AUDIENCE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY As audience members, your students have a distinct role and responsibility. The success of any performance depends on the actors on the stage as well as the people in the seats. Because, for many students, this is their first exposure to a live theatre production, they might not realize that the behaviors used in the movie theaters or when watching a video or television are not always appropriate in this setting. We encourage you to spend time discussing the subject with your students and have included two pages to assist you. the first contains some discussion questions to use in classroom (with some suggested answers in italics) while the second is a ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER to read on the bus. [ 1 ] What are some of the differences between a live theatre production and a movie? * A movie can be filmed in any order of scenes and can be redone as many times as needed to get a “good scene.” Once a scene is done to the director’s satisfaction, it is “in the can” and will not be done again. Live theatre must be done in sequence as written, continues regardless of mistakes and problems, and is done in its entirety each performance. * The audience’s noise level, activity level, and attention level do not affect the movie actor’s performance. All of these things are heard and noticed by the actors of a live performance and have an immediate effect on the performance. This might be a positive or negative effect-- if the audience laughs at funny lines or is leaning forward in anticipation of the action, this encourages the actors to give an energetic performance; if the audience does not laugh at appropriate times or is restless during the performance, the actors often find it difficult to give their best performance. * The special effects in a movie can be generated by computers or camera angles while the special effects in the theatre rely on the audience’s imagination to help create them. * Movies provide realistic images while live theatre provides images of reality.
[ 2 ] What is the best way to approach viewing a live performance of a play? * The audience attending a live performance must walk into the theatre willing to “suspend their disbelief” and use their imagination to provide part of the setting. * Theatre is alive and active in ways that television and movies are not. Look for the passion and emotion behind the actions and the words. * Because each performance is complete and affected by audience response, an audience member will never see a duplication of a performance. Though the meaning is the same, each performance has its own underlying interpretations.
[ 3 ] What is the audience’s role during a live performance? How do you think audience behavior can affect an actor’s performance? * The audience’s role is to form a connection with the actors and to appropriately respond to the performance. This response my be laughter, gasps, applause, or quiet attention as well as restlessness or silence. * Noises such as paper rattling from unwrapping food, watch alarms, cell phone ringing, or talking can distract the actors and cause a disruption of the energy flow which in turn weakens the performance. It also keeps those around you from maintaining their connection with the actors.
ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER Please read to students on the bus prior to entering the theatre.
1) Stay in the group to be seated. Your school or class will be called and seated at the same time. 2) Sit in the seat to which you are assigned. If you move or refuse to take a particular seat, you will be sitting in someone elseâ€™s place and it will cause a delay in seating other classes. 3) No food, drink, gum-chewing, headsets, or backpacks in the theatre. Please leave lunches and snacks on the bus. 4) NO TALKING OR GETTING UP DURING THE SHOW. This includes whispering. Every performance of a play is a unique experience, created by particular actors with a particular audience. The audience is a very important part of the play. The experience of seeing live theatre is very different from seeing TV or a movie where nothing the audience can do will change the show. Stage actors are very much aware of the reactions of the audience, and indeed it is the audience-- you-- that helps the actors toward a great performance. An audience may applaud, laugh, cry and respond in any way that makes it part of the on-stage action. Please avoid talk or inappropriate actions that distract attention from the stage. Remember, the actors can see and hear you. 5) Please use the restrooms before the show or at intermission only. 6) If you have any problems or questions, please ask the ushers for help. 7) Enjoy yourself!
TECHNICAL ELEMENTS A performance does not just happen; it is the product of a great deal of teamwork. The technical elements of a production support the characters the actors create to present the audience with the illusionary reality that is theatre. Sets, lights, sound, props, and costumes create the environment in which the play lives. These elements combine with the audienceâ€™s imagination to create the special effects and illusions. The following discussion questions are intended to help students focus on each of these technical elements and analyze its part in a production. SECTION A: SETS Before the performance began, what were your first impressions of the set design? How did it make you feel? Which of your senses were involved by the set design? I. What was the physicality of the stage? Did the set incorporate any theatrical devices such as a rake, a thrust, ramps or stairs, voms or the pit? What type of action did you expect? II. As the performance progressed, how did the set change from scene to scene or did it remain one setting for the entire play? Were the changes of location made by actual set alterations or by the actorsâ€™ use of the set? III. How was the stage used? Did the action take place across the whole stage or was it contained in small areas? What could you tell about each environment and time of the used area? Was movement between areas fluid or rigid? Did the actors move around the set in purposeful motion or did action flow from one area to another? IV. What materials and color schemes were used for walls, the deck (stage floor), set pieces? Did the materials and colors fit the time and location of the play? V. Were you able to concentrate on the action and characters or did the elements of the set attract your attention? VI. After viewing the performance, do you feel the set design supported the play? Did it make sense to you? Would you have done anything differently? SECTION B: COSTUMES What could you tell about each of the characters based on his or her appearance before any action took place? Did the costumes influence your expectations or opinion of each character? I. Did the costumes put you in the correct time period? Did the style of the costumes go with the personality of the character and the mood of the play? II. How did the colors and materials used compliment or contrast with the colors and materials of the set? Did the colors and materials group the characters in any way? III. Were there any parts of the costumes you found distracting or out of place?
SECTION C: LIGHTING I. What clues did the lighting give you about the feel or emotional tone of the play? II. Was the lighting from an identifiable source or did it blend into the setting? Was the lighting supportive to the action of the performance or distracting?
III. Could you identify the colors that were used? Why do you think these particular shades were chosen? Did any one character have a particular shade or degree of lighting?
SECTION D: SOUND I. What types of sounds were used? Were the sounds environmental noise or in response to specific character actions? (for example: crickets chirping in the summer or a gunshot) II. Did the sounds fit the situation or distract you from the performance? III. Were the sounds correct for time period and location? SECTION E: PROPS I. Were the props appropriate to the time period and setting? II. Did the characters have all the props they needed for the scenes? Did they have too many props? SECTION F: GENERAL I. What aspect of the performance impacted you the most? Was this aspect more content or physical? II. Did the technical elements of the performance enhance of detract from your enjoyment of the play? III. Would you have changed anything about this production? How would you have changed it?
DRAMATIC CRITICISM The following is taken from a chapter in Katherine Anne Ommanney’s Book, The Stage and the School. Though her book was written in 1939, the information she imparts is still valid today. There are questions in the activity guide to help students focus on the areas she discusses. No matter what degree of mechanical perfection the theatres of the screen and air may obtain, they can never take the place of the legitimate stage because they can never create that intangible magnetic quality which passes from actor to audience. To appreciate fully any type of drama and judge it fairly, you must consider the play itself, the interpretation by the actors, its staging by the director, and its reception by the audience. Your judgment is naturally colored by your personal preferences, immediate state of mind, social background, and technical theatrical knowledge. Often the company you are in can make or break the joy of a performance. There are four considerations to be kept in mind as you judge the play-- the type, the theme, the plot, and dialogue and characterization: (a) The Type-- Naturally the type of play and its fundamental purpose must color your attitude toward it-- a frothy social satire cannot be judged by the same standards as a romantic drama in blank verse, though both may be worthy of discriminating analysis. (b) The Theme-- If you are to be an intelligent playgoer, the theme of the play will receive your first consideration. It is the theme about which the keen discussion of successful “first nights” of new plays usually centers. It is their theme which hold the attention of the theatrical world on dramatists of the first rank. Determine for yourself what you consider to be the theme of the play, and be prepared to justify your belief by adequate reasons. You might follow Goethe’s example and ask: What did the author try to do? Did he or she do it? Was it worth doing? (c) The Plot-- When you go to a play, you are naturally more interested in the plot than in anything else. If the play is any good at all, you will be asking yourself, “What is going to happen next?” most of the time, and be really eager for each act. At the same time, you should consider whether the events are plausible and whether the people and places are presented convincingly. (d) Dialogue and Characterization-- The playwright’s style is perhaps the last element to notice, for you will be so interested in the play that the author and the style are of secondary interest. However, it is the dialogue through which the plot is developed and the characters portrayed, and professional critics are more interested in the lines than in anything else. The characterization, of course, gives the actors a chance to interpret the play correctly, and you will often find that you have forgotten who is playing the parts in your interest in
watching the characters in the play meet and solve their problems. They should express themselves so well through their words and actions that you should not be conscious of either the author or the actors. The people themselves should be very real to you, and you should feel that you are meeting new acquaintances and accepting or rejecting them as the play progresses. Part of the fun of going to a play comes during the intermissions when you can discuss these new-made friends and speculate upon their ultimate actions. It is during the intermissions that you can take time to consider the playwright and the skill with which he or she has given the actors worthwhile lines to say and interesting things to do.
Judging the Acting-- It is the acting of the play which arouses the keenest response from the onlookers. The just appraisal of the work of the artists is to be expected as a result of any theatrical training. If actors create living people for us, losing themselves in the artistry of assuming other individualities by utilizing all that is best in their own physical and spiritual equipment, you should appreciate their ability and applaud their success. The star system has led many people to either condemn the work of an actor because of stupid prejudice, or to acclaim wildly any performance of a favorite star, no matter how good or bad the interpretation of a particular role may be. No greater opportunity for helping to create a finer American theatre is available to students than their refusal to let press-agent glorification or scandalous notoriety take place of artistic and sincere interpretation on the part of the actors they acclaim. The Direction-- The most important factor in the ultimate success or failure of a play is the director, and they are the last people to receive their deserved praise or blame from the public. They are personally responsible for every phase of the production: the adaptation of the play, the casting of the parts, the interpretation of the characters, the effectiveness of the staging, the length of the rehearsal period, and the total effect of the production. You will get real enjoyment from noting how directors have developed contrast in casting, costuming and interpretation, how they have worked out interesting stage pictures and emphasized their center of interest, and how they have created the proper atmosphere to bring out the authorâ€™s meaning with all their tools-- actors, lights, setting, and costumes. In the activity guide are the questions that may help you to go to shows intelligently, but donâ€™t let them spoil your enjoyment of the theatre or turn you into a commentator during the performance! Real enthusiasts of the theatre free their imaginations and emotions while seeing a play or a picture, while using their intelligence and discrimination to heighten their appreciation of this great art.
The following questions from Katherine Ommanney’s book, The Stage and the School, may help you to go to shows intelligently, but don’t let them spoil your enjoyment of the theatre or turn you into a commentator during the performance! Real enthusiasts of the theatre free their imaginations and emotions while seeing a play or a picture, while using their intelligence and discrimination to heighten their appreciation of this great art.
Section A: Theme 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is the fundamental idea of the play true or false in its concept of life? Is the theme warped by a distorted or limited life experience on the part of the author? Are we better or worse for having seen the play? Is the theme consistent with the setting, plot and characters presented in the play? Do you agree with the author’s philosophy? In your opinion, should the general public be encouraged to see the play?
Section B: Plot 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is it a clear-cut sequence of events? Does it rise to a gripping climax? Are we held in suspense until the end? Are we as emotionally stirred as the author apparently wants us to be? Are you satisfied as to the final outcome? Are you chiefly interested in the events, the people, or the place?
Section C: Characterization 1. Are the characters true to life? 2. Are they consistent throughout the action of the entire play? 3. Are they in keeping with the social and geographical background of the play? 4. Do they arouse such feelings as sympathy, affection, disgust, admiration, or hatred on the part of the audience? 5. Are their actions in keeping with their motives? 6. Are the situations at the climax and conclusion the result of their inherent natures?
Section D: Style 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
Is the dialogue of a nature so as to retain your interest throughout the play? Is it consistent with the characters and the setting? Is it an end in itself or an adequate means of plot advancement and characterization? Does it make us think about the author or the characters themselves? Do we remember lines after the play because of their pithiness or beauty? Is the use of dialect correct in every detail? Would people of the class represented talk in real life as they do in the play? Is the power of expression worthy of the ideas expressed?
Section E: Acting 1. Is the interpretation of any given role correct from the standpoint of the play itself? 2. Does the actor make his or her role a living individuality? 3. Are they artificial or natural in their technique? 4. Are we conscious of their methods of getting effects? 5. Do they grip us emotionally-- that is, do we weep, laugh, suffer, and exult with them? 6. Are their voices pleasing and their presence magnetic? 7. Do they keep in character every moment? 8. Do we think of them as the characters they are depicting or as themselves? 9. Does any actor use the play as a means of self-glorification, or are each of them an intrinsic part of the action at all times? 10. Does each apparently cooperate with the other actors, the director, and the author in interpreting the play by knowing his or her lines, helping to focus attention on the center of interest, and by losing himself or herself in the part?
Section F: Audience Reaction 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
Is the audience attentive or restless during the performance? Is there a definite response of tears, laughter, or applause? Is there an immediate appreciation of clever lines, dramatic situations, and skillful acting? Is the applause spontaneous and whole-hearted, or politely perfunctory? After the performance are people hurrying away, or do they linger to discuss the play? Are they apathetic or animated, bored or buoyant, serious or scoffing? To what types of people does the play seem to appeal?
Born Yesterday The following questions are designed as vehicles to promote discussion on the content of “Born Yesterday” and/or provide cross-curricular activities for the classroom (such as writing assignments, acting exercises or activities which include English Language Arts, Theatre, Social Studies, etc.). Some questions focus on characters and events of the play and cannot be debated until after viewing the performance. Other questions, however can lead the students to search their thoughts and feelings before they judge the decisions the characters make. Returning to these same questions after they have viewed the production will allow the students compare their previous response to new, perhaps enlightened, responses and spark spirited discussion of the themes and issues addressed in the play.  Compare the kind of corruption depicted in the play to contemporary ethics problems in Washington. Discuss how the campaign finance reform movement today addresses these problems. Write a speech for Senator John McCain denouncing the actions of the play’s fictional Senator Hedges.  One political debate that figures prominently in the play is between government regulation and unlimited free enterprise. Debate these ideals using the example of Harry Brock. Research the history of this conflict throughout US 20th Century history, including the current battle over regulating the Internet. (Why does the government regulate certain industries? What are the benefits to unrestricted free enterprise?)  Harry Brock could be said to be a product of The American Dream by climbing the ladder from working class poverty to commercial success. Discuss the origins of the idea of the American Dream and the Horatio Alger myth, as well as examples from both real-life and fiction (“The Great Gatsby”).  There have been two films made of the play “Born Yesterday” The first was in 1950 with Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, and William Holden; the second in 1993, with Melanie Griffith, John Goodman, and Don Johnson, is an updated version of the story. See both and compare and contrast how they interpret the play. How much do their differences reflect the different eras in which they were made? Does the more recent film successfully adapt the story to its modern setting? After seeing the play discuss which movie’s interpretation the Syracuse Stage production resembles more, if either.  Since Paul is a journalist, write what you think would be his article exposing Harry Brock and Senator Hedges, study the work of real-life “muckrakers” from the past, or current day “investigative journalists”.  Some have called “Born Yesterday” a “Pygmalion story.” Compare to the original Pygmalion myth and other famous versions (such as Shaw’s “Pygmalion” and its musical version “My Fair Lady”). 25
 Examine what “Born Yesterday” reveals about the changing status of women in American society in the 1940’s. How did WWII affect women’s lives in the US?  “Born Yesterday” was written and takes place in 1945 (although it was first performed in 1946). Research 1945. Look at national and international politics, but also at fashion, film, sports and other aspects of everyday life. Present to your class in a multimedia display.  Select a line from the play that you feel best captures the essence of a particular character. Present your line to the rest of the class and then explain the reason for your selection. After listening to the rest of your classmates’ lines, discuss the individual and group rationale for choices.  Design a set for a production of Born Yesterday. Consider the location and the demands of the script. Compare your design to the Syracuse Stage design.  What do you think happens to Harry Brock, Billie Dawn, Paul Verral, Eddie Brock, Ed Devery or Senator and Mrs. Hedges after the play ends? Write an essay, short story, additional scene or poem revealing the situation of that person one, five, and/or ten years later.  Write a monologue (or journal entry) for any of the characters in Born Yesterday revealing his or her innermost thoughts. Rehearse and perform your monologue, or direct another classmate to perform your monologue.  Imagine yourself to be a casting director for a production of Inherit the Wind. "Cast" the characters of Brock, and others using popular TV or movie stars. During class discussion, explain your choices. After viewing Born Yesterday, continue the discussion asking class members if their choices matched the types and ages of actresses and actors cast in the Syracuse Stage production.  Choose a character from this play and create a biographical time line of the ten most important occurrences in his or her life. You must choose only ten events that are most focal for that character, understanding that you must prioritize. One event might be very traumatic, such as the death of a loved one; another may be as simple as a child’s surprise party. Each list should include its character’s childhood and finish with the end of the play. Events should be ordered in sequence beginning with the earliest event. You may draw from information in the play, use research, or incorporate events that you might envision happening. This exercise can also be fun, and enlightening, to do for yourself.
Eleanor: Her Secret Journey The following questions are designed as vehicles to promote discussion on the content of “Eleanor” and/or provide cross-curricular activities for the classroom (such as writing assignments, acting exercises or activities that include English Language Arts, Theatre Arts, Social Studies, etc.). Some questions focus on characters and events of the play and cannot be debated until after viewing the performance. Other questions, however, can lead the students to search their thoughts and feelings before they judge the decisions the characters make. Returning to these same questions after they have viewed the production will allow the students compare their previous response to new, perhaps enlightened, responses and spark spirited discussion of the themes and issues addressed in the play.  Research some other First Ladies besides Eleanor Roosevelt. Discuss how has the role of First Lady has evolved throughout American History. Which other First Ladies have also been respected as leaders in their own right? Choose one to focus on and present her life to the class.  The story of the play “Eleanor: Her Secret Journey” starts with Eleanor being asked to represent the United States at the United Nations in 1945, just after its founding. Research the origins of the UN—how it came out of WWII, as well as previous attempts at fostering world peace such as the League of Nations. Why has the UN survived while the League of Nations failed? Read the UN Charter and explain how it seeks to promote world peace. Report on contemporary attitudes toward the UN in this country. Has the UN been a success? Debate the issue of why the US has stalled the payment of its membership dues to the UN.  While author Rhoda Lerman has thoroughly based her play on researched historical fact, she has had to employ the imaginative tools of a creative writer to write a monologue in the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt. Write your own creative monologue for a real-life public figure, past or present. Research the facts of his or her life, as well as how he or she spoke. Then write how you feel they would tell the story of one particular episode in their lives.  Eleanor’s story in “Eleanor: Her Secret Journey” focuses on her experiences during World War I. Research the impact of that war on the United States. What changed in this country as a result of it, especially regarding women? If someone in your own family was involved in WWI, interview relatives about his or her experiences.  Have students design a costume for an actor playing Eleanor Roosevelt in a production of Eleanor: Her Secret Journey. Research both the historical styles of dress for women in 1945 and photographs of Eleanor Roosevelt’s attire. Ask students to explain their choices to the class, detailing how the designs are correct for the period and appropriate to Eleanor’s social class and situation at the time of the play. Have the class compare the students’ design s with those used in the Syracuse Stage production.
 Write a critical examination of Jean Stapleton’s performance as Eleanor in the Syracuse Stage production of Eleanor: Her Secret Journey. Consider how well she portrayed the First Lady through her use of voice, body language, mannerisms (especially a “signature gesture”), and movement. In light of the fact that Eleanor is a solo performance piece, consider the effort and technique required to address the audience directly and to make use of imagined characters (such as those with whom she converses on the telephone. Many of the “scenes” she describes involve a variety of different people from her past. In what ways does she differentiate them vocally and/or physically so that the audience knows clearly which character is speaking? Give specific examples of each of your criticisms. Remember that being critical does mean only being negative; be sure to include both the things you believe were done well and those you think were not done so well.  As a class acting exercise, have students script or improvise scenes from Eleanor which are described by the title character. Cast classmates in the various roles: Franklin D. Roosevelt, his mother, Livy, Major Duckworth, Mr. Baruch, etc. Elements to consider: who stands where, who moves when, what the conflict of the scene is, gesture, voice, tone, props, and emotional impact of the scene.  Write a review of the Syracuse Stage production of Eleanor: Her Secret Journey. Submit it for publication in your school newspaper. Be sure to send us a copy.  Read the following excerpt from Eleanor, which is one of the earliest moments of the play. Good morning, Mr. President. Fine, thank you. Paris? The United Nations? Well, I’m flattered Mr. Truman, but I hardly think so. My public life is over. I’m an old lady now. I have neither the heart nor the energy. Yes, I understand human rights is an issue but the issue there will be arms, budgets, and territory… men’s issues. Let the men fight it out. (Listens) Yes, of course, Mr. Truman, I was there in 1919. We thought we had fought the war to end all wars, and here we are, nearly thirty years later… then… well, yes, of course you know. But what makes any of us think we can forge a permanent peace now… that a United Nations can end war? … That there’s any point… Well, perhaps I’m jaded. No, there’s no need to consider. My public life is quite over. Thank you, Mr. President. Goodbye. (Hangs up) Window dressing! They want a woman, they want me because I’m Mrs. Roosevelt. The ensuing play pertains to Eleanor’s memories of 1919 and events which, upon retrospection, cause her to change her mind about the decision to go to Paris at the request of President Truman. Write a position paper defending her decision to go based on moral and/or ethical issues.
Peter Pan The following questions are designed as vehicles to promote discussion on the content of “Peter Pan” and/or provide cross-curricular activities for the classroom (such as writing assignments, acting exercises or activities that include English Language Arts, Theatre Arts, Social Studies, etc.). Some questions focus on characters and events of the play and cannot be debated until after viewing the performance. Other questions, however, can lead the students to search their thoughts and feelings before they judge the decisions the characters make. Returning to these same questions after they have viewed the production will allow the students compare their previous response to new, perhaps enlightened, responses and spark spirited discussion of the themes and issues addressed in the play. A more comprehensive Study and Curriculum Guide for Peter Pan will be sent to classes attending matinee performances sometime in November.  “Peter Pan” is one of the many great works of children’s literature written in late 19th-early 20th century England. Research and read other examples, such as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” and “Just So Stories”. What common themes do you find? Research the status and images of children in Victorian society and give a multi-media presentation.  Barrie’s subtitle for “Peter Pan” is “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”. To what extent is this a story about adolescence? How does Barrie depict Wendy’s journey from girl to woman? Why doesn’t Peter want to grow up? Is Barrie saying something about how boys and girls grow up differently? Compare to other examples of adolescent literature. Write a diary of either Wendy or Peter’s adventures in Never Land, focusing on the issues of personal changes and growing up.  Compare Steven Spielberg’s film “Hook” to JM Barrie’s original play “Peter Pan”. Discuss what aspects of the original Spielberg has “borrowed” in his own work. How does he adapt and interpret Barrie’s story for a late 20th century audience? What modern themes does he stress? Do you feel they are consistent with Barrie’s work or imposed upon it?  Create your own images of Never Land, based on Barrie’s stage directions in the original play (or his description in his novelization “Peter and Wendy”). You may draw, paint, assemble collages, sculpt a three-dimensional representation, or create a “virtual reality” tour on computer software. How would you translate these visual ideas into a workable stage set for performing the play? (On either the Syracuse Stage stage or in any performance space.)  How does Barrie’s depiction of Pirates and Indians differ from what is true historically about them? Where did Barrie get his ideas about these people from if not from strict fact? Research fictional representations of Native Americans and Pirates throughout the ages.
 In his review of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” for the New York Times, Stephen King said this about the Potter series: “The British fantasy they may actually be the closest to is J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan.’ Like any school, where the clientele is perpetually young and even the teachers begin to assume the immature characteristics of their pupils, Hogwarts is a kind of Never-Never Land.” Discuss similarities between the fantasy lives of the Harry Potter books and of “Peter Pan.”  Discuss the actors’ use of their voices. Did each character have a distinct voice? What about accents and/or vocal changes?  How did the actors’ physicalization of their characters enhance the interpretation of each character? Give specific examples of the way actors walked, sat, gestured, handled props, and so forth.  Choose one of the characters from the play as if you were going to undertake the role as an actor. Answer the following questions as part of your preparation: • How does this character view himself/herself? Do the other characters view your character in the same way? How do the views differ? • What are the things that matter most to your character? • Does your character act in a way that influences the other characters? How? • Do you like and admire your character? Why or why not? • Do you think your character is real or stereotypical?  As part of an acting exercise, discuss which part of the body best symbolizes each character in the play. Next, physicalize each character by emphasizing that part of the body. Interact in a purely physical manner (no dialogue). See if your classmates can deduce which character you are portraying simply by observing your movements with the body part you have chosen as the focus of your movement patterns.  Design your own costumes for a production of Peter Pan. Research clothing styles of Great Britain at the turn of the century. Also pay particular attention to the somewhat fantastic attire of the citizens of Never Land.  Stage a scene (or part of a scene) from Peter Pan, casting your classmates in the various roles. Consider the blocking (who moves where and when), gestures, vocal tone and accents, music, props, etc.  Pretend you have just met one of Peter Pan’s array of unique characters. Write a letter to a friend about one of these characters. Describe your first impressions of the character you select.
Blues for an Alabama Sky The following questions are designed as vehicles to promote discussion on the content of “Blues for an Alabama Sky” and/or provide cross-curricular activities for the classroom (such as writing assignments, acting exercises or activities that include English Language Arts, Theatre Arts, Social Studies, etc.). Some questions focus on characters and events of the play and cannot be debated until after viewing the performance. Other questions, however, can lead the students to search their thoughts and feelings before they judge the decisions the characters make. Returning to these same questions after they have viewed the production will allow the students compare their previous response to new, perhaps enlightened, responses and spark spirited discussion of the themes and issues addressed in the play.  Why do you think this play is entitled Blues for an Alabama Sky? Which character sings the blues, and why? Investigate the history of blues in American culture and compare the use of 'singing the blues' in the lives of real Americans to the way the characters in the play use the blues. What are some ways you either literally or figuratively 'sing the blues' in your own life? Learn and sing a blues song from the 20’s. Discuss how its feelings and themes reflect those in the play.  The Harlem Renaissance gave rise to many great African American poets, Langston Hughes being one of the most famous. Research the works of some others and read from them in class.  Birth control and abortion are controversial topics today, but this play shows how present and inflammatory they were seventy years ago as well. Research the work of Margaret Sanger and the early “family planning “ movement. Enact a debate between Sanger and an opponent, emphasizing the historical reasons for their arguments (as opposed to the positions activists take today).  Josephine Baker was one of many American artists who took up residency in Paris during the 1920’s. Who were other American “expatriates” there at this time? What did they see in Paris and vice-versa?  The five characters of “Blues” are all complex, multi-layered, and troubled. Choose one to write a letter of advice to about their situation in the play. Explain their problems to them in an objective way that they might understand.  Reflect on Angel's statement "I'm tired of Negro dreams. All they ever do is break your heart." Identify events in the play that corroborate this statement and others that refute it. Recall dreams you yourself have had. What kind of dreams have 'broken your heart?' Using examples from Cleage's play and from your own life, investigate conditions that may cause a dream to break a person's heart.
 Blues for an Alabama Sky takes place in 1930, a time when the poverty of the Great Depression is overshadowing the glory of the Harlem Renaissance. What events occur or what scenic elements are present in the play to suggest the reality of the Depression's existence? How do the struggles of the characters in Blues compare to the struggles of typical real people who were living in Harlem in 1930?  Playwright Pearl Cleage confronts many forms of discrimination in this play: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Find examples of discrimination in the play. Discuss each one separately. Compare and contrast them. Consider situations in your own life when you have dealt with discrimination. How did you react to these situations?  Broadway has been called the Great White Way. Black theatre for many years remained in the shadows of the Great White Way. Despite the shadow, Black theatre eventually grew and flourished, and today, no longer in the shadows, such luminaries as August Wilson, George C. Wolfe, Douglas Turner Ward, Ntzoke Shange and Cheryl West, to name a few, are prominent among U.S. theatre artists. Have students trace, individually or in groups, the struggles and triumphs of black theater in America. You might divide this project according to eras. Some eras to consider might include colonial America, before and after the Civil War, the Harlem Renaissance, before and after World War II, and black theater of the 50s, 60s, 70s and in the present day. Reports should include the well known playwrights, directors and actors of each era, as well as a time line.  Read Ms. Cleage's play Flyin' West or an essay from her book Deals with the Devil, or read one of her articles for Essence or MS. Magazine. Write a position paper that identifies a continuum of themes that might represent Ms. Cleage's "voice" as a writer, artist and feminist.  Divide students into small groups to write sequels to the play. In an interview with the playwright, Ms. Cleage projected her character's futures: "I think Guy's going to be fine. I don't think Angel's going to be fine. I think she's going to be exactly what she doesn't want to be: an old woman begging up and down 125th Street. But Guy will be fine. I think Delia will be fine. I think that Leland is destroyed." What do you think will happen to the characters? How have the charactersâ€™ journeys been influenced by the people and events around them? Encourage students to share, discuss, revise, and perform their plays.  Study the origins and development of Harlem from its origins in the 17th century through today. Display visual representations of Harlem in maps, photos, and artwork.
Wit The following questions are designed as vehicles to promote discussion on the content of “Wit” and/or provide cross-curricular activities for the classroom (such as writing assignments, acting exercises or activities that include English Language Arts, Theatre Arts, Social Studies, etc.). Some questions focus on characters and events of the play and cannot be debated until after viewing the performance. Other questions, however, can lead the students to search their thoughts and feelings before they judge the decisions the characters make. Returning to these same questions after they have viewed the production will allow the students compare their previous response to new, perhaps enlightened, responses and spark spirited discussion of the themes and issues addressed in the play.  Debate the ethics of “Do Not Resuscitate” orders (such as the one Vivian requests in the play) and other forms of euthanasia or “doctor-assisted-suicide.”  Read the John Donne poem, “Death Be Not Proud” that figures so prominently in the play and write about how its theme relates to the story of the play. Read the poem out loud to the class in accordance with the different forms of punctuation Vivian discusses and see if your listeners notice the differences.  Write what you think Jason’s or Susie’s diary would be throughout their treatment of Vivian. What interests them about her and what do they seek from her? What’s going on in their lives “offstage” when we don’t see them?  Upon graduating from medical school, doctors take what’s known as the Hippocratic Oath, a pledge proposed by the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. The oath requires doctors to promise, among other things, “I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.” Do you believe the doctors and nurses in “Wit” live up to this oath?  In an interview, playwright Margaret Edson said about her play: “It’s a play about love and knowledge. And it’s about a person who has built up a lot of skills during her life who finds herself in a new situation where those skills and those great capacities don’t serve her very well. So she has to disarm, and then she has to become a student. She has to become someone who learns new things.” Discuss what this play seems to say about the relationship between teacher and student. What does it mean to teach and what does it mean to learn?
 If you were assigned to be the dramaturg for a production of Wit, what research materials would you provide for the actors and directors at the first rehearsal (e.g., information about 33
hospitals, treatments for carcinoma, the sonnets of John Donne, and so on)? Make a list of all the terms in the play that would require definition (proxemics, neoplasia, palliative, etc.) and make a glossary for your cast. What images, photographic or otherwise, would you display at rehearsal? Bring in some of these pictures and hang them around the classroom.  Did the physical elements of the Syracuse Stage production (i.e.; the set, props, costumes and lighting) suggest different things about the characters? Discuss the many ways that the production elements of this production served its director and actors. Consider each element individually. (Note: Teachers may wish to assign groups of students to study one production element and its impact on the play and the characters. Please refer to the section of this Guide entitled Technical Elements for more detailed questions.)  Divide students into groups. Assign each group to create a frozen statue (tableau) which represents the essence of a scene from the play. Have them present these tableaux to the class in a random order, without introducing the scene. See if the class can discern which scene is being represented. Finally have the groups present their tableaux sequentially.  Choose one of the characters from the play as you were going to undertake the role as an actor. Answer the following questions as part of your preparation: • How does this character view himself/herself? Do the other characters view your character in the same way? How do the views differ? • What are the things that matter most to your character? • Does your character act in a way that influences the other characters? How? • Do you like and admire your character? Why or why not? • Do you think your character is real or stereotypical?  Have students design attention-getting posters of program covers for the play. Encourage them to consider the type of message they want to convey to the public about the play (dark comedy, marital relationships, etc.), and what other information might be necessary such as: dates, times, place, ticket price, location and box office phone number.  Have students improvise a moment from Wit and then test the effects of changing something-- tone of voice, some important trait in a character, or a vital remark. How do such changes affect the selected moments? What repercussions would changing one detail have on other aspects of the production? Students could improvise what happens before or after some point, or what happens after the play’s end. Both these exercises can help the class understand how a work of art always involves both an ongoing process and an interrupted process, or a decision to stop what could endlessly be revised. See if the students can identify some of the writer’s main points of choice or decision in their story.
ROMEO & JULIET
The following questions are designed as vehicles to promote discussion on the content of “Romeo and Juliet” and/or provide cross-curricular activities for the classroom (such as writing assignments, acting exercises or activities that include English Language Arts, Theatre Arts, Social Studies, etc.). Some questions focus on characters and events of the play and cannot be debated until after viewing the performance. Other questions, however, can lead the students to search their thoughts and feelings before they judge the decisions the characters make. Returning to these same questions after they have viewed the production will allow the students compare their previous response to new, perhaps enlightened, responses and spark spirited discussion of the themes and issues addressed in the play. This section is meant to give classes a head start as they prepare for studying Shakespeare’s play. A more comprehensive Study and Curriculum Guide will be mailed prior to the opening of “Romeo and Juliet.”  In 1959 “West Side Story” transplanted Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet to New York City, where the Capulets and Montagues became the street gangs Jets and Sharks. In what conflict would you place the story if you were to set it in modern times?  Juliet is expected to marry at 13. Write or discuss how would your life be different if you got married at that age. How would society be different if people generally married so young?  Most of “Romeo & Juliet” is written in iambic pentameter verse. Define and study this form. Write your own dialogue in this style (or in another poetic meter) based on situations found in the play (A friend comforting another friend over a break-up; love at first sight; a father-daughter argument over a boy)  Explore the “authorship” question related to Shakespeare’s plays. (Some scholars doubt the attribution to him of some of the plays and poetry usually called Shakespearean.) What is known about the origin of Romeo and Juliet? Find out the original source of the plot ideas. Is this play more or less “original” than his other tragedies or comedies? OR  Read the original Italian Renaissance poem on which Shakespeare based Romeo and Juliet and compare and contrast plot points with the play. (The English version by Arthur Brooke that Shakespeare read can be found in some editions of the play, including the Arden, Oxford, and Cambridge printings.) What parts did Shakespeare copy and what did he change? Also take note of when Shakespeare only slightly altered the language and discuss what that teaches us about Shakespeare’s own distinctive style. Pick a favorite poem or song of your own and write a short play telling the same poem.
 Examine the historical accuracy of the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” which depicts Shakespeare’s process in writing “Romeo & Juliet.” Research what is known about Shakespeare’s early life and career and about the origins of this play. Why do you think the screenwriters chose to diverge from the historical facts?
Write a letter to the screenwriters where Shakespeare himself responds to their portrayal of him and his work.  By the end of the play, five characters are dead (Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo and Juliet). Create an obituary for one or more of the fallen. Include age, survivors, accomplishments and/or philosophy. The obituary might briefly describe the circumstances of his/her death as well. Or, create an epitaph for one of the deceased, written by a family member.  Have students write a soliloquy for any of the characters in Romeo and Juliet. Write a brief preface in which you place your soliloquy in a specific frame of reference. Your soliloquy should reveal the innermost feelings and motivations of your character.  Improvise contemporary situations from the text of Romeo and Juliet, such as a feud between rival families, a parent threatening to disown a child, two lovers eloping, etc. Divide the class into groups, and give each group a situation. Allow fifteen minutes for the students to prepare their scenes. Have the groups perform their scenes for the class.  Divide your class into as many groups as there are scenes in the play. Have each group create a frozen statue or tableau that captures the essential emotion, conflict, or tension of that scene. Present the tableaux in sequence.  Using pales, papier-mâché, and other materials, have students create a mask that represents one of the Elizabethan humors (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, or melancholy). Ask students to explain their designs. Have a group create a scene, using the masks for each humor, in which the various character types interact.  Have students choose any character from Romeo and Juliet and create a character collage. They should include pictures (hand drawn or cut from newspapers/magazines) of actions the character performs, relationships the character has with others, typical moods, feelings, attitudes, etc. Include quotations from the play that reveal something about the character (these may be quotations from the character as well as those about the character).  Ask students to select a line from the play that would make a good song title. Develop lyrics around the chosen line or phrase. (Example- “What’s in a name?)  Compare Shakespeare’s treatment of love in “Romeo & Juliet” to that in another of his tragedies (“Othello,” “Antony & Cleopatra”) or his comedies (“As You Like It,” “Twelfth Night”). Pick a scene from one of these plays to perform back-to-back with a scene from “Romeo & Juliet.”
Art The following questions are designed as vehicles to promote discussion on the content of “Art” and/or provide cross-curricular activities for the classroom (such as writing assignments, acting exercises or activities that include English Language Arts, Theatre Arts, Social Studies, etc.). Some questions focus on characters and events of the play and cannot be debated until after viewing the performance. Other questions, however, can lead the students to search their thoughts and feelings before they judge the decisions the characters make. Returning to these same questions after they have viewed the production will allow the students compare their previous response to new, perhaps enlightened, responses and spark spirited discussion of the themes and issues addressed in the play.  Have you ever had an argument with a friend over something unimportant, like a movie, a game, or a sports team? Write a dialogue (or improvise) about this kind of argument, which ends up really being about the friendship itself.  Take a trip to an art show, gallery, or museum and compare different works of art. How do you decide which ones are “realistic” and which are “abstract.” Take note of which artworks you have the strongest personal feelings about, positive or negative. How might these preferences reflect aspects of your personality?  The kind of “white-on-white” painting in the play could be called an example of “conceptual art”—where the idea behind the painting is equally, or more, important than how it looks. Another example would be Andy Warhol’s exhibition of Campbell’s Soup cans in order to question the definition of art and to assert that art is all around us in our consumer culture. Help your students develop their own “concept” or statement to develop into an exhibition piece that expresses it.  One of the longest speeches in the play is Yvan’s story about his wedding preparations. Have you ever been involved in a wedding? Write your own story (true or fictional) about the work going into a wedding ceremony.  Playwright Yasmina Reza says about her style: Most writers don’t know that actors are never better than in pauses or in the subtext. They give them too many words. In a play, words are parentheses to the silences. They’re useful for the actors, but only that; they aren’t the whole story.
What does Reza mean by “subtext?” Share examples from the play when characters seem to mean something other than what they’re saying. Read a play by another writer who specializes in subtext, such as Harold Pinter or David Mamet. Examine the importance of pauses and silences in “Art.” Which important moments of the play are not in spoken dialogue?
 Ask your students to brainstorm as many definitions of comedy as possible. Ask them what makes them laugh. Consider the following: what makes something funny? Do we all have the same taste in humor? What is the difference between comic characters and comedy that is situational? How does comedy differ from tragedy? Can a piece of theatre, literature or music successfully combine elements of comedy and tragedy? Can something be comic to one person, yet tragic to another? Why do you think so?  Since its opening in Paris in 1994, critics and audiences have debated whether or not “Art” is truly a comedy. Discuss Art in light of your examination of the definition of comedy. How does the play fit the definitions developed by the class? In what ways does this play differ from those definitions? Is a play a comedy just because it makes you laugh? Or is a happy or optimistic view of the world also necessary? Perform a scene from “Art” in two different ways—once emphasizing the situation’s comic aspects, and then showing more of the characters’ serious emotions underneath.  In pairs, have students act out scenes from Art. Before beginning, have the students consider what experiences of the characters might be like experiences of their own, and how the characters’ feelings are similar to their own feelings. Try to have the students relate their own personal truth to Yasmina Reza’s dialogue. Have students videotape their performances as a project.  Imagine that you are the playwright, Yasmina Reza, and you have been asked to revise the script by adding one or two scenes. Write a short scene or two to include in the play. Where would you place them? Consider the journey each character makes and the effect upon their friendships. (Teachers: encourage your students to share, discuss, revise and/or perform their plays.) OR  Write a short sequel to the play (a scene or one-act). What do you think will happen to the characters? For example, will Yvan be happy in his marriage? What of the three friends? Will there be other crises in their friendship? How has each character’s life been influenced by the events of the play? (Teachers: encourage your students to share, discuss, revise and/or perform their plays.)
Combined Play Activities These activities involve characters and/or content from two or more plays produced this season.  From the characters you met this season: • what was the main choice/decision that faced each character? • what was each character’s definition of happiness? • which characters do you feel found peace? • which characters got their “just desserts?” • which characters left a mark on society? • which characters left a mark on you? • for which did revelation come too late, or not at all? • which characters are most memorable? • which character role would you most want to play? • with which character did you most identify?  Pick the one or two most memorable characters from each of the plays you have seen this season. For each character: • list five childhood events that could have cause his or her personality or actions. (These events may be ones that were mentioned in the play or that you created based on your knowledge of the character as an adult. Remember that while these plays are not dated in content, the events that help create each character may be attributed to social expectations in a particular time or geographical location and should be consistent with the time period of the production.) • write and perform a monologue that reveals his or innermost thoughts • write as dialogue between the character and a therapist/social worker/bartender • find or write a theme song or type of music that defines the character. (This need not be consistent with the time period of the play.) • find or write a poem that would speak to the character’s feelings • find a motto or saying that describes the character’s philosophy of life. • find a children’s story that the character would have liked.  Do a comparative study of sonnets by John Donne and William Shakespeare.  Pick three plays that you viewed this season and write an essay comparing and contrasting the themes and the characters. Look for commonalties as well as differences.  Research the role of women on the home front in both World War I & World War II. How do the female characters in Born Yesterday and Eleanor: Her Secret Journey fit your research? Are they consistent with what you have learned through your research?  Compare the perspectives on the theme of friendship in Blues for an Alabama Sky and Art.  Make a collage, in the medium or media of your choice (paper, cloth, wood, metal, plastic, photographs, illustrations, words or phrases cut out from print media), related to the themes,
moods, individual characters or couples depicted in one of the plays. Display your collage along with those of your classmates and discuss the selection and arrangement of your work.  Pick two of the other plays you have seen this season and compare the playwrightsâ€™ style and language. Try to look at the dialogue and character rather than the directorâ€™s interpretation of the content.  Write a critique of the artistic choices for this season in the area of: play choice set designs casting directing audience appeal  Conduct an opinion poll of your fellow subscribers. Which play was the favorite? Which play was liked the least? Which play was the funniest? Which play was the most dramatic?  If you were the artistic director of a professional regional theatre in central New York, what six plays would you include in your season? (Remember to think about: weather at certain times of the year, the inclusion of different genres of plays, a budget that will not allow a full season of large cast plays, and which plays will appeal to your audience as well as have artistic and emotional value.)
Season Study Guide