2014-2015 Theatre Courses
The theatre faculty is committed to the philosophy that students learn by doing. Classes provide a rigorous intellectual and practical framework, and students are continually engaged in the process of making theatre. The program helps students build a solid technique based on established methodologies, while also being encouraged to discover and develop their individual artistic selves. Wide-ranging opportunities are available for students to learn by doing. Students may participate in internships or fieldwork in New York City theatres and theatre organizations. The College’s Theatre Outreach program is a training program that uses music, writing, theatre techniques, and the visual arts to address social and community issues. The outreach course has been a vibrant component in the curriculum for more than two decades, encouraging the development of original material with a special emphasis on cross-cultural experiences. Many theatre components include an open-class showing or performance. In addition, there are multiple performance and production opportunities in acting, singing, dance, design, directing, ensemble creation, playwriting, and technical work that are available to students throughout the academic year. The College’s performance venues include productions and readings sponsored by the department in the Suzanne Werner Wright Theatre, a modified thrust stage, and the Frances Ann Cannon Workshop Theatre, as well as student-produced work in the student-run blackbox DownStage Theatre. Workshops, readings, and productions are also mounted in the blackbox OpenSpace Theatre, Film Viewing Room, Outdoor Stage Theatre and in various performance spaces throughout the campus.
Required of all students taking a Theatre Third (including First-Year Studies with Cassandra Medley) and Theatre graduate students, Theatre Meeting takes place on Mondays—B-week schedule—at 5:30 p.m. in the PAC-Suzanne Werner Wright Theatre and usually lasts approximately 30 minutes. Students are required to swipe in before each meeting. At each of these meetings, students will receive important information about upcoming theatre program events, production details, and DownStage presentations. An opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to make announcements is provided.
Graduate Student Components
Taught by a rotating series of Sarah Lawrence faculty and guest artists, this course focuses on developing the skills needed for a wide variety of techniques for the creation and development of new work in theatre. Ensemble acting, movement, design and fabrication, playwriting, devised work, and music performance are all explored. The class is a forum for workshops, master classes, and open rehearsals, with a focus on the development of critical skills. In addition, students in Grad Lab are expected to generate a new piece of theatre to be performed each month for the Sarah Lawrence community. These performances may include graduate and undergraduate students alike. Required for all Theatre graduate students. This class meets once a week.
Contemporary Collaborative Performance: Grad Projects I
This course will provide a critical and supportive forum for the development of new works of original performance, focusing primarily on where current dance and theatre combinations find inspiration. In the first semester, students will explore contemporary theatre-building techniques and methodologies from Dada to Judson Church and beyond. The majority of time will be devoted to lab work, where students will create their own short performance pieces through a multidisciplinary approach. Students will be asked to devise original theatre pieces that utilize methods such as solo forms, viewpoints, chance operations, and creations from nontheatrical sources. In addition to the laboratory aspect of the class, a number of plays, essays, and artists’ manifestos will be discussed. In the second semester, students will collaborate on a single evening-length work, utilizing theatrical and nontheatrical sources in an attempt to speak to our cultural moment. Please note: The second semester will require additional developmental/rehearsal time outside of class. In addition to class work, there will be several opportunities to visit rehearsals and performances of professional theatre and dance in New York City. Open only to first-year graduate students and required for all first-year Theatre graduate students. This class meets once a week.
Projects: Grad II
This course will provide a critical and supportive forum for the development of new works of original theatre with a focus on conducting research in a variety of ways, including historical and artistic research, workshops, improvisations, experiments, and conversation. Each student will focus on creating one original project—typically, but not limited to, a solo—over the course of the full year. During the class, students will show works in progress. During conference, students and faculty will meet to discuss these showings and any relevant artistic and practical problems that may arise. This class meets once a week and is required for all second-year Theatre graduate students.
Contemporary Practice I for Dance and Theatre
Successful performances in dance and theatre rely on training that prepares performers—in mind, body, and spirit—to enter the realm of aesthetic exploration and expression. In this class, we will work toward acquiring skills that facilitate the investigation of how the body moves in familiar and previously unimagined ways. Through traditional and experimental practices, students will develop a sense of functional alignment, form, physical energy and dynamics, strength, and focus, as well as awareness of time and rhythm. Improvisation is an important aspect of this study. Placement class is required; please check with the dance program office for the exact date and time.
Improvisation forces you to face the pain and the joy in your life, use it…and then move on. Using experimental exercises and improvisation, we will explore the character’s connections to his or her environment, relationships, needs, and wants. In the second semester, we will concentrate on fashioning a workable technique, as well as on using improvisation to illuminate scene work from the great dramatic playwrights: Lorca, Chekhov, Strindberg, O’Neill, Shaw, etc. This course is open to students who are willing to approach material experimentally in a laboratory setting. This class meets twice a week.
Acting Poetic Realism
The plays of Anton Chekov, Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson serve as the point of departure in our exploration of the craft of acting. In this class, students will be challenged to expand their range of expression and build their confidence to make bold and imaginative acting choices. Particular attention will be paid to learning to analyze the text in ways that lead to defining clear, specific, and playable actions and objectives. This class meets twice a week.
Creating a Role
It is a sanctum of discovery, enabling the actor to explore non-Western movement: centering energy, concentration, the voice, and the “mythos” of a character to discover one’s own truth in relation to the text—both contemporary and the classics. Traditional as well as alternative approaches to acting techniques are applied. Fall semester concentrates on working on roles such as Hamlet, Leontes, Caliban, Othello, Lear, Macbeth, Hecuba, Medea, Antigone, and Lady Macbeth; spring semester, applied to scene study from works by Arrabal, Beckett, Ionesco, Maria Irene Fornes, Sam Shepard, Albert Camus, and Jean Genet. This class meets twice a week.
Making New Work
This is a performance lab open to actors, dancers, visual artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and directors. The class will form an ensemble where creative processes, media crossovers, and global forms and styles are presented within an active media lab. The group, using shared performance techniques, will explore the development of personal devised work. Methods of vocal and physical work will add to interdisciplinary collaborations in order to explore sources of inspiration for new work. Investigating both traditional and contemporary performance, we will acknowledge new connections that are happening between video games and text, science and technology. Crossing cultural and media traditions, the group will create and present weekly projects, as well as a final performance.
Those actors rooted in the tradition of playing Shakespeare find themselves equipped with a skill set that enables them to successfully work on a wide range of texts and within an array of performance modalities. The objectives of this class are to learn to identify, personalize, and embody the structural elements of Shakespeare’s language as the primary means of bringing his characters to life. Students will study a representative arc of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as the sonnets, with the goal of bringing his characters to life. Class time will be divided among physical, vocal, and text work. This class meets twice a week.
Breaking the Code
A specific text-driven, on-your-feet approach to performance, based on identifying, analyzing, and exploiting particular attributes common to characters in all plays, Breaking the Code provides a foundation and a context for the most vital and decisive characterizations. Students will read, discuss, and act scenes from contemporary plays and adaptations. Open to both actors and directors. This class meets twice a week.
Close Up and Personal
Great camera work demands intimacy, emotional adaptability, risk, and connection. Students will learn how to maintain an organic experience in spite of the rigid technical restrictions and requirements. During the fall semester, we will work on cold-reading techniques, emotional expansion exercises, and scenes from published works. In the second semester, we will put original monologues and scenes on camera. We will use a monitor playback system for reviewing work to help identify specific problems. Class size is limited. This class meets twice a week.
An exploration of the classic structures of comedy and the unique comic mind, this course begins with a strong focus on improvisation and ensemble work. The athletics of the creative comedic mind is the primary objective of the first-semester exercises. Status play, narrative storytelling, and the Harold exercise are used to develop the artist’s freedom and confidence. The ensemble learns to trust the spontaneous response and their own comic madness. Second semester educates the theatre artist in the theories of comedy. It is designed to introduce students to commedia dell’arte, vaudeville, parody, satire, and standup comedy. At the end of the final semester, each student will write five minutes of standup material that will be performed one night at a comedy club in New York City and then on the College campus on Comedy Night. This class meets twice a week.
Actor and Director Lab
This class is an approach to performance and production that puts shared emphasis upon the text and the context in which a play was written. In the first semester, students will read, analyze, and study a wide variety of plays from a cross-section of periods and styles. Class work will include scene study, as well as discussion of the plays and playwrights and the time periods that gave them shape and resonance. To that end, students—as a group—will read and work on at least one given play per week. In the second semester, emphasis will be placed on performance, leading to the production of short plays to be presented as part of the theatre program’s spring season. Material presented in that production will be culled from the plays, playwrights, or genres studied in the first semester. Discussion in the second semester will include a far-reaching overview of the production process, from the selection of play and cast to the technical requirements of production and the vocabulary necessary to communicate with designers in production meetings. Over the course of the full year, students will be expected to both act and direct. Open to graduate and advance undergraduate students interested in both acting and directing. This class meets twice a week.
The Alexander Technique is a neuromuscular system that enables the student to identify and change poor and inefficient habits that may be causing stress and fatigue. With gentle, hands-on guidance and verbal instruction, the student learns to replace faulty habits with improved coordination by locating and releasing undue muscular tensions. This includes easing of the breath and the effect of coordinated breathing on the voice. It is an invaluable technique that connects the actor to his or her resources for dramatic intent. This class meets once a week. Audition required.
Breathing Coordination for the Performer
Students improve their vocal power and ease through an understanding of basic breathing mechanics and anatomy. Utilizing recent discoveries of breathing coordination, performers can achieve their true potential by freeing their voices, reducing tension, and increasing vocal stamina. In the second semester, principals of the Alexander Technique are introduced; students consolidate their progress by performing songs and monologues in a supportive atmosphere. Two sections. This class meets once a week.
Building a Vocal Technique
A continuation of Breathing Coordination for the Performer, which is suggested as a prerequisite, students deepen their understanding of breathing coordination and Alexander Technique and work on songs and monologues of their choice. The emphasis is on maintaining physical ease in performance to increase vocal range and power. This class meets once a week.
Voice and Speech I: Vocal Practice
This course will focus on awakening the young artist to the expressive range of the human voice, as well as to the intricacies of developing greater clarity of speech and playing with sound. A thorough warm up will be developed to bring power, flexibility, and range to the actor’s voice and speech. Exercises and text work will be explored with the goal of uniting body, breath, voice, and speech into an expressive whole when acting.
Introduction to Stage Combat
Students learn the basics of armed and unarmed stage fighting, with an emphasis on safety. Actors are taught to create effective stage violence, from hair pulling and choking to sword fighting, with a minimum of risk. Basic techniques are incorporated into short scenes to give students experience performing fights in classic and modern contexts. Each semester culminates in a skills proficiency test aimed at certification in one of eight weapon forms. This class meets once a week.
Advanced Stage Combat
This course is a continuation of Introduction to Stage Combat and offers additional training in more complex weapons forms, such as rapier and dagger, single sword, and small sword. Students receive training as fight captains and have the opportunity to take additional skills proficiency tests, leading to actor/combatant status in the Society of American Fight Directors. This class meets once a week.
Movement for Performance
We will explore the full instrument of the performer; namely, the human body. Daily exercises open the body to larger movement potential while introducing students to a better functioning alignment, efficient muscle and energy use, full breathing, clear weight transfer, and an increased awareness while traveling through space. In addition, students will be asked to create “movement-based pieces” in an effort to discover and articulate the languages that the body communicates regardless of the words spoken on stage. In all aspects, the goals of this class are to enable students to be courageous with their physical selves, more articulate with their expression, and more personally expressive in their performances. In addition to occasional reading handouts, there will be opportunities to visit rehearsals and performances of professional theatre and dance in New York City. This course meets twice a week. It will be taught by Ms. Harpham in fall and Mr. Neumann in spring.
This class is for the serious-minded actor who, after graduation, anticipates pursuing a career as a performer. Predicated on the idea that auditioning is a learned skill at which one gets better with more experience and practical knowledge, the class will focus at its core on the only unalienable factor: the individuality of the actor him/herself. As much time will be spent on material selection as on execution; actors will be asked to make necessary friendships with the dreaded “monologues” and, hopefully, come to regard them as necessary filters through which they can express themselves as both people and artists. Cold-reading prep will also be covered. The hope is for the actor to leave class with not only one or two terrific audition pieces but also a better understanding of the casting process itself and what is in and out of his/her control. This class meets once a week.
This course will explore a variety of puppetry techniques, including bunraku-style, marionette, shadow puppetry, and toy theatre. We will begin with a detailed look at these forms through individual and group research projects. We will further our exploration with hands-on learning in various techniques of construction. Students will then have the opportunity to develop their own manipulation skills, as well as to gain an understanding of how to prepare the puppeteer’s body for performance. The class will culminate with the creation and presentation of puppetry pieces of their own making. This class meets once a week for two hours.
New Musical Theatre Lab
Investigations for those aspiring to produce, direct, create, and/or perform musical theatre and experimental chamber opera, this class is open to theatre designers and technicians, actors, singers, dancers, composers, lyricists, and musicians who are interested in learning and using crossover skills. Students will create teams to present and perform in class project scenes that include set and costume designs and musical and choreographic styles and that go from concept ideas to production. Students will research the history of musicals, including European cabaret and global performance, with a particular focus on the influence of interdisciplinary needs of contemporary musicals. The process of adaptation, auditioning, casting, rewriting, rehearsals, and performance will also be presented. Second semester, the class will develop an open performance workshop. An interview is required before the registration week audition.
We will explore the actor’s performance with songs and various styles of popular music, music for theatre, cabaret and original work, emphasizing communication with the audience and material selection. Dynamics of vocal interpretation and style will also be examined. This class requires enrollment in a weekly voice lesson and an Alexander Technique class. This class meets once a week. Audition required.
SLC Lampoon is a comedy ensemble of actors, directors, and writers. The techniques of Second City and TheaterSports will be used to create an improvisational troupe that will perform throughout the campus. The ensemble will craft comic characters and write sketches, parodies, and political satire. This work will culminate in a final SLC Lampoon Mainstage performance in the style of Second City or Saturday Night Live. This class meets twice a week. Audition required.
Directing & Design
Directors will study the processes necessary to bring a written text to life, along with the methods and goals used in working with actors to focus and strengthen their performances. Scene work and short plays will be performed in class, and the student’s work will be analyzed and evaluated. Common directing problems will be addressed, and the directors will become familiar with the conceptual process that allows them to think creatively. The workshop is open to beginning directors and any interested student. This class meets twice a week.
Directing the 20th Century: From Chekhov to Churchill
This class will focus on directing plays in the 20th-century canon, covering a range of styles and content. It will cover the whole journey of directing a play, with a strong emphasis on practical work. Students will be required to bring in design research for plays and to direct scenes from the plays, both of which they will present to the class for critique. The class will focus on how to use the text to inform the choices made by the director. This class meets twice a week.
Directing, Devising, and Performance
This class is a laboratory, where students will explore (on their feet) a range of methodologies, philosophies, and approaches to creating performance and theatre. How do you direct a theatre piece without starting with a play? Alongside a broad survey of artists and art movements of the 20th century that continue to influence theatre artists today, students will practice a variety of ways of staging, with and without text and always in relation to being a “live event.” Following a trajectory from the Dadaists to Fluxus, from the surrealists to John Cage (and beyond), we will wrangle with these “postdramatic” artists and explore how their ideas can lead us in finding our own unique theatrical voice. Students will be given reading and creative assignments outside of class and will be expected to work collaboratively throughout the term. This class meets once a week.
Elements I Fall
This course is for students with little or no design or technical experience but who are curious about design and want exposure to multiple design areas. The course is also a useful tool for directors, playwrights, and actors who want to increase their understanding of the design and technical aspects of theatre in order to enhance their abilities as theatrical artists. This is a very hands-on class, in which students will learn the basics needed to execute set, costume, lighting, and sound designs. We will use a short scene or play as the focus of our discussions of the collaborative design process. Class format will include classes with the full design faculty, as well as classes focused on specific design areas. This class meets once a week.
Costume Design I
This introduction to the many aspects of costuming is for students with little or no experience in the field. Among the topics covered are: basics of design, color, and style; presentation of costume design from preliminary concept sketches to final renderings; researching period styles; costume bookkeeping from preliminary character lists to wardrobe maintenance charts; and the costume shop from threading a needle to identifying fabric. The major class project will have each student research, bookkeep, and present costume sketches for a play. Some student projects will incorporate production work. This class meets once a week. It will be taught by Ms. Pelletier in the fall and Mr. Moyer in the spring.
Costume Design II
This more advanced course in costume design is for students who have completed Costume Design I or who have the instructor’s permission to enroll. Topics covered in Costume Design I will be examined in greater depth, with the focus on students designing actual productions. An emphasis will be placed on developing sketching techniques and beginning and maintaining a portfolio. This class meets once a week. It will be taught by Ms. Pelletier in the fall and Mr. Moyer in the spring.
Advanced Costume Conference
This is an advanced conference in costume design.
Lighting Design I
Lighting Design I will introduce the student to the basic elements of stage lighting, including tools and equipment, color theory, reading scripts for design elements, operation of lighting consoles and construction of lighting cues, and basic elements of lighting drawings and schedules. Students will be offered hands-on experience in hanging and focusing lighting instruments and will be invited to attend technical rehearsals. They will have opportunities to design productions and to assist other designers as a way of developing a greater understanding of the design process. This class meets once a week.
Lighting Design II
Lighting Design II will build on the basics introduced in Lighting Design I to help develop the students’ abilities in designing complex productions. The course will focus primarily on CAD and other computer programs related to lighting design, script analysis, advanced console operation, and communication with directors and other designers. Students will be expected to design actual productions and in-class projects for evaluation and discussion and will be offered the opportunity to increase their experience in design by assisting Mr. MacPherson and others, when possible. This class meets once a week.
Scenic Design I
This course introduces basic elements of scenic design, including developing a design concept, drafting, and practical techniques for creating theatrical space. Students will develop tools to communicate their visual ideas through research, sketches, and models. The class will discuss examples of design from theatre, dance, and puppetry. Student projects will include both conceptual designs and production work in the department. This class meets once a week. There is a $50 course fee.
Scenic Design II
This class will further develop the student’s skill set as a scenic designer through work on department productions and individual projects. Students will deepen their skills in drafting and rendering for the stage and develop their ability to communicate with directors, fellow designers, and the technical crew. In addition, students will continue to have hands-on exposure to practical scenic construction, rigging, and painting techniques. Students in this course are required to design a department production. This class meets once a week.
Sound Design I
This course will cover sound design from the beginning of the design process through expectations when meeting with a director, how to collaborate with the rest of the design team, and ultimately how to create a full sound design for performance. The course will explain how to edit sound, as well as many of the programs commonly used in a professional atmosphere. Throughout the course, we will create sound effects and sound collages and cover the many ways that sound is used in the theatre. Skills learned in this class will prepare students to design sound in many different venues and on different types of systems. The class will focus on the creative side of sound design, while covering the basics of system design, sound equipment, and software. This class will meet once a week.
Sound Design II
This course is a continuation of training in the elements of sound design, with assignments that include designing for Theatre program productions.
Design Techniques in Media and Puppetry
This course allows students to explore design possibilities in projection, animation, scenic design, and puppetry through a series of exploratory projects and group work. We will create visual sequences using the overhead projector, stop-motion animation techniques, shadow puppetry, and video animation. The course will introduce basic digital manipulation in Photoshop, simple video animation in After Effects, and the live manipulation of video using Isadora media interface software. Individual projects in the second semester will challenge students to integrate these techniques into performance. Basic knowledge of Photoshop and the Macintosh operating system is highly recommended. This class meets once a week.
Live-Feed Projection Workshop: Puppetry and Models
This course will explore live-feed projection design and technology with theatre students of Sarah Lawrence College and design and video students at the Seoul Institute of the Arts in Ansan, South Korea. The course will focus on creating puppetry and miniature environments for theatrical performance in two separate locations by utilizing the telepresence studios at SeoulArts and CultureHub. Students in both locations, Seoul and New York, will be introduced to basic puppetry manipulation and construction techniques, as well as to methods for designing and building miniature sets and environments. In addition, live video feeds, chroma keying, and depth-sensing cameras will be implemented to enhance the media and performance landscape. Through the process, students will be exposed to a variety of multimedia theatre and puppetry forms and will gain an understanding of critical design considerations, including lighting, manipulation, chroma key, and live video techniques. The goal of the course will be to create collaborative performances that are a combination of manipulated figures and sets in separate physical locations. The course will be team-taught by: Professor Seung-Ho Jeong, scenic and lighting designer at Seoul Institute for the Arts and one of Korea’s most high-profile, in-demand set designers; Tom Lee, puppet artist, theatre designer, and guest faculty at Sarah Lawrence College; and Billy Clark, director of CultureHub New York City. This class meets once a week.
Experiments in Language and Form
In this class, we focus on writing “experimental theatre”; that is, we experiment with theatrical forms that extend beyond traditional portrayals of time, three-dimensional space, language, character, and dramatic structure to discover the impact that different types of onstage presentations might have on audiences. We are not interested in imitating the style of “experimental” playwrights but, rather, using their texts as influence, stimulus, and encouragement as we attempt our own “experiments.” As we investigate various experimental playwrights—Beckett, Ionesco, Arrabal, Adrienne Kennedy—we will seek to ascertain the political, spiritual, psychological, and social elements that influenced the creation of their works. Our aim, first and foremost, is to investigate and explore ways to genuinely investigate and give theatrical expression to our own personal, political, and spiritual interior lives, values, observations, and beliefs. We will then examine the most effective manner of communicating our theatrical experiments to an audience. Our experimental writing will include multimedia presentations as part of the scripted onstage play or performance. This class meets twice a week.
Solo Performance in Production
This course is designed for actors who want to write, act in, and develop their own work. We will explore various aspects of the personal monologue and staging of solo performance. Through assigned texts and viewing video performances of contemporary artists, we will examine the myriad ways of structuring solo performance, as well as experiment with uses of technology, music, visual art, movement, and text. In addition, we will look at contemporary trends in performance, audience participation, direct action, ritual, and endurance, as evidenced by artists such as Marina Abromovic. We will look at uses of nontraditional texts for performance such as the poetic series. We will also examine solo performance through the lenses of culture, current events, race, ethnicity, and gender. The goal of the course is for each student to create a unique and individualized solo vehicle for themselves. Some of the artists surveyed will be Anna Deveare Smith, Lisa Kron, John Leguizamo, and others. This class will include an informal end-of-year showing. This class meets once a week.
Playwriting Techniques in Solo Performance
The focus of this course is to investigate the mystery of releasing your creative process while, at the same time, discovering the fundamentals of dramatic structure that give form to that process. To that end, in the first term students will write a series of “spontaneous writing” exercises and “structural” exercises. Both exercises are taken from The Playwrights Guidebook, which we will use as a basic text. At the end of the first term, students will write a short but complete play based on one of their spontaneous writing exercises. In the second term, students go on to adapt a short story of their choice and to write a play based on a historical character, event, or period. The focus in all instances is on the writer’s deepest connection to the material—where the drama lies. The work will be read aloud in class and discussed in class each week. Students will also read and discuss plays that mirror the challenges presented by their own exercises. This course meets once a week.
Who are you as a writer? What do you write about, and why? Are you writing the play that you want to write? Or the play that you need to write? Where is the nexus between the amorphous, subconscious wellspring of the material and the rigorous demands of a form that plays in real time before a live audience? This course is designed for playwriting students who have a basic knowledge of dramatic structure and an understanding of their own creative process—and who are ready to create a complete dramatic work of any length. (As Edward Albee points out, “All plays are full-length plays.”) Students will be free to work on themes, subjects, and styles of their choice. Work will be read aloud and discussed in class each week. The course requires that students enter, at minimum, with an idea of the play that they plan to work on, although they may also bring in a partial draft or even a completed draft that they wish to revise. We will read some existent texts, time allowing. This class meets twice a week.
Theatre Outreach, Theatre History, & Production
Learning That Matters: Methods of Theatre Outreach, Group B
This course is about the history of workshops and projects by artists that are continuing to be in the forefront of new ideas in education, as well as in community collaborations. The development of connecting devised expressive work and the creative process has proven to directly support new work on the brain and how one learns. Presenting and developing the techniques, talents, and skills needed in one’s creative practice is part of the weekly class, along with videos on issues and the use of art forms extending into new works that speak to needs of people everywhere. Placements arranged by Allen Lang; interview required. This class meets once a week.
Methods of Theatre Outreach
Developing original, issue-oriented, dramatic material using music and theatre media, this course will present the structures needed for community extension of the theatre. Performance and teaching groups will work with small theatres, schools, senior-citizen groups, museums, centers, and shelters. Productions and class plans will be made in consultation with the organizations and with our touring groups. We will work with children’s theatre, audience participation, and educational theatre. Teaching and performance techniques will focus on past and present uses of oral histories and cross-cultural material. We will study sociological and psychological dynamics as part of an exploration of the role of theatre and its connections to learning. Each student will have a service-learning team placement. Special projects and guest topics will include the use of theatre in developing new kinds of afterschool programs, styles and forms of community on-site performances, and media techniques for artists who teach, as well as working with the Sarah Lawrence College Human Genetics program. This class meets once a week.
The Performing Arts for Social Change
Today, theatre is increasingly defined as a commercial enterprise. This course will examine the use of theatre for social impact, examining its practice, theory, role, and production. Discussions will include how theatre is used for creating personal and social change and the key elements of successful projects. Classes will look at the full scope of a social change initiative—from process to performance to organization to impact. Interactive class sessions will include participation in a creative process involving community building, team building, conflict resolution, social-issue analysis, and scene creation. Each student will be expected to develop a coherent theory of change and to construct a viable performing arts-based project “blueprint.” Students will also visit a rehearsal of The Possibility Project, a nonprofit organization in Manhattan, uses the performing arts to empower teenagers to transform their lives and communities. Paul Griffin is founder and president of The Possibility Project. This class meets once a week.
Crisis Mode: Theatre From the Late 1960s Through Today
A study of contemporary theatre from the 1960s through today, this course will take an expansive view of the plays and playwrights, theatre movements, and styles that have developed and come to expression in the past 50 years. Students will read and discuss a great number and wide variety of plays, with an emphasis on looking at the world in which those plays were written and why they might, or continue to, have resonance today. The course will examine how theatre responded to certain events of historical significance and moments of crisis and how plays provide both a reflection and the expression of our times. Areas of study will include theatre of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the AIDS crisis; plays of post-9/11 and war; and plays that reflect the socioeconomic conditions that lead to unrest and political upheaval. Crisis Mode will concentrate on American plays and political movements but will encompass a global perspective. Plays and playwrights from a variety of cultures and points of view will be discussed. Crisis Mode is not a performance class. For purposes of discussion, students will be asked to read aloud scenes from selected plays. Those students with an interest in performing will be given opportunity to express that in selected projects or presentations. This class meets twice a week.
The Broadway Musical: Something Great Is Coming
For some 60 years, roughly 1920 to 1980, the Broadway musical was in its Golden Age. The subjects were for adults, the lyrics were for the literate, and the music had a richness and depth of expression never since equaled in American composition. Broadway, it has often been said, supplied America with its own brand of classical music. We will begin by delving into the origins of the Broadway musical in the 19th century—a great vibrant stew that included vaudeville, burlesque, operetta, minstrel shows, musical comedy-farce, and musical extravaganza. These widely disparate forms began to coalesce in the 1920s into the quintessentially brash, toe-tapping Broadway form known as musical comedy. We’ll look at this frivolous, but often witty, form as pioneered by the African American team of Blake & Sissle; by their more famous Jewish counterparts, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Rodgers & Hart; and by the lone WASP in the group, Cole Porter. We’ll wind up musical comedy with one of the greatest examples of the genre, On the Town, which we’ll also go to see on Broadway. Meanwhile, visionaries like Oscar Hammerstein II saw the potential for something more substantive in this lighter-than-air art form. In the 1940s, when Hart and Kern both died, the re-pairing of Rodgers with Hammerstein would again revolutionize the Broadway musical with their so-called “integrated musicals,” beginning with Oklahoma! R&H (as they were universally known) gave the musical thematic weight and dramatic coherence. They insisted on putting the story first and making the songs—along with everything else—serve that story. The inevitable apotheosis of their efforts is the musical play of the 1950s, and we’ll end this section by looking at both R&H’s profoundly moving South Pacific and Bock and Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof. But the Broadway musical of substance showed yet another face: the concept musical. The concept musical was Broadway’s answer to cubist painting. It took a subject and looked at it from every conceivable angle except one: a story. We’ll end the year by looking at Stephen Sondheim’s two great masterpieces: Company, in which he (with book writer George Furth) deconstructs marriage, intimacy, and friendship; and Follies, his (and book writer James Goldman’s) meditation on mortality and time itself. This course meets once a week.
Dramaturgy is the study of dramatic structure: how plays are built and how they work. Although every play worth its salt works according to its own idiosyncratic plan, certain principles allow us to take it apart in order to better understand how it was put together. There are many ways to do that, and we will be trying a wide assortment. For example, we will study two plays that utilize the same dramaturgical devices—but to very different ends. We will look at both Euripides’ The Bacchae and Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer in order to examine classical structure; compare Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in order to see the guiding principles of Elizabethan revenge tragedy; read Emile Augier’s simple-minded Olympe’s Marriage side-by-side with Henrik Ibsen’s great A Doll House; or trace the development of expressionism over the course of the 20th century from Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones to Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro. We will also look at how two plays may tell the same story but with different plots and using different dramaturgical principles. For this, we might examine Euripides’ Hippolytus, Racine’s Phaedre, and Sarah Kane’s Phaedre’s Love or Shakespeare’s King Lear and Nahum Tate’s neoclassical version of it (in the conclusion of which, Lear, alive and well, presides over the wedding of Cordelia and Edgar). The examination of multiple drafts of plays is often the surest way to see inside the playwright’s mind; fortunately, we have complete, early drafts of plays that, after substantial revision, became masterpieces. We will look at Chekhov’s early manuscript of The Wood Demon in order to compare it to the play it became in Uncle Vanya; and we’ll watch Ibsen struggle to find the way to release Nora’s persona in the first draft of A Doll House and then watch him succeed incomparably in the final version. There are many other possibilities, as well: faux folk drama in the form of S. A. Ansky’s great horror-thriller, The Dybbuk, or Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding; ritualistic drama from Jean Genet’s The Maids to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; farce from Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear to John Guare’s House of Blue Leaves. Because an understanding of genre is essential to the work that we will do, a working knowledge of the principle genres (classicism, Elizabethan, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, etc.) and their historical context is required for the course. This course meets twice a week.
Global Theatre: The Syncretic Journey
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to La MaMa, dedicated to the playwright and to all aspects of the theatre. —Ellen Stewart
The La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City has been the host of contemporary and international theatre artists for 50 years. You will have the opportunity to attend the performances, meet the artists, participate in workshops led by them, as well as have access to the La MaMa archives on the history of international theatre in New York. Your personal “syncretic theatre journey” is enhanced by the observance of fellow theatre-makers and oneself that is informed concretely by the application of text, research, movement, music, design, puppetry, and multimedia, as well as social and political debate in class. Coordinators of the LaMaMa International Symposium for Directors, David Diamond and Mia Yoo, will host you in New York City, where you will exchange ideas with visiting and local artists: Yara Arts Group and artists of the Great Jones Repertory Theatre. Historical/contemporary experimental texts will be discussed, such as: Psychosis by Sarah Kane, Death and the Kings Horseman by Wole Soyinka, Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill, The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt, A Dream Play by August Strindberg, Thunderstorm by Cao Yu, Goshram Kwotal by Vijay Tendulkar, Venus by Susan-Lori Parks, Ruined by Lynn Nottage, Mistero Buffo by Dario Fo, And They Put Handcuffs On The Flowers by Arrabal, and the works of Martin Crimp. Required reading: The Empty Space by Peter Brook. This course is a history component.
Far-Off, Off-Off, Off, and On Broadway: Experiencing the 2014-2015 Theatre Season
Weekly class meetings in which productions are analyzed and discussed will be supplemented by regular visits to many of the theatrical productions of the current season. The class will travel within the tristate area, attending theatre in as many diverse venues, forms, and styles as possible. Published plays will be studied in advance of attending performances; new or unscripted works will be preceded by examinations of previous work by the author or company. Students will be given access to all available group discounts in purchasing tickets.
DownStage is an intensive, hands-on conference in theatrical production. DownStage student producers administrate and run their own theatre company. They are responsible for all aspects of production, including determining the budget and marketing an entire season of events and productions. Student producers are expected to fill a variety of positions, both technical and artistic, and to sit as members of the board of directors of a functioning theatre organization. In addition to their obligations to class and designated productions, DownStage producers are expected to hold regular office hours. Prior producing experience is not required. This class meets twice a week.
The creative director of the theatre program will lead a discussion group for all the directors, assistant directors, and playwrights participating in the fall theatre season (including readings, workshops, and productions). This is an opportunity for students to discuss with their peers the process, problems, and pleasures of making theatre at Sarah Lawrence College (and beyond). This workshop is part problem solving and part support group, with the emphasis on problem solving. This course is required for directing, assistant directing, and playwriting students whose productions are included in the fall theatre season. This class meets once a week.
This course is a hands-on laboratory class in the skills, practices, and attitudes that help a stage manager organize an environment in which a theatrical team can work together productively and with minimum stress. Classroom exercises and discussion augment the mentored production work that is assigned to each student. Script analysis, blocking notation, prop management, and cue writing/calling are among the topics covered. Knowledge of and practice in stage management are essential tools for directors and useful supplements for actors and designers. This class meets once a week during the fall semester and will be taught by Ms. Minsky; spring semester, taught by Ms. Sealander, is devoted to mentored production practicums.
Tools of the Trade
This is a stagehand course that focuses on the nuts and bolts of light and sound board operation and projection technology, as well as the use of basic stage carpentry. This is not a design class but, rather, a class about reading, drafting and light plots, assembly and troubleshooting, and basic electrical repair. Students who take this course will be eligible for additional paid work as technical assistants in the theatre department. This class meets once a week.
For students who wish to pursue a professional internship as part of their program, all areas of producing and administration are possible: production, marketing, advertising, casting, development, etc. Students must have at least one day each week to devote to the internship. Through individual meetings, we will best determine each student’s placement to meet individual academic and artistic goals.
Theatre students may be invited to participate in outside programs, including:
The London Theatre Program (BADA)
Sponsored by Sarah Lawrence College and the British American Drama Academy (BADA), the London Theatre Program offers undergraduates from Sarah Lawrence an opportunity to work and study with leading actors and directors from the world of British theatre. The program offers acting classes with leading artists from the British stage. These are complemented by individual tutorials, where students will work one-on-one with their teachers. A faculty selected from Britain’s foremost drama schools teaches technical classes in voice, movement, and stage fighting. This intense conservatory training is accompanied by courses in theatre history and theatre criticism, tickets to productions, and the experience of performing in a professional theatre. In addition, master classes and workshops feature more of Britain’s fine actors and directors. Designed for dedicated students who wish to study acting in London, the program offers enrollment in either the fall or spring semester for single-semester study. Those wishing to pursue their training more intensely are strongly encouraged to begin their training in the fall and continue with the Advanced London Theatre Program in the spring semester. Audition required.
La MaMa E.T.C.
La MaMa E.T.C. sponsors two summer events in Umbria, Italy, in conjunction with Sarah Lawrence College: International Symposium for Directors, a three-week training program for professional directors, choreographers, and actors in which internationally renowned theatre artists conduct workshops and lecture/demonstrations; and Playwright Retreat, a one-week program where participants have ample time to work on new or existing material. Each day, master playwright Lisa Kron will meet with the playwrights to facilitate discussions, workshops, and exercises designed to help the writers with whatever challenges they are facing. More information is available at http://lamama.org/programs/umbria/.