Introduction to Theatre
Western Theatre History
Theatre History: 1660-1875
Writing for the Stage
Introduction to Ethnography
Fundamentals of Human Communication
Please contact me if you would like a sample syllabus.
Theatre scholar Elinor Fuchs advises an approach to play analysis that takes into account that “a play is not a flat work of literature, not a description in poetry of another world, but is in itself another world passing before you in time and space.” If plays (both as texts and as productions) are self-contained small planets then my role as a professor of theatre and performance studies is to guide my students in the many ways to access and explore these worlds, and to cultivate an understanding among my students that history and theory are intrinsically linked to their artistic studio practice as theatre-makers. In order to do this, I frame my theatre courses around dramaturgical principles and methods, asking them to put into practice some of the core skills of a dramaturg: critical thinking, information literacy and sound research methods, problem solving, and a collaborative spirit. These skills are essential to dramaturgy, and are also transferrable to any profession or subject matter.
Early in my theatre history classes I introduce students to concepts of dramaturgy and I ask them this question: “In what ways are dramaturgs like Curiosity, the Mars Rover?” The Mars Rover landed on a foreign planet; it explores that planet and gets to know its properties; it gathers its findings; and it transmits those finds back to NASA. When working on a production, if we take “foreign planet” to mean “play,” dramaturgs do these same tasks – they explore the world of the play, observing and recording its beautiful details and idiosyncrasies, they “collect samples” from the world by conducting careful script analysis and research, and the share those observations and findings with their fellow artists and designers.
As our semester unfolds, I continue to introduce dramaturgical concepts and methods into my theatre history course, using class discussions, exercises, and assignments to reinforce these skills, while also working alongside my students to create a classroom community that encourages their curiosity, ability to contextualize, and to think critically about the human experience. I do all this through the completion of four objectives:
1) Utilize dramaturgical principles and methods to enable students to think, speak, and write critically – and cultivate a dramaturgical sensibility.
Example: Students give a research presentation, in which I ask them to position themselves as the dramaturg for one of the playscripts we’ve read for the course. This positioning activates the assignment by placing the student’s critical thinking skills at the center of the project as they consider not only elements like the writer’s biography and the time period in which the play was written, but also the significance of references within the play and explanations of the play’s elements that might be confusing to the producers. As a result of this framing, students give research presentations full of contextualization and deep analysis of the reading, and make connections between the words on the page and the event on the stage. This project helps them develop strong information literacy and research skills because they must think about how the information they gather may be applied in a production setting.
2) Teach students to wrestle with competing methodologies and their applications
Example: Students read essays and book chapters on different script analysis methods followed by discussion on analysis methodologies, the advantages and disadvantages of each method, and finally classroom activities engaging with these analytical methods and applying them to a short modern American play. This allows students to explore a variety of points of view on script analysis, and think critically about the usefulness of each method through hands-on experience.
3) Encourage in students the collaborative spirit they will need for professional success.
Example: Students develop and deliver group presentations on one of the plays we read as a class – divided into sections of script analysis, dramaturgical research, and production concept. In taking on different roles for the project, students must engage in collaboration and problem solving so that their presentation is a cohesive “pitch” for their interpretation of the play and ideas they want to reinforce in a production.
4) Utilize new resources and technology to present theatre history as an exciting and dynamic discipline
Example: Students read two different translations of a foundational dramaturgy text – one found online, as well as a critical essay about the two translations. Then they engage in small group work where they compare a section of the two translations and answer questions about the nature of translation, the way meaning can change over time and how interpretation is connected to cultural context, the purpose of theatre, and the roles of digital technology in scholarship and theatre practice.
Most undergraduate theatre history courses are requirements for majors, and while our students bring a high level of curiosity into the classroom, they often struggle with connecting the history of the field to the creative skills they are learning in their studio classes. My classroom is a balance between providing students with the necessary knowledge of the field and the skills that are inherent to theatre but that are also necessary to the professional world of the 21st century: critical thinking, information literacy and sound research methods, problem solving, and a collaborative spirit. Cultivating a “dramaturgical sensibility” in my students is an effective pedagogical approach to accomplishing these larger goals. While I have utilized these methods in my courses on theatre history, script analysis, playwriting, and introduction to theatre, this philosophy is an expansive and useful approach for teaching directing and acting classes, as well as humanities subjects beyond theatre and performance studies, such as English composition and communications studies.
 Elinor Fuchs. “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play,” Theater 34.2 (Summer 2004): 6.