Page 1




What is a Memory?


Memory in Art


Tennessee Williams’ Production Notes


I Remember - Worksheet


A Memory Play - Storyboard Worksheet



EXPERIENCE An Interview with John Tiffany and Cherry Jones

From Tom to Tennessee Meet the Characters



St. Louis in the 1930s 20

ENRICH Tennessee Williams Timeline 22 Protect Your Noggin! 24 Glossary of Memory & Memory Disorders 25


WELCOME To The Glass Menagerie! Tennessee Williams’ iconic family drama is studied in classrooms all across America, and for good reason. Did you know that Williams’ play, with its demonstration of his idea of “plastic theater,” was really experimental for its time? Many theatergoers expect a realistic “kitchen sink” drama when they enter a theater playing The Glass Menagerie, but Tennessee envisioned the play as an artistic expression of how memory feels. This idea of memory– and its limitations– forms the primary lesson in the official The Glass Menagerie Educational Toolkit. Later on in the Toolkit, you’ll find a biographical article about the playwright, interviews with the cast and creative team, and information about the historical setting of The Glass Menagerie. As always, A.R.T. teaching artists are available to help facilitate the lesson plan within this Toolkit. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you’d like to know more about what the A.R.T. Education Department has to offer! Hope to see you at the theater soon! The A.R.T. Education Staff 1



OBJECTIVE Use the classic American drama, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, as a lens through which to discover the neurological and physiological basis of memory. Students will create a unique “memory play” to demonstrate their fundamental knowledge of memory and its limitations.

BACKGROUND The events and characters of Tennessee Williams’ classic American drama The Glass Menagerie very closely mirror the playwright’s life; in the words of Tom, the character who stands for Tennessee (born Thomas Lanier Williams), the play gives us “truth in the pleasant guide of illusion.” The following lesson plan uses arts-based learning to examine the scientific themes of memory that suffuse John Tiffany’s production. The culminating project will bring to bear the limits of memory, particularly when one tries to recreate a distant memory. This is particularly germane to the A.R.T. production of The Glass Menagerie; the director and set designer, 2012 Tony Award-winners John Tiffany and Bob Crowley, are particularly interested in representing the “incomplete” nature of memory when we attempt to recall moments in our lives. Students who participate in the lesson plan and see the show will connect their experiences during a post-show conversation with members of the cast and creative team.

CONNECTIONS TO MASSACHUSETTS GUIDING PRINCIPLES Guiding Principle 1: An effective English language arts and literacy curriculum develops thinking and language together through interactive learning. Guiding Principle 4: An effective English language arts and literacy curriculum develops students’ oral langauge and literacy through appropriately challenging learning. Guiding Principle 5: An effective English language arts and literacy curriculum emphasizes writing arguments, explanatory/informative texts, and narratives.

MATERIALS The Glass Menagerie Toolkit Craft supplies (paper, colored pencils, markers)


PROCEDURE Day One: 1. Lead a discussion with students to activate prior knowledge of memory, and how memory is represented in media (flashbacks, memoirs, characters with amnesia). Are these accurate portrayals of how we really remember things? Why or why not? 2. Introduce the material in “What is a Memory?” (p 5). Discuss what happens when our brain remembers. 3. Ask students to remember something that happened in their lives last week. Write down all the details they remember from this incident. 4. Go around the room and share each memory in detail. Discuss what details are missing from certain memories. 5. HOMEWORK: Read “Production Notes from The Glass Menagerie” (optional: Read The Glass Menagerie in its entirety).

Day Two: 6. Discuss “Production Notes from The Glass Menagerie.” How does Tennessee Williams approach memory in his work? Discuss the theatrical devices that Williams suggests to replicate the feeling of a memory. Do these resonate with what we’ve learned about memory so far? 7. Ask the students to return to their notes about their own memories. Challenge them to recall their very earliest memory. Write down all the details of this memory (using the “I Remember...” worksheet in the Toolkit as a guide, if necessary). 8. Discuss the exercise around the room. What is difficult? How many details are missing, compared to the previous day’s exercise? 9. Ask each student to create an “artistic representation” of their memory, like Tennessee Williams did with The Glass Menagerie. Using the “A Memory Play” storyboard in the Toolkit (or a blank piece of paper), each student will draw four images from their memory. Challenge them to be as complete and “truthful” as possible, intentionally omitting any detail that they cannot remember with certainty. a. VARIATION: Ask students to pair up and sit back-to-back, one at a time, each student narrates his or her memory to the partner, who illustrates the story. The partner may ask questions of the narrating student, in order to fill in further details (or illuminate missing details). 10. Present the finished “Memory Plays.” Discuss the incomplete or limited nature of the illustration. Does it make the artistic representation more or less compelling? How does it relate to what we’ve learned about memory and the brain?


ENGAGE Extension Activity • Repeate the illustration exercise in Day 2, but ask students to represent one of the memory impairment disorders they learned about on Day 1. I.E., redraw the student’s memory from the perspective of someone suffering from prosopamnesia (the inability to remember faces), aphasia (the difficulty in remembering language), etc. How is the final artistic representation affected, and how do you think an audience would be affected by it?



What is a Memory? Your brain can access information stored from your past experiences – we call this action memory. Memories fall in to three general types: sensory, short-term, and long-term. Look carefully at the image on page 4 of the Toolkit. Close your eyes and try to remember what you saw. Your ability to recall the image is one example of your sensory memory. What was the last thing you did just before you looked at the image? That information is part of your short-term memory. Short-term memory is like a temporary holding space for your most recent experiences. The less important information is likely to be lost over time, and the more important things may be stored in your long-term memory, for recall much later. Your senses are always receiving information. Chemical and electrical signals reach our eyes, ears, nose, touch and taste receptors, and from those receptors they travel to the brain, which interprets the signals. When we remember something, our brain activates the same pathways the original information travelled. Does this mean that, when you have a memory, you relive that experience?

How does memory work? Patterns of nerve networks store memories. A memory is recalled when we activate the appropriate nerve networks. First, information flows through the brain: We take in information through sight, hearing, smell, tasting, and touch sensors. For fractions of a second, we store sensory information in areas located throughout the brain’s cortex. If that data catches our attention (a car alarm suddenly goes off) or is important to us (an e-mail address), it moves into short-term memory. Short-term memory is held for less than a minute and can manage just a handful of independent items at once. If any of that information is important to us in the future (for example, a weather forecast predicting heavy rain), it moves in to long-term storage in various parts of the cortex – much of it returning to the sensory cortex areas where we originally received it. There it can last a lifetime, if needed.


ENGAGE Long-term memory is encoded, stored, and retrieved. We encode a memory by breaking new concepts into parts to establish meaning. We include the context around us as we learn a new concept or take in a new experience. You might encode the phrase “tasty orange” with important descriptors– orange color, sweet taste, round shape, watery and fibrous texture– and then contextual items like, “I feel good because I am on a relaxing picnic and peeling an orange.” • We store the memory, attaching it to related memories, like “juicier than the orange I got with my school lunch last week,” merging the new concept with older memories. • We retrieve the concept by following some of the markers that trace the memory’s various codes, decoding the stored information to regain its meaning. If I can’t remember what “tasty orange” means, I can activate the contextual hints, like “orange” or “relaxing picnic.” These hints connect, so grasping one may allow me to recall the whole meaning of the memory. The hippocampus is the part of the cortex that consolidates new memories. When an event makes temporary links among the cortex’s neurons, its data converges on the hippocampus, which sends the down a path several times, to strengthen its links, until they no longer need the hippocampus to unite the data. This path is called the Papez circuit. It starts at the hippocampus, moves through more of the limbic system (picking up emotional and spatial associations like “relaxing picnic.” Then it travels through other parts of the cortex and returns to the hippocampus. These strengthened memory paths are enhanced with environmental connections and become part of long-term memory. Neuron networks: storing and retrieving memories. The brain has special neuron networks, including the Papez circuit, that are pre-wired to link cortical neurons into a new network memory. In the tasty orange memory, the orange part is networked in the visual area of the cortex, which stores the sensation of the particular color of a tasty orange. The network forms a path defined by its synapses. The orange neurons’ synapses change to make it easier for neurons along this path to fire, establishing a conducting circuit, which will store and invoke the color orange in this memory. The limbic area creates a similar network for the memory of a relaxing picnic,


ENGAGE and so on. Bringing all this together, an overall network connects each of the memory’s parts: orange, relaxing, round, etc. The synapses of the overall network change to establish a preferred path linking each memory part. The structure of all the networks link to form the total “tasty orange” memory. The brain retrieves this information by firing this overall network, causing electrical signals to travel through the network that connects the memory’s data. Synapse molecules change to define a network path, a pattern, and a memory. How? A synapse is a tiny border region between two neuron cells and the cell membranes of both neurons at the gap. This is where a path for memory is created. Neurons carry information across the brain in electrical pulses. One neuron fires a signal, which moves out to the synapse. Chemical messengers at the synapse carry this signal across the synapse, changing the potential difference of the cell membrane of the neighboring neuron. If the change is great enough (about 15 mV), this next neuron will fire an outgoing signal, continuing the transit to the next synapse and neuron. To establish a long-term pattern, therefore cementing a memory, there have to be frequent firings of the signal. If the incoming neuron fires enough that the outgoing neuron’s cell membrane is jolted many times in a short period, the jolts excite the outgoing neuron’s membrane enough to raise the voltage of the cell membrane for a longer period of time. The energy released in this rapid-fire signaling stimulates the growth of new proteins, which create new synapses, defining a new network. This raises the resting potential in the outgoing neuron’s membrane for a longer period, making it easier for an incoming signal to fire the outgoing neuron, strengthening the synapse, which fires more efficiently and creates a new preferred path.

MEMORY IN ART The Glass Menagerie isn’t the only work of art that explores memory. How many of the following plays, films, and books are you familiar with?

Betrayal by Harold Pinter A Christmas Story Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Vertigo Total Recall Memento The Manchurian Candidate Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust


ENGAGE TEnnessee williams’ PRODUCTION NOTES FOR THE GLASS MENAGERIE Williams included the following as a preface to the playscript for The Glass Menagerie. It outlines his concept of “plastic theater,” which was a response to naturalism, the highly detailed, realistic style that dominated the American stage at the time. Being a “memory play,” The Glass Menagerie can be presented with unusual freedom of convention. Because of its considerable delicate or tenuous material, atmospheric touches and subtleties of direction play a particularly important part. Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth. When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn’t be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are. The straight realistic play with its genuine Frigidaire and authentic ice-cubes, its characters who speak exactly as its audience speaks, corresponds to the academic landscape and has the same virtue of a photographic likeness. Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance. These remarks are not meant as a preface only to this particular play. They have to do with a conception of new, plastic theatre which must take the place of the exhausted theatre of realistic conventions if the theatre is to resume vitality as a part of our culture.  THE SCREEN DEVICE: There is only one important difference between the original and the acting version of the play and that is the omission in the latter of the device that I tentatively included in my original script. This device was the use of a screen on which were projected magiclantern slides bearing images or titles...These images and legends, projected from behind, were cast on a section of wall between the front-room and dining-room areas, which should be indistinguishable from the rest when not in use. The purpose of this will probably be apparent. It is to give accent to certain values in each scene. Each scene contains a particular point (or several) which is structurally the most important. In an episodic play, such as this, the basic


ENGAGE structure or narrative line may be obscured from the audience; the effect may seem fragmentary rather than architectural. This may not be the fault of the play so much as a lack of attention in the audience. The legend or image upon the screen will strengthen the effect of what is merely allusion in the writing and allow the primary point to be made more simply and lightly than if the entire responsibility were on the spoken lines. Aside from this structural value, I think the screen will have a definite emotional appeal, less definable but just as important. An imaginative producer or director may invent many other uses for this device than those indicated in the present script. In fact the possibilities of the device seem much larger to me than the instance of this play can possibly utilize. THE MUSIC: Another extra-literary accent in this play is pro­vided by the use of music. A single recurring tune, “The Glass Menagerie,” is used to give emotional emphasis to suitable passages. This tune is like circus music, not when you are on the grounds or in the immediate vicinity of the parade, but when you are at some distance and very likely thinking of something else. It seems under those circumstances to continue almost interminably and it weaves in and out of your pre­occupied consciousness; then it is the lightest, most delicate music in the world and perhaps the saddest. It expresses the surface vivacity of life with the underlying strain of immutable and inexpressible sorrow. When you look at a piece of deli­cately spun glass you think of two things: how beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken. Both of those ideas should be woven into the recurring tune, which dips in and out of the play as if it were carried on a wind that changes. It serves as a thread of connection and allusion between the narrator with his separate point in time and space and the subject of his story. Between each episode it returns as reference to the emotion, nostalgia, which is the first condition of the play. It is primarily Laura’s music and therefore comes out most clearly when the play focuses upon her and the lovely fragility of glass which is her image. THE LIGHTING: The lighting in the play is not realistic. In keeping with the atmosphere of memory, the stage is dim. Shafts of light are focused on selected areas or actors, some­ times in contradistinction to what is the apparent center. For instance, in the quarrel scene between Tom and Amanda, in which Laura has no active part, the clearest pool of light is on her figure. This is also true of the supper scene, when her silent figure on the sofa should remain the visual center. The light upon Laura should be distinct from the others, having a peculiar pristine clarity such as light used in early religious portraits of female saints or madonnas. A certain correspond­ence to light in religious paintings, such as El Greco’s, where the figures are radiant in atmosphere that is relatively dusky, could be effectively used throughout the play. (It will also permit a more effective use of the screen.) A free, imaginative use of light can be of enormous value in giving a mobile, plastic quality to plays of a more or less static nature. The accompanying images are from the original production of The Glass Menagerie.



I REMEMBER... The Glass Menagerie is a “memory play” - the story is told by Tom Wingfield, who draws from his memories of his mother and sister to relay an incident in which, at his mother’s request, he brings a coworker home to meet his sister. The play is not purely realistic, because the inputs to our five senses are discarded, confused, or given greater emphasis based on their importance to us when the memory is created. Try to remember your earliest memory. Write down all the details of this memory. Using this worksheet, fill in parts of the memory using your five senses. Are there smells, sounds, textures or movements, sights, or even tastes you can recall?

I saw...___________________________________________ ________________________________________________ ________________________________________________ I heard...__________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ I tasted..._________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ I smelled...________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ I touched/felt...____________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 10


A MEMORY PLAY STORYBOARD Use this page to draw an artistic representation of your memory, like Tennessee Williams did in The Glass Menagerie. Draw what you will see in each of four scenes (or shot, as in a film). Be as complete and “truthful� as possible - omit any details that you cannot remember with certainty. Do you ever see the whole scene from a distance? Is there a closeup at a crucial moment?




A.R.T. dramaturg Ryan McKittrick interviewed director John Tiffany and actress Cherry Jones, who plays Amanda Wingfield in the A.R.T.’s production of The Glass Menagerie. RYAN MCKITTRICK: What do you like so much about this play? JOHN TIFFANY: It’s a staple of great twentieth-century American plays. It’s a great family drama where everything is within a family and within one living room. The architecture of the United States and even the whole world gets created within a living room. I feel very connected to what Tennessee Williams writes in The Glass Menagerie because it’s about fragility and it’s about people. What he’s trying to say is that the world should be a place where damaged people like these can live, and it’s a disaster that it isn’t. Because Williams was a damaged, fragile person himself, I find the way he writes about damaged people deeply moving. RM: What was the experience of reading the play out loud like for you, Cherry? CJ: I realized that I’m one of the last people who is the right age to play that part who actually knew those kind of women. I was born in Tennessee in 1956, which means that when I was ten years old, the women who were Edwina [Tennessee Williams’s mother] and Amanda’s age were in their late 70s and still vital to our community. I knew them well. They were the choir directors at the church, they were the little ladies who would invite us over for cheese biscuits and hot chocolate out of demitasse cups. They were women whose grandfathers had fought in the American Civil War. Only they didn’t say Civil War, they said “See Ah Vul Wa Wah” [with a pronounced Southern accent]. They all had marvelous names—they were Aunt Margaret Porter and Miss Lorraine Davis and Miss Annie Warren Mills, whose favorite prayer was “Dear Lord, I can’t. You can. Please


EXPERIENCE do!” And then I realized that Blue Mountain [the place where Amanda Wingfield used to receive her gentleman callers] is in Mississippi, just two hours from where I grew up in Tennessee. So I started to feel some kind of responsibility to take this role because I’m a dramatic actress and I’m from that part of the world. And I always loved Tennessee Williams. RM: What is it you love about him? CJ: I love that he figured out a way to survive. Because he shouldn’t have survived. Genius doesn’t count for much, but he made it work for him, and he had enough stability through his grandparents. JT: There was a period when Williams was still living in St. Louis when he felt like the failed son of a failed man. That’s how he puts it: the failed son of a failure. Because his father, Cornelius was a complete failure. CJ: And the gay son of a failed straight father. JT: Exactly. And his sister, Rose, experienced the same sense of failure. But she didn’t have an outlet like her brother. So she absorbed it all and it sent her mad. But the writing saved Tennessee’s life. And it just makes you realize how many of us have actually been saved by this thing called theater—this outlet that we have. RM: Cherry, what kind of preparation have you been doing for this role? CJ: I love to familiarize myself with the text and go to the first table read knowing it well. But I don’t want to know this play too far in advance because I want to be able to be alive to the experience. Amanda is a woman who leans forward, as all great theater characters must. They don’t lean back and wait for something to happen. I knew Southern women like her who never stopped talking. They’d say, “Oh Cherry, I’m just ever so glad that you’re here today and your mother and I were just talking the other day, and I heard about that show that you were doing up in so and so and did you know that Bobby Joe came back the other day and would you like a little something in that? Would you like a little cream in that? Would you like a little sugar?” You know, all that mindless stuff. Amanda is purposeful, but there’s that engine in her – you just want to hear Tom scream, “SHUT UP!” JT: She’s a peacock. CJ: She is a peacock, but she’s also an engine of a woman who has survived the twenties without a man. When the rest of the world was prospering, her family wasn’t. They were barely getting by and then they were laid low by The Depression. To me, the most profoundly moving of all Amanda’s lines is when she says to Tom, “You are my right hand bower.” She means that, because it has been virtually impossible for this Southern woman living in the godforsaken North in a world that has just changed forever for the dire worse. All the beauty is gone. It is gray and it is bleak. So now I’m trying to figure out what that engine in her is.




On the frigid December night in 1944 that The Glass Menagerie premiered in Chicago, the woman who created Amanda Wingfield, Laurette Taylor, came face-to-face with the woman who had inspired the character. “Well, Ms. Williams,” asked Taylor, “how did you like yourself?” Edwina Dakin Williams, ever the Southern belle, politely changed the subject, “Oh, Laurette, you were wonderful.” This freezing Chicago night catapulted Amanda Wingfield to the pantheon of great roles for actresses, and also made a star of Tennessee Williams, who had used his early years in St. Louis as a source of inspiration for the play. With his fame grew the myth of his domineering mother and Edwina Williams has often become inseparable from the character she inspired. Likewise, The Glass Menagerie is often seen as a snapshot of Williams’ life, with Tennessee as Tom Wingfield and his sister, Rose Williams, as Laura. But these comparisons can do the play a disservice; Williams certainly used his own experiences as a framework for the play, but Menagerie represents Williams’ dramatic manifesto, his first wholly successful attempt to transmute life into art. Tennessee Williams’ life begins like a Tennessee Williams’ play. Edwina Dakin, who prided herself on being the “only Southern girl from Ohio” and harbored hopes of becoming an actress, fell in love with Cornelius Coffin Williams, a travelling salesman from Memphis, in 1907. Though he was a playboy who loved whiskey and a good poker game, Cornelius managed to win over Edwina (triumphing over several other suitors) and her parents the Reverend and Mrs. Walter Dakin. After the marriage, Cornelius was often on the road, leaving his children to enjoy the indulgence and undivided attention of their mother. Though the name Tennessee suggests otherwise, Thomas Lanier Williams III spent most of his childhood in Mississippi, where he was born, and in St. Louis, the city he claimed to hate. Young Tom began writing on the typewriter Edwina Williams bought for her “writin’ son” when he was twelve. By then, his Gulf Coast upbringing had already supplied him with many of the people, places, and events that would populate the mythological South of his plays.

When Cornelius obtained a permanent position with the International Shoe Company, he moved his family to St. Louis in the brutally hot summer of 1918. The Williams children had few friends, as Edwina disapproved of many of the neighborhood children, and their classmates mocked their Southern accents. Poetry served as a refuge for Tom, but Rose, though vivacious and pretty, struggled to adjust and became withdrawn, often fighting with her parents. Cornelius ignored his daughter, and Edwina criticized her daughter’s growing interest in boys, clothes, and parties. When Tom enrolled at the University of Missouri in 1929, Rose was left alone. While at ‘ole Mizzou,’ Tom discovered the work of D.H. Lawrence and Shelley and, encouraged by his drama professor, wrote his first play. Cornelius pulled strings



se Wil

nd Ro

sa Thoma Young

to get his son accepted by Alpha Tau Omega, and his fraternity brothers remembered Tom as quiet and quirky, although popular with girls as a dance partner. Jim Connor, the inspiration for Menagerie’s gentleman caller and Tom’s closest friend at the time, later recalled that Tom spent much of his time writing. The beginning of 1932 found Tom trapped in the Celotex interior of International Shoe. Upset over his son’s poor grades, Cornelius secured him a job as a clerk, forcing Tom out of college. Tom chafed at the job, recalling later that the three years he spent in the warehouse felt like the same day played over and over again. He ultimately found release in 1935 after heart palpitations caused a nervous breakdown. This incident inaugurated a lifelong fear of dying and madness that Williams would see reflected in Rose. After a disappointing social debut, she had begun experiencing unexplained stomach pains. Edwin a Dakin and he The night of the breakdown that saved her r son, Thoma s Lanie brother from International Shoe, Rose wandered into r Willia ms III his room and declared that Tom, Rose, and their younger brother Dakin “should all die together.” While Tom recovered in Memphis, Rose began seeing a therapist, who diagnosed her pains as stemming from a fear of sex. Edwina Williams subsequently orchestrated a parade of gentleman callers. Tom returned to St. Louis and enrolled in Washington University, where he met poet Clark Mills McBurney and began writing “social plays” for the Mummers, a St. Louis theater troupe. Tom’s success with the Mummers and friendships with the young literati of St. Louis strained his relationship with his sister. He criticized Rose to her face and in his diaries, calling her habit of wearing negligees in the house and her desperate behavior toward men disgusting. Rose, ignored by the brother who had formerly been her most loving companion, slipped further into her delusions. Cornelius and Edwina admitted her to a sanitarium in 1937, after which Cornelius gave his daughter up as a lost cause. Tom, already afraid that he, too, would go mad, had a nervous attack upon visiting her, and after a brief visit in 1939, wouldn’t see his sister again until 1943. Tom finally completed his college studies with the prestigious University of Iowa playwriting program. One play, Not About Nightingales, revolved around a war-torn family crushed by poverty, and another, Me, Vashya! featured a heroine driven mad by her blood-thirsty arms dealer husband. Though both deal with the major social problems of the day – the Depression and looming war – both show a young playwright struggling to depict the private tragedy of a family unfolding against a larger societal tragedy. Eager to take flight from St. Louis, Tom decamped to New Orleans in 1939 and along the way became Tennessee Williams. He mailed several plays to the Group Theatre’s new play contest, knocking three years off his age to qualify for entry and impulsively signing the works “Tennessee.” The plays won him $100, enough to support


EXPERIENCE himself through his writing, and the patronage of Audrey Wood, a powerful New York agent. The next five years in Williams’ life are a restless whirl of travelling and writing. His notebooks and diaries of this period are part portrait of the artist as a young man, part pillowbook, and part travelogue. “Okay again. Writing really good scenes. Sex ok,” reads a typical entry. Williams’ wanderlust carried him across the country through New Orleans, Mexico, Florida, Georgia, Hollywood, New York. Despite Tennessee’s stated desire to break away from his family, the Williamses bleed into his work. Williams wrote stories about brothers and sisters, drafting Apt. F, 3rd Flo. So., set in a white room like Rose Williams’ Enright Avenue room; If You Breathe, It Breaks about a “front porch girl” with two brothers who refuses her mother’s offer of gentleman callers; “The Spinning Song,” which deals s m a with a decaying Southern family that contains seeds of ee Willi Tenness both The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire; and The Purification, a verse play about an incestuous relationship between siblings. In these stories, the kinship between the brother and sister represents the divide Williams saw in himself between the artist and the lunatic. In his sister, Williams saw a mind ravaged by what he called “blue devils,” which had turned his father into a drunk and threatened to destroy the young writer’s own mind. Writing became his salvation. A diary entry from Williams’ time in Macon, Georgia showed his determination to overcome this shadow of madness: “I have to consider my family and their love and be brave and enduring as long as it is humanly possible … messy and prolonged. What happened to my sister.” Without writing to save him, Williams feared his mind would fail as had his sister’s. The Glass Menagerie frequently receded in Williams’ priorities as he worked on Battle of Angels, Camino Real, You Touched Me! and a cavalcade of poems and short stories. It surged ahead in January of 1943, when Edwina broke the news that Rose had undergone a prefrontal lobotomy to pacify her delusions. A devastated Williams returned to St. Louis; Edwina Williams thought her son never forgave her for the decision, which doctors had assured her was the best way to treat Rose’s schizophrenia. What playwright and Williams scholar Tony Kushner calls “ur-Menageries” began to take shape during this period. Williams first tried a short story, Portrait of A Girl in Glass, in which Laura is the central character and has no physical defects. The unnamed Mother is a charming nag, but lacks the force of Amanda Wingfield. Tennessee called the story “dismal,” and abandoned it to pen Daughter of the American Revolution: A Dramatic Portrait of An American Mother (A Comedy). Infused with Edwina’s Southern mannerisms, this Amanda hawks magazine subscriptions to genteel Christian ladies. Audrey Wood and Williams agreed that the mother was the strongest character of these disparate drafts, but Williams’ thoughts kept returning to Laura. These embryonic drafts led to The Gentleman Caller, which Williams adapted into a film treatment for MGM during the summer of 1943. In this version, Tom Wingfield


EXPERIENCE and Amanda gain primacy, Laura is made lame, and the role of the caller is expanded. Tennessee assured Wood that he would soften the ending of the film to make it palatable to the Hollywood starlets who may fill the role of Laura. This soft ending can be seen in The Pretty Trap, a one-act in which Jim, single and charmed by Laura’s strange beauty, invites her out for a walk at the end of the play. The curtain falls on a triumphant Amanda, who gives her son her blessing to leave his family. When the film studio dismissed Williams treatment, he finished his stage version of The Glass Menagerie. Williams accidentally left the manuscript in the dorm room of a Harvard student he hoped to seduce, but the student kindly mailed it back to him. The play finally made its way to his agent, Audrey Wood in autumn of 1943. (She was horrified that Williams sent his only copy through the post; he replied that if the play were lost, he could just rewrite it.) The play was then picked up by Chicago producer Eddie Dowling. The former stage-star Laurette Taylor insisted she play Amanda, and the cast began rehearsals in Chicago in December 1946. Taylor frustrated the cast by mumbling and appearing uninterested in rehearsals. When Tennessee admonished her – “My God, what corn!” – she threw herself into the role full force, moving Williams and Julie Haydon, who played Laura, to tears. Taylor had been biding her time studying the other actors’ performances; Williams loved her performance so much that he allowed Dowling to cut the screens and slide projections indicated in the script in order to focus on the power of the performances. After a successful Chicago run, the play opened on Broadway in March 1945. From the life and memory of Tom Williams, Tennessee Williams had created one of the most enduring portraits of a family ever staged. While Tom Wingfield runs from his memories, the playwright had used his own past to create something never before seen on the American stage – a lyricism born of truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion. Written by Alexandra Juckno, dramaturg for the A.R.T.’s production of The Glass Menagerie. Questions for Discussion: What similarities exist between the story and characters of The Glass Menagerie and Tennessee Williams’ real life? Why do you think Williams decided to change elements of the play to be different from his real life?

Playbill for the original production of The Glass Menagerie


MEET THE CHARACTERS... AMANDA WINGFIELD (CHERRY JONES): A little woman of great but confused vitality clinging to her past in Blue Mountain, Mississippi. She is not paranoiac, but her life is paranoia. There is much to admire in Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at. Certainly she has endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is tenderness in her.

I’m from Tennessee so I probably was aware of Tennessee Williams earlier than many children just because I was captivated by his name. My mother was an English and American literature teacher so I’m sure she must have taught The Glass Menagerie, and I must have heard his name. The first time I saw The Glass Menagerie was probably in a regional theater production in Syracuse, New York on a very snowy night. I took the train from New York City to Syracuse to see my friend Victoria Boothby as Amanda. And I’d probably at that point already auditioned for Laura, one of the many, many times I auditioned for Laura with no success. I think I was a little too large for most Lauras—I was tall and big-boned. I never wanted to play Amanda, ever. Ever. But here I am with an extraordinary group, blessed to play this part.

LAURA WINGFIELD (CELIA KEENAN-BORGER): A childhood illness has left Laura crippled, one leg slightly shorter than the other, and held in a brace. Stemming from this, Laura’s separation from reality increases till she is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf.

I first read Tennessee Williams on a trip with my dad to Tulum, Mexico. I borrowed a Tennessee Williams anthology from the library and read Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire. I remember, as a high school student who was obsessed with musicals, thinking how much I could hear the music of The Glass Menagerie, both in the music cues that Tennessee Williams had included in the script and also in his characters’ language. I’ve admired Cherry Jones for as long as I can remember, and I remember seeing Black Watch and thinking that if I ever got to work with John Tiffany or Steven Hoggett, I’d go anywhere and do anything. So when I found out that all of those people were going to be working together on a production at A.R.T., I just wanted to be a part of it so badly.

T n w e T

M r w B u g l e w t p c p c c t h l

The character descriptions are adapted from Tennessee Williams’ descriptions in The Glass Menagerie script, and are paired with quotes from the actors in the A.R.T.’s production, discussing their connection to the playwright & play. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think Tennessee Williams means when he writes about Tom, “to escape from a trap he has to act without pity”? The actors all say they encountered Tennessee Williams’ work in high school. Why do you think his plays are studied in high school?

TOM WINGFIELD (ZACHARY QUINTO): The narrator of the play. A poet with a job in a warehouse. His nature is remorseless, but to escape from a trap he has to act without pity. Tom yearns to escape.

My first experience with Tennessee was in high school reading A Streetcar Named Desire and then in college watching people work on little snippets of his plays. But I somehow always felt distant from what was underneath the work until it became clear that I was going to be working on this play, and I started to learn more and more about him. I realized how many echoes there were for me in his experience and in what he was trying to unlock inside of himself. Playing this character has necessitated a deep delving into his personal life and experiences, so I feel like my biggest connection to him is through this production and playing what is ultimately the most autobiographical character in his canon. There’s something about coming to this play at this particular time in my life that has allowed me to really, really understand him, his work and his poetry on a much more intrinsic level.

THE GENTLEMAN CALLER (BRIAN J. SMITH): A nice, ordinary young gentleman. He works with Tom at the warehouse.

I remember studying The Glass Menagerie in high school. We watched the movie with John

Malkovich, and I remember lots of amber light and gauze and fog. I think Tennessee Williams really started becoming meaningful to me when I started reading his notebooks, and I started drawing my own connections to his life and why he wrote plays and the struggles that he went through writing them. The thing I always take away from The Glass Menagerie is that there’s a price for freedom. Anything I read by Tennessee Williams always makes me want to go out and live my life. I want to go on an adventure. I want to meet new people, go to new places, use parts of myself I haven’t used before, and just explore being alive. That’s what is great about this play, that it’s a call to do that, even if there is a price for it, and even if it does hurt a little bit.


ST. LOUIS IN THE 1930s Playwright Tennessee Williams lived in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, from 1918 until he moved to New Orleans in 1939. His intimate familiarity with this Mississippi River port city that is the setting of The Glass Menagerie comes through in the Wingfield family’s daily life. Amanda Wingfield tries to push her children to better themselves through education. She chides Tom for the money he spends on cigarettes, suggesting he could save that money for an accounting course at Wash U, or Washington University, a private university in St. Louis which Tennessee Williams attended from 1936-37. Tom tells Amanda, “I’d rather smoke,” and perhaps Williams came to a similar conclusion, because he soon transferred to the University of Iowa. Amanda also enrolls Laura in a secretarial program at Rubicam’s Business College, which is where Williams and his sister Rose took a course during his first summer off from college.

The Jewel Box in St. Louis’ Forest Park.


Laura studies a Gregg shorthand chart for her course.

Amanda and Tom hold typical jobs for urban, working-class Americans in the late ‘30s. Amanda works for FamousBarr – a real-life department store that has been in operation in St. Louis since 1924 (today it has converted to Macy’s) – as a product demonstrator of brassieres (bras). She also sells subscriptions to The Home-maker’s Companion, a women’s magazine, to raise extra money to support her plan to find Laura a husband. Tom works for Continental Shoemakers, a job likely based on Williams’ work for the International Shoe Company. The Williams family moved to St. Louis when the playwright was eight, because his father was promoted to a job in the home office of International Shoe, and after he left the University of Missouri in 1931, his father brought him to the shoe factory. He spent three years there, his experience in the warehouse inspiring both Menagerie and the character of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. St. Louis was a major manufacturing center in the United

EXPERIENCE States, and it lost more than half its output during the Great Depression of 1929-33 – Tom would have been fortunate to have his job, even though he hates it.

Other St. Louis landmarks feature in the plot of The Glass Menagerie. The Jewel Box is one of Laura’s favorite destinations when she skips her business course. Opened in 1936 in Forest Park, on the west side of the city, this plate glass, wood, and wrought iron greenhouse was built as a Soldan High School of St. Louis. showcase of plants that could survive the high levels of smoke and soot pollution characteristic of the industrialized city. Renovated in 2002, the Jewel Box is still open to the public. Similarly, Soldan High School, where Tom and Laura attended school with Jim O’Connor, was the school Williams and his sister Rose briefly attended. In operation since 1909, it is now a magnet school called Soldan International Studies High School and is located just north of Forest Park. The population of St. Louis in the 1930s was heavily Roman Catholic. When Tom tells his mother he’ll be bringing Jim O’Connor for dinner on Friday night, she says, “That means fish, of course.” Jim’s last name, O’Connor, is Irish, so Amanda assumes he’s Catholic. Because Catholics generally abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, the four weeks preceding Easter Sunday, she cooks a salmon loaf for the gentleman caller’s meal. St. Louis is also home to one of the oldest teams in Major League Baseball: the Cardinarls. Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean – the player who catches Jim’s attention in the sports section – was pitcher for the Cardinals. His nickname came from his outrageous behavior and fastball pitch, and the 1934 team – which won that year’s World Series – was called the Gashouse Gang, for their rough appearance. This material includes information adapted from research by The Glass Menagerie dramaturg Alexandra Juckno. “Dizzy” Dean, pitcher for the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals.




Five-year-old Tom almost dies from diphtheria. Doctors credit his mother’s nine-day vigil with saving his life.


The Williams family moves to St. Louis.

Feb. 21, 1919

Edwina Dakin marries Cornelius Coffin Williams.


Mar. 26, 1911

Rose Williams born in Columbus, MS.

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III born in Columbus, MS.

Summer 1916

June 3, 1907

Nov. 19, 1909

This timeline traces connections between The Glass Menagerie, world events, and Tennessee Williams’ personal life.

Younger brother Walter Dakin Williams born in St. Louis.

Edwina buys 12-yearold Tom a typewriter.


World War I comes to an end.


World War I begins.




Women in America earn the right to vote. The Jazz Age begins.


Feb. 25, 1983

Tennessee Williams dies by suffocation from swallowing the cap of a medicine bottle. He is buried in St. Louis.

Edwina Dakin Williams dies.


Rose Williams is admitted to a sanitarium and diagnosed with schizophrenia. She begins undergoing insulin shock treatment.

The Glass Menagerie opens on Broadway and runs for 563 performances. Laurette Taylor wins a Tony Award for her performance as Amanda.

June 1980

Rose Williams undergoes a prefrontal lobotomy to cure her schizophrenia.

1943 March 31, 1945


Tom accompanies his grandfather, the Reverend Walter Dakin, on a summer trip to Europe and experiences his first “psychotic” crisis in a cathedral, feeling overwhelmed by the thought of dying. Rose begins experiencing inexplicable stomach pains.

Forced to quit college by his father, Tennessee works for three years in a shoe warehouse. He is released from the job after suffering a nervous breakdown and is sent to Mississippi to recover at his grandparents’



The Williams family move to an apartment on Enright Avenue, the model for the Wingfield apartment.

Rose Williams dies.



Japan launches a surprise attack on Hawaii’s military base at Pearl Harbor. America enters World War II

The Spanish city of Guernica is bombed by the German Luftwaffe, killing an estimated 400 civilians. At the time of the raid, Spain was embroiled in a civil war.

Sept. 2, 1945

The stock market crashes and America enters the Great Depression.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt creates the New Deal, a group of federally-funded social programs designed to help unemployed Americans. These programs include the Works Progress Administration, which governed the Federal Writers’ Project, designed to give relief and support to struggling writers. Tennessee Williams applied, but was denied aid because of his parents’ steady income.

Dec. 7, 1941





World War II ends with the surrender of Japan.



TAKE CARE OF YOUR NOGGIN! As we get older, our memory abilities change, for better and worse. The importance of memory in the character of Tom’s life forms the emotional core of The Glass Menagerie. Here are some quick tips on how to keep your brain healthy and remember more for longer. • Semantic memory, the ability to recall concepts and general facts, continues to improve for many older adults. • Procedural memory, the ability to do things like tell time, usually doesn’t change. • Episodic memory involves the what, where, and when of our daily lives, and can get worse over time. For example, an older person may not remember appointments, or where they parked their car in a lot. • Long-term memory also gets worse over time. • Information processing, the ability to learn new things, and the abilities to multi-task and shift focus between tasks can all decrease or slow as we age. Here are a few ways to improve your everyday memory function, no matter what your age: • Reduce your stress

Sources of stress in your life, including anxiety, anger, and depression, can affect your ability to concentrate and your ability to retain happy memories. If you are experiencing stress, ask a trusted adult for help.

• Exercise

Your brain depends on the energy generated through a constant intake of oxygen and nutrients from the bloodstream In order to function properly, including creating and accessing memories. Exercise to keep the blood moving to your brain – a brisk walk, swimming, or dancing can help keep your mind and body healthy.

• Pay attention

It takes eight seconds to focus your attention on long enough to transfer data from shortterm to long-term memory. Pay close attention to important tasks, and minimize distractions such as music, television, or your cell phone. A good way to remember an action is to repeat aloud what you’re doing: “I am putting my keys on the kitchen table.”

• Remember names

When you meet a person for the first time, make eye contact and take in the details of their face as you repeat their name back to them. “It’s nice to meet you, Katie.” This will help you recall their name and connect it with their face the next time you meet them.

• Visualization

Picture something in your mind in order to remember it later – the more unique the image, the easier it can be to remember. For example, if you put your house key on the kitchen table, imagine the key eating a plate of food on the table. Later, when you’re trying to remember where you left your key, your brain will recall this image.

• Chunking

If you have trouble remembering series of numbers or other groups of information, break the information into chunks and make associations with each chunk. A phone number is ten digits, but we usually think of it in chunks: 617-555-2344.



Glossary of Memory & Memory Disorders Alzheimer’s disease: A type of dementia that worsens over time, affecting behavior, thinking, and memory. Though it is not a normal part of aging, Alzheimer’s is more likely to affect older people, as well as those carrying genes linked to the disease, and those with a family history of the disease. Early symptoms include losing items, losing interest in enjoyable pastimes, loss of familiar language, and getting lost on familiar routes. Eventually, an Alzheimer’s sufferer’s memory worsens, and they may lose the ability to take care of themselves, recognize family, and understand language. dementia: A loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. Forgetfulness is often the first sign of dementia. amnesia: The loss of memories, including facts, information, and experiences, generally caused by damage to the brain’s memory processing areas, sometimes permanently. People with amnesia, or amnestic syndrome, have difficulty creating new memories with new information – their short-term memory is affected. cerebral cortex: A thin layer of gray matter covering the surface of each cerebral hemisphere. It is crumpled and folded, forming the wrinkles you see on the brain. Made up of six layers of nerve cells and the pathways that connect them, the cerebral cortex is responsible for thought, perception, and memory processes, and is the center for advanced motor function, social abilities, language, and problem solving. hippocampus: A curved, elongated ridge that is an important part of the limbic system. It is made of gray matter covered on the ventricular surface with white matter, and is involved in forming, storing, and processing memory. hyperthemestic syndrome: An extremely rare disorder, characterized by the ability to recall a huge amount of information from one’s life, without any special efforts to enhance one’s memory. limbic system: A group of structures in the brain which govern emotions and behavior. It is involved in the formation of long-term memory and closely associated with the olfactory structures (sense of smell). Includes the hippocampus and amygdala. neuron: Any of the impulse-conducting cells that make up the brain, spinal column, and nerves. stress: Chronic overproduction of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, can keep the brain from creating new memories or accessing existing memories. Cortisol overproduction can also damage the hippocampus, the part of the limbic brain that is central to memory and learning. Cortisol also interferes with neurotransmitters, the chemicals brain cells use to communicate with each other, making it difficult to think or access long-term memories. synapse: The junction across which a nerve impulse passes from the edge of one neuron to the next. traumatic brain injury: Damage caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Mild TBI, like a concussion, can make it hard to think clearly, concentrate, or remember new information, while, among other effects, severe TBI can lead to a coma, amnesia, and short- or longterm damage to memory and attention.


Thank you for participating in the

A.R.T. Education Experience! For any questions on how to implement the information and activities in this Toolkit, or to schedule an A.R.T. teaching artist to visit your classroom and assist in administrating the enclosed lesson, please e-mail the A.R.T. Education and Community Programs department at: The Glass Menagerie Educational Toolkit Supervising Editor Brendan Shea Editor and Designer Georgia Young Contributors Alexandra Juckno, Ryan McKittrick, Georgia Young, Tennessee Williams

Profile for American Repertory Theater

The Glass Menagerie Toolkit  

Expand your experience of Tennessee Williams' masterful family drama with an innovative arts-integrated lesson plan on memory in art, as wel...

The Glass Menagerie Toolkit  

Expand your experience of Tennessee Williams' masterful family drama with an innovative arts-integrated lesson plan on memory in art, as wel...