L>Introduction to Theatre - THEA 131 Introduction to Theatre - THEA 131Dr. C. Frederic WHAT IS THEATRE AND PLAY ANALYSIS ELEMENTS
What is theatre? The word theatre comes from the Greek theatron, literally "seeing place," or "place where something is seen." The word was first used in its current form in 1576 when James Burbage named his playhouse the Theatre. Since Burbage�s playhouse was one of the first, if not the first, structure built specifically for the production of plays, the name theatre eventually came to mean first the buildings and then the entire genre. The companion term drama comes from the Greek word dran, literally "to do." It is "something done." Frequently the terms are used interchangeably, although the theatre always refers to the structure where the performances are held as well as to the company of players who perform. Theatre also refers to the designers, administrators, technicians, etc. who work together to produce plays as well as the body of ideas that animates the artists and brings the plays to life. Drama is a more limited term and tends to refer mainly to the plays that are produced. In other words, drama is the script itself; theatre is all the elements that combine to bring that play to life. (From Robert Cohen�s Theatre, 3rd ed.)Drama requires the reader to contribute more than any other form of literature does. Not only must the reader see and understand what is explicitly said and done, but he must also be aware of all that is merely implied or left unsaid. READ STAGE DIRECTIONS. Frequently at the beginning of the play, the playwright or someone will have described the set. Make a little sketch of it if you have to. You MUST be able to visualize what is going on as you read.Dramatic Action - A play is a representation of people in action. The term, action means more than just physical movement, it involves the motivations as well, the person�s thoughts and feelings, as well as deeds. It is what he does and why he does it. Because each playwright is unique, his/her plays are unique; however, good plays tend to have qualities in common, such as: Dramatic action should be: Purposeful - Organized to arouse a specific response, such as pity, fear, laughter, anger, etc. Varied - variety in plot, ideas, mood, characterization, spectacle necessary to avoid monotony or predictability. Engage and maintain interest - situation should be compelling enough to arouse interest; issues must be vital enough to arouse concern; or aural/visual devices must be sufficiently novel enough to hold interest. Probable - Within the world of the play, events must be logical. As a play progresses, its guidelines are revealed. The audience then expects the playwright to observe the rules he has established. Even if the playwright wants to show that life is inconsistent, he must be consistent in his inconsistency. For example, at the beginning of the play, The Bald Soprano, a clock strikes 17 times, and Mrs. Smith promptly announces that it is 9 o�clock. Despite the title of the play, there is no soprano, bald or otherwise. This warns the audience that nothing is logical in this play. METHODS OF ORGANIZING DRAMATIC ACTION1. Cause-to-effect - traditionally, this is the most commonly used. The playwright sets up in the opening scenes all of the necessary conditions out of which the later events develop. Normally, this is a conflict of two characters� goals. 2. Character - Incidents are held together because they center around one person. The play may dramatize the life of a historical figure, or it may show a character�s responses to a series of experiences. Examples: Doctor Faustus, The Elephant Man, Forrest Gump (?)3. Idea - Scenes are linked largely because they illustrate aspects of a larger theme or argument. Example: Brecht�s The Private Life of the Master Race - shows the rise of the Nazi party and illustrates the inhumanity of the Nazi ideology. Many Absurdist plays, such as Waiting for Godot, do not develop a story so much as they embroider upon a concept, mood or apprehension. It is important, especially in modern plays, to establish what organizational method is used in order to understand the play. Organization may also be approached through the parts of the drama, which according to Aristotle in his book, Poetics, are: plot, character, thought, diction, music, and spectacle.PLOTThe organization of all the elements of a play into a meaningful pattern is the PLOT. The plot is the order of events as the author has constructed the play. It is different from the STORY, which demands linear action. I will give examples of plot vs. story in class. Remind me. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century, B.C., further stated that a play must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Basically, this means that a play should be complete and self-contained. Everything that is necessary to understand the play should be included within the play itself.BeginningThe beginning usually establishes the place, the occasion, the characters, the mood, the theme and the scheme of probability. It will also contain any necessary EXPOSITION, or background information, that the audience will need to follow the story. How much exposition is needed depends on the POINT OF ATTACK, or place in the story where the curtain goes up. Shakespeare uses an early point of attack; Greek tragedies use a late point of attack--examples from King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Oedipus Rex. Most plays from the past have an INCITING INCIDENT, or an event that starts the action of a play. This inciting incident will lead to a MAJOR DRAMATIC QUESTION/MAIN ACTION. Main action or "Spine" of a play - the single distillation of all the actions in a play. It must be an active verb. This is the first thing to look at in analyzing a play. Statement of main action should include both a temporal and physical metaphor. I will give examples in class. Remind me.MiddleThe middle of the play usually is normally composed of a series of complications. A COMPLICATION is any new element which serves to alter the direction of the action. It may be new information, opposition to a plan, the arrival of a new character or idea, etc. Complications narrow the possibilities of action and create suspense. The substance of most complications is discovery. A DISCOVERY is an occurrence of sufficient importance to alter the direction of the action. Discoveries may involve:objects (a wife discovers a sales slip for jewelry in her husband�s coat pocket that he has not given to her.persons (a young man discovers that his brother is dating the same girl he is).facts (a young man about to leave home for college discovers that his mother has cancer).values (a woman discovers that self-esteem is more important than marriage).self ( a man discovers that he has been acting from purely selfish motives when he thought he was acting out of love for his children). SELF-DISCOVERY is usually the most powerful.A complication is usually introduced by one discovery and concluded by another. The series of complications usually culminates in the CRISIS/CLIMAX, or turning point of the action, which opens the way for the resolution. For example, in Oedipus, the crisis is when Oedipus discovers that HE is the murderer of Laius. EndThe final portion of the play, often called the RESOLUTION/DENOUEMENT, extends from the CRISIS to the end of the play. The CRISIS leads to the OBLIGATORY SCENE which answers the questions posed throughout the play.Many plays deviate from this pattern. Many absurdist plays are essentially circular (spiral) and end much as they began so as to suggest that the events of the play will repeat themselves endlessly. Brecht ends his plays with a question. This is usually found in plays organized around thought--the goal being to teach rather than to amuse.CHARACTER Four levels: physical, social (economic status, profession/trade, family relationships), psychological, and moral. Also how does the character function in the play?Protagonist - around whom action revolves, without whom action impossible. "All roads lead to this character." May be single or group. (When several people seem to be protagonist, it is the person with the largest problem who is the protagonist). The protagonist is the one: 1. who has the biggest problem, 2. who changes the most in the course of the play, 3. without whom the action of the play could not take place, 4. the play revolves around.Antagonist - not necessarily the villain. merely person who blocks protagonist from getting what he wants. (In Greek tragedy, tragic flaw is antagonistic characteristic--there is no separate antagonist).Villain - bad guyFoil - Someone whom protagonist plays off of, makes protagonist look good or villain look worse.Raissoneur - Character who speaks philosophy of playwright--playwright"s "mouthpiece."Confidante - Best friend.Normative character - one that establishes social norms. Middle of the road. Does not have a problem. All of S. plays have a normative character. Ex.: Benvolio in R & J; Horatio in Hamlet. Sometimes norm. char. is also foil. In romantic plot, normative couple contrasts how extreme major plot or how funny comic plot is. Important function for play--lets us know social mores of society.THEMETheme is the "seed idea" or gestus, the abstraction of what is going on. Most significant part of the thought is its universality--this is what makes play last. The universality is something that might apply to human beings of any social class in any period. For example in Hamlet the universal elements include the conflict between a son�s duty to his father and his feelings for his mother, between personal integrity and religious faith, between justice and corrupt political power, and between the "underdog" and overwhelming forces. Another way of looking at theme is that this is the author�s message. Symbol - an event, motif, theme that stands for something else. Ibsen especially powerful in creating symbols that have to do with main theme.Image - Stands for itself. Generally adds to the general meaning/message of the play.


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For ex., Shakespeare uses a lot of animal images in many of his plays, sometimes to suggest the bestiality of man (as in Macbeth), sometimes to recall man"s close link to nature (Midsummer), etc.
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