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 2019-2020

Theatre

Playwriting Techniques

Open , Component—Year

This course meets once a week. Two sections of this course.

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

Playwright’s Workshop

Advanced , Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

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

Dramaturgy

Open , Component—Fall

This class meets twice a week.

Dramaturgy is a term that refers both to the study of dramatic theory as well as to the practical job of working with the creative team of a production to provide background and information on the play in question. This class will address both of these aspects of dramaturgy. Students will spend roughly half the time studying dramaturgical theory while simultaneously learning how to do the necessary research, which they will then distill into a concise form that can be easily digested by the director, actors, and designers.

Faculty

History and Histrionics: A History of Western Theatre

Open , Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

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

The Broadway Musical: Something Great Is Coming

Open , Component—Spring

This course meets twice a week.

For some 60 years, roughly from 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.” Then we’ll watch as Oscar Hammerstein II—paired with a new collaborator, Richard Rodgers—revolutionized the form 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 several of them. Finally, the 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, among others, Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Company.

Faculty

Graduate Courses

Theatre 2019-2020

Dramaturgy

Open , Component—Fall

This class meets twice a week.

Dramaturgy is a term that refers both to the study of dramatic theory as well as to the practical job of working with the creative team of a production to provide background and information on the play in question. This class will address both of these aspects of dramaturgy. Students will spend roughly half the time studying dramaturgical theory while simultaneously learning how to do the necessary research, which they will then distill into a concise form that can be easily digested by the director, actors, and designers.

Faculty

History and Histrionics: A History of Western Theatre

Open , Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

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

Playwright’s Workshop

Advanced , Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

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

This course meets once a week. Two sections of this course.

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

The Broadway Musical: Something Great Is Coming

Open , Component—Spring

This course meets twice a week.

For some 60 years, roughly from 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.” Then we’ll watch as Oscar Hammerstein II—paired with a new collaborator, Richard Rodgers—revolutionized the form 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 several of them. Finally, the 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, among others, Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Company.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Playwright’s Workshop

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

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

Component—Year

Two sections. This course meets once a week.

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

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
Related Disciplines

Playwriting Techniques

Open , Component—Fall

This course meets once a week.

In this course, you will investigate the mystery of how to release your creative process and, at the same time, discover the fundamentals of dramatic structure that will help you tell the story of your play. In the first term, you will write a short scene every week taken from The Playwright’s Guidebook, which we will use as 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 and discussed in class each week. Students will also read and discuss plays that mirror the challenges presented by their own assignments.

Faculty

The Broadway Musical: Something Great Is Coming

Intermediate , Component—Fall

This class meets twice a week.

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

History and Histrionics: A Survey of Western Theatre

Open , Component—Fall

This course meets once a week.

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