We are excited to provide this overview of the plays that will be produced this year by our new drama course, led by Kolbe graduate Dolores Ann Mihaliak.
Each play on this list was chosen according to two criteria:
- it had to mark a historically significant change in the way plays were written
- it had to be innovative production-wise
These criteria were chosen to challenge the students in understanding the following:
- textually, the playwright controls the audience’s response
- artistically (or production-wise) we control the presentation of the text
The overarching question of the semester will be: can an artist hijack a text through the production-concept to serve their own message, or does the art-form buckle under such a takeover?
Here is the playlist:
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex highlights the struggle between Fate and government. This maneuver changed the narrative for Greek theater, which originated as a way to praise the gods.
Introduction to the Chorus: Who are they? How do we costume them? Are they present on stage at all times, or do they only appear for Choral Odes? Also, who is the audience for Sophocles and what was he trying to tell them?
Everyman marks the transition from pagan theater to Christian theater. It is a fascinating text, which speaks to how theater is always born from God-centric world.
Introduction to Production Concepts: What time period are we in? Where are we? What are other times and spaces could we accurately portray this story in?
Shakespeare, 12th Night
12th Night will be the first comedy the students encounter, however, Shakespeare ties in tragedy–starting the play with a deadly shipwreck. We are also unsure who the hero is since we do not learn Viola’s name until the final scene, while Malvolio drives much of the text.
Problem Characters: how do you stage Malvolio? Is he sympathetic or villainous?
Shaw, Arms and the Man
While Arms and the Man is clearly politically motivated, Shaw questions the humanity of war in this play, which can be considered the first “living room drama.” Unlike the works studied so far on the list, Arms and the Man does not involve great and glorious deeds. Instead, the play is driven by the disillusionment of a young woman. This work makes it mark in history, transitioning the theater from a place of illusion and glory to a place of disillusionment.
Politically Charged Narratives: how much politics do you as a designer want to include in the play? Is it primarily a war-story or a love-story? Does it matter?
Synge, The Playboy of the Western World*** (see note below)
This is the second of three Christian parables we read in this course. It centers around Christy Mahon (Christ Man) arriving in an Irish village and giving his life as a sacrifice for the good of the village. It is also an Irish play written by an Englishman. This is important because it is the first play we find that, instead of trying to preserve the writer’s own culture, tries to preserve the culture of another country and identity.
Cultural Appropriation & Historical Context: as designers, directors, and artists, we must be sensitive to the world around us. Given that the work was written about Ireland by an Englishman, how do you honor Irish culture when acting / producing this play? Do those principles need to be carried into a past play, like 12th Night?
Chekhov, Uncle Vanya
This is the first naturalistic play students will encounter in this course, and it is considered the best of its kind. There is no clear plot, which is important for understanding many modern plays. It will also finish the scapegoat narrative that has run through several of the previous plays we have read, and students will be able to understand how a scapegoat works in a play and on the stage.
Plotless Plays: how do you make them interesting / compelling?
Beckett, Waiting for Godot
This tragicomedy explores the battle between man and himself. It ties back to the Oedipus narrative, and presents a hopeless situation in which the characters are hopeful.
This week we will do a deep dive into the Beckett Foundation, which enforces strict production guidelines for each of his plays. We will explore the parameters which the foundation uses to keep all future productions in line with the writer’s vision.
Wojtyla, The Jeweler’s Shop
We end the semester with Wojtyla, focusing on marriage and hope. This play (the only we know of which is written by a pope), acts as the foil for the nihilistic end of Godot and Oedipus Rex.
JPII calls this play a parable, does that influence the way you stage the play?
Learn more about the instructor here.
***Despite its unfortunate name, The Playboy of the Western World is by far one of the best Christian parables that exists in the theatrical canon. It is also in the center of the plays the students will read, offering a balance between Everyman and Jeweler’s Shop. The play is rich with historical references that high school students will be familiar with: Homer, Beowulf, & writings by the early Church fathers.