think this is good work because it is well written, takes the audience/actor on a journey, it’s motivated, relatable (we all experience grief and pain, and we all try to overcome it), and it has depth. However, if you can’t connect to this monologue then it would not be a good choice for you. If it seems repetitive is there a way you could cut, or alter it? Is there a way you could make this text come alive? Why might the world think this piece is “good work,” given the fact that it came from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya?
Repeat the process again with “Bargaining.” Again, I find this to be bad work. It’s reminiscent of Twilight, and seems to have no real deep issues of importance or relatability for people to connect to. Other than being lovesick. The character seems a little flat, and tells a story for most of the monologue. It’s also far, far too long for anyone to ever audition with this piece. It’s not well written, and doesn’t have compelling universal themes. But, admittedly, with a strong cutting it is possible that someone might be able to make this woman’s journey work.
So think about the work you do when you audition or perform. Does it age you in a negative way? Does it seem professional? Is it relatable and compelling? Does it meet the requirements from our list?
Now that we’ve talked about what makes good work let’s talk about people that make great work: playwrights. There are many amazing playwrights of the past and present that aren’t incredibly famous, and it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be famous to make good work. However, it’s also important that we do know about the playwrights that changed theatre for our country, and for the world.
Introduce the playwrights assignment by passing out the rubric/information sheet. Students will learn about influential contemporary playwrights by choosing one from the list, giving us a brief sketch of their biographical background, detail some of their most famous works, describe their genre, their contributions/influence on playwriting and the theatre world, as well as perform a scene from one of their greatest works. This should also include a description about how various influential works may have impacted society/theatre.
Anton Chekhov- scene from The Cherry Orchard
Arthur Miller- scene from Death of a Salesman
Neil Simon- scene from The Star-Spangled Girl
Tennessee Williams- scene from A Streetcar Named Desire
August Wilson- scene from Fences
Eugene Ionesco- scene from Rhinoceros
Eugene O’Neill- scene from Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Bertolt Brecht- scene from The Good Person of Szechwan
Moliere- scene from Tartuffe
Henrik Ibsen- scene from Hedda Gabler
August Strindberg- scene from Miss Julie
Oscar Wilde- scene from The Importance of Being Earnest
Frederico Garcia Lorca- scene from The House of Bernarda Alba
Samuel Beckett- scene from Waiting for Godot
Lorraine Hansberry- scene from A Raisin in the Sun
Wole Soyinka- scene from Death and the King’s Horsemen
Authors, scenes, and plays could change according to instructor’s preference.
Scenes must be completely memorized, and after they perform they must give a brief analysis to the class detailing why the play (from the scene they’re performing) is “good work.” (Students should give context to the scene before performing.) Students can choose a different scene by the author, but they must submit it for instructor approval. Scenes should be about 5 minutes long. If students choose to use the desired cutting they will need to pick what portion of the excerpt they wish to perform. All group members must perform. Additionally, since this class centers around performance, students should think about performance techniques as they present their report. Students should be engaging and informative, and shouldn’t be reading word-for-word from a screen or paper. The playwright presentation can be presented digitally (powerpoint, Prezi, short film, etc.), or as a traditional report. The presentations + the scene should not be longer than 10 minutes. Students may complete an additional report/performance for extra credit. Answer any questions the students have.
Present students the example presentation. This will be Tony Kushner. He’s a great one to do as an example because of his explicit, controversial content. It’s important that students know him and Angels in America, but also important that you control the content that they have access to in a school setting.
Pass out scripts and assign roles to students. This models the scene performance. Is this “good work?” Clearly it is widely deemed so, but why? Do you agree with the hype this piece has gotten, so far as you understand it? You can see how much of this piece is blacked through. Is it appropriate for an audition piece? (I would say yes as long as there’s nothing explicit or graphic. It’s ok to censor the piece a little bit.)
Take about 5 minutes and give a brief synopsis of each of the shows that the students are picking from. Give them about 10 minutes to look at the scripts, and pick their groups. Groups must sign up for which playwright they will pick. No group may do the same playwright.
Remember to think about what makes strong, compelling work that actors want to perform, and directors and audiences want to see. Make sure the pieces you choose compliment your talent. As you work with these scripts the next few days think about how you can tailor the piece to best highlight your talents. What can you relate to? Why is it considered “good” work? Next class period you will be in the computer lab researching your playwrights, as well as preparing your presentations. This will be your only class time to work on that. The next class period you will be given time to rehearse.
Allow students any extra time to read through their scripts in groups.