Thinking Like a Contemporary Performance Group


An Introduction to Playwrights and Their Work



Grade Level:

10-12 grade, 72 minutes



National Standards:

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



Materials Needed:

Clips of Mies Julie, The Wooster Group’s Hamlet, the New Orleans production of Waiting for Godot and handouts over The Wooster Group, The Civilians, Elevator Repair Service, The Tectonic Theatre Project, Punchdrunk, and Mary Zimmerman.

Lesson 6.Contemporary Theatre Group Handouts


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.



Hook (15-20 minutes):

Think back to our modern adaptation of the famous plays. I mentioned that there are contemporary performance groups that do work a lot like we did, but on a larger scale. Contemporary performance groups don’t only adapt and deconstruct famous plays from the dramatic canon (ask the students if they know what this phrase means), but it’s this work that we want to focus on right now.

Show clip of Mies Julie. Before it starts explain a brief background to the play. After clip finishes ask: how does this deconstruction change the meaning of the play? (It’s a deconstruction because the story is kept the same, yet the context is different as it’s now set in a different time period and social setting. Changing the focus of a storyline, like making the play take place from Jean’s point of view, would qualify as a deconstruction, as well.) How does the addition of race and time period change our understanding of the show? Does it add to the original?

Show clip of Hamlet. Before playing the clip give a little context.



The Wooster Group has this to say about the performance:

In The Wooster Group’s HAMLET, Shakespeare’s classic tragedy is re-imagined by mixing and repurposing Richard Burton’s 1964 Broadway production, directed by John Gielgud. The Burton production was recorded in live performance from 17 camera angles and edited into a film that was shown as a special event for only two days in nearly 1,000 movie houses across the U.S. The idea of bringing a live theater experience to thousands of simultaneous viewers in different cities was trumpeted as a new form called “Theatrofilm,” made possible through “the miracle of Electronovision.” The Wooster Group attempts to reverse the process, reconstructing a hypothetical theater piece from the fragmentary evidence of the edited film. We channel the ghost of the legendary 1964 performance, descending into a kind of madness, intentionally replacing our own spirit with the spirit of another.

Notice their inclusion of media into their performance while the original script is kept totally the same. What do you think they’re trying to say with this piece? What does the media add? How else have they adapted this piece? (The set pieces seem sterile to me, and the costumes a little more modern. They are more stylized in the very least.) What are they trying to say/do? How do they change our meaning, or understanding of the piece? Do they add to it? What can the addition of media do for a production?

Last, show the clip of Waiting for Godot. How is this production significant? How was the meaning of the original show changed? Did they add to the original meaning/understanding, or take away from it? How does the setting and time period change the play? For me this production is much, much stronger than the original version on its own. Modern (or other) adaptations can allow themes of the original show to shine through more clearly that we might have noticed initially. They can also make the play more powerful and relatable, like this production does for me.



Activity 1 (15-20 minutes):

Split the class up into 6 groups. Distribute the informational handouts to each group- every group should have a different performance company.

Give the groups about 10-15 minutes to read through their handout and discuss them as a group. They will present their information to the class and should do 2 things:
1) Tell us why these are considered contemporary performance practices. Meaning, what about this group or individual’s approach to writing/production is untraditional?
2) 3 ways we could implement their practices into our work. This could include personally, as a class, and/or as a school.

If students have smart phones or other devices to connect them to the internet they may use them to look up additional information if they wish.

Make sure to be going around to each group and monitor their progress. Answer any questions students may have- this type of thinking is likely out of their comfort zone. If students begin to get off task then it is time to move on.



Activity 2 (15-20 minutes):

Have each group tell us about their performance group or individual. Make sure they detail both requirements in their mini-presentations.



Wrap-Up (5 minutes):

Next class period we’re going to delve deeper into practicing how we can specifically apply these practices as we look back at some of the other classic scenes we saw performed (not the ones that we did modern adaptations for). Ask the class if they had a favorite performance group that was presented. Why?




Have students take the last 10 minutes of class to write a response to their experiences of the day. Responses could answer questions like: what did you learn? What did you like? Did you have a favorite group you heard about, or a least favorite? How comfortable do you feel with this process?

The assessment is to just get them thinking and reflecting on the process and their experience.