ARTS 610
Contemporary Playwrights: Text and Performance

David Jaffe

Course Overview

Through text analysis, monologue work, and scene study, this course will examine the works of contemporary American playwrights. Scenes drawn from the works of David Mamet, Tony Kushner, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, August Wilson, and Theresa Rebeck and others will serve as the texts for examination of given circumstances, subtext, and analysis of actions and objectives. The course is designed to explore these playwrights' works as active performative texts, in addition to their literary content and value. 

Week to week, exercises and assignments will grow in complexity, with a strong focus on the development of scenes and monologues. In addition to exploration of acting technique, attention will be paid to the reading of plays for performance and character study, analysis of character arcs, and dissection of story through-lines.


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 summer session 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 the contemporary American playwrights on the Reading List, as well as additional readings that may be assigned. 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 final showing at the end of the term. 

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 may select other plays during the course of the semester, so please be prepared to purchase additional texts. 

Course Reflection Essay
You are required to hand in a written (4 – 7 typed pages) reflection of your work in the class.  You should cite your response to different exercises, texts, and scenes, and address your growth, or lack of same, over the course of the sessions.  Examine your strengths and weaknesses, the obstacles you faced, and the breakthroughs you may have had.  In addition to the depth and detail of the content and the level of honest self-evaluation, the organization and clarity of this paper is a key element in the grading process.  A journal, while not required, is an invaluable tool for the tracking of this process.


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

David Ball, BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS (Southern Illinois University Press)
Tony Kushner, ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART ONE: MILLENIUM APPROACHES (Theatre Communications Group)
David Mamet, OLEANNA (Vintage)
David Mamet, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (Grove Press)
Theresa Rebeck, COLLECTED PLAYS VOLUME 1 (Smith & Kraus)

Additional or substitute readings may be assigned

Grading Breakdown
25% Scene and Monologue Presentations
25% Course Reflection Essay
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

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

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

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

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.