Theatre Courses

The Sarah Lawrence College Theatre MFA Program is focused on deep collaboration, community building, and interdisciplinarity. We support performance and theater artists through a curriculum crossing the boundaries of design, acting, directing, management, performance, technology, writing, producing, voice, movement, civic engagement and much more. Students have the advantage of taking classes within the music and dance programs as well to supplement their practice.

MFA Theatre 2021-2022 Courses

Acting and Performance

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 wordplay will be employed, along with the techniques used to create and become comic characters using your past, the news, and the current social environment 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 are the primary objectives 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). The second semester will be designed for collaboration through improvisational techniques, long-form improvisational games (Harold), 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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Actors Workshop

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 analysing the text, defining the imagery, and exploring the emotional choices of the actor, we will work on self-taping our work for auditions. The second semester will be devoted to scene work: the techniques used to develop a heightened connection with your scene partner, 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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Improvisation: Finding Spontaneity in Performance

Component—Year

Improvisation strengthens the spontaneous imagination; it is the athletics of the creative mind. Schiller wrote of a “watcher at the gates of the mind” who examines ideas too closely. He believed that, in the creative mind, “the intellect has withdrawn its watcher from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell—and only then does it review and inspect the multitude.” Experiencing this creative mind is the focus of the majority of the first-semester exercises. These improvisations will develop the freedom and confidence of the artist and student. Schiller also said that “uncreative people are simply ashamed of the momentary passing madness which is found in all real creators.” It is the goal of the first semester to open those creative minds and train the artist to trust the spontaneous response and this passing madness. In this class, we will be developing scenarios and situations that heighten your ability to invent, give you physical freedom, and improve the emotional truth in your work. We will be creating monologues and characters at the moment; exploring exercises for creating a strong community in a classroom, youth center, town hall, or work environment; and collaborating on ideas for pitching projects. For actors and directors, we will practice techniques for film improvisations, TV commercials, and theatre auditions to develop the artist’s range. For non-theatre students, we will be focusing on confidence and trust in their original ideas. Any performance—whether experimental, classical, or in a business environment—begins with the artist’s own personal experience. Whether you are collaborating with a start-up team, giving a speech to a community, or acting on stage, the spontaneous moment is often the most compelling.

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Breaking the Code

Component—Year

Open to both actors and directors. 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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Acting Shakespeare

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

Those actors rooted in the tradition of playing Shakespeare find themselves equipped with a skill set that enables them to successfully work on a wide range of texts and within an array of performance modalities. The objectives of this class are to learn to identify, personalize, and embody the structural elements of Shakespeare’s language as the primary means of bringing his characters to life. Students will study a representative arc of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as the sonnets.

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Music and Theatre Practice: Creating Community

Component—Year

Acting and musical storytelling can transform our communities far beyond the room where it happened. From mainstream Broadway mega-hits to intimate avant-garde experiments, creative performance has the power to unite, inspire, and heal.​ How do we use our creativity to confront challenging issues in the world around us? Through acting techniques, musical theatre, case studies, and investigating our own ideas, we will discover new ways to create community on campus and beyond.​

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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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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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Acting the Kilroys

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

This script-based approach to acting and performance springs from the works and goals of the Kilroys, “a gang of playwrights…who came together to stop talking about gender parity in theatre and start taking action.” Students in Acting the Kilroys will perform given scenes written in a variety of styles by female, queer, and trans writers. Students will also study the greater context of plays, watch films and documentaries, and read and discuss essays and plays that deal with theatre’s response to the events that shape our world. Kilroys is about a way of looking at theatre: “We make trouble. And plays.” Acting the Kilroys is open to actors of any and all identities.

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Introduction to Intimacy in Performance

Component—Fall

Previous acting, directing, or stage-management component required or permission from the instructor.

This class will provide students with an introduction to the language, processes, and best practices of intimacy training for stage and screen. The class will meet once per week, during which time students will engage in discussions of terms and theory, learn fundamentals of approaching scene work or material that is intimate in nature, and work collaboratively to simulate artistic settings where best practices can be enacted and assessed. Toward the end of the term, students will work with text, scenes, or breakdowns to practice their approach to solving challenges around intimacy choreography.

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Collaborative

Digital Devising: Creating Theatre in a Postdigital 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 class will explore the works of contemporary playwrights. Students will choose two plays, and we will spend the first semester preparing those works for production. Each student may choose to act, direct, or design. The actors will define their character’s journey and develop the imagery, subtext, and history of the character. The directors and designers will develop their personal concept using visual art, video, sketches, and other written text. All students will research and dramaturge the script they have chosen. We will immerse ourselves in the world of these plays and experience how a theatre artist might fully prepare for a theatrical creation. Second semester will be devoted to performance and production. The directors and designers will choose sections of the plays that we will cast with the actors. We will rehearse and design a practicum production at the end of the year. The plays will be chosen from current American playwrights, such as Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, Annie Baker, Lynn Nott age, David Admit, Anne Washburn, Sarah Ruhl, Samuel Hunter, Satori Hall. Adam Rap, and Robert Asking. These writers have all created “bold works that have set the scene for 21st-century actors, giving voice to the modern experience,” according to The New York Times. They are a vital part of the American theatre today and are influential in shaping and developing the work of the actor, director, and designer.

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Acting and Directing for the Camera

Component—Year

Prerequisite: Theatre program acting or directing component or permission of the instructor.

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 and on-camera auditions (in person and taped). 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. Toward the end of the semester, the focus will switch to on-camera auditions, where students will learn the do’s and don’ts of the in-person and the self-taped camera audition. During the second semester, students will learn the basics of filmmaking, allowing them to create their own work without the restraints of a large budget and crew. The basic fundamentals of screenwriting, cinematography, directing, and editing will be covered, along with weekly writing, reading, viewing, and filming assignments. Students will finish class with edited footage of their work and clear next steps. For this course, students must have their own—or access to—an iPhone, iPad, or other camera and a computer with editing software (e.g., iMovie, DaVinci Resolve, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere). 

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Puppet, Spectacle, and Parade

Component—Year

Prerequisite: Puppetry or by permission of instructor. 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; puppets 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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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. The 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 preexisting 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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Theory, History, Survey

Historic Survey of Formal Aesthetics for Contemporary Performance Practice

Component—Year

Once upon a time in a rehearsal, a playwright said, “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 “Postmodernism” and “Futurist” with confidence.

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

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

It is a sanctum of discovery, enabling the actor to explore non-Western movement: centering energy, concentration, the voice, and the“mythos” of a character to discover one’s own truth in relation to the text, both contemporary and the classics. Both traditional and alternative approaches to acting techniques are applied. Fall semester concentrates on roles: Hamlet, Leontes, Caliban, Othello, Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, Hecuba, Medea, Antigone, Lady Anne, Tamara, Portia, Lady Macbeth; spring semester, applied to scene study from works by Chekhov, Ibsen, Arrabal, Beckett, Ionesco, Sarah Kane, Amira Baraka, Edward Albee, and Jean Genet. Required reading: The Art of Acting by Stella Adler.

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Crisis Mode: Theatre in Response

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

This seminar/workshop course examines the greater role of theatre in our culture, particularly as to how theatre responds to the events and movements that shape our lives—even as they occur. As we ricochet from one life-altering event to the next, theatre provides a distinct prism—a way of looking at the world that challenges perceptions and rejects established forms to create new paradigms. Crisis Mode addresses the relevance of theatre in the 21st century. Do plays matter? Has the form been exhausted? Or is there a need, now more than ever, for what theatre can distinctly provide? Scenes and portions of plays will be read aloud in class. Students will discuss documentaries and films and create solo or group performance pieces to be presented in class at the end of each semester. Discussion topics range from the influence and innovations of mid-20th century theatre artists like Brecht and Beckett to the legacies of political theatre companies like Teatro Campesino. We will look at the distinct value of agitprop and pop-up theatre and examine the works and form-bending techniques of contemporary theatre makers and artists like Anna Deavere Smith, Young Jean Lee, Aleshea Harris, Hilary Bettis, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Tony Kushner, Dominque Morriseau, and Quiara Alegria Hudes, along with queer, female, and trans theatre makers. Crisis Mode is open to actors, directors, designers, playwrights, and those interested in looking at theatre as both discourse and a means of social activism.

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Far Off, Off-Off, Off- and On Broadway: Experiencing the 2021-22 Theatre Season

Component—Spring

This class meets once a week.

Weekly class meetings in which productions are analyzed and discussed will be supplemented by regular visits to many of the theatrical productions of the current season. The class will travel within the tristate area, attending theatre in as many diverse venues, forms, and styles as possible. Published plays will be studied in advance of attending performances; new or unscripted works will be preceded by examinations of previous work by the author or company. Students will be given access to all available group discounts in purchasing tickets.

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Theatre and Civic Engagement

Curriculum Lab

Component—Year

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 the 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.

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Methods of Civic Engagement

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

Artists are the real architects of change, not the political legislators who implement change after the fact. —William Burroughs

This course explores creative, collaborative, and interdisciplinary structures that extend theatre to our community for students new to and interested in developing a civic engagement practice. The course is open to performers, writers, designers, movers, and stage managers. The practice will explore creating theatrical forms, the creative process, and the connections to learning and community building through making and doing and constructing an interdisciplinary, shared theatre vocabulary. Course work cultivates reflection, dialogue, participation, leadership, facilitation, and curriculum-building skills. Students will have a civic engagement placement at an area school, after-school program, or the SLC Lunchbox Theatre Program. Community placements are typically yearlong and usually culminate in a process-centered, informal presentation that reflects the individual participants’ interests, stories, and experiences. Class projects explore participatory, collaborative techniques that are valuable in community engagement projects.

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The Theatre and the Community

Component—Year

Prerequisite: Methods of Civic Engagement or permission of the instructor.

This course will explore, extend, and bring theatre-making skills to the community. An interest in exploring personally expressive material and in expanding and developing skills is required. The course focuses on successful, process-centered goals and proven community-building techniques and principles. We will examine the applications of contemporary sociopolitical and artistic issues of community work. Class readings and discussions will review theoretical and practical applications about theatre making and the political role of artists working in the community as agents for social change and social justice. The course is open to students who want to explore personal material through a sociopolitical lens, who are interested in responding to our time’s mad politics by making a difference—however they can, large or small—through theatre-sharing skills. The course is open to movers and shakers, playwrights, actors, designers, and visual artists. Students will hold one civic engagement placement: SLC Lunchbox Theatre, an area school, an after-school program, a senior center, or a youth community center. Class projects may include: performances in public spaces, a musical cabaret for seniors, creating site-specific videos, recording community oral histories, or community-wide forums. 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 imagining and working toward a more life-affirming world.”

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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 lead toward transformative practices. Course readings will explore the writings of Paulo Freire, M. C. 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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Directing

Directing Brechting

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week.

Bertolt 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. Directing Brechting is a hands-on directing class that offers directors a vital technique and way of working that springs from Brecht’s theories of dialectical theatre. Students will use Brecht’s plays and plays by contemporary theatre makers that he deeply influenced—like Anna Deavere Smith, Suzan Lori-Parks, Larry Kramer, and Moises Kaufman, 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. Students will act in scenes directed by their classmates for in-class presentations. This course is open to serious directors, actors, designers, writers, poets, etc., who are interested in developing an approach to work rooted in point of view and desire for social change.

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Directing Workshop

Component—Year

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. In the second semester, students will direct a short play of their choice. The workshop is open to beginning directors and any interested student.

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Directing Conference

Component—Fall

This class meets once a week.

Directors who have previously completed the fall semester of Directing Workshop can continue their work and direct a short play of their choice for this class. This course has conferences attached; classwork and conferences will be used to support the rehearsals and production.

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Directing: The Expanded Field

Component—Year

Prior directing component work.

What does a director do? How do we expand our understanding of direction? Directing: The Expanded Field troubles these questions by exploring the responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities available to a theatre director. The fall semester will focus on skills for directing scripted plays, including text analysis, collaboration, concept development, and staging. The spring semester will expand the director’s role by considering various artistic methodologies, including socially engaged art, devised and ensemble-generated theatre, and lecture-performance. Throughout the year, students will learn through readings and media created by contemporary directors, artists, and thinkers from a variety of lived experiences and disciplines. Students will practice and experiment with directing methods through writing assignments, presentations, scene work, and iterative performance experiments. Students will perform in one another’s scenes and collaborate on multiple projects. Rooted in justice-based pedagogy and community-driven care, the course aims to challenge and expand the boundaries of directing performance.

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Directing in Context: Socially Engaged Practice

Component—Year

This course will explore socially engaged art (SEA) from the lens of directing theatre. Throughout the first semester, students will develop an understanding of what SEA can look like. Readings will include Education For Socially Engaged Art by Pablo Helguera, Artificial Hells by Claire Bishop, Social Works by Shannon Jackson, and Tactical Performance: Serious Play and Social Movements by L. M. Bogad. We will explore contemporary, socially engaged artists and the context within which they are making their work. For example, when we study Simone Leigh’s Free People’s Medical Clinic, we will also study historical and theoretical texts about the Blank Panthers, mutual aid, healthcare in America, and performing care. Second semester will focus on student research and project development. Students will deep dive into research as a first step toward developing possible SEA projects. Students will build comprehensive reading lists (working with librarians and instructors) and begin to develop a research practice. There will be opportunities to present, facilitate conversations, and respond to each other’s ideas throughout the second semester. This class intentionally will not ask students to facilitate SEA projects, understanding that the work takes time, meaningful relationships, and care. Throughout the year, we will consistently consider how theatres, performers, and dramaturgy intersect with, and diverge from, examples of SEA.

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Movement and Voice

Voice and Speech I: Vocal Practice

Component—Year

This class meets once a week for two hours.

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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Introduction to Stage Combat

Component—Year

There will be two sections of this course. This class meets once a week.

Students learn the basics of armed and unarmed stage fighting, with an emphasis on safety. Actors are taught to create effective stage violence, from hair pulling and choking to sword fighting, with a minimum of risk. Basic techniques are incorporated into short scenes to give students experience performing fights in classic and modern contexts. Each semester culminates in a skills proficiency test aimed at certification in one of eight weapon forms.

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Choreographic Strategies and Theatre

Component—Year

This course will explore methods of creating original theatre through a choreographic lens as a way of assembling the various building blocks from which theatre is made (sound, image, movement, language, design, etc.), as well as through the influence and manipulation of time. The semester will begin with structured prompts and assignments largely completed in class, eventually moving into self-generated collaborative projects with some work to be completed outside of class. One of the main focuses of this course is the attempt to articulate, through open discussions, one’s creative process and choices therein. Through analysis of said exercises, students will more clearly come to know one another’s work and methods. Students will be asked to create movement sequences, collaborative projects, and other studies as a way of encountering the use of assembly, juxtaposition, unison, framing, interruption, deconstruction, and other time-based art practices. Readings will include manifestos and selections from an array of artists, essays, and excerpts of various theatre practices from around the world, as well as video examples. As students will be working within various levels of physicality, wearing loose, comfortable clothing is encouraged. No dance or movement experience is necessary; to find value in this course, one only needs curiosity and a willingness to jump in.

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Movement for Performance

Component—Year

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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Playwriting

Experiments in Theatrical Writing

Component—Year

This class meets once a week for four hours (with a half-hour break).

In this course, we will explore, discuss, and write side-by-side with contemporary experimental theatrical texts. 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, setting, structure, character, language, and genre. Experimentation finds purpose in the notion that departure from theatrical convention is a move toward altering 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 the landscape of the plays that we read in terms of how each play looks, feels, and sounds. We’ll discuss the cultural, historical, and personal contexts of the plays. We’ll look for ways in which these contexts may inspire and inform our own writing. We’ll generate our own experimental work using the assigned texts 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. We’ll consider how the unique structure of a play can derive organically from the story being told. And we’ll examine ways in which modern technology may assist, or hinder, our storytelling.

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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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TBA

The Writer’s Gym

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This yearlong writing workshop is designed for writers of any genre and any level of experience, from beginner to advanced. So, whether you’ve never written anything before or are an experienced poet or a playwright looking to perfect your craft, The Writer’s Gym offers exercises dedicated to inspiration, process, and craft. You will discover story structure and plot and how to introduce character and conflict. In class, you will write, share work, learn how to give feedback, and bravely discuss your work. Our goal is to build muscle for honest and fearless writing based on first instincts and to write from sources, dreams, and personal experiences. We will read and discuss short stories, essays, poems, and plays. Assignments will challenge you to observe what’s around you and the settings in which you live, writing from prompts, images, and sensory experiences. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” —Pablo Picasso

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TBA

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.

Faculty

Playwriting Techniques

Component—Year

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.

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Design and Media

Costume Design I

Component—Year

This class meets once a week. There is a $20 materials fee.

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.

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Costume Design II

Component—Year

Prerequisite: Costume Design I or by permission of instructor..

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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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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Intro to Media Design

Component—Year

Two sections of this class.

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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Media Design for Digital Performance

Component—Year

Prerequisites: Intro to Media Design, Sound I, Intro to Projection, or instructor permission. This class meets once a week.

This course will prepare students to create digital performances using multimedia tools. We will look at the creative applications of media design as it relates to video capture and digital presentation. Exploring a variety of digital workflows, students will gain hands-on experience and be prepared to problem-solve, troubleshoot, and creatively design for digital performances. By participating in this course, students will create a cohort of media-minded theatre makers, who are committed to working on productions and supporting their peers. This course will serve to mentor, troubleshoot and critically analyze theatrical design through the lens of digital performance. Students will be expected to work on season designs for productions or their own solo work. Students will be required to attend additional technical meetings/rehearsals and design productions over the course of the year.

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TBA

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

Prerequisite: Lighting Design I or by permission of instructor. 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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Puppet Theatre

Component—Year

This class meets once a week for two hours.

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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Scenography I

Component—Year

This class meets once a week. There is a $50 course fee. 

This course is an introduction to theatrical scenic design. Students will learn how to look at the world with fresh eyes and use imagination to create a theatrical world on stage. The course covers the fundamental ideas of scenic design and basic design technique, such as research, drawing, and scale-model making. We will start from small exercise projects and complete a final design project at the end. Students will present most of their projects to the class, followed by questions and comments from fellow students. Presentation and critique skills are important in this course. Students with no experience who are interested in other aspects of theatre making, as well as visual arts or architecture, will be able to learn from the basics.

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Scenography II

Component—Year

This class meets once a week. There is a $50 course fee.

This course is advanced training in scenic design. Students apply knowledge and skills from Scenography I to complete design projects through extensive and detailed processes. Students will also learn the production process, using department productions as examples. Students are required to present most of their projects to the class, followed by questions and comments from fellow students.

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Production

DownStage

Component—Year

This class meets twice a week. Open to graduate and undergraduate students, sophomore and above.

DownStage is an intensive, hands-on conference in theatrical production. DownStage student producers administrate and run their own theatre company. They are responsible for all aspects of production, including determining the budget and marketing an entire season of events and productions. Student producers are expected to fill a variety of positions, both technical and artistic, and to sit as members of 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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Internship

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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