Theatre from the 20th Century thru today


The students will demonstrate their understanding of 19th century theatre by participating in a group presentation.



Materials Needed

see lesson



Lesson Directions

Anticipatory Set/Hook
Clips of Sound of Music and Mulon Rouge. How has theatre (also through the medium of film) changed in the last 100 years? In the last 50 or even 10? Examples of different ways of looking at the same thing.




Instruction: Theatre has emerged over the centuries. It is still a powerful force today, though it has changed considerably from the Greek tragedies, or Roman spectacles of blood and gore, even from the medieval morality plays, the theatre of Shakespeare’s world or that of Oscar Wilde and Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s our job to see where it’s coming from and where it is today and even think about where it could be moving.



The Twentieth Century

The 20th Century has witnessed the two greatest wars in history and social upheaval without parallel. The political movements of the “proletariat” were manifested in theatre by such movements as realism, naturalism, symbolism, impressionism and, ultimately, highly stylized anti-realism — particularly in the early 20th Century — as society battled to determine the ultimate goals and meaning of political philosophy in the life of the average person.

At the same time, commercial theatre advanced full force, manifesting itself in the development of vastly popular forms of drama such as major musicals beginning with Ziegfield’s Follies and developing into full-blown musical plays such as Oklahoma!, Porgy and Bess, and Showboat. Ever greater technological advances permitted spectacular shows such as The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon to offer competition to another new innovation: film. Ultimately, the cost of producing major shows such as these, combined with the organization of actors and technical persons in theatre, have limited what live theatre can do in competing with Hollywood.

Serious drama also advanced in the works of Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) in his trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra and in The Iceman Cometh; Arthur Miller (1915-2005 ), in The Crucible and Death of a Salesman; and Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), whose Glass Menagerie, produced immediately after World War II, arguably changed the manner in which tragic drama is presented. Serious drama was accompanied by serious acting in the form of the Actor’s Studio, founded in 1947 by Elia Kazan and others, later including Lee Strasberg. The art of writing comedy was brought to a level of near-perfection (and commercial success) by Neil Simon (1927- ), whose plays such as Rumors, The Odd Couple, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, are among the favorites for production by community theatres.

Modeling: film, Broadway shows, musicals, high school and educational theatre, dada, performance art, staged sleeping/living in a mall, Improv everywhere – staged chaos – McDonald’s Bathroom Attendant, U2 Rooftop concert. This is just like commedia dell’arte. Planned Improv. And playwrights are still working today.

Checking for Understanding: What are some of the recent plays that you have seen or read that have been written in the last 100 years? Urinetown, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King à powerpoint of Lion King Images. What innovations are we still making today? Julie Taymore.
Video (if I can show it:




Practice time for presentations



Guided Practice:

19th Century Playwright and Play Group Presentations.



Independent Practice:

Candy quiz on the plays and playwrights.




Closure and Assessment: In the next class period, your time lines will be due. Remember to have one image with each of the eras that we discuss. Remember that this is worth a lot of points, we need to see the plays and playwrights we discussed, the major events, etc. It needs to be typed or in some formal format. You will be presenting the images you have found to the class.