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yracuse Stage is committed to providing students with rich theatre experiences that explore and examine what it is to be human. Research shows that children who participate in or are exposed to the arts show higher academic achievement, stronger self-esteem, and improved ability to plan and work toward a future goal. Many students in our community have their first taste of live theatre through Syracuse Stage’s outreach programs. Last season more than 30,000 students from across New York State attended or participated in the Bank of America Children’s Tour, artsEmerging, the Young Playwrights Festival, and our Student Matinee Program. We gratefully acknowledge the corporations and foundations who support our commitment to in-depth arts education for our community. Children’s Tour Naming Sponsor

General Education Sponsors

John Ben Snow Foundation, Inc.

Lori Pasqualino as “Annabel” in the 2010 Bank of America Children’s Tour: Annabel Drudge... and the Second Day of School. Photo by Michael Davis

Content collection, layout design, and portions written by Kate Laissle

BLIT HE SPI R IT Timothy Bond

Producing Artistic Director

Syracuse Stage and SU Drama

820 E Genesee Street Syracuse, NY 13210


Director of Educational Outreach

Lauren Unbekant (315) 443-1150

Manager of Educational Outreach


4. Production Information 5. Introduction 6. Teaching Theatre

8. Letter from the Director 9. About the Author

Kate Laissle (315) 442-7755

10. Context and Discussion

Group Sales & Student Matinees

12. Spiritualism

Tracey White (315) 443-9844

Box Office

(315) 443-3275

Syracuse Stage is a global village square where renowned artists and audiences of all ages gather to celebrate our cultural richness, witness the many truths of our common humanity, and explore the transformative power of live theatre. Celebrating our 41st season as the professional theatre in residence at Syracuse University, we create innovative, adventurous, and entertaining productions of new plays, classics and musicals, and offer interactive education and outreach programs to Central New York.

11. About the Play 13. Ghosts Onstage and in Movies 14. Glossary 15. Topics for Discussion and Resources EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH AT SYRACUSE STAGE The Bank of America CHILDREN’S TOUR brings high-energy, interactive, and culturally diverse performances to elementary school audiences. ArtsEMERGING takes students on an in-depth exploration of one mainstage season production using a multi-cultural, multi-arts lens. The YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL challenges students to submit original ten-minute plays for a chance to see their work performed at Syracuse Stage. The STUDENT MATINEE SERIES provides student with the opportunity for a rich theatrical experience as part of our audience.




Michael Barakiva





John Iacovelli

Suzanne Chesney

Dawn Chiang

Jonathan R. Herter




Stuart Plymesser*

Celia Madeoy

Harriet Bass

Timothy Bond

Jeffrey Woodward

Producing Artistic Director

Managing Director

SYRACUSE STAGE DEDICATES THE 2013 – 2014 SEASON TO ARTHUR STORCH, 1925 – 2013: founding artistic director of Syracuse Stage and chair of Syracuse University Department of Drama 1974 – 1992.




Blithe Spirit is presented by special arrangement with Robert A. Freedman Dramatic Agency, Inc., New York, NY


September 18 - October 6, 2013



As you take your students on the exciting journey into the world of live theatre we hope that you’ll take a moment to help prepare them to make the most of their experience. Unlike movies or television, live theatre offers the thrill of unpredictability. With the actors present on stage, the audience response becomes an integral part of the performance and the overall experience: the more involved and attentive the audience, the better the show. Please remind your students that they play an important part in the success of the performance!

A few reminders... BE PROMPT

Give your students plenty of time to arrive, find their seats, and get situated. Have them visit the restrooms before the show begins!




Please remind your students that their behavior and responses affect the quality of the performance and the enjoyment of the production for the entire audience. Live theatre means the actors and the audience are in the same room, and just as the audience can see and hear the performers, the performers can see and hear the audience. Please ask your students to avoid disturbing those around them. Please no talking or unnecessary or disruptive movement during the performance. Also, please remind students that cellphones should be switched completely off. No texting or tweeting, please. When students give their full attention to the action on the stage, they will be rewarded with the best performance possible.


Instead of instructing students to remain totally silent, please discuss the difference between appropriate responses (laughter, applause, participation when requested) and inappropriate noise (talking, cell phones, etc).


Please do not leave or allow students to leave during the performance except in absolute emergencies. Again, reminding them to use the restrooms before the performance will help eliminate unnecessary disruption.


teaching theatre 6.)

Most (but not all) plays begin with a script — a story to be told and a blueprint of how to tell it. In his famous treatise, The Poetics, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle outlined six


that playwrights are mindful of to this day:

Plot What is the story line? What happened before the play started? What does each character want? What do they do to achieve their goals? What do they stand to gain/lose?

Theme What ideas are wrestled with in the play? What questions does the play pose? Does it present an opinion?


Who are the people in the story? What are their relationships? Why do they do what they do? How does age/status/etc. affect them?


What do the characters say? How do they say it? When do they say it?

Music How do music and sound help to tell the story? Spectacle What visual elements support the play? This could include: puppets, scenery, costumes, dance, movement, and more.

Other Elements: Conflict/Resolution, Action, Improvisation, Non-verbal communication, Staging, Humor, Realism and other styles, Metaphor, Language, Tone, Pattern & Repetition, Emotion, Point of view.

ACTIVITY At its core, drama is about characters

working toward goals and overcoming obstacles. Ask students to use their bodies and voices to create characters who are: very old, very young, very strong, very weak, very tired, very energetic, very cold, very warm. Have their characters interact with others. Give them an objective to fulfill despite environmental obstacles. Later, recap by asking how these obstacles affected their characters and the pursuit of their objectives.

Any piece of theatre comprises multiple art forms. As you explore this production with your students, examine the use of: WRITING



How are each of these art forms used in this production? Why are they used? How do they help to tell the story?

teaching theatre

Most plays utilize designers to create the visual world of the play through scenery, costumes, lighting, and more. These artists use


to communicate information about the world within the play and its characters.

LINE can have length, width, tex-

ture, direction and curve. There are 5 basic varieties: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved, and zig-zag.


is two-dimensional and encloses space. It can be geometric (e.g. squares and circles), man-made, or free-form.

FORM is three-dimensional. It encloses space and fills space. It can be geometric (e.g. cubes and cylinders), man-made, or free-form.


has three basic properties: HUE is the name of the color (e.g. red, blue, green), INTENSITY is the strength of the color (bright or dull), VALUE is the range of lightness to darkness.


defined and determined by shapes and forms. Positive space is enclosed by shapes and forms, while negative space exists around them.

TEXTURE refers to the “feel” of

an object’s surface. It can be smooth, rough, soft, etc. Textures may be ACTUAL (able to be felt) or IMPLIED (suggested visually through the artist’s technique).


Have students discuss these elements BEFORE attending the performance and ask them to pay special attention to how these elements are used in the production’s design. Whether your students are observing a piece of visual art (painting, sculpture, photograph) or a piece of performance art (play, dance), allow them first to notice the basic elements, then encourage them to look deeper into why these elements are used the way they are. 7.)


Coward Coward Coward Coward Noel Noel Noel Noel


oel Peirce Coward (1899-1973) was a composer, playwright, director, actor, and singer whose own witty and flamboyant persona embodied the stereotype of the sophisticated Brit. He wrote over fifty plays, which he often acted in, in addition to writing hundreds of songs and several musicals. However, Coward, came from humble roots. He began his theatrical career as an actor at the age of eleven and was a fixture on the London stage by the time he reached adulthood. Although he began writing songs at sixteen, his first attempt at playwriting was The Rat Trap in 1918. I’ll Leave It to You, the first of his own plays to open in the West End, barely made a ripple on the London scene. Yet, The Vortex, a cautionary tale of sex and drug addiction, was a major success and made his reputation when produced in London and then New York in 1925. This was followed closely by the light comedy Hay Fever in 1925 and the operetta Bitter Sweet in1929. Once he acted as one half of a divorced couple who rediscover each other while on separate honeymoons in the sexy social comedy Private Lives in 1930, the public Coward persona was set. In 1932 Coward wrote Design For Living, which featured a bisexual menage à trois was so controversial that it was first staged in the United States to avoid the British censors. Coward’s patriotism came to the fore with the onset of World War II. After a stint as head of the British propaganda office in Paris, he was dispatched to the States to help convince Americans to enter the war on the British side. His most important wartime contribution, the film In Which We Serve, for which he wrote the script, directed, and acted was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. His second most important wartime endeavor was Blithe Spirit, which barely mentions the war at all. Noel Coward continued to write plays and musicals throughout the Fifties and Sixties, although none of these were as popular as his earlier works, which were revived regularly. He also appeared in several films during this time. The last production he wrote and starred in was A Suite in Three Keys (1966), an evening of three one-act plays, including “Song at Twilight, in which an aging writer (like Coward himself) worries his homosexuality will be discovered. Noel Coward was knighted in 1969, he died on his estate in Jamaica in 1973. 9.)

Hypnotic séance. Painting by Swedish artist Richard Bergh, 1887.

Cast of Characters Charles Condomine, a successful writer researching a book called The Unseen. He invites Madame Arcati his country home to conduct a séance as research.

Elvira, Charles’ deceased glamorous first wife, who is summoned by the seance. Charles describes her as “morally untidy”. She died of a heart attack while laughing at a pompous music program on BBC radio.

Ruth, his second wife Madame Arcati, a medium and author of children’s books. A classic eccentric, she works through the spirit of a child named Daphne. Madame Arcati rides her bicycle everywhere - even into the Condomines’ shrubbery.


Dr Bradman and Mrs Bradman, townspeople invited to partake in the seance. They show healthy skepticism about Spiritualism. Edith, the Condomines’ maid.

“I may go into a slight trance, Mr. Condomine. But if I do…pay no attention.”

Synopsis When writer Charles Condomine and his wife Ruth invite whacky medium Madame Arcati for a séance as research for his next book, they unleash the comic fury of his deceased first wife, Elvira, who appears as a ravishing ghost. Elvira, who Charles describes as “morally untidy’” soon makes one thing very clear: she wants Charles to herself.

About the Play In 1941,World War II was raging, England was being bombarded by the Germans, and Noel Coward’s “improbable farce” Blithe Spirit debuted in London. Despite the grim wartime news, this comedy of spectral disturbances kept the English theatre-goers laughing. Coward was already an international celebrity for Private Lives, a play where a very different kind of ghost of a first wife appears. In this his ex-wife appears very much alive and with her new husband on the hotel balcony adjacent to the one he and his new bride are staying on their own honeymoon. Design For Living, with its merry trio of two men and a woman who can’t live without each other, cemented his reputation for sophisticated naughtiness. Blithe Spirit, in keeping with wartime morals, is much tamer, resembling Coward’s more benign works, Hay Fever and Present Laughter. The London production of Blithe Spirit ran for a record 1,997 performances. The Broadway production was also a major hit. Coward also wrote the script for the film version and significantly changed the ending. In 1964, Coward directed but did not write a musical adaptation called High Spirits. Blithe Spirit is still one of Coward’s most frequently performed plays. A 2009 Broadway revival won Angela Lansbury, of Beauty and the Beast fame, a Tony Award for the role of Madame Arcati.


Spiritualism Although Spiritualism is represented by the daffy Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit, it is actually a religion that holds as its primary belief that spirits of the dead have the ability and the desire to communicate with the living. Spiritualist mediums believe that they can contact spirits through seances. Most Spiritualists believe in a God, which they refer to as Infinite Intelligence. Also prominent is the belief that anyone can become a medium through proper training and practice. Although belief in ghosts is ancient, the modern version of Spiritualism took root in 1848 in the upstate New York town of Hydesville, where teenage sisters Kate and Margaret Fox held seances in which spirits were said to make tapping sounds that were soon called spirit rappings. When the family decamped to Rochester, New York, the spirit manifestations, now called the Rochester Rappings became a media sensation. In 1888, the Fox sisters admitted that the rappings were a hoax and demonstrated how they were done. A year later, they recanted the confession, but never regained prominence with believers. The sisters died in poverty, while the popularity of Spiritualism continued unabated.

Because the early proponents of Spiritualism were mostly women, the belief in spirit communication often was mixed in with women’s suffrage as a women’s issue. Interest in Spiritualism peaked on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1920s. One of the most enthusiastic boosters of Spiritualism in the early twentieth century was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who paradoxically was the creator of the supremely rational sleuth Sherlock Holmes. His belief destroyed his friendship with famed magician Harry Houdini, who made it his personal mission to debunk Spiritualism and unmask fraudulent mediums. In public demonstrations, Houdini was able to produce the effects of famed mediums. As a final test of Spiritualism, he gave his wife a secret phrase that he would use to communicate with her through a medium after his death. No medium was able to repeat it to her without detectable fraud. Upstate New York still has a strong connection to Spiritualism. Lily Dale, south of Buffalo, is a Spitrualist community and a populatr sight for those interested in teh paranormal. The community spawned a satellite branch in Cassadaga, Florida.

The Fox Sisters


Film poster from Ghost (1990) Pictured: Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze

Ghosts Onstage and in the Movies The use of ghosts in plays is almost as ancient as theatre itself. In Greek theatre one the first ghosts on stage appears in The Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. Classical Asian drama often features ghosts. Plays and films featuring ghosts often using the device that only one character and the audience can see the ghost. Probably the most famous use of this device is in a scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where we and Hamlet see the father’s ghost, but Gertrude sees nothing. The technique is modified in other parts of the play as at times other characters, such as the guards, can also see the ghost. In Macbeth, only the ambitious thane sees Banquo’s ghost. Ghosts are also featured in Richard III and Julius Caesar. A comic use of the Shakespearian style ghost can be seen in Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet (1991), where the ghost of actor John Barrymore haunts his old apartment and torments its new tenant. Of course, the most frequent ghostly sighting on stage can be seen in the many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which is this year’s Syracuse Stage holiday offering. Horrifying chain-rattling ghosts have always been a staple device in horror films. Outside of that genre, some notably influential films featuring ghosts include the farce Topper (1937) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), The Canterville Ghost (1944), based on a story by Oscar Wilde, and the elegant and spooky The Uninvited (1944). In 1950 Akira Kurosawa created the Japanese classic Rashomon. More recently produced ghost movies include The Sixth Sense(1999) and the Paranornal Activity (2007) series. Interesting counterpoints to Blithe Spirit are the Brazilian Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976), which takes a similarly comic (but much sexier) look at a dead spouse’s reappearance, and the American remake Kiss Me Goodbye (1982), starring Sally Field and Jeff Bridges. Perhaps the classic of the genre is Ghost (1990), which takes the same basic situation, a dead spouse returning through a medium, into a deeply romantic and melodramatic direction. 13.)

Glossary “Always”: a popular song by Irving Berlin that begins, “I’ll be loving you always.” Astral Plane: the unseen other world in which ghosts exist.

Gramophone: the phonograph machine, a record player. “Ou sont les nieges d’Antan?”: Where are the snows of yesteryear?” a quote from French poet Francios Villon longing for the past.

Blithe Spirit: From the first line of “To a Skylark,” by Maskelyne and Devant: a company of magicians that Percy Shelley “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit/ Bird thou nev- toured England in the early twentieth century. er wert....” Noblesse Oblige: the obligations of honor and generosBell, Book and Candle: an ancient Christian rite used ity that come with noble birth. to get rid of ghosts. Red herring: a misleading clue leading to a wrong con“Caliostro, Mesmer, Merlin, Gil de Retz and the Black clusion, a device often used in mystery novels. Douglas”: a roster of adventurers, occultists, villains Society For Psychical Research: founded in 1882, the and subjects of popular culture. first scholarly research into unexplained human experiCivil Service: government jobs awarded on merit and ences. abilities as demonstrated on examination. The Tatler: a British magazine which began publication Ectoplasm: the stuff that comes out of a medium dur- in 1901. It focuses on fashion and the comings and going a seance. It’s the essence of a ghost. ings of high society. Elemental: a spirit appearing in physical form. Whit Monday: a Christian holiday the day after PenteGhengis Kahn (1162?-1227): Mongol Emperor who cost Sunday. conquered much of Eurasia.

Quotes from Noel Coward “It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.” “I don’t know what London’s coming to — the higher the buildings the lower the morals.” “I have a memory like an elephant. In fact, elephants often consult me. ” “Time is the reef upon which all our mystic ships are wrecked.” “People are wrong when they say opera isn’t what it used to be. It is what it use to be. That is what is wrong with it.” “Success took me to her bosom like a maternal boa constrictor.” “Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar; never spread it about like marmalade.”


Topics For Classroom Discussion Blithe Spirit opens up discussion about the existence of ghosts and the validity of spiritualism. Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not? How are ghosts portrayed in contemporary literature and media? Ghostly apparitions are more frequent in film and television over the last few years. Why do you think this is? How can a ghost be effectively represented onstage? How might you use special effects to represent them and their actions? Because it was written during World War II, Blithe Spirit is an artifact of England’s stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. It serves as a reminder that laughter is the best antidote to fear. Can you think of other instances of people laughing in the face of danger? As a product of an age when wit rather than vulgarity was the vehicle of humor, Blithe Spirit can serve as a great illustration of the comic use of irony. Can you find examples from the play of situational irony, where actions have the opposite effect from what is expected, and dramatic irony, where things are understood by the audience, but not by the characters? Noel Coward called Blithe Spirit “an improbable farce.” Farce is a type of play with exaggerated situations and outlandish characters. Often they deal with matters of love and sex and use unexpected entrances and exits. How does the play fit into this genre?

Short Clips From Films About Ghosts The trailer for the 1945 film version of Blithe Spirit. A great way to introduce the play’s style. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIiCtxXtVXY Topper, the 1937 film in its entirety. Produced before Blithe Spirit, it doubles the fun with two ghosts, played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. An excerpt would be an interesting comparison. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sav4S54C3d8 The trailer for the 1944 The Canterville Ghost. Although, it’s based on a story by Oscar Wilde, this film really exists to bolster the wartime U.S.-English bond. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv2lMP6u3kc The trailer for The Uninvited (1944) The trailer is a lot scarier than the film, which unspools as a classic mystery. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siqSUaML-Ig A short clip from Ghost (1990) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdIEDlLAaJs

Sources and Resources http://www.noelcoward.com/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blithe_Spirit_%28play%29 http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/120035.No_l_Coward?page=1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritualism https://webspace.utexas.edu/cokerwr/www/index.html/spiritualism.shtml http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/conan-doyle-spiritualism http://plays.about.com/od/reviews/fr/blithespirit.htm http://www.examiner.com/article/harry-houdini-and-the-death-of-spiritualism http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/n/noel_coward.html 15.)

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Blithe Spirit Study Guide  

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