Teacher Resource Pack Autumn 2008
Introduction to York Theatre Royal
The resource pack
First day at rehearsals
About Arthur Miller
Historical / Political context
The American Dream
The Social context
The Director speaks
Responding to live performance
Interview with designer Dawn Allsopp
Interview with Joseph Rye â€“ Biff Loman
Introduction to York Theatre Royal York Theatre Royal Education department are committed to inspiring and nurturing interest and enthusiasm in the performing arts sector. We seek to raise self confidence and the development of social skills, stimulating young people to find their position and voice within society. We work specifically with young people and their families, teachers and targeted community groups to develop their knowledge and skills in both theatre making and theatre going. In addition, we work comprehensively throughout the York area to forge close partnerships with schools and colleges, offering activities, workshops and projects to teachers and students alike. Our experienced and dedicated educational practitioners work directly with teachers to create motivating and thought provoking programs, with an accessible, informative and fun working process within an inclusive atmosphere of trust and respect. In addition to these programs York Theatre Royal has developed a focused Partnership with Education and Theatre (PET Project) run in conjunction with City of York Council which works with six schools (primary and secondary) every year to facilitate creative learning across all curriculum subjects. By allowing students to see the curriculum in action students can relate subjects they are studying to their practical use in the â€œreal worldâ€? as solutions to our work. If you would like any additional information on our Education department, please contact Jessica Fisher, Education Administrator, 01904 550155, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Teacher Resource Pack • This Education Pack is intended as a resource purposefully designed to accompany the production of Death of a Salesman, aiming to provide a key insight into the workings of the production, the creative rehearsal process and theatrical techniques employed. • In addition, there are some key notes on the historical, social and cultural backgrounds of the text together with key themes and character profiles, in the hope that this will encourage a practical and critical engagement with the play and the writer alongside and beyond the production. • The pack also includes both pre and post performance workshop plans which, although drama based, are a valuable resource for teachers of English, Drama and Citizenship. Please feel free to use the workshops in a way that best suits your needs. The layout of this resource pack is intended for ease of photocopying, so feel free to use as you wish. • This pack is geared towards pupils of a Key Stage 4 level and above with suggested questions throughout to challenge your students and to further engage them with the themes and approaches to the play.
Resource pack written by: Sarah Newbold York Theatre Royal In Collaboration with The Central School of Speech and Drama
First Day of Rehearsals 06. 10. 08 We all assemble at York Theatre Royals main rehearsal room at Walmgate, where the stage management team has already marked up the floor with tape to define the acting area of the stage the cast will be performing on. Some of the actors are new to working at our theatre, some know each other, some met each other at the audition stage, and some are meeting for the first time, there is some nervousness but also an air of eager anticipation. Susan Sterne, the Voice Coach, is introduced – she will be working with the cast to develop convincing New York accents – she points out that Mitzi Thaddeus, who is playing The Woman and Miss Forsythe, is going to end up being everyone’s best friend as she is from New York and so clearly has an authentic accent. Damian then goes through the play, splitting it into scenes - in the published text the only demarcation is Act 1 and Act 2. He emphasizes that this is not a way of understanding the play, as there should be no sense of it stopping and starting: the play is clearly a play of two halves. He explains that this is just for rehearsal purposes, so that rehearsal calls are clear, the scene breakdown is simply indicative of who’s on stage. Damian then gets the cast to sit in circle of chairs that has been laid out in the room so that they can do a read-through of the play. In the middle is a swivel chair which is for George Costigan to sit in Damian explains that this will allow Willy to connect with whoever he is in a scene with, no matter where they are sitting. There are more chairs in the circle than actors, and Damian encourages the cast to move, change seats and change groupings as necessary - he explains that this is just to get a sense of the play being a physical piece from the very outset – it is not just words. The actors read the play, making good use of extra chairs, moving and creating groupings that begin the process of connections that will need to be made over the course of rehearsals. The read-through is electric - the later scenes between George Costigan (playing Willy) and Joseph Rye (playing Biff) are particularly moving and intense even at this stage everybody feels it, and the sense of excitement and anticipation grows. The first day of rehearsals draws to a close, and a highly successful start on this world famous play has been made, and the company embarks on the journey of discovering this extraordinary piece of theatre.
The Playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) “The plays are my autobiography. I can’t write plays that don’t sum up where I am. I’m in all of them. I don’t know how else to go about writing.” (Bigsby 1997:5) Arthur Miller was born to moderately affluent Jewish-American parents in New York City in 1915. He grew up in the midst of the American Depression: the economic crisis of the 1930’s where many enterprises went bankrupt, including his father’s ladies wear business, which deeply affected his family and put great financial strains on his family. The Depression nearly ended his plans for education, but he earned his way with a number of small jobs to attend Michigan University with a reputably radical campus. His radicalism poured through into a series of student plays, two of which won and another was runner up for the annual Hopwood Award. Miller knew little about theatre but was enticed by the way in which you could speak directly to an audience. He graduated in 1934 and briefly joined the Federal Theatre, a nationwide organization designed to give work to unemployed writers, actors, directors and designers. During the Second World War, he moved to New York where he began writing plays. All My Sons was produced in 1947 and ran for 328 performances. Death of a Salesman (which took Miller 6 weeks to complete a finished script) was performed in 1949, ran for 742 performances and won the Pulitzer Prize. With this success Arthur Miller was established as a playwright. His audience however, did start to disappear. Senator Joseph McCarthy was the leading force in the campaign during the 1950’s to bring to light any Communists who existed in America. In 1957, Miller was brought before the congressional committee which investigated ‘un-American activities’ or communism. He refused to name anyone who uttered left-wing sympathies and was convicted of contempt of congress and blacklisted by hollywood. He did confess to toying with Communist ideas, but did not believe that they endangered the integrity of creative artists. His audience, however, edged away and An Enemy of the People only ran for 36 performances. The press respected him for his calm and composed manner under interrogation and his conviction was overturned under the following year by the Supreme Court. Arthur Miller’s career continued and his standing as one of America’s greatest playwrights has been consolidated and for a percentage of people Death of a Salesman remains his most unforgettable piece of work. As at the beginning of his career, he remained dedicated to theatre right up until his death in 2005, he believed that theatre could change people – not in the direct sense of the word, but he believed that he had “given up the idea objectively that anything I write was going to get anybody elected. But I do think that in a very small way, probably historically of no importance, what one writes can change people in the sense that if gives them a new idea of themselves…you will shift the consciousness of a certain number of people.” (Bigsby 1997:60)
In what ways do you think Miller was influenced by living through these times? How is Miller reflected in his characters? 6
Synopsis “Death of a Salesman, Miller has said, is a ‘love story’ between a man and his son, and in a crazy way between both of them and America.” (Bigsby 1992:86)
Act I Initially, we are introduced to Willy Loman returning home, worn out, from an unsuccessful attempt at driving to a business meeting. Linda, his wife, is worried and blames his inability to drive on his poor health, whereas Willy confesses it is due to having strange thoughts. Linda urges Willy to contact Howard Wagner (his boss) and ask for a transfer closer to home (in New York). The couple discuss their sons Happy and Biff and Linda acknowledges how she enjoys the atmosphere they create in the house. The sons overhear Willy downstairs reminiscing and apprehensively discuss how unusual his behavior is. Willy’s memories reveal how he idealized Biff, taking great pride in his athletic achievements and dismissing his weaknesses. His unfailing admiration towards Biff frequently ignores Happy’s need for attention. Willy even goes so far as to justify Biff’s bad behavior when Linda and Bernard (Biff’s friend next door) criticize him. Willy boasts to Linda the amount he sold on his latest trip, but is quickly forced to admit to exaggerating, as well as revealing to his wife his self-doubt over his appearance and abilities. Linda immediately reassures him whilst we hear The Woman laughing whilst Willy continues to speak to his wife. The Woman dominates the conversation as it is made clear that she is his lover. Linda begins to mend her stockings which angers Willy as it is a guilty reminder of his betrayal. Happy hears Willy’s ramblings and goes downstairs to find a very confused Willy talking of his dead brother Ben (similar to The Woman, Ben is only ever seen by Willy) Happy surrenders trying to speak to him and leaves him to his daydreaming. Bernard’s father Charley who lives next-door overhears Willy and goes to visit him to have a game of cards. Willy’s distress is evident when he addresses both Charley and Ben in conversation. Supportively, Charley offers Willy a job, which is immediately refused. Willy ignores Charley and remembers Ben’s visit where his brother told him of his great success. To try and compete, Willy shows off his sons and encourages Biff to steal sand to rebuild the front step. Willy and Ben are highly amused by Linda and Charley’s worries of Biff being caught. Willy is thrown back to reality by Linda when she stops him leaving the house in his pajamas. Biff and Happy come to investigate what is going on, and Linda tells them about their financial struggle and how their Father has become so worried, he has been attempting suicide. Happy curses Willy, but Willy’s optimism is heightened as he hears Biff vowing to find a job and stay at home. Happy suggests that the brothers start a sporting goods line and they discuss asking Biff’s former boss Bill Oliver for some financial backing.
Act II The next morning, Willy is still optimistic and decides to ask his boss for a non-traveling job whilst Happy and Biff arrange a family meal to celebrate the launch of their new business. Willy’ request is unsuccessful, despite an emotional plea. Willy reminisces about when he was younger and refused the opportunity to go to Alaska, because he was convinced that selling was the career for him. He also remembers Dave Singleman who inspired Willy to become a salesman. Ben become s impatient and fades, so Willy goes to see Charley. Bernard is now a successful lawyer and father of two boys, Willy congratulates him and wonders why Biff never succeeded. Bernard hints it could be connected to when Biff visited him in Boston. Willy 7
admits to Charley that he has been fired and Charley gives Willy some money and offers him a job, to which he again refuses.
Biff tells Happy that he saw Bill briefly but didn’t speak as they wait in the restaurant for Willy, he also realizes that he was never more than a shipping clerk for Bill. Biff recollects all the lies that his family have told one another, Happy does not want to listen and so flirts with a girl and arranges a double date. Later, Willy also refuses to listen to Biff, there is a call for Happy which interrupts them, sending Willy to the washroom and his mind back to the past. Willy remembers Biff’s horror at finding him in the hotel with The Woman in Boston and how soon after he gave up college. Happy and Biff leave their father in the restaurant, leaving Stanley (the waiter) to ensure that Willy gets home. Linda is awaiting the boys return and has pieced together the evening’s events. She wants them to leave as they insist on tormenting Willy. Biff is adamant that he wishes to see his father and convinces him that he does in fact love him. Willy is overjoyed and seeks Ben’s approval to his insurance scheme that will pay Biff $20,000 if he dies. Convinced that his death will make Biff’s fortune, Willy kills himself.
Requiem Happy is angered by his father’s death and refuses to admit that his own dreams of success were as misguided as Willy’s were. Linda is both shattered and confused by his death as she always depended on Willy’s dreams. Upon standing over his grave, Linda tells him that their mortgage on the house is paid and that they are finally free for the first time. Charley and Biff seem to understand the suicide, Charley recognizes Willy as a salesman in the truest sense of the word, whereas Biff forgives him and surrenders any further belief in his father’s beliefs and can is now free to be himself.
Characters Willy Loman (George Costigan) “If Willy were merely a foolish character he would be unlikely to have earned the respect that has been paid to him. On the other hand, he is not clear sighted and does labour under delusions. He might be said to represent humanity with all its virtues and vices.” (Page 2003: 86) Willy Loman is a 61-year-old salesman living in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons. Despite his age and the hardships that he has endured, he dreams of having his own business. Willy lives by his faith in the American Dream, which he never achieves, but his dreams, however misplaced they appear, have sustained him enough to bring up his family. Willy is struggling financially, his work pays commission only and he is left wondering how he going to afford the next bill. He has unrealistic ideas of his own and his families’ importance and seems egotistical when he claims his popularity with the clients. Despite this selfconfidence, he lacks self-awareness, he is confused and frightened. He wants to secure his personal dignity, something that Miller relates to the depression bearing its mark on Willy. He perceives himself as a failure; he is growing old, is less productive and truly regrets his unfaithfulness to his wife. By nature, he is contradictory; there is a clear disparity between what he says and what he does. He is a salesman and lives by his ability to engage and make people believe him; he focuses on personal details over quantifiable measures of success believing that personality over figures garner success in the business world. Willy refuses to face reality and so appears to be living in his own world failing to distinguish between the past and the present. Nevertheless, many of Willy’s qualities are inspirational; there is a sheer courage and nobility in Willy’s struggle – notably by his refusal to give up.
Biff Loman (Joseph Rye) “Biff represents Willy’s vulnerable, poetic, tragic side.” (Barnes & Noble 2008) Biff is Willy’s 34-year-old number one son. Biff led an enchanted school life, he was the star of the football team, had scholarship prospects, good friends and a following of admiring females. Biff adored his father, believed his stories and accepted his philosophy on life – that a person will be successful, providing that he is ‘well-liked.’ Biff never questioned Willy, even when he was doing wrong. So unsurprisingly, Biff grew up disregarding social rules and expectations. Biff perceived Willy as the perfect father, until he discovered his affair in Boston. Biff failed math and so did not have enough credits to graduate, since then he has had 20/30 jobs every one of which he has been dismissed from. He dreams of a life in Golden West (the frontier of civilisation, freedom and opportunities) but in reality, he is lost and troubled. “I tell ya, Hap, I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to want.” (Miller 2000:16) This indecisiveness and inability to settle causes further tension between Biff and his father, but Biff has already rendered his father a ‘fake’ and despises everything he is and represents, but Biff, being his son, has incorporated a few of Willy’s traits, notably his tendency to exaggerate and manipulate reality to his favour.
Happy Loman (Kieran Hill) “Happy represents Willy’s sense of self-importance, ambition, and blind service to societal expectations.” (Barnes & Noble 2008) Happy is Willy’s 32-year-old son, he lives in his own apartment in New York, but during the course of the play he is staying with his parent’s. All throughout childhood into adulthood, Happy has always been in Biff’s shadow, he has always been Willy’s ‘second son,’ and has become motivated to acquire attention from his family through showing off. He also tries to constantly be on Willy’s good side and keep him happy, even if this does mean perpetuating the lies and illusions that Willy lives in. Happy grew up listening to his father embellish the truth, so it is not surprising that he has acquired this from him. Happy oozes confidence and finds seducing women easy, he believes that ‘respectable’ women cannot resist him (especially those engaged to his executives) and finds that having relationships with women is a vengeful means of getting back at the men who have passed him on the career ladder. He thrives on sexual gratification and the knowledge that he has ‘ruined’ so many women. “I hate myself for it. Because I don’t want the girl, and, still, I take it and—I love it!” (Miller 2000:19) Happy is of a low moral character, he is always trying to find his way in life - even when he is confident that he is on the right track. At the end of the play, he cannot see reality, and like his father is adamant to continue in search of the dream.
Linda Loman (Eileen O’Brien) In many ways Linda is the strongest character in the play, both emotionally and through her perseverance in supporting her husband. She is loving and loyal, acting submissively when appropriate and decisively when it matters. She is a defender of everything that Willy stands for, yet at the same time she is extremely aware of his nature. This puts Linda in an awkward situation, she knows that he is irrational and difficult to deal with, yet goes along with his fantasies in order to protect him from self-criticism and from criticism of others. Occasionally, Linda appears to be taken in by Willy’s dreams for future success and glory, but at other times retains a sense of realism. Despite everything she knows about Willy and what he is doing, she does nothing to aggravate her husband. She supports his morale and protects him at all costs, loving him and accepting all of his shortcomings. Linda is the negotiator of peace in the family, keeping the family together and staying by Willy’s side until the end.
Bernard (Steven Kynman) Bernard is Biff’s cautious and studious friend, he is not as sporty or strong as the Loman brothers and Willy dismisses him as ’not well liked.’ In many ways, Bernard possesses the opposite characteristics Biff is taught makes a man great. He helps Biff academically; he is a successful student and later becomes a successful lawyer. It feels almost as if Bernard partially fulfils the role of Biff’s dad or is present to illustrate how successful Biff could have been without Willy’s influence. “Just because he printed University of Virginia on his sneakers doesn’t mean they’ve got to graduate him, Uncle Willy.” (Miller 2000:25) This illustrates how in tune Bernard is with reality, in comparison to the other characters. Once again, this illustrates Bernard is the one of the only characters in tune with reality. He cares for Biff and wants to see him graduate. As Bernard matures, he retains a modest, responsible and law-abiding attitude towards life; he has become a great man, without being well-liked or extremely handsome.
The Woman & Miss Forsythe (Mitzi Thaddeus) The Woman is Willy’s out of town mistress, at first she makes Willy feel wanted, almost like the salesman he imagines himself being. However, she is portrayed as being rather cold and unemotional, merely seeing her encounter with Willy as being “Good for me” (Miller 2000:30) Thus, indicating that she is there to have a good time and benefit from the affair. She picks Willy as he makes her laugh, and her laughter is heard many times throughout the play reminding us of the frivolity and meaninglessness of what happened. Happy and Biff meet Miss Forsythe and Letta at Frank’s Chop House and seems to be charmed by Happy’s humour. It is suggested that they are prostitutes, although Miss Forsythe claims to be a cover girl.
Charley (Jonanthan Jaynes) Charley is Bernard’s father and is the closest person that Willy has to a friend. He is content with his life, a successful businessman and is an example of how you make a relative success of your own life. Like his son, Charley too lacks the skills Willy associates with being masculine. He tries to make Willy face the reality of working life and is shocked at Willy’s lack of respect for him, his ideals and his inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. Charley becomes Willy’s sole financial support and even offers Willy a job, to which Willy refuses on the basis of pride.
Ben (Kevin McGowan) Ben is Willy’s brother and is a symbolic figment of Willy’s imagination. Ben is self assured, rich and adventurous and Willy believes he is the epitome of all he desires. Ben represents his idealist view of prosperity; he is symbolic of the American Dream and of his competitive nature allowed him to succeed in a capitalist society. Willy has imaginary conversations with Ben, where he continually misleads Willy with his talk of grandeur success and illusions.
Howard Wagner (Phillip Langhorne) Howard is Willy’s boss - a successful business man of 36, (not much older than Willy’s sons) whose sole function in the play is to tell Willy that he longer has a job. Howard represents what Willy can expect from the average member of the business society, somebody without Charley’s kindness, he may symbolise the nature of a capitalist society. Nevertheless, he is a reasonable man whom doesn’t allow emotion to affect his decision. Even at the end of the scene, Howard should not be judged too harshly; his motto being “business is business.”
Letta & Jenny (Sophie Abelson) Letta is with Miss Forsythe when they meet Happy and Biff at Frank’s Chop House and may be comparable to The Woman whom Willy meets in his hotel in Boston. Jenny is Charley’s secretary.
The Historical–Political Context The historical and political climate in which a character, and in many cases the playwright lives, directly affects how they think and behave. In order to find out the reality of a character it is important that we research the surrounding context of when Arthur Miller wrote this play.
Death of a Salesman was written and is set in 1948 America specifically in New York and Boston. 1948 was a time that saw significant changes in American politics, society and culture. In particular the presidential election initiated a sense of mistrust in some American citizens, virtually every prediction (with or without public opinion polls) indicated that republican Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman. This was not to be as Truman won the election and to this day it is still seen as being one of the greatest election upsets in American history. In addition the events of the Cold War and the economic crisis – the Depression of the 1930’s left their mark on American citizens. Businesses went bankrupt thus sending individuals and families into financial strain.
Capitalism “Capitalism as a political system depends on the continual encouragement of wants. People must want more and buy more in order to fuel the economy and enable people to work to produce these goods.” (Page 2003:103) There was a rise of commercial consumerism during the depression that attempted to restore public faith in industry and manufacture. Capitalism is a social system, where the means for producing and distributing goods (such as land, factories, technology and transport) are owned by a small minority of people (the capitalist class) The working class are paid to produce these goods, which are then sold for a profit, which the capitalist class live off. The motive behind this is not to satisfy people’s needs with these products, but to exploit the working class in order to reap the profits Arthur Miller denies that this play is solely an attack on capitalism, but he is unfavorable towards a system which “encourages people to want more goods, such as refrigerators, as if it is the ultimate point of existence.” (Page 2003: 103) Therefore, gaining a deeper understanding of the capitalist context in which this play was written, allows us to gain a deeper insight into Willy Loman’s plight of living through the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the realization of American society not providing for its citizens. We see how Willy Loman enthusiastically attacks consumer society frequently in this play, for example: he argues that washing machines are internally programmed to break down as soon as you have finished paying for them, even when “They [the washing machine company] got the biggest ads of any of them!” (Miller 1976:27)
Some reviewers believe that the play is a criticism of capitalism and of the American way of life. Discuss your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with them. How do you think that the Depression demonstrated to the playwright the fragility and vulnerability of human existence in the modern era? How do you think that this was reflected in the production?
The American Dream The American Dream is a belief in the freedom that allows all United States residents to achieve their goals. Historian and writer James Truslow Adams coined the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book Epic of America: “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” (Adams 1931) In Death of a Salesman we see a number of characteristics that seem to define the myth of the American Dream. Especially the principles that Willy seems to value: “initiative, hard work, family, freedom, consumerism, economic salvation, competition, the frontier, self-sufficiency, publicrecognition, personal fulfillment” (Bigsby 1997:60) and many more, which seem to all animate the American cultural poetic. America was seen as the land of opportunity so people were encouraged to work hard in order to achieve the American Dream, failure to achieve this must then indicate a failure in personality and not a failure in the system. “It has often been said that what kept the United States from revolution in the depths of the Great Depression was the readiness of Americans to blame themselves rather than the system for their downfall” (Miller 1987:113) This attitude is reflected in both Willy and Biff, who blame themselves for their lack of economic success and popularity. In addition, the social attitudes that Willy displays frequently were very common at this time of writing and thus were very relevant, Willy had fallen for the myth of the American Dream with his unquestioning faith in capitalism which also occupied many people’s thoughts following World War Two.
How does Arthur Miller depict the American Dream in Death of a Salesman? It may be that Willy’s idealized view of The American Dream was a factor in Biff’s failure. Discuss both why you agree or disagree with this claim.
The Social Context The social and cultural ideologies that are occurring within the society a playwright writes may also have had impact on the work s/he produces. Therefore, it is very important to research the social and cultural context in which s/he writes.
The Family One of the main elements of Death of a Salesman is the depiction and the vivid characterizations of the roles of American family members. Traditionally, families begin with the father, and the Loman household is no different. Nevertheless, in many ways he may appear insufficient in his role - preferring to bow to the wishes of the working class society and values. In many ways Willy Loman may be seen as just an ordinary man in society; a man who all other average men can identify with. “It has been observed that the play is not entirely opposed to the American Dream, and in this respect it might be seen as reshaping the conditions necessary for success, if there is a contemporary ideology which Willy has absorbed, it is the belief in the family. The family is essential to the American way of life.” (Page 2003:98) The belief in the institution of families also has its roots in capitalism, in that the emphasis is on the family being responsible for dependents – being responsible, this also meant families needed more money. Willy still wishes to be responsible for Biff at an age where many fathers may have given up, he believes that in work such as selling – family values such as love and respect can be united. There also seems to be a stark contrast to how Willy treats his two sons – Biff and Happy. Historically, in America and throughout the world, first-born sons have received advantages not available to younger sons. Miller shows how Willy schemes and plans for the success of Biff, while Happy is mostly ignored. This creates tension between Biff and Happy, because Happy is always seeking for the attention and approval that Biff doesn't want to have. It is important to look at the family and each characters role within the texts structure and hierarchy.
How do you think the Loman family members deal with disappointment in each other, how do their misunderstandings generate separation and how does gaining an insight into each other generate understanding and acceptance?
Gender Although Willy appears to have absorbed the ideology of the importance of families, there seems to be an atmosphere that marginalizes Linda and all other women, they are seen as othered and placed at the borders of a patriarchal world. This play was written before the upsurge of interest in sexual politics and attitudes in 1949 and would have been more prevalent than they are today. In addition, women seem to be further divided into two categories: Linda and Other. They seem to be either saintly like Linda, or whores like the woman Willy had an affair with or the two women in the restaurant. Willy was determined to make sure that the women concealed their existence. In some American states at this period of time, adultery was illegal and Willy gives this as an excuse to make sure they remain in silence. “In his belief in the family, Willy also does not recognize that his vision is an essentially male one. […] In Death of a Salesman, the women have no role to play which is not dependent on men. Linda’s function seems to comment on and support Willy. The Woman with whom Willy has an affair is not characterized except in so far as she relates to him, and Harry and Biff’s two female associates are thinly sketched in order further to exemplify the son’s characters. When Willy considers suicide, he spares no thought at all for his wife…” (Page 2003:99) Women are two dimensional in this play; they seem to have no thoughts or desires other than those which pertain to the men. Even Linda the strongest female character in the play, is fixated on uniting her husband with her sons, thus selflessly subordinating herself to assist them with their problems. “It may appear that the women in the play seek men to define their existence and provide them with pleasure and direction. Linda, despite her courage and determination, offers little in the way of personal views on the events.” (Page 2003:99) Like Willy, Happy too undermines the sanctity of marriage and his conversations with Biff highlight a very sexist approach and indicate a clear lack of maturity. He “refers to seducing women as being like bowling. It is easy to strike at immobile, senseless targets, and many of the women referred to seem passive waiting only for men to come into their existence and claim them.” (Page 2003:99)
Death of a Salesman is a play that has very much been written and produced through the eyes of a male, what does the play tell us about a woman’s role in society at this time and how has this been illustrated through the female characters in the play?
Themes Themes are usually the key idea or an underlying meaning in a literary work, sometimes a theme may be stated explicitly or sometimes it may just be implied. In some works we have major themes – an important idea that the playwright or author returns to many times, and in others we have just minor themes that appear from time to time. A theme usually involves a statement of an opinion about the main subject of the piece. There is a difference between the subject and the theme of a literary work, the subject is what the author or playwright has chosen to write about and the theme expresses an opinion or makes a statement about the subject. For example, in very simple terms, the subject of a story might be crime, while the theme may be that crime is wrong.
What do you think that the main subject of Death of a Salesman is? What do you think some of the themes are? Are they major or minor themes?
Man in society / Identity Death of a Salesman addresses the loss of identity within a man in society, a man who cannot accept change within himself or society – although at times Willy does acknowledge that he is discovering new things about himself. Essentially, the play may be about identity and human nature, and a common theme that runs throughout the play is that of the blurring between man and society and how we cannot disentangle man from society, or society from man. Changes are being made all around Willy for example, the advancement of technology. Willy Loman represents a man in America who is struggling to move with the times, who is experiencing feelings of mistrust towards consumerism and desperately trying to cling on to his old school values and the promise of the American Dream – the idea that he is ‘well-liked’ and an attractive man will enable him to acquire the material possessions and success promised in the American Dream. What do you think that Willy Loman represents as an American at that time?
Reality vs. Illusion There are many references in the play to the idea of reality and illusion, for example Willy’s fragile grip on reality is illustrated in his imagined conversations with his dead brother and his denial and refusal to admit to the truth and face reality. Willy is struggling in a capitalist world; he doesn’t own anything of material value and his work as a salesman does not pay the bills. He is working on commission only at the beginning of the play, and towards the end we see him lose his job. He develops the theory that his personality will automatically guarantee him success, and this is a theory that all the characters disillusion themselves with at some point during the play. In order for Willy to live by his ideals he has to build a fictitious reality for himself that involves telling lies or exaggerating the truth for his own gain – for example, he tells his sons how he can park anywhere in Boston and the police will look after it, and also how vital he is to New England and to his clients. These exaggerations of the truth start to replace reality in Willy’s mind When Biff found out about Willy’s unfaithfulness he starts to see his father as a fake, he begins to see reality as it is and abandons his father’s dreams. As a result Willy’s life to start falling apart around him, he has nothing to live for except his illusions and dreams of the past, before this secret was unearthed.
Why do you think that Miller allows us to see Willy drifting from reality into illusion and what impact does this have on the play?
Family, Betrayal and Abandonment There are many frequent emotions that dominate this play; for example: those of guilt, innocence, truth and lies are all explored through the lens of the family and the character’s role that they play in the family. Willy loves his family very much, but has become obsessed with raising the ‘perfect’ son which highlights his inability to understand reality or to communicate and listen to his sons own dreams and desires. In Willy’s mind, Biff is the embodiment of promise; he is attempting to live his life through Biff. However, when Biff discovers the affair, he is very quick to abandon his father’s ambitions for him. In Willy’s eyes this was abandonment, and we can chart Willy’s life throughout the play as being punctuated by rejection after rejection, each time leaving Willy in a greater state of distress. Willy becomes fearful of abandonment and this fuels his desire to make sure he and his family conforms to the American Dream. We can pinpoint Willy’s stages of abandonment throughout the following stages in the play: • • • •
His father left Willy and his brother Ben when they were very young leaving them no financial or historical legacy on his departure. This made Willy determined that he was going to make sure he left something for his sons. Ben departed to Alaska, leaving Willy with a warped vision of the American Dream. Willy was sacked from his job leaving Willy feeling unproductive, old and worthless. Willy was at the stage in believing that Biff was almost ready to succeed but Biff got fed up with his father not listening to what he had to say and he and his brother left Willy in the washroom. This reflects Willy’s inability to sell on the American Dream, the one product that Willy believes in wholeheartedly. Willy feels that Biff has betrayed him and his way of life whereas Biff feels that his father is a fake and has betrayed him with his endless stream of lies.
As a director how would you present the relationship on stage between Willy, Biff and Happy to illustrate the tension that lies between father and sons? Daniel E. Schneider in Play of Dreams states that the play is really about a man and his sons. Do you agree that the primary theme of Death of a Salesman is the conflict between father and son and between first-born and second-born sons? Support your opinion.
Relevance to today’s society Death of a Salesman is still a classic text and appears yearly on examination syllabuses, it also continues to be programmed into theatres across the world. We can acknowledge why theatre-goers continue to be moved in the same way that 1948 audiences were. For example, we can see how ecologically Willy’s ravings about over population, builders chopping down trees in favor of office buildings and blocks of flats still resonate for a 21st century audience. Economically, Willy struggles to pay the mortgage and the bills that pass through the door far too frequently, this too resonates with today’s audiences who are feeling financial pressures exacted upon them by an increasingly capitalist 17
or westernized world. Domestically, global audience’s still respond to the plays exploration of the family unit and the relationships between the family members.
In what ways do you believe that Death of a Salesman highlights the collective mood anxieties of a nation and illustrates how these affect the individual?
The director speaks...Damian Cruden It’s been a very interesting process directing it…so far. A lot of preparing to direct it. I think it is a play that you think you know quite well but actually when you start to dig into it, it’s full of avenues that you hadn’t realized existed before in the play. There has been so much written and said about it and so many opinions espoused about the piece that it can sometimes be a little bit daunting I think that where we’ve got to is the place where we have an environment in which the story can be told very truthfully, that’s what we’ve tried to do, to create a space in which a group of actors can come together and get to grips with what the play is really about and expose the narrative of that piece in a way that makes sense, without trying to impose something that doesn’t belong to it. Originally the title was ’Inside his head’ and he always saw the staging of it as being a huge head that opened up. And the story got told inside the huge head. But it was 1949 and that might not have gone down too well in New York because it was, broadly speaking, a fairly literal form of theatre that existed. But he was in his own way challenging existing forms in 1949 much more so than he had done with All my Sons. He was much more engaged with the notion of trying to challenge how theatre was perceived and how it presented its stories. He was writing a play which was very much about the condition of a man in the 24 hours up to the point where he commits suicide and the tragedy of that is that it is only in his last minutes that the love that he and his son share is recognized. In some ways the play is a love story between a father and a son. It is a play that criticizes the American Dream or capitalism; it is also a piece which digs away at the nature family and how families work. It is a play about denial, about how we almost live in a constant state of denial about the true nature of ourselves. There is a lot of debate about whether it is a tragedy or not, whether the common man can be the subject in a tragedy or not. Is it a tragedy for Willy or is it a tragedy for Biff? Miller interestingly said that in a way all the characters need to think the play is about them, they need to be convinced that it is their story. You end up recognizing that the play is about the human condition. And if it is a tragedy, I suppose, the tragedy is quite simply that you see a man striving to find a dignity, to find a sense of respect for himself, and the only way he can achieve that is by taking his own life and that could well be a tragedy. So is it a tragedy or isn’t it? I think I’ll know that at the end of rehearsals! Damian Cruden 1st October 2008 18
Theatrical techniques In his attempt to expose the real motives of Willy Loman, Miller resorts to theatrical techniques that enable us to have a “privileged glimpse into his mind.” (Page 2003:81) In exploring the internal and external views of Willy’s motives, it is important to look at the theatrical techniques that Miller employed to expose this.
Naturalism Naturalism is “a style of writing that aims to reproduce real life exactly on stage.” (Schiach 1995:144) In trying to replicate life on stage as it really is, naturalistic plays do not use theatrical devices or conventions, but instead aims to convince the audience that they are looking at an exact representation of real life on stage.
Death of a Salesman represents a naturalistic form in many ways; for example – Miller uses a style of language that generally reflects the way in which American people did speak at that time. In addition, there is a sense of naturalism in the content of the play – Willy is representative of an American man in this period and the financial struggle Willy endures, the relationships in the family unit and the general content is very characteristic of individuals both then and now. However, Death of a Salesman is not entirely naturalistic because if Miller wished to purely represent real life on stage, we would not have characters drifting through walls meandering from their past to the present, however he does seem to strive towards a notion of psychological truth in the way in which our past ultimately affects our future. If Miller had “restricted himself to showing everyday behavior, then some of the relationships he wanted to expose could never be revealed. This is the reason why Arthur Miller mixes the changes in time with the entirely realistic sequences, in order to show relationships which we could not otherwise see.” (Page 2003:83)
Symbolism Miller uses symbolism where “language or even montage cannot convey meaning accurately or economically.” (Page 2003:89) Symbolism, in a sense, is a reaction against naturalistic techniques, it allows a meaning to be conveyed without being to explicit. In Death of a Salesman Miller uses certain elements in the play which become symbolic, for example:Stockings: The stockings which Linda mends, but Willy gives his lover acquire a symbolic significance. They acquire double meanings such as emotions of self indulgence and household drudgery. Stockings, at this time, where highly sought after but hard to obtain, therefore Willy’s gift to his lover implies a complete lack of regard for his wife. Hose: The hose acquires a symbolic reference to failure. The hose in Willy’s house is attached to the gas
main and allows him to sniff the gas, an action which confirms Willy’s suicide wish and his desire to escape the realities of life – such as the loss of his job and his failure to achieve the American Dream. In many ways, it also symbolises a sense of grief and deception – the grief Linda feels when she finds the hose, and the deception Willy possesses when he denies its existence to Biff. 19
Tape recorder: This appears to signify change, a change in Willy’s life through the advancement into modern technology. This highlights the end of Willy’s career. When Howard sacks Willy from him job, there is a tape recorder in the room, which Howard seems to be more interested playing with than talking to Willy. Seeds: Willy feels he must leave something behind for Biff, as his father never did. Willy wants Biff to
succeed so symbolically plants seeds in the garden. This action is doomed to fail as it is evident that no light will fall on Willy’s garden. This highlights Willy’s persistence to seek reconciliation, but in reality it being doomed to fail, just like his dreams.
How does Arthur Miller use symbolism in his play as a language to expose the workings of Willy’s mind?
Expressionism Expressionism is a theatrical technique which uses the stage to “create a scene symbolic of the workings of a characters mind.” (Page 2003:81) The main concern with expressionism was the creation of images of the ‘inner self’ – a concept that was developed by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in the early twentieth century. Employing the expressionist theatrical technique allows the audience to focus on the psychology of the piece, on the workings inside Willy Loman’s head, rather than just on the social conditions of the play. Expressionist devices include the following: • • • • •
Montage and flashback Staging and set design Sound/musical motifs Lighting Costume
Montage and flashback It is important the play establishes the convention within which it operates so that the audience is aware that it is seeing time manipulated in a certain way. In this play we deal with the imaginings of the protagonist and whenever he lapses into memory and the action is cited in the past, the characters step out of the conventional ‘fourth wall’ of the conventional set. This is also known as a flashback. Arthur Miller used flashbacks to create a montage of events. “Montage is the business of juxtaposing two images which would not normally be found side by side in real life to create a third meaning.” (Page 2000:83) An example of this is when Willy protests his love for Linda and his family: Willy: There’s so much I want to make for… The Woman: Me? You didn’t make me, Willy I picked you Willy: (Pleased) You picked me? (Miller 2000:29) The voice of The Woman (Willy’s lover) takes up the dialogue from the past creating a montage effect with the past and present. We see Willy’s earlier declarations of love and fidelity, alongside his delight 20
at flattery from him lover. This creates the further effect of hypocrisy and shows how a man can entertain two conflicting ideas at once.
Staging and Set design The staging of the play is crucial in establishing the effects which Arthur Miller and the director want. Arthur Miller wished for the staging to be a combination of naturalistic period furniture and props alongside unnatural dream sequences. He wanted to build an atmosphere that was similar to “a dream rising out of reality.” (Miller 2000:7) On the first day of rehearsals, Damian Cruden, the director, and Dawn Allsopp, the designer, draw the company’s attention to the model box which is a scaled down version of the set that the actors will ultimately be performing on. The inspiration for the set comes from the idea of looking inside Willy Loman’s mind and seeing the chaos and fragility of it – the set and his head are in a precarious state – furniture and bits and pieces of the house are piled up on top of each other at chaotic angles – the whole thing looks set to topple over and collapse at any moment. This is a strong concept for the piece which connects well to the themes. Arthur Miller originally titled the play The Inside of His Head and had wanted to utilize a set which would show the inside of Willy’s skull in which he would be crawling around playing out the scenes inside of himself. It is a very flexible set allowing for many different configurations in which to stage the various locations in the play, but allowing also for areas to be re-used to interesting and powerful effects. For example, the marital bed is the same bed used in the hotel room where Willy meets The Woman. There is a feeling of the set feeling similar to a trap where Willy must remain, unable to escape, running into the same characters, the same memories and the same events over and over again. At the back of the set is an open road, and at the start of the play Willy must walk down stage from it, and into the chaos that is waiting.
Sound / Musical motifs When analyzing a live performance, it is important to take into account the sound qualities of the piece. It is important that the production of Death of a Salesman also has an aural sense of what is going on inside Willy’s head. Voices from the past cut into the present with echoes of memories floating around at different points waiting to land with more solidity in a scene – for example, The Woman’s laughter. Employing sound and musical motifs can help the audience get a sense of the two different lives that Willy is leading, inside and outside of his head. Miller uses music and sound to express the emotions of the characters in the play, there are also many musical motifs that are sounded, once established, they evoke certain time frames, values and competing influences in Willy Loman’s mind. A few examples are: The Flute Arthur Miller instructs that the flute be played five times in Act 1, the precise melody is not specified, but the music is integral to the action. We can notice the recurrence of the flute music and we can see how it signifies to different things and various times. The first time we hear it is at the very beginning of the play, as it says in the stage directions that "A melody is heard, played upon a flute It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon” (Miller 2000:11) for Willy it conjures up notions of past references. For example – his father made and sold flutes as a travelling salesman, this reveals something of Willy’s past desires and dreams and a time when everything seemed possible. This evokes a mood of sadness, lost dreams and sorrow; it may also symbolize Willy’s futile pursuit of the American Dream. Raw and Sensuous vs. A Soft Lullaby Conflicting desires are highlighted greatly by music, when The Woman appears on stage it is accompanied by “raw, sensuous music” (Miller 2000:91), this can stir up emotions of sexual desire and longing. This sensual music is played in stark contrast to Linda Loman’s theme: a soft, gentle lullaby which fades into a “desperate but monotonous” (Miller 2000:54) hum at the end of Act one. Good Times Act Two opens, in a stark contrast to the ending of act one, with music that is “gay and bright” (Miller 2000:55), this is associated with a time when everything was good, before Willy’s betrayal was realized.
Lighting The designer, Dawn Allsopp, works very closely with the lighting designer; Richard G Jones in the initial stages of the designing process in order to complement the elements of the set, the lighting designer will try to enhance the directorial and design concept by conveying key images or themes from the textual interpretation. Shifts in lighting register through direct sensory experience the cohering of time, and is often used to make a smooth transition. Expressionism had done more than any other movement to develop the expressive powers of stage lighting and without these sensory clues; the audience may fail to appreciate the desperation of Willy’s state of mind.
What do the stage directions and clues from the text tell you about the lighting design? As a designer how would you use the set design, sound and lighting to influence the audience’s perception of tension in the family? 22
An Interview with the Designer Dawn Allsopp is a Freelance designer who started working at the York Theatre Royal with Damian Cruden in 2001. What was your initial designing process for Death of a Salesman? Initially we met and talked about the play, I had read the script, so we came together and had a chat about what we were trying to recreate. I then went off and did some more research and then after that there are pre-organized stages. Initially, we have a white-card meeting, then a final model meeting followed by a production meeting, which is a presentation. So, at the initial white-card meeting – I bring along my model box that I have designed; we look at it, analyze it and then play around with it. We actually did quite a lot of changing at that point – literally cutting things up and moving things around! I then went away, remodeled and came back for a meeting a couple of weeks later. This process has been quite exciting and organic. What research did you have to do before starting this process? I started by looking at the logic of the kind of house the family might live in. I looked at what area they might live in, therefore what the floor coverings would be and what the wall coverings might be. It is nice to do this, even if none of it ends up in the final design – it is useful to root it in something naturalistic, even if what we wanted to do was create something more expressionistic. Where did you source this information from? I mainly used a lot of books, and of course the internet. I looked at paintings by an artist called Hopper [1882-1967, an American quintessential realist painter] and I looked at what he was painting and depicting. I found also found a book by a more contemporary photographer, who had taken images in and around areas of Brooklyn in the 1970’s. Although the date was a little later, you could still see the old architecture and cross-reference this with photographs. So, you look for photographic and painting references. In Miller’s opening stage directions, he says that the stage design should do its best to give the impression that the events on stage are like a ‘dream.’ How did you try and replicate this? It is a very precise bit of information that he gives. We worked backwards from that and worked out the relationship of how things relate to each other and try to restage that in a modern way. We tried to recreate something that had all the elements of the house about it, but without it being quite literally a house. Particularly in act two, when we visit a lot of areas that are not in the house, the house doesn’t become this overbearing metaphor for all those other areas. It also became quiet clear through discussions with Damian that it is really about the contents of Willy Loman’s mind and all the different elements should always be there. They should always be there, but sometimes not in as much clear focus as others, and then other bits of scenery will take on a significant resonance when we get to that bit in the scene. What theatrical techniques did you employ to ensure that the audience were aware of the transitions from past to present? It will be there in a change of costume. Also, in the early meetings; the lighting designer is also present, so we chatted about how we will do that at any early stage. The changes will have a different feel about them, for example: the script tells us that suddenly there are more leaves everywhere and that it feels less urban (it will be clearer when we get into technical rehearsals), but it will be about lighting, about pulling certain things into focus and the brickwork that seems so overbearing as if it is leaning in on their existence will disappear and everything will have a lighter, airier feel. This will also be coupled with some distinctly different bits of costume.
An Interview with Joseph Rye (Biff Loman) When did you first decide that you wanted to become an actor? I was on an olive farm in Cyprus and I had been a footballer before then, and then went off the rails and went travelling, a bit like Biff. There was an old guy with loads of books, one of which I started reading out loud, and I found it quite emotional. I was in these amazing surroundings and he said to me ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ and I said ‘I thought I might try acting’. I had no connection to it, I think I had been to the theatre once and I had been in a school play, but I decided then to make my way back to England. How did you get the part of Biff Loman? My agent tried to get me in on the first round of auditions but I didn’t get seen, partly because my theatre resumé is not that vast. They knew I had understudied this play 3 years ago in the West End for 6 months, so they called me in. So I remember going in and doing the audition, and I remember George [Willy Loman] and Damian [Director] sitting there. I had heard a few guys come out and knew that I still had a chance. I went to an American diner to sit on it and I got the call within 2 hours. I was absolutely ecstatic, but I was scared too. Did you build a life for your character Biff outside of the text? Did you do any research to support this role? I lived in America for four and a half years and studied the people out there; I always sort of leant towards a method approach to acting. I’m from a working class background and I had a lot of experience of life, I had been out in the world. It is really weird how things change, because before I would have gone and worked on a farm and built up what he likes to have in his wallet – all of that which I call extraneous stuff. There are similarities between me and Biff that I could draw on emotionally and I’m trusting now that that is more important in the work for me. It has been said that Biff represents Willy’s ‘vulnerable, poetic, tragic side’ - what is your view on that? Now after getting to know Willy a bit more and who he is to me, I don’t believe that it is the case. I believe that Willy is his own man of his own generation, and if he was ever poetic in his life – I am not going to know about it. Willy is a stylish man; he is a salesman who, like an actor, used to thrill us with his stories when we were kids. The representation of Willy in Biff – I’m never going to see any of that, so I don’t know. How is the rehearsal process coming along? It is amazing what happens in rehearsals – it is playtime! But in myself, I am a lazy person and just want to get up there and do it! I was in the rehearsal room at 9 this morning, they are really long days. Even on my lunch break, I’m still working on the play. I knew when I first started I needed to prepare, I started to get a bit fitter and I stopped some of my vices! I am just now starting to realize how valuable the rehearsals are. Every day is going to be tiring on this but ultimately when that play is done, the people will come to see a great play and hopefully we will make it a good evening for them. Is there any advice you would give young people who are thinking about going into acting? You just have to make sure that you are absolutely passionate about it; it’s not about making money. But I do look at it as a crossing, a way of testing yourself. Acting gets better as you get older because you don’t need it as much. Younger actors want to prove themselves but when they get past a certain age they start to realize that life is too short to worry about that stuff. It also gives you an amazing education, my scope now is getting vast and I’m tuning into so many different things. Be it history, religion - it makes you study. And if you have got talent, it is going to come out somewhere. You have got to let it out! 24
Workshop Plans Over the next few pages are three workshop plans, one of which is a pre-performance workshop plan which does not need for the participants to have read or seen the play, but does introduce them to the characters and the context in which the action takes place. Following that are two post-performance workshop plans intended to be untaken after seeing the performance. The workshops are drama based, practical workshops, which are intended to be fun and interactive approaches towards a greater understanding of the play. The key themes covered can be strongly related to issues within citizenship, english and drama and it is hoped that the cross-curricular link could also encompass history in relation to the Wall Street crash and The American Dream.
Pre-Show Workshop An introduction to the characters and themes in Death of a Salesman for use as a starting point for work on the play. 1. Family Photos a) The group is split into groups of 5 or 6, and is asked to create a series of freeze frames or photographs for the following: A Family; a Family of Intellectuals; a Family of Athletes; a Family of Superheroes; the Smelly-but-loving Family; The Clown Family; a Family at War; a Family with Secrets. Each time the facilitator counts down from 10 and then says freeze. b) A quick look is taken at each snapshot. 2. Spotlight on Family Conflict a) The group are split into 3’s and 4’s and asked to think about what causes conflict in a family. They are asked to improvise a scene where a conflict is happening. b) The facilitator calls out “spotlight on…” and points to a group – the rest of the group freezes and watches the group who has the spotlight on them continue their improvisation. c) The facilitator moves the spotlight, thus moving the focus so that some or all of the groups have a chance to share their scene. d) At the end discussion is opened up as to the typical areas of conflict that arise in families, and related back to the story of Death of a Salesman. 3. Introducing the world of the Play a) Players are chosen one at a time to read key facts describing characters from the play (Appendix 1) The audience makes choices about where and how the characters are placed in the space in order to create a 3D picture of the world of the play. b) Players are asked to describe the dominant relationships or themes that they see expressed in the picture. E.g. Who has power over who? Who shares a secret? Who loves who? c) The facilitator uses coloured threads to connect the themes and characters. Each theme is represented by a different colour of thread, e.g. blue for power, green for secret, red for love. 25
d) Alternatively, the facilitator picks a character, e.g. Biff, and removes theme from the picture. The participant playing Biff is asked whether this is how he sees the world? The participant then re-shapes the picture according to Biff’s viewpoint, e.g. perhaps Linda is portrayed as very naïve or as a long-suffering saint, whereas Willy is seen as womanising low-life fake. Another character is chosen, e.g. The Woman, and the picture is re-shaped again. 4. Improvisation Exercise: Dinner with the Lomans a) Participants are split into groups of 4, each person takes on one of the four family members: Dad, Mum, Biff, Happy. b) An important part of the storyline is given: the Dad, Willy, has done something wrong that would tear the family apart, but has concealed it from them. Now the elder brother, Biff, has found out the truth. c) The groups improvise a scene over dinner informed by the following: Dad comes home to tell the family some good news relating to work. Mum wants everyone to get along, be happy and respect each other Biff knows a secret about Dad, but mustn’t reveal it to the rest of the family Happy doesn’t want family problems to interfere with his own ambitions. d) The scenes are shown, and discussion opened up as to what happens when there are secrets in a family? What happens when truth is suppressed? Why does Biff not reveal what he knows? How does the secret impact on the whole family, even those who don’t know there is a secret? 5. Past vs. Present a) Participants split back into the groups they were in for the spotlight on family conflict exercise. They re-cap on the work created then. b) The participants are then asked to go back in time to a younger, happier, more hopeful time when the family were living harmoniously together. What makes for happy families? The groups improvise a scene around a perfect day for this family at some point in the past. c) The facilitator spotlights a couple of groups. d) The groups are then asked to return to their conflict improvisation, but that on the command “Change!” they are to snap into their perfect day scene, and then to snap back out again when they hear the command again. e) The facilitator shortens the gap between the changes over the course of the exercise, and then asks the participants how it felt to do that. Discussion is opened up around how glimpses of better times affect the dynamic of the conflict, and the disorientating effect of swapping between the two. Links are made to the structure of Death of a Salesman and how the flashbacks impact on the present and on Willy’s increasingly disturbed state of mind.
Post – Performance Workshop 1 A workshop to recap, gauge and consolidate the participants learning of Death of a Salesman 1. Image Work a. In pairs, construct a still image (a freeze frame) of the following scenarios:• • •
There is something wrong happening in secret The discovery of this secret The resolution
b. Thought Track: Allow the participants to show their images and discuss what may be happening in each of the freeze-frame. Ask open ended questions, such as: • • •
Who is this character? What do you think the secret is? How have they resolved the situation?
c. Tap a selection of the participants on the shoulder whilst in their freeze-frame and encourage them to say one line in role as their character in the freeze-frame by asking questions such as: • • • •
What are you thinking? How does keeping this secret make you feel? What is expected of you in this scene? (for example, to keep the peace and keep quiet) Is this a satisfactory resolution for you?
2. Expectations / Identity a. Discussion: Look to the play and how Willy has very high expectations of his sons, especially, Biff. In the past, we see how Biff was a sporting hero and had chances of scholarships; where now, it seems that Biff doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, which deeply angers Willy. b. Encourage the participants to think about their ambitions, what is their dream? c. Sculpting Exercise: In pairs participants label themselves A and B. ‘A’s are told to ask their partner what their aspiration for the future is, what do they want to do for a living? What do they want to be? What do they want out of life? ‘A’s then sculpt ‘B’s into a figure that represents those aspirations? ‘B’s are told to stay frozen, whilst ‘A’s are encouraged to take a walk around the gallery of dreams. d. Discussion: Are there any common themes being displayed? Pick a selection and question the class on what is being represented. The answers do not have to match exactly what the sculptor intended. e. ‘A’s return to their partner, and ‘B’s are asked to sculpt them into a figure that represents what their parental figure expects of them? What is s/he’s expectation of you? Repeat as before and then discuss any common themes.
f. ‘B’s return to their partner and each pair in turn are asked to recreate their statues. Are the images drastically different? Are they similar? If they are very different how are the two expectations going to be reconciled? g. Discussion: Willy’s obsession with the American Dream, question the participants on what they think the American Dream is? Why the American Dream was so appealing and what were the obstacles of achieving it. In Willy’s eyes, Ben had reached the American Dream and was the epitome of all Willy desired. In Willy’s eyes, Ben is self-assured, rich, and adventurous. Ben is everything that Willy wishes him and his boys to be. 3. Past / Present Structure a. Discussion: Discuss the way in which Arthur Miller uses flash-backs from the past to illustrate past desires and to also highlight Willy’s state of mind, when he starts confusing the past with the present. b. Divide the class into 2 groups, labeling one half the ‘past’ and the other ‘present.’ Divide the two groups in half again labeling them Act 1 or Act 2. Give each group copies of the appropriate storyline. (Appendix 2) c. Acting exercise: Each group is asked to bring their section of the storyline to life using everyone in their group. They may simply present the piece by standing in a semi-circle with one or more narrators at either end. Narrators tell the story according to the storyline, and the other players take on different roles and act out the story as it is told, stepping out of the line and into the centre of the semi-circle during their scene, and stepping back at the end of it. Players may add sound effects, lines of text/improvised lines as they wish. d. The groups rehearse and then take it in turns to perform their scenes to the rest of the group, in chronological order, from past to present. e. Discussion: Discuss with the whole group the impact the play has when you are watching it in this way. Question the group why they think Miller did not structure the piece in this way and discuss how interweaving the past with the present increases curiosity, highlighting Willy’s state of mind and confusion, rather than it all being laid out chronologically in front of you.
Post – Performance Workshop 2 An exploration of objectives and subtext within Death of a Salesman 1.
Attitudes and Actions Three volunteers are asked to stand up in front of the group and hold on to the hem of their trousers in one hand, and a lock of their hair in the other. They will most likely fall over or find it difficult to balance. They are then asked to do the exercise again this time they must compare the difference in texture between their trousers and their hair. Those watching are asked to notice the difference in the first and second way of playing. This is an ideal game for experiencing the difference between playing an attitude and playing an intention.
Railway Station Improvisation with given circumstances and an objective. Players are asked to imagine they are on a railway concourse and are looking for their friend, they arranged to meet at 7pm and it is now that time. Information is fed in at intervals with updates of the time moving on: they have tickets for a show that starts at 7.30pm/ they are romantically interested in their friend / they have skipped school that afternoon to get ready for their big date, and suddenly see their form tutor walking across the station/ it is now too late to get to the theatre in time for the show/ the friend finally shows up. The range of emotions produced is discussed. This shows how playing the given circumstance and a simple objective produce emotion.
You, Me, Yes, No, Maybe In pairs, players are asked to have a conversation, but only use the words You, Me. This is then extended to Yes, No, and then finally, Maybe. How did the players communicate with each other? How did they make themselves understood? The importance of body language and tone of voice are discussed as being the primary signifiers in communicating meaning, we do not need appropriate words to demonstrate meaning.
Eating Breakfast Three players create an improvisation as three people who share a house together. It is breakfast time and the players can only speak about breakfast. The same scene is played again, but one player is privately given the objective: ‘I want to tell you I love you. This shows how language is shaped to suit the objective.
Using Physical Metaphor to Explore Scene Structure and Dynamics 5. Scene Study exercise: The Chop House
In groups of 3, players take on the roles of Willy, Biff and Happy working from an edited version of the chop house scene (Appendix 3) Using a circle of about twelve chairs, each player places themselves on a chair within the circle that reflects where they feel their character is in relation to the others at the start of the scene. They play the scene with the following rules: Willy and Happy can move at any point in the scene and may move around as many chairs as are available but they must always remain seated and in contact with each chair as they move – they can not cross the circle to a different chair, but must always move to an adjacent one. Biff may also move whenever he likes and must stay in contact with the chairs but only as long as he is telling the truth, when he lies he is free to move across the circle to a different chair. 29
The same scene is now played around a table with a pack of playing cards. Each time Biff tries to make contact and get through to Willy, he offers him a playing card. What does Willy do with each of these? Once the cards are ‘played,’ any character may use them in whatever way they choose. 6) Applying Objectives to a text a) Read through the scene (Appendix 3) and ask yourself the following questions for the characters of Willy, Biff and Happy:- What is my characters objective during this scene? What does he really want? - What stands in the way of the character achieving this objective? - Does his objective change during this scene? - What action does he take to achieve this objective? b) Choose one fixed objective for each of the characters – Willy, Biff and Happy. For example, Biff’s initial objective is to tell Willy the truth about what happened with Bill Oliver. Run the scene with this objective at the forefront of your mind. How does this affect your body language? The tone of your voice? c) Does your initial objective work for the entire scene? If not, pin-point these moments where the objective changes and break the scene down into units, each unit with its own objective. For example, Biff’s objective changes when he plans to tell Willy of his illusions that he was a salesman for Oliver. 7. Playing the Subtext Re – run this scene but instead of saying the lines that appear on the page, speak the subtext - i.e. what do the characters want to say? What are they feeling?
Appendix 1 Key character facts WILLY LOMAN
Is a salesman in his sixties, married to Linda and has 2 sons Likes to tell stories Lives in New York, but works in New England Has had accidents whilst driving recently Talks to himself Has worked for the same firm for 36 years, but has recently had his salary taken away and now works on commission Keeps secrets from his family
Married to Willy Tells him he’s the handsomest man in the world In her late fifties Mends her own stockings to save money Knows that Willy borrows money each week and pretends it is his wages but doesn’t let on Has found a length of rubber pipe hidden in the cellar by the gas tap, but hasn’t moved it or talked about it to Willy
Is 34, eldest son of Willy and Linda Well built and handsome Has had many different jobs since leaving home Failed Math at high school and never went to University Found out about his father’s affairs when he was just a teenager Has been to prison Keeps secrets from his family
Is tall and powerfully made Is single and dates lots of different women, particularly those engaged to be married to somebody else Lives on his own and has his own car Says he dreams of settling down with a nice, steady girl with character Works in a junior position in business
Was at school with Biff and Happy 31
Would get the best marks in school and would give Biff the answers Wears glasses and is a small build Was often laughed at by the Lomans when he was young Is now a lawyer about to argue a case at the supreme court
Old friend of Willy’s Has one son, Bernard Runs his own company Regularly lends Willy money Regularly offers Willy a job that would mean he could stay in New York, but is always turned down by him
Is a receptionist Lives in Boston Has an affair with Willy because he makes her laugh Is given silk stockings by Willy
Willy’s older brother Went to Alaska with nothing but the clothes on his back Ended up in Africa mining for diamonds and made it rich by the age of 21 Has recently died
Is Willy Loman’s boss Is 36 and now runs the firm inherited from his father Willy has known him since the day he was born Has 2 children Doesn’t want Willy to represent the firm anymore
Appendix 2 Death of a Salesman - Past Time Narrative (c. 1928) Act 1 1. Biff and Happy are busy cleaning and polishing the red Chevvy, Willie is giving them advice on how to clean it properly and discussing dating girls. When they've finished cleaning, Willy gives the boys a present he has brought home - a punching bag signed by Gene Tunney, and they all excitedly plan a trip to New England in the summer where Willy is a big, important, successful man. Biff promises Willy that he is going to go for a touchdown in the big game coming up - just for him. Willy is very proud. 2. Bernard comes along with dire warnings that if Biff doesn't study he will flunk Maths, despite him having scholarships to 3 universities. Willy tells the boys not to worry, that being well-built, attractive and likeable is a much more important key to success in business than having good marks. He gives himself as an example - he never has to wait in line, but gets straight through to the buyers. 3. Linda comes out with a basket of washing, the boys run off to hang it up for her. She asks Willy if he has sold much that week, he claims to have sold thousands, but quickly reduces this figure more and more truthfully as Linda starts calculating what the commission will be. Willy worries that he is not selling enough because he is fat and ugly, and that people don't take him seriously, calling him "the Walrus" behind his back. Linda says he is the most handsome man in the world and idolised by his sons. 4. Willy goes to the Woman he is having an affair with in Boston. She says that she picked him because of his sense of humour, and because he's so sweet, and promises to let him straight through to the buyers. Willy gives her some silk stockings and goes home to Linda. She is mending her stockings and Willy gets very angry and tells her not to. Linda and Bernard start pressing their concerns about Biff - he keeps stealing things, he's driving without a license, he's too rough with girls, he's going to flunk maths. Willy angrily dismisses their fears - there's nothing wrong with Biff. 5. Willy's long lost brother, Ben, turns up, having made a fortune in diamond mines in Africa. He meets Linda and the boys, Willy asks him about their father, who he does not remember that well, and Ben tells wonderful stories. Willy shows off by sending Biff and Happy off to steal sand so they can rebuild part of the house. Bernard comes running in to tell them that the watchman is chasing Biff for stealing the sand, and Linda goes off to sort it out. 6. Ben has to leave, but says he will return on his way back to Africa. Willy tries to get him to stay, and asks if Ben thinks he is raising his sons in the right way. Ben encourages him that they are outstanding, manly chaps, and as he departs, says that he should teach them to get rich, like him.
Death of a Salesman - Past Time Narrative Act 2 1. Ben returns to see Willy on his way back to Africa, he offers him a job working for him on his new timberland business in Alaska. Willy is really excited, but Linda doesn't want to go and says they have enough here. Willy agrees, saying that he has a secure job in selling, and that he is building something with the firm. Ben departs saying he could get rich in Alaska. 2. Bernard comes rushing in, all excited about the all important ball game at Ebbets Field that Biff is about to play. The family get ready to leave for the game, Bernard and Happy argue over who gets to carry Biff's helmet and shoulder pads, as both want to get into the clubhouse and be seen with Biff. Biff decides that they can each carry something, and reminds Willy that when he goes for the touchdown, it will be for him. 3. Charley, Bernard's dad comes in, Willy says there is no room in the car for him to come too. Charley pretends he doesn't know what he is talking about, and Willy angrily tells him that it is the greatest day in Biff's life. Charley wishes Biff good luck, but asks Willy when he is going to grow up - Willy is so insulted he tries to fight Charley, but Charley just walks away laughing. 4. Biff is a great success at the ballgame, but only a short time later Bernard brings the news to Linda that Biff has flunked maths, so he can't graduate and go to university. Linda is very upset and asks where Biff is. Bernard says that he went to the station and they guess that Biff has gone to see Willy in Boston. Linda is relieved as she thinks that Willy may be able to fix the situation by talking to the teacher. 5. Biff turns up at Willy's hotel in Boston, but Willy doesn't answer the door. Inside the room, Willy is with the Woman, kissing and drinking, she is just in her underwear. She keeps telling him to answer the door, so eventually he hides her in the bathroom, and opens the door to Biff. He tells Willy that he has flunked maths, Willy tells him not to worry and that they will go straight home now, and he will talk to the teacher and get him to change the marks. 6. They prepare to leave, Biff tells Willy that the maths teacher just doesn't like him because he caught him one day doing a humorous impersonation of him. He demonstrates and the Woman appears out of the bathroom laughing. Willy tries to explain her away and gets rid of her, after giving her the silk stockings she demands. But Biff is devastated. He starts crying, calls Willy a fake and a liar, refuses his help with the maths teacher, saying that he won't listen to him, and runs out.
Death of a Salesman - Present Day Narrative (17 years later) Act 1 1. Willy arrives home unexpectedly one night, absolutely exhausted. He tells his wife Linda that he kept losing his concentration and that the car had kept going off the road. She tells him to tell his boss, Howard, that he needs a job transfer to New York so that he doesn't have to travel all the time, after all he has put 34 years into that company. Willy reminisces about how the world has changed, and moans about his son Biff, who he thinks is a lazy bum. 2. Willy's sons, Biff and Happy, who are home on a visit, wake up and start talking and smoking. Happy tells Biff that Willy has started talking to himself a lot. Biff considers all the different jobs he has had since high school and feels that he has wasted his life. Happy confides that he is not content, and that he is a womaniser, and can't seem to stop it, but is determined to make it in life, and get some respect. Biff decides he is going to see an old business contact, Bill Oliver, to see if he will give him the financial backing to buy his own ranch. 3. Willy reminisces about the old red Chevvy he used to own in 1928, then goes down to the kitchen for a snack and the boys hear him starting to talk loudly to himself, they feel embarrassed and angry. Happy goes down to shut him up, Willy gets angry and says that he regrets not going to Alaska with his brother Ben when he had the chance, (where he might have got rich) as his sons are no help to him in his old age. 4. The arguing wakes up next door neighbour, Charley, who comes in and plays cards with Willy, Happy goes back to bed. Charley offers Willy a job, Willy refuses and complains about what a failure Biff is, and how he has nothing to give him. Charley tells him to let Biff go, he won't starve, they argue a bit, and then Willy tells Charley that his brother Ben died recently. Willy starts talking nonsense about people dying, Charley asks him what he is going on about, they argue over the card game and Charley leaves. 5. Linda comes down, Willy asked her what happened to the diamond fob watch his brother Ben gave him, she says he sold it to pay for Biff's radio correspondence course. She tries to get Willy to come to bed, but he goes out for a walk instead. Biff and Happy come down and Linda tells them that Willy is now only paid on commission, is over worked, exhausted, keeps borrowing money from Charley and pretending its his wages, and has been trying to kill himself. She becomes angry with the boys, says they do nothing to help and don't care, and asks Biff why he has to be so hateful to Willy all the time. 6. Willy comes back and starts having a go at Biff for being a lazy bum. Biff tells him that he is going to see Bill Oliver the next day, to get him set up in business, Happy suggests that they go into business together - the Loman brothers! - and sell sporting goods. Willy gets very excited and gives them lots of advice, they all go to bed in high spirits, Willy remembering how great Biff had been as a young man almost god-like.
Death of a Salesman - Present Day Narrative Act 2 1. Willy wakes up late in the morning, has breakfast with Linda who tells him that the boys have already left and that Biff had gone to see Bill Oliver about the business proposition. She tells him that his sons want to take him out for dinner that night, Willy is very excited and talks hopefully about the future. At Linda's request, he agrees to talk to his boss, Howard, that morning to arrange a job transfer to New York, so that he does not have to wear himself out travelling any more. 2. Willy goes to see Howard, but he says that there are no job vacancies in New York. Willy becomes angry and reminds him of all the years he has put in to the company, and how he could have gone to Alaska with his brother Ben, but didn't because of his commitment to selling, and how he had helped Howard's father name him when he had been born. But Howard is not interested, and says he can't help. Willy becomes very upset and disturbed, so Howard sacks him, saying he needs a good long rest, and leaves him in the office for a few minutes to pull himself together. 3. Willy goes to see Charley at his office and bumps into his son Bernard, now a very successful lawyer, back for a visit. Willy asks Bernard what he thinks went wrong with Biff, Bernard says that after Biff had flunked Maths at high school he had been ready to make it back up in summer school, but that after he had been to visit Willy in Boston, he had come back and seemed to give up on his life. Bernard asks Willy what happened, but Willy becomes angry and defensive. Charley comes in and gives Willy the money he needs, and again offers him a job which he refuses. 4. Willy meets the boys at the restaurant, Happy starts trying to pick up two women, Biff tries to tell his Dad that the meeting with Oliver failed, because he is such a failure and has been living a lie, but Willy won't listen and tells him he wants to hear good news because he has just been sacked. Willy gets more and more worked up at Biff, saying he only fails in life to spite him, and it is all because he flunked maths. He then becomes confused and goes out to find the bathroom. Biff and Happy leave him there and go off with the women. 5. Willy goes home, buying seeds on the way, and begins planting them in the back garden. The boys arrive home, Linda is furious with them for the way they have treated Willy, they offer her flowers but she knocks them to the floor. She tells Biff to leave and not come home ever again. Biff agrees, goes to say good-bye to Willy, but ends up having a huge confrontation with him. Biff tells Willy he doesn't want to go into business it's not what makes him happy, he is just a nothing, a failure, and he ends up crying at Willy's feet, asking him to let him and his crazy dreams go, once and for all. 6. The family go wearily to bed, Willy is left convinced that Biff's actions mean that he really does love him after all, and that Biff could still be a success with his help, and decides that he will give him the only thing he has left. Willy drives off into the night and kills himself, leaving Biff to collect the twenty thousand dollars insurance money.
Appendix 3 HAPPY: Hello, Scout! WILLY: Gee, I haven’t been here in years! BIFF: Sit down, Pop. You want a drink? WILLY: Sure, I don’t mind. BIFF: Let’s get a load on. WILLY: You look worried BIFF: N-no WILLY: Well, what happened, boy? [Nodding affirmatively, with a smile] Everything go alright? BIFF: [Takes a breath, then reaches out and grasps Willy’s hand]: Pal… [He is smiling bravely, and Willy is smiling too.] I had an experience today. HAPPY: Terrific, Pop WILLY: That so? What happened? BIFF [high, slightly alcoholic, above the earth]: I’m going to tell you everything from first to last. It’s been a strange day. [Silence. He look s around, composes himself as best he can, but his breath keeps breaking the rhythm of his voice.] I had to wait quiet a while for him, and – WILLY: Oliver? BIFF: Yeah, Oliver. All day, as a matter of cold fact. And a lot of – instances – facts, Pop, facts about my life came back to me. Who was it Pop? Who ever said I was a salesman with Oliver? WILLY: Well, you were. BIFF: No, Dad, I was a shipping Clerk. WILLY: But you were practically – BIFF [with determination]: Dad, I don’t know who said it first, but I was never a salesman with Oliver? WILLY: What’re you talking about? BIFF: Let’s hold on to the facts tonight, Pop. We’re not going to get anywhere bullin’ around. I was a shipping clerk. WILLY [angrily]: All right, now listen to me – BIFF: Why don’t you let me finish? WILLY: I’m not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, boys, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around. I was fired today. BIFF [shocked]: How could you be? WILLY: I was fired, and I’m looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited and the woman has suffered. The gist of it is that I haven’t got a story left in my head, Biff. So don’t give me a lecture about facts and aspects. I am not interested. Now what’ve you got to say to me? […] Did you see Oliver? BIFF: Jesus, Dad! WILLY: You mean you didn’t go up there? HAPPY: Sure he went up there BIFF: I did. I – saw him. How could they fire you? WILLY [on the edge of his chair]: What kind of a welcome did he give you? BIFF: He won’t even let you work on commission? WILLY: I’m out! [Driving] So tell me, he gave you a warm welcome? HAPPY: Sure, Pop, sure! BIFF [driven]: Well, it was kind of – WILLY: I was wondering if he’d remember you. [To Happy] Imagine, man doesn’t see him for ten, twelve years and gives that kind of welcome! HAPPY: Damn right! BIFF [Trying to return to the offensive]: Pop, look – WILLY: You know why he remembered you, don’t you? Because you impressed him in those days. BIFF: Let’s talk quietly and get this down to the facts, huh? 37
WILLY [as though Biff had been interrupting]: Well, what happened? It’s great news, Biff. Did he take you into his office or’d you talk in the waiting room? BIFF: Well, he came in, see, and – WILLY [with a bid smile]: What’d he say? Betcha he threw his arm around you. BIFF: Well, he kinda – WILLY: He’s a fine man. [To Happy] Very hard man to see, y’know. HAPPY [agreeing]: Oh, I know. WILLY [to Biff]: Is that where you had the drinks? BIFF: Yeah, he gave me a couple of – no, no! HAPPY [cutting in]: He told him my Florida idea. WILLY: Don’t interrupt. [To Biff] How’d he react to the Florida idea? BIFF: Dad, will you give a minute to explain? WILLY: I’ve been waiting for you to explain since I sat down here! What happened? He took you into his office and what? BIFF: Well – I talked. And – and he listened, see. WILLY: Famous for the way he listens, y’know. What was his answer? BIFF: His answer was – [he breaks off suddenly angry] Dad, you’re not letting me tell you what I want to tell you! WILLY [accusing, angered] : You didn’t see him, did you? BIFF: I did see him! WILLY: What’d you insult him or something? You insulted him, didn’t you? BIFF: Listen, will you let me out of it, will you just let me out of it! HAPPY: What the hell! WILLY: Tell me what happened! BIFF [to Happy] I can’t talk to him!
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