Stuart Spencer

Stuart Spencer

Undergraduate Discipline

Theatre

Graduate Program

MFA Theatre Program

BA, Lawrence University. 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–

Current undergraduate courses

Dramaturgy

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
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

History and Histrionics

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
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Playwright’s Workshop

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 plays in real time before a live audience? This course is designed for playwriting students who have a basic 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 points out, “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, although they may also bring in a partial draft or even a completed draft that they wish to revise. We will read some existent texts, time allowing.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Playwriting Techniques

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
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Current graduate courses

Dramaturgy

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
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

History and Histrionics

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
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Playwright’s Workshop

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 plays in real time before a live audience? This course is designed for playwriting students who have a basic 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 points out, “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, although they may also bring in a partial draft or even a completed draft that they wish to revise. We will read some existent texts, time allowing.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Playwriting Techniques

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
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Dramaturgy - Graduate

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, still there are certain principles that allow us take it apart in order to better understand how it was put together. There are many ways to do this, and we will be trying a wide assortment of them. For example, we will study two plays that utilize the same dramaturgical devices but to very different ends. This might involve looking at, say, both Sophocles’ Electra and Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge in order to examine classical structure; or comparing Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in order to see the guiding principles of Elizabethan drama; or reading Augier’s simple-minded Olympe’s Marriage side by side with Ibsen’s great Hedda Gabler; or tracing the development of expressionism over the course of the 20th century from O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones to 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 which the end of the play finds Lear presiding at the wedding of Cordelia and Edgar); or the Orestes story from Aeschylus’ The Oresteia and Euripides’ Orestes to Sartre’s The Flies. 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 revision, became masterpieces. We might study Chekhov’s early manuscript of The Wood Demon in order to compare it to the play it became in Uncle Vanya; or look at Tennessee Williams’ early flop, Battle of Angels (which closed in Boston after nearly burning down the theatre), and its later reworking as Orpheus Descending. There are many other possibilities as well: faux folk drama in the form of Ansky’s great horror-thriller, The Dybbuk, or Lorca’s Blood Wedding; ritualistic drama from Genet’s The Maids to Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; farce from Feydeau A Flea in Her Ear to Guare’s House of Blue Leaves. Because an understanding of genre is essential to the work we will do, a working knowledge of the principal genres (classicism, Elizabethan, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, etc.) and their historical context is required for the course.

Faculty

Playwriting Techniques - Graduate

Year

The focus of this class is to investigate the mystery of releasing your creative process while, at the same time, discovering the fundamentals of dramatic structure that gives form to that process. To that end, in the first term students will write a series of both “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 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 and discussed in class each week. Students will also read and discuss plays that mirror the challenges presented by their own exercises.

Faculty

Playwriting Techniques - Graduate Theatre

Year

The focus of this class is to discover both the nature of your creative process and the fundamentals of dramatic structure that gives form to that process. In the first term, students will write a series of both spontaneous writing exercises and structural exercises. Both types of exercise 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 is 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

Something Great is Coming: The American Musical

Year

Like jazz, the American musical is one of this country’s unique art forms. And like jazz, the musical’s roots lie deep in both our European and African ancestry. We will begin by delving into the origins of American musical theatre—the early operettas, vaudevilles, burlesques, minstrel shows, and musical extravaganzas of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From there, we will move to the astonishingly fertile 1920s, when the jazz sounds of songwriters like Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle began to influence the music and lyrics of people like Ira & George Gershwin and Rodgers & Hart. We will look at the 1930s, when the sophisticated but inconsequential musical comedies of tunesmiths like Cole Porter existed side by side with provocative, politically themed musicals by Kurt Weill or (again) the Gershwins. By the end of the term, we will have reached the 1940s, when the Rodgers & Hammerstein “integrated” musical revolutionized musicals, giving them weight, substance, and greater coherence. In the second term, we will study the great book musicals of the 1950s, created by, among others, Frank Loesser, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Lerner & Lowe, Irving Berlin, Adler & Ross, Bock and Harnick, and… well, the list goes on and on. And we’ll conclude with the likes of Kander & Ebb and Stephen Sondheim and his many collaborators, who began to deconstruct, deepen, and stretch the form into still new and challenging shapes and themes. We will spend some classes listening to (or, if possible, looking at) and discussing the librettos and songs of notable but lesser known musicals. At other times, we will look in depth at landmark musicals (e.g., Show Boat, Of Thee I Sing, Lady in the Dark, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, Follies, Company) that either changed or epitomized the form.

Faculty

Theatre Techniques: History and Histrionics

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 the 17th century were far more sexually explicit than contemporary comedies? Did you know there’s a Nigerian play that is about the ancient African culture, but which 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

Theatre Techniques: History and Histrionics - Graduate

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 the 17th century were far more sexually explicit than contemporary comedies? Did you know there’s a Nigerian play that is about the ancient African culture, but which 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

The Broadway Musical: Something Great Is Coming

Year

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. Broadway, it has often been said, supplied America with its own brand of classical music. We will begin by delving into the origins of the Broadway musical in the 19th century—a great vibrant stew that included vaudeville, burlesque, operetta, minstrel shows, musical comedy-farce, and musical extravaganza. These widely disparate forms began to coalesce in the 1920s into the quintessentially brash, toe-tapping Broadway form known as musical comedy. We’ll look at this frivolous, but often witty, form 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. We’ll wind up musical comedy with one of the greatest examples of the genre, On the Town, which we’ll also go to see on Broadway. Meanwhile, visionaries like Oscar Hammerstein II saw the potential for something more substantive in this lighter-than-air art form. In the 1940s, when Hart and Kern both died, the re-pairing of Rodgers with Hammerstein would again revolutionize the Broadway musical with their so-called “integrated musicals,” beginning with Oklahoma! R&H (as they were universally known) gave the musical thematic weight and dramatic coherence. They 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 both R&H’s profoundly moving South Pacific and Bock and Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof. But the Broadway musical of substance showed yet another face: the concept musical. The concept musical was Broadway’s answer to cubist painting. It took a subject and looked at it from every conceivable angle except one: a story. We’ll end the year by looking at Stephen Sondheim’s two great masterpieces: Company, in which he (with book writer George Furth) deconstructs marriage, intimacy, and friendship; and Follies, his (and book writer James Goldman’s) meditation on mortality and time itself.

Faculty