What Contemporary Performance Artists Do


An Introduction to Playwrights and Their Work



Grade Level:

10-12 grade, 77 minutes



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 #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:




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.



Hook (5-10 minutes):

Have students turn in their worksheets, and then spend a few minutes asking the students what they thought about the performances over the past few days. Be honest! Did you like the plays? Which were your favorites? Were there any that were boring? These plays were written between 60 and over 300 years ago. Are they “good,” or even as “great” as they are said to be?



Activity 1 (35-40 minutes):

Let’s see if we can’t make these plays a little more personal and interesting! Each group will join up with one other group, and together they will pick a scene (that they did not perform from) and devise a modern adaptation of the scene. (Meaning that the scene is set in modern day, and uses modern language.) Groups will have 15 minutes to come up with 3 minute scenes- if students are seen not working we will perform sooner!

After time is up have students come back together and sit down. Give each student a note card. Have them place their name at the top, and then number from 1-5. As each group performs they should 1) Anything they liked about the performance 2) Why/how it was a modern adaptation. This will help keep the students engaged during the other performances.

Allow each group to perform.



Activity 2 (15-20 minutes):

Have students form a circle for the discussion.
First talk about the performances we just saw. What did you think? What did you like? Did you like these performances better than the originals? Worse? Did you feel more or less connected to these performances, or the original ones? Why? How did the modern additions help or hurt the scenes? How did it change them? What was the effect? Did they add to our understanding of the original works?

What about some of the non-traditional performances we saw of the original performances.

Let’s talk about the A Raisin in the Sun group. Ask the group to remind the class what the play is about, and how they performed their scene. (All 3 of the students were white.) How did this change or enhance the meaning of the scene? How did it add or take away from the original play? Does their performance help us understand the play and/or some of its themes more clearly, or broadly?

What about The House of Bernarda Alba? This play is a famously all female production, yet one of your actors was male. How did this change your production? What the choice motivated? Did it add to our understanding of the show or of its themes? How does it change the meaning of the play? (While this might have been acceptable for the terms of our class, it may be inappropriate for the professional world.)

When we make changes like these we can make very powerful statements or additions to the original show. They are thoughtful and respectful. But if there is little thought in an adaptation, chances are its disrespectful and it won’t work. You shouldn’t change a character’s gender/race/etc. without a reason and a purpose.

Ask the students if anyone else who made changes to their scripts would like to share their experiences and thoughts. The Rhinoceros group performed a fascinating all female scene, and many other groups made choices similar to these.



Wrap-up (3-5 minutes):

Explain that the very work that the students did in their original scenes and in their modern adaptations is the same thing that many professional theatre groups are doing to create new meaning for classic works. These groups devise, or collaboratively make up scripts, just as the students did today. They make changes like setting, time period, race, and gender to add new meaning and insights to classic plays and stories. They are playwrights, too, and their work is just as respected as the work of the playwright’s we’ve studied. You guys have been working like contemporary playwrights!

As we begin to really work with contemporary performance groups and their practices keep thinking about the techniques and methods that these groups use to create new meaning. Think about the methods that we’ve used so far. Ask yourself: what has changed? What was added? How? How did it change the original work? Has it helped us understand it better, or differently? We will practice doing this for different shows next time.