Dramaturgy exercise (25%)

ENGL 345: Modern Drama (2014)

The staging instructions–the creative part of the Dramaturgy exercise–can take almost any shape. They can be all text, or original images, sound-recordings or video (or a combination of those, depending on what you choose to focus on), and they can address any of the multiple dimensions of putting on a play. Your artistic abilities are not being judged; you should feel fine submitting sketches even if you’re not a great artist. It’s your ideas rather than the execution that counts (however, make sure that any artwork, like any writing, is clear and not messy).

Here is a partial list of issues and questions you might address:

  • Mise-en-scene (stage design). How would you design the setting for, say, Act IV of Uncle Vanya?
  • Lighting. Following Appia’s ideas about the expressive potential of light, how would you use light to stress, complicate or contradict the speeches and emotions in, say, Act III of The Master Builder?
  • Music. If you thought using a soundtrack for a production of, say, The Playboy of the Western World, would you use upbeat Irish fiddle reels? soulful a capella ballads by Loreena McKennitt? side B of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon? “I’m on a Boat” by the Lonely Island and T-Pain? A mix of those?
  • Costumes. For example, would you dress the Characters in a different way than the Actors in Six Characters in Search of an Author? In what way? Would these change throughout the play?
  • Casting. If you could cast anyone, whom would you cast as, say, Halvard Solness: John Turturro? Christophe Waltz? Tilda Swinton? Zach Efron? Ricky Gervais?
  • Updating or adaptation. To make, say, Uncle Vanya more “relatable” to 21st-century audiences, how would you update the language, use of proverbs, idioms, etc? “Translate” a short scene or episode from the book into this new, updated style. Would The Master Builder benefit from being rewritten as a one-man show?
  • Translocation, transhistoricization. Would Six Characters in Search of an Author lend itself to being set entirely in the conversations between teenagers on social media? How would The Playboy of the Western World lend itself to the local issues and cultural conditions of post-Aparteid South Africa, Iran in 2014, or Ireland in 2014? Obviously, this kind of approach would require some research into the culture(s) and history you’re interested in.

In all cases, your decisions (e.g. the answers to questions like those above), will have to be justified, explained and supported with evidence in the Critical Analysis part of the assignment. In other words, you can’t just cast Emma Stone as Pegeen Mike and leave me to decide what aesthetic choices are behind that decision: explain what aspects of Stone’s acting abilities, looks, etc, match your conception of the character of Pegeen–and also explain what that conception is. What I mean by “supporting with evidence” will vary, but it will involve referring your reader (me) to some aspect of the creative part of the assignment to show me what you mean. For example, if you argue that casting Stone as Pegeen is a wise choice because she has a special knack for playing spirited rebels with emotional problems (just an example), then you should not only give me examples from Stone’s own acting career but also gather a few examples of Pegeen exhibiting these qualities in The Playboy of the Western World.

Other questions you might address: what elements from the original does your interpretation change, highlight, downplay, eliminate? And why? How do these changes represent an interpretation or adaptation instead of, say, a totally new play? If you are “modernizing” the play, how do the modernizing touches keep in touch with concerns of the original? If you decide that The Master Builder (for example) would be interesting to set in Syria in 2012, how does this change reflect the issues that Ibsen was able to address in the context of Norway in the late 19th century?

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