Stuart Spencer

BA, Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin). MFA, Sarah Lawrence College. Author of numerous plays performed in New York and around the country, including Resident Alien (Broadway Play Publishing). Other plays include In the Western Garden (Broadway Play Publishing), Blue Stars (Best American Short Plays of 1993-94), and Sudden Devotion (Broadway Play Publishing). A playwriting textbook, The Playwright’s Guidebook, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2002. Recent plays are Alabaster City, commissioned by South Coast Rep, and Judy Garland Died for Your Sins. Former literary manager of Ensemble Studio Theatre; fellow, the Edward Albee Foundation; member, Dramatist Guild. SLC, 1991–

Undergraduate Courses 2021-2022

Theatre

First-Year Studies: History and Histrionics: A Survey of Western Drama

Open, FYS—Year

This course explores 2,500 years of Western drama and how dramaturgical ideas can be traced from their origins in fifth-century Greece to 20th-century Nigeria, with many stops in between. We will try to understand how a play is constructed, rather than simply written, and how how each succeeding epoch has both embraced and rejected what has come before it in order to create its own unique dramatic identity. We will study the major genres of Western drama, including the classically structured play, Elizabethan drama, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, comedy, musical theatre, theatre of cruelty, and existentialism. We will look at the social, cultural, architectural, and biographical context for the plays in question to better understand how and why they were written as they were. Classroom discussion will focus on a new play each week, while conference work with be devoted mostly to the students’ writing about them. This FYS in Theatre will occasionally interact with the other FYS in Theatre course, Dave McRee’s Directing in the American Theatre. This will include, but not be limited to, attending theatre in New York City regularly (pandemic allowing), after which the two groups will then meet to discuss the play and the performance.

Faculty

Playwright’s Workshop

Advanced, Component—Year

Who are you as a writer? What do you write about, and why? Are you writing the play that you want to write or the play that you need to write? Where is the nexus between the amorphous, subconscious wellspring of the material and the rigorous demands of a form that will play in real time before a live audience? This course is designed for playwriting students who have a solid knowledge of dramatic structure and an understanding of their own creative process—and who are ready to create a complete dramatic work of any length. (As Edward Albee observed, “All plays are full-length plays.”) Students will be free to work on themes, subjects, and styles of their choice. Work will be read aloud and discussed in class each week. The course requires that students enter, at minimum, with an idea of the play that they plan to work on; ideally, they will bring in a partial draft or even a completed draft that they wish to revise. We will read some existent texts, time allowing.

Faculty

Playwriting Techniques

Open, Component—Year

You will investigate the mystery of how to release your creative process while also discovering the fundamentals of dramatic structure that will help you tell the story of your play. Each week in the first term, you will write a short scene taken from The Playwright’s Guidebook, which we will use as a basic text. At the end of the first term, you will write a short but complete play based on one of these short assignments. In the second term, you’ll go on to adapt a short story of your choice and then write a play based on a historical character, event, or period. The focus in all instances is on the writer’s deepest connection to the material—where the drama lies. Work will be read aloud in class and discussed in class each week. Students will also read and discuss plays that mirror the challenges presented by their own assignments.

Faculty

Graduate Courses 2021-2022

MFA Theatre

Playwright’s Workshop

Advanced, Component—Year

Who are you as a writer? What do you write about, and why? Are you writing the play that you want to write or the play that you need to write? Where is the nexus between the amorphous, subconscious wellspring of the material and the rigorous demands of a form that will play in real time before a live audience? This course is designed for playwriting students who have a solid knowledge of dramatic structure and an understanding of their own creative process—and who are ready to create a complete dramatic work of any length. (As Edward Albee observed, “All plays are full-length plays.”) Students will be free to work on themes, subjects, and styles of their choice. Work will be read aloud and discussed in class each week. The course requires that students enter, at minimum, with an idea of the play that they plan to work on; ideally, they will bring in a partial draft or even a completed draft that they wish to revise. We will read some existent texts, time allowing.

Faculty

Playwriting Techniques

Open, Component—Year

You will investigate the mystery of how to release your creative process while also discovering the fundamentals of dramatic structure that will help you tell the story of your play. Each week in the first term, you will write a short scene taken from The Playwright’s Guidebook, which we will use as a basic text. At the end of the first term, you will write a short but complete play based on one of these short assignments. In the second term, you’ll go on to adapt a short story of your choice and then write a play based on a historical character, event, or period. The focus in all instances is on the writer’s deepest connection to the material—where the drama lies. Work will be read aloud in class and discussed in class each week. Students will also read and discuss plays that mirror the challenges presented by their own assignments.

Faculty

Previous Courses

MFA Theatre

Dramaturgy

Advanced, Component—Year

Dramaturgy is the study of dramatic structure: how plays are built and how they work. Although every play worth its salt works according to its own idiosyncratic plan, certain principles allow us to take it apart in order to better understand how it was put together. There are many ways to do that, and we will be trying a wide assortment. For example, we will study two plays that utilize the same dramaturgical devices but to very different ends. We will look at both Euripides’ The Bacchae and Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer in order to examine classical structure; compare Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in order to see the guiding principles of Elizabethan revenge tragedy; read Emile Augier’s simple-minded Olympe’s Marriage side-by-side with Henrik Ibsen’s great A Doll House; or trace the development of expressionism over the course of the 20th century from Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones to Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro. We will also look at how two plays may tell the same story but with different plots and using different dramaturgical principles. For this, we might examine Euripides’ Hippolytus, Racine’s Phaedre, and Sarah Kane’s Phaedre’s Love or Shakespeare’s King Lear and Nahum Tate’s neoclassical version of it (in the conclusion of which, Lear, alive and well, presides over the wedding of Cordelia and Edgar). The examination of multiple drafts of plays is often the surest way to see inside the playwright’s mind; fortunately, we have complete, early drafts of plays that, after substantial revision, became masterpieces. We will look at Chekhov’s early manuscript of The Wood Demon in order to compare it to the play it became in Uncle Vanya; and we’ll watch Ibsen struggle to find the way to release Nora’s persona in the first draft of A Doll House and then watch him succeed incomparably in the final version. There are many other possibilities, as well: faux folk drama in the form of S. A. Ansky’s great horror-thriller, The Dybbuk, or Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding; ritualistic drama from Jean Genet’s The Maids to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; and farce from Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear to John Guare’s House of Blue Leaves. Because an understanding of genre is essential to the work that we will do, a working knowledge of the principle genres (classicism, Elizabethan, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, etc.) and their historical context is required for the course.

Faculty

History and Histrionics

Open, Component—Year

Have you ever wondered where Arthur Miller got the idea to get inside Willy Loman’s head? Did you realize that it was only after August Strindberg went insane that he wrote some of his most famous and influential plays? Did you know that the comedies of ancient Greece and of the 17th century were far more sexually explicit than contemporary comedies? Did you know that there’s a Nigerian play about the ancient African culture that uses ideas from Aristotle to tell its story? And that Aristotle’s ideas can also be found in plays by William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, and Tennessee Williams? Did you ever wonder what we really mean by “realistic”? Or “naturalistic”? And that there’s a difference? Did you ever consider that Godot may already have arrived? History and Histrionics answers these questions but asks many more. We read great plays from the last 2,500 years—tragedy, comedy, social critique, realism, naturalism, expressionism, musical theatre, absurdism, existentialism, and much more—to try to figure what they’re about, why they were written as they were, and how they fit into the great constellation of our dramatic heritage.

Faculty

History and Histrionics: A History of Western Theatre

Open, Lecture—Year

You will explore 2,500 years of Western drama to discover how dramaturgical ideas can be traced from their origins in fifth-century Greece to 20th-century Nigeria, with many stops in between. We will try to understand how a play is constructed rather than simply written and how how each succeeding epoch has both embraced and rejected what has come before it in order to create its own unique identity. We will study the major genres of Western drama, including the idea of a classically structured play, Elizabethan drama, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, comedy, musical theatre, theatre of cruelty, and existentialism. And we will look at the social, cultural, architectural, and biographical context to better understand how and why they were written as they were. Classroom discussion will focus on a new play each week.

Faculty

History and Histrionics: A Survey of Western Theatre

Open, Component—Fall

Do you know how Arthur Miller got inside Willy Loman’s head? Do you know that it was only after August Strindberg went insane that he wrote some of his most famous and influential plays? That the comedies of Ancient Greece were far more sexually explicit than anything since? That there’s a Nigerian play about ancient African culture that uses ideas from Aristotle to tell its story? And that Aristotle’s ideas can also be found in plays by Lorraine Hansberry and Tennessee Williams? Did you ever wonder what we really mean by “Realism”? Or “Naturalism”? And that there’s a difference? Did you ever consider that Godot may already have arrived? History and Histrionics answers these questions but asks many more. We read great plays from the last 2,500 years—tragedy, comedy, social critique, realism, naturalism, expressionism, musical theatre, absurdism, existentialism, and much more—to try to figure what they’re about, why they were written as they were, and how they fit in the great constellation of our dramatic heritage.

Faculty

Playwriting Techniques

Open, Component—Year

The focus of this course is to investigate the mystery of releasing your creative process while, at the same time, discovering the fundamentals of dramatic structure that give form to that process. To that end, in the first term students will write a series of “spontaneous writing” exercises and “structural” exercises. Both types of exercises are taken from The Playwrights Guidebook, which we will use as a basic text. At the end of the first term, students will write a short but complete play based on one of their spontaneous writing exercises. In the second term, students go on to adapt a short story of their choice and to write a play based on a historical character, event, or period. The focus in all instances is on the writer’s deepest connection to the material—where the drama lies. The work will be read aloud in class and discussed in class each week. Students will also read and discuss plays that mirror the challenges presented by their own exercises.

Faculty

The Broadway Musical: Something Great Is Coming

Intermediate, Component—Fall

For some 60 years, roughly 1920 to 1980, the Broadway musical was in its Golden Age. The subjects were for adults, the lyrics were for the literate, and the music had a richness and depth of expression never since equaled in American composition. That music evolved from three separate strands—Jewish, African, and European—and the libretti sprung from a great vibrant stew that included vaudeville, burlesque, operetta, minstrel shows, musical comedy-farce, and musical extravaganza. We’ll study how these widely disparate forms began to coalesce in the 1920s into the quintessentially brash, toe-tapping, effervescent Broadway form known as “musical comedy,” as pioneered by the African American team of Blake & Sissle; by their more famous Jewish counterparts—Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Rodgers & Hart; and by the lone WASP in the group, Cole Porter. Meanwhile, however, Oscar Hammerstein II, now paired with a new collaborator, Richard Rodgers, would again revolutionize the Broadway musical with the so-called “integrated musical.” Beginning with Oklahoma!, R&H (as they were universally known) insisted on putting the story first and making the songs—along with everything else—serve that story. The inevitable apotheosis of their efforts is the musical play of the 1950s, and we’ll end this section by looking at two profoundly moving shows: R&H’s South Pacific and Bock & Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof. Finally, the Broadway musical showed yet another face: the “concept musical,” Broadway’s answer to cubist painting. It took a subject and looked at it from every conceivable angle except one: a plot. We’ll end the year by looking at Stephen Sondheim’s two great concept musical masterpieces: Company, which deconstructs marriage, intimacy, and friendship; and Follies, a meditation on mortality and time itself.

Faculty

Theatre

First-Year Studies in Theatre: History and Histrionics: A History of Western Theatre

Open, FYS—Year

This course explores 2,500 years of Western drama and how dramaturgical ideas can be traced from their origins in fifth-century Greece to 20th-century Nigeria, with many stops in between. We will try to understand how a play is constructed, rather than simply written, and how how each succeeding epoch has both embraced and rejected what has come before it in order to create its own unique identity. We will study the major genres of Western drama, including the idea of a classically structured play, Elizabethan drama, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, comedy, musical theatre, theatre of cruelty, and existentialism. And we will look at the social, cultural, architectural, and biographical context for the plays in question to better understand how and why they were written as they were. Classroom discussion will focus on a new play each week, while conference work will be devoted mostly to the students writing about them.

Faculty

Playwright’s Workshop

Advanced, Component—Year

Who are you as a writer? What do you write about, and why? Are you writing the play that you want to write or the play that you need to write? Where is the nexus between the amorphous, subconscious wellspring of the material and the rigorous demands of a form that will play in real time before a live audience? This course is designed for playwriting students who have a solid knowledge of dramatic structure and an understanding of their own creative process—and who are ready to create a complete dramatic work of any length. (As Edward Albee observed, “All plays are full-length plays.”) Students will be free to work on themes, subjects, and styles of their choice. Work will be read aloud and discussed in class each week. The course requires that students enter, at minimum, with an idea of the play that they plan to work on; ideally, they will bring in a partial draft or even a completed draft that they wish to revise. We will read some existent texts, time allowing.

Faculty