Understanding the Play: A Theatrical Blueprint
After studying this chapter you will be able to:
- define plot (structure);
- identify causal structure and its sub-elements;
- distinguish variations in causal structure;
- understand departures from causality: situation, idea, character, image, repetition;
- define poststructuralism and metatheatre;
- describe current structural practice;
- define character;
- identify levels of characterization;
- define thought.
- understand different methods for creating thought theatrically;
- define language.
- understand language’s contributions to character, mood, and environment;
- define music;
- define spectacle.
|DETAILED OUTLINE||INSTRUCTOR RESOURCES||PowerPoint ®||PROFESSOR NOTES|
|Plot p. 76
Causal Structure; Variations on Linear, Causal Structure; Situational Structure; Structure by Idea, Character, and Image; Repetition as Structure; Poststructuralism; Structure in the Twenty-First Century
|Exploring Historical and Cultural Perspectives p. 82 Questions and Activities 4.1-4.4||Slides: 1-8|
|Character p. 88
Character Credibility; Levels of Characterization; Understanding Character
|Questions and Activities 4.5||Slides: 9-11|
|Thought p. 92
Use of Imagery to Create Thought; Contribution of Plot;
Use of Allusion
|Questions and Activities 4.6||Slides: 12|
|Language p. 94 Contribution to Character; Establishing Mood and
|Questions and Activities 4.7||Slides: 13-15|
|Music p. 96||Exploring Historical and
Cultural Perspectives p. 97 Questions and Activities 4.8
|Spectacle p. 97||Questions and Activities 4.8||Slides: 18-19|
Questions and Activities
- Choose a television series that you know well and analyze its structure. How is exposition delivered? Is there more than one line of action in each episode? What kind of climax does it typically use? When do the commercial breaks occur? Try several different types of shows (cop show, sitcom, soap).
The purpose of this exercise is to get the students using the structural terms briefly before trying to apply them to a play. It will also show the students how familiar they are with linear, causal structure even if they are not used to the terms. This exercise can be done as a class if you can find one show a majority of the class has seen (and you have seen so that you can monitor the correct use of the structural terms). Alternatively, this could be assigned as a brief individual writing assignment, or you could divide the class into groups and have the group come up with a show they are all familiar with. Variation: rather than analyzing a pre-existing show, have them use the structural terms as a class by building a typical type of show (e.g., classic western, cop show). Ask questions like “What are the two forces in conflict?” “What do we usually find out as exposition?” “What is the inciting incident?” You can draw the emotion/time diagram on the board as the students make up the linear and causal plot.
- Read a linear, causally structured play (for example, Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, or Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House). Create a graph that reflects the emotional rise and fall of your play from an audience’s point of view. It won’t look exactly like the diagrams in this chapter; each play will be somewhat different. Choose specific moments in the play for inciting incident and climax. If your choices differ from those of other students, discuss how the choice of climax affects interpretation of the
This is a good exercise to do in class when all the students have read the same play. You can precede the exercise by having them fill out a worksheet identifying all the major structural elements before they come to class. When students have different answers, have them work through whether one or the other is a more accurate use of the term. If both answers can be defended successfully, talk about how the choice of the climax (for example) reflects different interpretations of the play. Students are usually very familiar with causal structure and once you have established this vocabulary, it is easy to talk about variations in other plays that you read together.
- Read a play that is not causally structured (for example, Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, or Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. How would you describe the plot of this play—in other words, what provides its unity? What holds it together?
This a useful exercise to do after 4.2 when the class has read the same play. A play that is very far from linear structure will make them start “from scratch” and think about what can provide unity. Variation: Bring in a recorded version of a non-linear piece, watch it and then conduct the discussion.
- Discuss the advantages and disadvantages from a writer’s point of view of writing for a continuing series versus a single two-hour play or
The discussion here will probably focus on the relative need for exposition. If there is a continuing series that is popular with the students, you can begin the discussion by asking what they know about the characters before they start watching the newest episode. You can also talk about point of attack in relation to each episode and/or the series as a whole, especially if flashbacks are used. For example, some series give more in-depth “back story” on a character after the series has been running several years: we find out something about them that we did not know before. Help the students see the difference in having to convey all exposition within one two-hour period and talk about various ways to accomplish that.
- Choose a character from a play, film, or television show. List as many character traits as you can think of, putting them in the five levels of characterization. Then discuss how these character traits are
This can be done quickly and casually in the midst of class with a character many students are familiar with or in a more formal way with a play read for class, possibly with a worksheet to fill in while reading.
- Choose a play or film in which thought is very important. What ideas were conveyed? How
were these ideas conveyed?
Thought is the most difficult of the elements to understand and talk about. You may want to save this question for a play all the students have read for class and work up to the discussion of thought through the other elements. Talk about how the other elements help to create thought, in particular, how the structure of the play suggests thought.
- Write a critical analysis of a play. Begin by reading and experiencing the play. Think about which of the six elements are most important in this play. Read the play again. Pay particular attention to and take notes on the particular element(s) you have chosen as your focus. (See also the sections “Reading a Play” and “Writing about a Play” in Chapter )
This exercise can be a formal paper. You can indicate which element(s) students are to focus on or let them choose themselves. You might give them a list of plays to choose from or let them use a play that is available but that you are not using for class.
Questions and Activities not printed in textbook:
- Examine spectacle and music in a
This can be a possible paper topic for an assigned production or you can bring in a recording of a good theatrical production (for example, Sondheim and Lapine’s Into the Woods) and analyze specific scenes as a class or assign several scenes for an informal writing assignment. Remind students of the difference between observation and interpretation.