You’ll note that there are no formal readings for the rest of the semester. From here on out your assignment is to ‘read’ your classmates. Take careful note of your groupmates’ insights and innovations, and times when you feel that you learn from them. Some possibilities:
o Pay attention to when your groupmates synthesize ideas into clear, well-articulated gems.
o When do you learn something because the people on your team see things in a way you hadn’t before?
o How do your groupmates challenge you?
o When do group members persist through difficulties in the interest of group unity?
o Be on the lookout for traits in your groupmates that make for good collaborators.
Each week you should blog about at least one insight from EACH of your group members. I encourage you to read one another’s blogs and learn from one another’s people-readings as well. Think of this as active reflection on the work you are doing together, as well as an excuse to think good thoughts about each other.
Two parts to this week’s assignment!
1. Complete your blog by Tuesday, and respond to at least two of your groupmate’s blogs by Thursday. Each of the four writers you will read for next week have a different perspective about what needs to be considered in entering the theatrical process. Respond to EACH of the following with your initial impressions about the play your group is producing:
o After Clurman, what is the theme or spine of the play from your perspective?
o After Schechner, how might the environment or space of your production impact the transaction between performers and audience?
o After Bogart, how do you want to ‘enter’ into your production?
o After Jones, how might the energy or aura of your play extend into the physical realm? How might the physical elements evoke this energy?
Note: I am aware how early this is in your process and thoroughly expect your ideas to get more specific, to change, and to be informed by the activities we do in class. Consider this an exercise in Clurman’s suggestion: “I am not sure I know what I really think until I am able to articulate my intuitions and reflections in this way (p. 26).”
2. Bring in an object or image to class that makes physical or tangible your initial ideas and point of view about the play your group is producing. This is a less immediately intellectual exercise, and can provoke different ways of thinking. I encourage you to get creative with this! You might happen upon an object in your home or you may find initial library research in the quarto volumes to be helpful.
You’ve got three articles to read for next week. In your blog posting I’d like you to reflect on your own experience—whether that be acting yourself, watching a performance, participating in a class acting exercise, or even being a person in everyday life (we’ve all done that!)—and identify in each of the three articles whether the main concerns of the writer align with your experience or not. If you identify with the description of the actor’s craft and the actor’s project, what is a specific moment you can point to which illustrates this approach? If a particular perspective seems foreign to your experience, why is this? What do each of these articles contribute to your process of thinking through your own experiences, both in the theatre and in everyday life?
Things to think about while reading:
-in each of the three articles, keep in mind that these ideas are by and large being articulated for the first time by these authors. Each author is suggesting that theatre and performance can and should be thought about DIFFERENTLY than what came before.
-the excerpts from An Actor Prepares by Stanislavski are his way of making a point through a fictionalized account. The story is told from the point of view of a student, but the voice of Stanislavski probably comes through the strongest in that of the Director, Tortsov. How does Stanislavski negotiate the paradox mentioned in the previous article, and suggest that his ‘students’ do in response to the paradox?
-Jerzy Grotowski is probably the foremost figure in Polish theatre and his ‘poor theatre’ has served as a model for theatres worldwide, including, to a certain extent, the work of the X. He is concerned with the actor not as a tool of the theatre but as a person who hones his craft through a process of what he calls ‘distillation’. How he defines the ‘craft’ of the actor is quite distinct from the way Stanislavski defines it—pay attention especially to the opposition in their approaches to the way the space of the theatre looks as a metaphor for their acting priorities.
Do just a little reading while you’re at it…
Excerpts from Man, Play, and Games will be found in your reader.
Browse the website on The Big Urban Game.
To find the article “Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation” online…
o Go to www.nothingness.org
o Click on “Situationist International”
o Click on “Text Library”
o Type the title of the article, “Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation,” into the search box.
o The first title that pops up in the search should be the correct one.
“Art is never without consequences, and indeed that says something for it.”
Along with working on your revision for your text analysis, you’ll be reading in preparation for our discussion on the theatre practitioner who has perhaps had the most influence on 20th-century thinking about theatre’s possibilities, Bertolt Brecht. His work as a director, playwright, theatre-viewer, and careful theorist of his own work all funneled toward a radical rethinking of theatre’s previous priorities, one that saw an audience’s empathetic connection with a character or performance as deceptive and troubling. He borrowed a large number of techniques (and texts!) from Chinese and Japanese theatre forms in an attempt to rework and challenge Western tradition. The play you’re reading for this week is a revised parable. I’d like you to read a few selections from Brecht’s theoretical work as well, because he provides a great model for being very specific about how his abstract ideas and goals about theatre’s social function ought to translate to stage performance.
If you are able, meet together with others to read Brecht’s play aloud. In your blog, discuss one element of Brecht’s work (drawn either from his theoretical writing or from his play) that is refreshing or stimulating to you, and one element that is difficult or troubling for you. Accomplish this before lecture on Tuesday, and then spend Tuesday and Wednesday responding to the blog entries of THREE of the other members of your group. Can you help calm another person’s troubles, or answer a question? Can you upset someone’s surety with a question? We’ll begin class next week with your interest and difficulty, and then we’ll try to stage some of Brecht’s concerns by determining a mode of developing characters through his ideas.
Readings for this week:
Brecht’s He Who Says Yes/He Who Says No (reader)
Zenchiku’s Teniko (reader)
Excerpts from Brecht on Theatre (handout)
Chart on the back of this page comparing dramatic and epic theatre
Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka could be considered an exercise in border-crossing of all kinds—challenging the borders of our Western understanding, probing the borders of earthly existence, and the highly problematic border-invasions that characterize Western imperialism. In the interest of moving beyond borders and boundaries here in class (moving beyond the individual into collaboration) I’d like you to meet for a discussion on the play Death and the King’s Horseman. Bring central ideas, questions, concerns, and fascinations to class on Thursday.
If you find yourselves unable to meet in the same place at the same time (I know it is difficult to coordinate schedules) stage a discussion on a chatroom or discussion board. You might use one of your blogs to start and the discussion can consist of a series of comments. I encourage you, though, if at all possible, to meet in person.
Possible discussion points (this is not all-inclusive—choose what’s helpful and create your own as well):
o One way of thinking through the border-crossing in the play is by way of the idea of liminality. Liminality, the state of being in-between, is an important current through Soyinka’s play and a notable feature of theatrical performance as well. What characters occupy spaces of liminality? How can you trace the different manifestations of this phenomenon through the play? What does Soyinka reveal about each cultures’ attitudes toward spaces of liminality? In short, why is liminality central in the play?
o How is it possible to understand the differences in conceptions of death by the two cultures? How do the characters try (or not try) to communicate these differences? Why is death a profitable site of investigation for a play?
o What is the function of women in the play? What does Soyinka say about the role of women in each culture? How does he challenge notions of gender roles, or use gender to enhance the conflict in the play?
This will be a play unlike many of you will have read before, and the first scene especially is likely to catch you off guard. Consider both what is difficult about the play, but also what is accessible for you.
This week the time you spend for this class should, naturally, focus on the text analysis. However, to keep us progressing through this class you’ll be reading Charles Ludlam’s Stage Blood as well. It’s a quick and delightful read and ought to serve as a nice alternative to writing for an hour or so. It’s a send-up of the entire acting profession, but specifically tragedy and especially Hamlet. It indulges in lots of inside humor but will largely be accessible to any audience. Enjoy—and I think if you read it again at the end of the semester you’ll get nearly all the jokes!
o Please email me by Saturday evening (before I would wake up Sunday, in other words) with the thesis statement and audience you’re planning to work with. I will email you back by the end of the day Sunday with my comments.
o Don’t hesitate to call, email, or set up a meeting with me if you are having trouble.
o I encourage you to decide before next Thursday if you will be attending the peer response workshop. If you do, you should bring two copies to class on the 17th, one for me and one for you to take to the workshop. I will set your paper aside once you turn it in and wait to receive your new copy (the deadline for this is Monday Feb 21 at 10am—please email me your paper).
o Do write a short blog to process your ideas about Stage Blood. No need to write anything terribly extensive, but respond to this question: what is it that makes this tragedy work as a comedy?
I know the syllabus says Hamlet and/or The Fifteen-Minute Hamlet, but not for you, dear honors students. Please read them both, as a favor to me. You might think about getting together in small groups to read through the Stoppard play, as it will be much funnier and more illuminating when read out loud than when hunched over the pages in your dorm room.
We talked about dramatic structure today, and tried to set up a running comparison between the three plays we’ve read to date. What I’d like you to try in your blog this week is to compare these two plays with one of your choosing (Trifles, The Laramie Project, or Oedipus Rex) in order to show the way the plays use their structure in order to create distinctive meanings.
Compare the three plays in terms of any and all of the following: characterization (in other words, how do we discover things about each of the characters?), setting and shifts of setting, suggested use of theatrical space, understanding of time and its passage, central conflict, use of humor and other modes of manipulating emotion, or categories that you can create.
Finally, what is the value for you in comparing these two plays, disconnected in time? Do they, in dialogue with each other, take on a new significance?
For this week’s blog I’d like you to make an argument about the play Oedipus Rex, and comment on a partner’s idea (we’ll determine partners today). Your argument should encompass an answer to this question: What do you think is the central idea that Sophocles was trying to communicate to his audience in the writing of his play? Select a way to articulate this central message, and consider consulting the play for evidence for your assertion. You should post by Tuesday February 1 in order for your partner to be able to comment on your argument in detail, and to give you time to do the same.
Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex
Excerpts from Aristotle’s The Poetics
(note: I’d encourage you to finish reading The Laramie Project this week as well. However, you can take your time with this text.)
Things to keep in mind while reading excerpts from The Poetics:
-keep in mind that Aristotle was writing about a century after the tragedies to which he refers were written and performed. Aristotle’s views and arguments about theatre may be some of the oldest we have—and certainly are some of the most influential. However, The Poetics represents only one point of view about theatre.
-recall or look up the words mimesis and catharsis. Realize that the theatrical importance of these words comes from Aristotle’s writings, and both have saturated the cultural imaginary of what theatre ought to be and do. Why might this be?
Things to keep in mind while reading Oedipus Rex:
-Oedipus was Aristotle’s ideal tragedy. What elements of the play can you identify that might qualify it for this honor?
-even now this play is one of the most often performed—there’s a production you can go see at the Guthrie Theatre. A reviewer in the Minneapolis Star Tribune suggests, “The show leaves us with many hard questions, including this one: Do you really want to know the truth about yourself and your history?” (link to article--registration required) Are there elements here that seem timeless? Why has this play endured for so long?
-consider the theme of this course, how the stage and the city co-exist throughout history, in conjunction with your reading of this play.
This week's assignment has two parts. Both parts of the assignment will be due by classtime Thursday, January 27.
Performing You: Come up with a short performance that reveals something about yourself to us. You could tell a story or joke, demonstrate a talent, or create an interpretive movement-based piece. A good start for considering what you might show us in performance might be the object you chose for today's exercise. Entertain us, move us, or make us think! Be creative, and choose a way to perform for us that you can be comfortable with. Your performance need be no longer than 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Beginning to Blog: Each week this semester you'll complete a short writing assignment on your own weblog. This method of turning in assignments will lend a great deal of flexibility to both of us, and later in the semester will be a communication tool as you work more extensively in small groups. Follow these steps:
-choose a weblog service. You might try www.blogger.com or the University service UThink at www.lib.umn.edu.
-create a weblog. The instructions on most websites are quite clear. Let me know if you have any difficulties.
-email me with the URL where your blog can be found. I'll comment on your postings once I receive this information from you.
-post a response to the readings for this week. What I’d like you to do is choose a line, quote, or passage from TWO of the four texts. What is the significance of each passage for you—insightful, challenging, connects to something you’ve been thinking about? What does each passage contribute to a discussion on what theatre IS and what theatre DOES? How do the two passages you’ve chosen connect to, contradict, or dialogue with one another? Finally, include in your posting any muddy points from these articles—ideas that are unclear or that you would like more information about.
**(please let me know RIGHT AWAY if you are unable to access the internet on a frequent enough basis for the purposes of this assignment. Much of your work this semester is designed to revolve around internet communication, but I am happy to make arrangements for you if necessary.)
Susan Glaspell’s Trifles (in the reader)
Excerpts from Pavis’s Dictionary of Theatre (reader)
Cassady’s Playwrighting Step by Step (reader)
Scene 1 of The Laramie Project, titled “Moment: A Definition” (bookstore)
New York Times article, “Don’t Blink: You Might Miss the Show”