ARTS 610
Acting the Realists: Text and Performance

David Jaffe

Course Objectives

Through text analysis, monologue work, and scene study, this course will examine major works of modern and contemporary realistic playwrights. Scenes drawn from Ibsen, Chekhov, O'Neill, Williams, and Miller as well as contemporary writers such as Tony Kushner, August Wilson, Marsha Norman, and Beth Henley will serve as the texts for examination of given circumstances, subtext, and analysis of actions and objectives.  We will explore these plays for character arc and plot advancement, approaching them as scores for performance rather than as dramatic literature.


Attendance and Presence
The nature of theater training, and this course in particular, requires punctuality and attendance at all classes.  You must be there and be there on time.  Scene study work involves partner work, and as such any absence affects the progress of someone else.  Two absences, either for illness or schedule conflict, will be excused only if advance notice is given, either via email or voicemail, by 6:00pm on class day at the latest.  Any un-notified (unexcused) absence or any absence beyond two will lower the final grade by one level, i.e. B+ to B. Your energetic presence is a requirement in this course.  Your concentration, focus, and attention to the task at hand are essential to the work we do in class. 

Scene Work and Monologues           
Over the course of the semester each student will develop a minimum of two three-minute monologues and, with partners, two ten-minute scenes.  The text for these exercises will be drawn from European or American Realism (e.g. Chekhov, Ibsen, Williams, Miller, O’Neill) or contemporary American playwrights (e.g. Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, Teresa Rebeck, Nicky Silver).  The selections will be made in consultation with me, must be rehearsed outside of class, and will brought into class for regular work sessions.  There will be a mid-semester showing of scenes and monologues prior to the spring break and a final showing at the end of the semester. 

Playwright Project           
A 20-minute oral presentation project will be required of all students.  These will be presented during the first half of the semester.  Students will choose a subject from the list of the semester’s playwrights and give a talk addressing that playwright’s background, innovations, and contributions to the culture and theater of his/her time. 

All plays should be read in full at least once before any scene work begins.  Additional readings are expected during your work process to deepen your understanding of the character and given circumstances.  We will select other plays during the course of the semester, so please be prepared to purchase additional texts. 

Theater Trip
The class will attend a performance of a play at an area regional theater, such as Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, or the Hartford Stage.  Students are required to attend this performance and pay for their ticket.  Friends or partners are welcome.


You are encouraged to keep a journal of the in-class work sessions, outside rehearsals, and your responses to them.  Your attention to your own creative process is a crucial aspect of this course.  Your ability to challenge yourself with each scene and monologue is central to your growth as an actor.  The journal is a tool for examining that process.  While not required, the journal will play a major role should missed classes need to be made up.

Reading List

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays by David Ball
Ibsen: 4 Major Plays, Vol. 1, Michael Meyer translator– recommended translation
The Plays of Anton Chekhov, Paul Schmidt translator – required translation
Long Day's Journey into Night - Eugene O'Neill
Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller
Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams
Additional readings will be assigned

Grading Breakdown

@ 25% Scene and Monologue Presentations
@ 25% Playwright Project
@ 50% Class participation (as illuminated below)

The key areas for evaluation are:  how much effort you put into the work, how you work to expand your own potential, and how you challenge yourself with each task or opportunity.  Your attitude toward the work, preparation, punctuality, and contributions to the ensemble are also vital areas.  Above all, the quality of the work itself is considered.  Please feel free to consult with me at any time to see how you're doing.

Grading Criteria

• Professionalism:  attendance and promptness; enthusiasm; organization; complete and polished presentations.
• Ensemble:  willingness to work as a member of the group; demonstration of ability to inspire others; involvement and willingness to take risks; participation in class discussions.
• Demonstration of growth:  as evidenced by work in studio, homework and/or presentations.

General Guideline

A         Reserved for accomplishment that is distinctive and demonstrably outstanding.  It is not handed out automatically. 

B          Given for work above acceptable standards.  Student demonstrates originality and creativity.  Often demonstrates initiative. 

C         Grade for average work that shows a reasonable amount of time and effort was given. 

D         Student shows limited understanding of subject.  Work falls below acceptable standard of class and shows little evidence of effort or creativity.  Attendance is very weak, but assignments are completed.