Theatre Courses

The Sarah Lawrence College theatre program embraces the collaborative nature of theatre. Our objective is to create theatre artists who are skilled in many disciplines: actors who write; directors who act; theatre makers who create their own projects; and sound, set, and lighting designers who are well-versed in new media and puppetry.

Students have the advantage of choosing from a multidisciplinary curriculum taught by working theatre professionals that also draws on the resources of the College’s theatre, music, and dance programs. At the heart of this curriculum are focused programs in acting, directing, playwriting, and design, with supplementary offerings in production and technical work. Theatre students are encouraged to cross disciplines as they investigate all areas of theatre. The faculty is committed to active theatre training—students learn by doing—and have put together a vocabulary that stresses relationships among classical, modern, and original texts. The program uses a variety of approaches to build technique while nurturing individual artistic directions. The theatre program examines not just contemporary American performance but also diverse cultural and historical influences that precede our own. Courses include Alexander Technique, acting, comedic and dramatic improvisation, creation of original work, design, directing, movement, musical theatre, playwriting, puppetry, speech, solo performance, voice, and the art of bringing theatre into the local community.

MFA Theatre 2020-2021 Courses

Contemporary Collaborative Performance

Component—Year

This course will provide a critical and supportive forum for the development of new works of original performance, focusing primarily on where current dance and theatre combinations find inspiration. In the first semester, students will explore contemporary theatre-building techniques and methodologies from Dada to Judson Church and beyond. The majority of time will be devoted to lab work, where students will create their own short performance pieces through a multidisciplinary approach. Students will be asked to devise original theatre pieces that utilize methods such as solo forms, viewpoints, chance operations, and creations from nontheatrical sources. In addition to the laboratory aspect of the class, a number of plays, essays, and artists* manifestos will be discussed. In the second semester, students will collaborate on a single evening-length work, utilizing theatrical and nontheatrical sources in an attempt to speak to our cultural moment. Please note: The second semester will require additional developmental/rehearsal time outside of class. In addition to classwork, there will be several opportunities to visit rehearsals and performances of professional theatre and dance in New York City. Open only to first-year graduate students and required for all first-year Theatre graduate students. This class meets once a week for two hours.

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Graduate Lab

Component—Year

Taught by a rotating series of Sarah Lawrence faculty and guest artists, this course focuses on developing the skills needed for a wide variety of techniques for the creation and development of new work in theatre and performance. Embodiment, materiality, site, sound, text, technology, light and time are all explored. The class is a forum for workshops, master classes, and open rehearsals, with a focus on the development of critical skills. Students in Grad Lab generate a new piece of theatre or performance to be performed each month for the Sarah Lawrence community. These performances may include graduate and undergraduate students alike. Required for all Theatre graduate students. This class meets once a week.

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Performance Studio

Component—Year

Developing a strong artistic practice is a foundational aspect of making work. First-year graduate students will work at least 2 hours in studio and 4 hours out of studio developing personal frameworks for research, embodiment, experimentation, and documentation. Students keep a process journal that is discussed during their advising with the Director of the program and their Thesis Advisors.

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Practice/Thesis

Component—Year

This course will provide a critical and supportive forum for the development of new works of original theatre and performance with a focus on conducting research in multiple formats, including historical and artistic research, workshops, improvisations, experiments, and conversation. Each student will focus on creating one original project— a solo—over the course of the full year. During the class, students will show works in progress. During the conference, students and faculty will meet to discuss these showings and any relevant artistic and practical problems that may arise. This class meets once a week and is required for all second-year Theatre graduate students.

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Performance Research

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

How do we, as artists, engage with an accelerating, fractured, technology-infused world? How do we, as creators, produce our work under current economic pressures? Contemporary Practice is a yearlong course that focuses on artists and thinkers dealing with these questions and looks at how we situate our practice in the field. Students will investigate current and emerging practices in performing care, contemporary choreography, speculative theatre, immersive theatre, co-presence, performance cabaret, postdigital strategies, socially-engaged art, mixed-reality performance, and more. Classes will be structured around weekly field research, readings, discussions, presentations, embodied laboratories, and creative/professional development. We will build a skill set, network, and knowledge base for articulating and supporting our work and for engaging with collaborators, organizations, and audiences. 

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Acting and Performance

Contemporary Scene Study

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

In this course, designed for advanced theatre students, we will explore scenes and monologues from contemporary playwrights (e.g., Lynn Nottage, Lucas Hnath, Annie Baker, Theresa Rebeck, Dominique Morisseau, Kenneth Lonergan, Stephen Adley Guirgis, David Henry Hwang, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah Ruhl, and many, many others). Along with an intense focus on script analysis, story structure, and character work, students will learn a set of acting tools that will assist them in making their work incredibly loose, spontaneous, and authentic. Scenes and monologues will be chosen by the instructor in collaboration with the students.

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Breaking the Code

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

A specific, text-driven approach to acting, Breaking The Code provides a context for the most vital performances based upon a way of dissecting a play and determining a character’s behavior. Students will act scenes from contemporary plays and adaptations. Open to both actors and directors.

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Creating Your Own Comedy

Component—Year

This class will begin with an exploration of the classic structures of stand-up comedy.  The concepts of set-up and punch, acting out, and heightened word play will be employed. Techniques for creating and becoming comic characters using your own past, the news, and the current social environment will be used to craft a comic routine. Discovering what is recognizably funny to an audience is the labor of the comic artist. The athletics of the creative comedic mind and your own individual perspective on the world that surrounds you is the primary objective of the first semester. We will also study theories of comedy through the writings of Henri Bergson (philosopher), John Wright (director), and Christopher Fry (playwright). Second semester will be designed for collaboration through improvisational techniques; long-form improvisational games (Harold), and performance techniques for comic sketch writing and group work; and exercises to develop the artist’s freedom and confidence in a collaborative group setting. The ensemble will learn to trust the spontaneous response and their own comic madness as they write, perform, and create scenarios together. At the end of the second semester, there will be a formal presentation of the comedy devised during the year.

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Dramatic Improvisation: Finding Spontaneity in Performance

Component—Year

In this class, we will be developing scenarios and situations that heighten your ability to invent, give you a physical freedom, and improve the emotional truth in your work. We will be creating monologues and characters in the moment. Techniques for film improvisations, TV commercials, and theatre auditions will be used to develop the artist’s creativity. Acting—whether experimental, classical, or modern—begins with the actor’s own personal experience. At the end of the semester, we will work on self-taping for auditions and crafting material for an actor’s reel and website.

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Actor’s Workshop: The Actor’s Process—Introduction to Craft

Component—Year

This class is a laboratory for the actor. It is designed for performers who are ready to search for the steps to a fully involved performance. In the first semester, we will explore characters and monologues that motivate each actor’s imagination. After analysis of the text, defining the imagery, and exploring the emotional choices of the actor, we will work on self-taping our work for auditions. Second semester will be devoted to scene work, the techniques used to develop heightened connection with your scene partner, and the importance of listening and finding your impulses as you work on your feet in the rehearsal room. We will observe the work and read the theories of Declan Donnellan’s The Actor and the Target and Stephen Wangh’s An Acrobat of the Heart.

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Singing Workshop

Component—Year

This class meets once a week. Audition required.

We will explore the actor’s performance with songs in various styles of popular music, music for theatre, cabaret, and original work—emphasizing communication with the audience and material selection. Dynamics of vocal interpretation and style will also be examined. Students perform new or returning material each week in class and have outside class time scheduled with the musical director to arrange and rehearse their material. Students enrolled in this course also have priority placement for voice lessons with faculty in the music program and enrollment in Alexander Technique classes or other movement courses of their choosing.

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Actor’s Workshop

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

Through group exercise (viewpoints), improvisations, monologues, and scene studies, this class, eclectic in style, will help you trust your instincts, expand your expressive capabilities, hone your imagination, and ultimately develop your acting potential. You will acquire the tools necessary for developing a character, as well as to show confidence in an audition. Previous theatre study is not required, but attendance and active participation is paramount! Show up eager and ready to work, as well as willing to put in time outside of class to work on material.  

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Actor’s Workshop

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

In this theory and praxis class, students will learn the sociohistorical context of major acting methods—such as Brecht, Meyerhold, Stanislavski, Stella Adler, and Hagen—and then participate in workshops in each of those methods. Through a series of exercises and a variety of acting techniques, students will explore the essential elements of acting, creative expression, and collaboration in the theatre. These exercises will include vocal and physical warmups, relaxation, concentration, sensory awareness, listening, communication, teamwork, and spontaneity. Participants will learn a variety of ways to create a character and to express one’s emotion through the voice, body, and imagination. Skills will be developed to create as an ensemble and to work in relationship to people, objects, and places. Ultimately, through in-class scene presentations, acting students will work to convey vital stories, ideas, emotions, and provocative questions that reflect or challenge humanity. Some playwrights, from whose work we may work, include: Sara Ruhl, Theresa Rebeck, Maria Irene Fornes, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jean-Paul Sartre, Eugene Ionesco, Young Jean Lee, Jocelyn Bioh, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Tori Sampson, Charlie Evon Simpson, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Jean Genet, Lynn Nottage, Katori Hall, Athol Fugard, John Kani, Jocelyn Bioh, and Jackie Sibblies Drury. 

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Collaborative

Directing, Devising, and Performance

Component—Fall

This class meets once a week for two hours.

Through the creative reuse of mass media, this course is designed to introduce students to a performance strategy that synthesizes an experimental performance practice from existing material. By stripping found media materials from their original context and arranging them in new ways, participants will explore the methods and politics of appropriation in performance work. By then extending those techniques into embodied practices, students will experiment with various methods of extracting movement, text, and intention from those source materials. Biweekly workshops on text, sound, and video manipulation in a collaborative format will alternate with experiments in performance composition and lectures on the historical use of appropriation in a variety of art forms. Participants should have an interest in both performance and performance technology, though experience in either is not a prerequisite. The course culminates in a rehearsal and performance period.

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Songwriting for A New Musical Theatre

Component—Year

This course grew out of the final months of last semester’s New Musical Theatre Lab during its transition to remote learning and has been designed to work as well in person as it has remotely. The course teaches a unique approach to musical theatre-making forged during the making of the Obie- and Tony-award winning musical, Passing Strange. Stew’s method treats the song, not the story, as the seed for all that follows in a show. Students are taught to conjure stories that will emerge out of their songs rather than tacking songs onto a pre-existing story. The significance of personal biography as source material vs. invented fictions is also emphasized, along with the incorporation of solo performance and the use of video. Emphasis on in-the-moment creating via a demystification of the songwriting process keeps students inspired and motivated, with more time spent creating than staring at a screen. Students are regularly given songwriting prompts and invited to take time away from the screen to compose anything from one verse to a full-blown song, along with solo-performance fragments or video. Students will work toward building, at semester’s end, a final show from all of the songs that they've written. Students will learn techniques that transform the “magic” of songwriting into a reflexive act of communication, available to anyone, with or without songwriting experience. The fundamentals of songwriting are taught, along with an introduction to various music software apps, video editing, and DIY methods of turning bedrooms and basements into performance spaces. 

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Digital Devising: Creating Theatre in a Post-Digital World

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This class explores the histories, methods, and futures of ensemble and co-authored performance creation with a focus on new skills and concepts of digital and post-Internet. After an overview of historical devising companies, artists, concepts, and strategies, we will develop skill sets and frameworks for creating work in a lab setting using the formal aspects of digital and post-Internet performance. Some of the frameworks included are digital time; avatars and the double event; embodied and representational strategies in the uncanny valley; staging digital tools, interfaces, and structures; aspects of connectivity, politics, and economics; post-Internet materiality; and using code to generate and control performances and creation of texts.

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Contemporary New Works: An Exploration of the American Playwright

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

This will be a workshop for theatre artists. The class will explore the works of contemporary playwrights. Three playwrights will be chosen for the group, and we will read, research, and dramaturge their work. As we immerse ourselves in their worlds, the class will direct each other in scenes from the plays. We will choose from writers Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, Annie Baker, Lynn Nottage, David Adjmi, Anne Washburn, Sarah Ruhl, Samuel Hunter, and Katori Hall. These writers have all created “bold works that have set the scene for 21st-century actors, giving voice to the modern experience.” They are a vital part of the American theatre today and are influential in shaping and developing the work of the actor and director. Second semester, we will weave a project or presentation of one or all of their works or choose three new contemporary playwrights to investigate.

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Directing, Devising, and Performance

Component—Spring

This class meets once a week for two hours.

Through the creative reuse of mass media, this course is designed to introduce students to a performance strategy that synthesizes an experimental performance practice from existing material. By stripping found media materials from their original context and arranging them in new ways, participants will explore the methods and politics of appropriation in performance work. By then extending those techniques into embodied practices, students will experiment with various methods of extracting movement, text, and intention from those source materials. Biweekly workshops on text, sound, and video manipulation in a collaborative format will alternate with experiments in performance composition and lectures on the historical use of appropriation in a variety of art forms. Participants should have an interest in both performance and performance technology, though experience in either is not a prerequisite. The course culminates in a rehearsal and performance period.

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Acting for Camera

Component—Year

This class meets once a week for three hours.

This comprehensive, step-by-step course focuses on developing the skills and tools that the young actor needs in order to work in the fast-paced world of film and television while also learning how to write, direct, edit ,and produce his/her own work for the screen. The first semester will focus on screen acting. Through intense scene study and script analysis, we will expand each performer’s range of emotional, intellectual, physical, and vocal expressiveness for the camera. Focus will also be put on the technical skills needed for the actor to give the strongest performance “within the frame” while maintaining a high level of spontaneity and authenticity. Students will act in assigned and self-chosen scenes from film and television scripts. During the second semester, students will learn the basics of screenwriting, cinematography, creating a floorplan and shot lists, sound, lighting, directing, and editing. The goal of that semester is for students to learn the basics of filmmaking, allowing them to create their own work without the restraints of a large budget and crew. For this course, students must have their own/access to: a camera (iPhone, iPad, or other camera); a computer with editing software (e.g., iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere).

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Puppet, Spectacle, and Parade

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

Drawing from various puppetry techniques alongside the practices of Jacques Lecoq, we will explore and experiment with puppetry and performance. Throughout the course, we will work in collaborative groups to create puppetry performance, including building the puppets and devising works that utilize puppets and objects. We will explore large-scale, processional-style puppets, puppet as objects and materials, puppeteering the performance space, and the role/relationship of the puppeteer/performer to puppet.

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Shosholoza: Working to Make Way for Each Other

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

Shosholoza is a Southern African anthem of unity. Historically, migrant mineworkers in Johannesburg sang the song to keep their spirits up and to maintain a working rhythm to make progress in their work. Shosholoza as a cultural signifier points to the idea of a collaborative process. Shosholoza is sung in call and response and, any time it’s sung, involves and implicates whoever is in the room. This class is about learning to be caring collaborators who give and take space in creative processes. Students will be assigned tasks designed to foster generosity in the workspace while developing, performing, and designing projects in groups throughout the year. 

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Design and Media

Lighting Design I

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

Lighting Design I will introduce the student to the basic elements of stage lighting, including tools and equipment, color theory, reading scripts for design elements, operation of lighting consoles and construction of lighting cues, and basic elements of lighting drawings and schedules. Students will be offered hands-on experience in hanging and focusing lighting instruments and will be invited to attend technical rehearsals. They will have opportunities to design productions and to assist other designers as a way of developing a greater understanding of the design process.

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Lighting Design II

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

Lighting Design II will build on the basics introduced in Lighting Design I to help develop the students’ abilities in designing complex productions. The course will focus primarily on CAD and other computer programs related to lighting design, script analysis, advanced console operation, and communication with directors and other designers. Students will be expected to design actual productions and in-class projects for evaluation and discussion and will be offered the opportunity to increase their experience in design by assisting Mr. MacPherson and others, when possible.

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Advanced Media Design

Component—Year

Prerequisites: Intro to Media Design, Sound 1, Intro to Projection, or instructor consent. This class will meet once a week.  Students will be required to attend additional technical meetings/rehearsals and design productions over the course of the year.

This course will prepare students to solve problems in video, sound, and multimedia design for live theatre and performance. We will look at the creative use of live video and audio playback and processing, multichannel sound, and interactive performance systems. By creating a cohort of designers committed to working on campus theatrical productions, the course will serve to mentor, troubleshoot, and critically analyze theatrical design. Students will be expected to be working on designs for theatre or dance productions or their own solo work.

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Intro to Media Design

Component—Year

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

This course serves as an introduction to theatrical sound and video design that explores the theory of sound, basic design principles, editing and playback software, content creation, and basic system design. The course examines the function and execution of video and sound in theatre, dance, and interdisciplinary forms. Exercises in sampling, nonlinear editing, and designing sequences in performance software will provide students with the basic tools needed to execute sound and projection designs in performance.

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Puppet Theatre

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This course will explore a variety of puppetry techniques, including bunraku-style, marionette, shadow puppetry, and toy theatre. We will begin with a detailed look at those forms through individual and group research projects. Students will then have the opportunity to develop their puppet manipulation skills, as well as to gain an understanding of how to prepare the puppeteer’s body for performance. We will further our exploration with hands-on learning in various techniques of construction. The class will culminate with the creation and presentation of puppetry pieces of their own making.

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Advanced Costume Conference

Component—Year

Prerequisites: Costume Design l, Costume Design ll, and permission of the instructor. This class meets once a week.

This course is designed for students who have completed Costume Design l and Costume Design ll and would like to further explore any aspect of designing costumes by researching and realizing a special costume design project of their own choosing.

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Costume Design I

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This course is an introduction to the basics of designing costumes and will cover various concepts and ideas: the language of clothes, script analysis, the elements of design, color theory, fashion history, and figure drawing. We will work on various theoretical design projects while exploring how to develop a design concept. This course also covers various design-room sewing techniques, as well as the basics of wardrobe technician duties. Students will become familiar with all of the various tools and equipment in the costume shop and wardrobe areas. Students will also have the opportunity to assist a Costume Design ll student on a departmental production to further their understanding of the design process when creating costumes. No previous experience is necessary; actors, directors, choreographers, dancers, and theatre-makers of all kinds are welcome. There is a $20 materials fee.

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Costume Design II

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This course expands upon the ideas and concepts set forth in Costume Design l in order to hone in on and advance the student's existing skill sets. Students will further develop their design and construction abilities as they research and realize design concepts for a variety of theoretical design projects, as well as develop their communication skills through class discussions and presentations. Students will also have the likely opportunity to design costumes for a departmental production, assisted by a Costume Design l student. This design opportunity allows for a unique learning experience, as the student collaborates with a director and creative team to produce a fully realized theatrical production. 

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Scenography I

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This course introduces basic elements of scenic design, including developing a design concept, drafting, and practical techniques for creating theatrical space. Students will develop tools to communicate their visual ideas through research, sketches, and models. The class will discuss examples of design from theatre, dance, and contemporary performance. Student projects will include both conceptual designs and production work in the department. There is a $50 course fee. 

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TBA

Scenography II

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This course will build upon the basics introduced in Scenography I to help develop the students' abilities in designing full productions. Students will further develop tools to communicate their visual ideas with directors, artistic leaders, and fellow designers through research, sketches, CAD, and other computer programs related to scenic design. Students will design or assistant design actual productions and in-class projects for evaluation and discussion. There is a $50 course fee.

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TBA

Directing

Directing Brechting

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

This hands-on directing class offers directors a vital technique and way of working based upon Bertolt Brecht’s theories of dialectical theatre. Brecht was a social activist. He used theatre to affect change. Brecht’s plays and techniques changed the way we look at theatre and view the world. His approach continues to shape the way directors dissect text, incorporate production elements, and create dynamic theatre productions. Students in Directing Brechting will use Brecht’s plays and plays by contemporary theatre makers that he deeply influenced—like Larry Kramer, Moises Kaufman, Anna Deavere Smith, and Suzan Lori-Parks, among others—for a personalized directing technique built upon an expansive Brechtian model. Students will direct scenes from chosen plays and create and mount their own original work; they will act in scenes directed by their classmates for in-class presentations. The class is open to serious directors, actors, designers, writers, poets, etc. who are interested in developing an approach to work and to theatre that is rooted in activism and social change.

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Directing Workshop

Component—Spring

This class meets twice a week.

Directors will study the processes necessary to bring a written text to life, along with the methods and goals used in working with actors to focus and strengthen their performances. Scene work and short plays will be performed in class, and the student’s work will be analyzed and evaluated. Common directing problems will be addressed, and the directors will become familiar with the conceptual process that allows them to think creatively. The workshop is open to beginning directors and any interested student.

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Internship Conference

Component—Year

For students who wish to pursue a professional internship as part of their program, all areas of producing and administration are possible: production, marketing, advertising, casting, development, etc. Students must have at least one day each week to devote to the internship. Through individual meetings, we will best determine each student’s placement to meet individual academic and artistic goals.

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Movement and Voice

Alexander Technique

Component—Year

This class meets once a week. Interviews required. Four sections of this class.

The Alexander Technique is a neuromuscular system that enables the student to identify and change poor and inefficient habits that may be causing stress and fatigue. With gentle, hands-on guidance and verbal instruction, the student learns to replace faulty habits with improved coordination by locating and releasing undue muscular tensions. This includes easing of the breath and the effect of coordinated breathing on the voice. It is an invaluable technique that connects the actor to his or her resources for dramatic intent.

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Movement for Performance

Component—Spring

This class meets twice a week.

This class will explore the full instrument of the performer; namely, the human body. A daily warmup will open the body to larger movement ranges while introducing students to a better functioning alignment, efficient muscle and energy use, full breathing, clear weight transfer, and increased awareness while traveling through space. A combination of improvisation, contact improvisation, set phrases, and in-class assignments creating short, movement-based pieces will be used to explore a larger range of articulation that the body reveals regardless of the words spoken on stage. In all aspects, the goals of this class are to enable students to be courageous with their physical selves, more articulate with their bodies, and more personally expressive in performance. No movement background is required—just a healthy mix of curiosity and courage. In addition to occasional reading handouts, there will be opportunities to attend rehearsals and performances of professional theatre and dance in New York City. Please wear loose, comfortable clothing.

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Voice and Speech I: Vocal Practice

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This course will focus on awakening the young artist to the expressive range of the human voice, as well as to the intricacies of developing greater clarity of speech and playing with sound. A thorough warmup will be developed to bring power, flexibility, and range to the actor’s voice and speech. Exercises and text work will be explored, with the goal of uniting body, breath, voice, and speech into an expressive whole when acting.

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One-Credit Lectures

Historic Survey of Formal Aesthetics for Contemporary Performance Practice

Lecture—Year

Once upon a time, a playwright said, in a rehearsal, “I just think that this is the most Cubist moment of this play.” Everyone in the room fell silent and grew uncomfortable...because, what in the heck did she mean by that? And aren’t we already supposed to know? This interactive lecture course surveys the aesthetic movements throughout history and teaches you to track their impact on your work. Ideas behind each movement are examined in relation to the historical moment of their occurrence and in their formal manifestations across visual art, musical, architectural, and performance disciplines. Each student then places his/her own work within a wider context of formal aesthetic discourse—locating hidden influence and making conscious and purposeful the political resonance that is subsequently uncovered. Students are encouraged to find ways of acknowledging the responsibility that one carries for one’s work’s impact on the world and to start using terms like “Post-Modernism” and “Futurist” with confidence.

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History and Histrionics: A History of Western Theatre

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.

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The Broadway Musical: Something Great Is Coming

Lecture—Year

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.

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Home as a Metaphor for Survival: Theatre in the African Diaspora

Lecture—Year

All those forgotten in the construction of, say, national groups return to disturb and haunt such holistic ways of thinking...[when] these figures return as disruptive, “unhomely” presences....It is this uncanny presence which...[has] the power to disrupt the exclusive binary logic upon which a range of discourses—nationalist, colonialist, patriarchal—depend. —Homi K. Bhabha, Location of Culture

This lecture course will focus on performance in African diaspora communities. We will take a historical look at black bodies in performance in the diaspora. The class will involve reading plays, critical theory, and articles related to critical theory that pertain to notions of hybridity, mimicry, neo-colonialism, gaze, and the politics of representation/viewership as they relate to creative theatrical spaces. Some areas of study that we will cover will include: protest theatre in South Africa (Gcina Mhlophe, Athol Fugard, Zakes Mda, John Kani, Mbongeni Ngema); oral traditions; tokenizing (Death and the King’s Horseman is not the only African play); the nexus of religion and performance in African diaspora performance; the legacy of minstrelsy; “The Black Acting Method” (hybridity vs. mimicry); representation of black bodies in American theatre; the ethics and moral responsibilities in touring work pertaining to blackness in the diaspora; blackness on stage—Tyler Perry vs. Jeremy O. Harris and Branden Jacob-Jenkins.

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Playwriting

Creative Impulse: The Process of Writing for the Stage

Component—Year

This class meets once a week for three hours.

In this course, the vectors of pure creative impulse hold sway over the process of writing for the stage—and we write ourselves into unknown territory. Students are encouraged to set aside received and preconceived notions of what it means to write plays or to be a writer, along with ideas of what a play is “supposed to” or “should” look like, in order to locate their own authentic ways of seeing and making. In other words, disarm the rational, the judgmental thinking that is rooted in a concept of a final product and empower the chaotic, spatial, associative processes that put us in immediate formal contact with our direct experience, impressions, and perceptions of reality. Emphasis on detail, texture, and contiguity will be favored over the more widely accepted, reliable, yet sometimes limiting Aristotelian virtues of structure and continuity in the making of meaningful live performance. Readings will be tailored to fit the thinking of the class. We will likely look at theoretical and creative writings of Gertrude Stein, George Steiner, Mac Wellman, Maria Irene Fornes, Adrienne Kennedy, Mircea Eliade, Kristen Kosmas, Richard Maxwell, and Roland Barthes, as well as work that crosses into visual-art realms and radical scientific thought from physicists David Bohm and F. David Peat. The course will be conducted in workshop fashion, with strong emphasis on the tracking and documenting of process.

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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.

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Playwriting Techniques

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. 

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Experiments in Theatrical Writing

Component—Year

This class meets once a week for four hours (with breaks).

In this course, we will explore, discuss, and create experimental theatrical texts using technologies such as the cell phone, the computer, the pencil, and others. What pushes against theatrical traditions and orients outward toward the new and unfamiliar is what we will think of as experimental. Areas of experimentation that we’ll encounter on our yearlong journey will include time, place, staging, structure, character, characterization, language, and genre. Experimentation finds purpose in the notion that departure from theatrical convention is a move toward changing how an audience responds and reflects upon a play—which, in turn, changes how an audience perceives and behaves in the world. We’ll explore contemporary experimental theatrical texts and performances and discuss how each work of theatre looks, feels, and sounds. We’ll discuss the cultural, historical, and personal contexts of the works. We’ll look for ways in which those contexts may inspire and inform our own writing. We’ll generate our own experimental pieces using those works as points of departure, with the intention of arriving at a different destination. We’ll write from different parts of the brain, from the deeply subconscious to the acutely analytical. And we’ll examine ways in which modern technology may assist—or hinder—our storytelling.

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Developing the Dramatic Idea

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

It never ceases to amaze me: the awesome ritual of live actors bringing words to life, resulting in laughter, catharsis, and, at best, transformation. This magic begins with you, the playwright. Developing the dramatic Idea offers you the opportunity to explore what a play can be and what it can mean to write a play. You will investigate the potential and the challenges of playwriting through analysis of existing plays, writing and workshopping your own plays-in-progress, offering constructive feedback to your classmates, and effectively revising your own work. You will develop the skills and vocabulary to talk about plays and to recognize structure, story, and content challenges. By the end of the year, you will have seen plays and read a number of plays and essays on playwriting. You will have written several scenes, short plays, and a one-act play.

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Writing for Diversity

Component—Year

Each week, students will be asked to research and write a 10-minute play given "diverse" characters and various other prompts. In class, we will read and discuss the work. What did we find? How were we challenged? Do the scenarios feel “real” and “authentic”? Is there offense? What scared you? We will also read and discuss great  plays/articles/events that grapple with race/gender/sexuality/culture. Students should have some experience in playwriting.

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Production

DownStage

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

DownStage is an intensive, hands-on conference in creative theatrical production. As part of the DownStage component, student producers administrate and run an autonomous theatre company, based on the nonprofit theatre model, within the SLC theatre curriculum. Together, students craft a mission statement, then curate and produce a season in support of that mission. Students are responsible for all aspects of production, determining the budget and marketing a full season of events and productions, both in-person and online. Students fill technical and artistic positions and sit as the board of directors of a functioning theatre organization. In addition to their obligations to class and designated productions, DownStage producers are expected to hold regular office hours. Prior producing experience is not required.

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Stage Management

Component—Year

This class meets once a week during fall semester; Spring semester is devoted to mentored production practicums.

This course is a hands-on laboratory class in the skills, practices, and attitudes that help a stage manager organize an environment in which a theatrical team can work together productively and with minimum stress. Classroom exercises and discussion augment the mentored production work that is assigned to each student. Script analysis, blocking notation, prop management, and cue writing/calling are among the topics covered. Knowledge of, and practice in, stage management are essential tools for directors and useful supplements for actors and designers.

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Tools of the Trade

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This is a stagehand course that focuses on the nuts and bolts of light-board and sound-board operation and projection technology, as well as the use of basic stage carpentry. This is not a design class but, rather, a class about reading and drafting light plots, assembly and troubleshooting, and basic electrical repair. Students who take this course will be eligible for additional paid work as technical assistants in the theatre department.

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Theatre and Civic Engagement

Theatre and Civic Engagement: Methods of Civic Engagement

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

Developing original, issue-oriented dramatic material using music and theatre media, this course for students new to community work will present the structures needed for community extension of the theatre. Performance and teaching groups will work with small theatres, schools, senior-citizen groups, museums, centers, and shelters. Productions and class plans will be made in consultation with the organizations and our touring groups. We will work with children's theatre, audience participation, and educational theatre. Teaching and performance techniques will focus on past and present uses of oral histories and cross-cultural material. Sociological and psychological dynamics will be studied as part of an exploration of the role of theatre and its connections to learning. Each student will have a service-learning team placement. Special projects and guest topics will include the use of theatre in developing new kinds of after-school programs, styles and forms of community on-site performances, media techniques for artists who teach, and work with the Sarah Lawrence College Human Genetics Program. This course continues the successful process-centered goals and the proven community building techniques and principles of the long-established SLC Theatre Outreach Program.

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Theatre and Civic Engagement: Teaching Artist Pedagogy Conference Course

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. —John Dewey

This weekly conference course, for graduate and undergraduate students with extensive community experience, explores the experiential perspectives of the practicing teaching artist, developing teaching skills and techniques through a weekly, yearlong community placement. The course explores making connections and crossovers between teaching theories and interdisciplinary theatre coursework that leads toward transformative practices. Course readings will explore the writings of Paulo Freire, MC Richards, bell hooks, and others. This course continues the successful process-centered goals and the proven community building techniques and principles of the long-established SLC Theatre Outreach Program.

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Theatre and Civic Engagement: The Theatre and the Community

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This course will provide a strong foundation from which to explore and extend teaching and theatre-making skills in the community. An interest in exploring personally expressive material and in extending and developing skills is needed. Students will find a practical approach to experiential learning that builds teaching skills through a weekly Theatre Outreach placement. Such placements—at schools, libraries, museums, community centers, homeless shelters—are typically yearlong and usually culminate in a process-centered informal presentation that is reflective of the interests, stories, and experiences of the individual participants. We will explore the applications of contemporary sociopolitical and artistic issues of community work. Class readings and discussions will explore theoretical and practical applications about theatre making and the political role of teaching artists working in the community as agents for social change and social justice. The course is open to all students who want to explore personal material through a sociopolitical lens and to students interested in responding to the mad politics of our time by making a difference—however they can, large or small—through the sharing of theatre skills. The course is open to movers and shakers, playwrights, actors, designers, and visual artists. Extended class projects in urban areas may include performance in public spaces, creating site-specific videos, recording community oral histories, and touring. Educator John Paul Lederach asks the artist to connect with the “moral imagination”—the ability to “stay grounded in the here and now, with all its violence and injustice, while still imaging and working toward a more life-affirming world.” This course continues the successful process-centered goals and the proven community building techniques and principles of the long-established SLC Theatre Outreach Program.

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Theatre and Civic Engagement: Curriculum Lab

Component—Year

This class meets one a week.

This is a required weekly course for students who are sharing their theatre and creative skills in the Saturday Lunchbox Theatre Program. The Curriculum Lab will explore the creation and development of an interdisciplinary teaching curriculum for children ages six through 18. Through this weekly lab, directly connected to Lunchbox Theatre, students will gain insight into child development principles, lesson planning skills, and classroom management strategies. Through inquiry and reflection, students will expand their critical thinking processes while also utilizing practical teaching methods and techniques suitable for multiple learning types and levels. This course continues the successful process-centered goals and the proven community building techniques and principles of the long-established SLC Theatre Outreach Program.

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Theory, History, Survey

Dramaturgy

Component—Year

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.

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