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.

Courses

Theatre

Actor’s Workshop: Suit the Action to the Word, the Word to the Action—Hamlet-III. ii. 17-8

Open—Year

Students will work on voice work, script analysis, sensory exercises, a Shakespeare sonnet, cold readings, improvisation, auditioning, and extensive scene work from the following playwrights: Sara Ruhl, Theresa Rebeck, Susan Yankowitz, Maria Irene Fornes, Martin Crimp, Jean-Paul Sartre, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Anouilh, Frank Wedekind, Tennessee Williams, Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard, Oscar Wilde, David Auburn, Arthur Miller, and Edward Baker. Required text: The Art of Acting, by Stella Adler.

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Actor’s Workshop: Acting Techniques

Open—Year

This is an acting techniques class: foundational, process-based work to empower the actor in any theatrical environment. The first semester focuses on the voice and body and the development of a “toolbox” of acting techniques. The second semester focuses on applying those “tools” to language and text while integrating the voice and body work through scene work. The goal is for students to leave the class with all of the basic tools that they need to act; to have a growing awareness of their body, voice, and physical habits in order that they may consciously use them in the development of character; and to begin to develop their own process of working, start to finish, with an arsenal of tools and techniques to use when needed. We explore the Alexander Technique, character work, sense memory work, viewpoints, animal work, voice and speech work, script analysis, text analysis, Lecoq exercises, and much more.

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Actor’s Workshop: Exploring Human Motivation and Craft

Open—Year

“The character is in action…struggling.” —Stanislavski

This class is dedicated to the actors’ personal growth through improvisations and exercises. Our other concentration is on the fashioning of the actors’ craft based on Uta Hagen’s five “W’s”: who you are, where you are, what you want, why you want it, and when you want it. Scene work is in the second semester only. Our motto: “You use yourself in order to transform yourself.” Improvisation forces you to use the pain and the joy in your life. Use it…and then move on. “Only connect…” —E.M. Forster.

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Acting Poetic Realism

Intermediate—Year

The plays of Anton Chekov, Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson serve as the point of departure in our exploration of the craft of acting. In this class, students will be challenged to expand their range of expression and build their confidence to make bold and imaginative acting choices. Particular attention will be paid to learning to analyze the text in ways that lead to defining clear, specific, and playable actions and objectives. In tandem with their work on a given text, students will be guided through a progression of physical, vocal, sensory, and imaginative exercises designed to impart tangible skills that will enable them to create multidimensional characters.

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Acting Shakespeare

Advanced—Year

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, with the goal of bringing his characters to life. Class time will be divided among physical, vocal, and text work.

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Forensics: Actors and Directors Lab

Advanced—Year

Forensics is a production class for actors and directors. Students will read, analyze, direct, and act in a wide variety of one-act plays from a cross-section of periods and styles in a way of working that puts shared emphasis upon the text and its context. Forensics students form their own actor and director ensemble. Students present their work as part of the theatre program’s second-semester season. Classwork includes discussion of the playwrights and the time periods that gave their plays shape and resonance and a practical overview of the production process. It is understood that students in Forensics will have a range of acting and/or directing experience. Emphasis is placed upon determining what is common for both actors and director in staging a play. Over the course of the full year and in presentation, students will be expected to both act and direct.

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Audition Technique

Advanced—Fall

This class is for the serious-minded actor who, after graduation, anticipates pursuing a career as a performer. Predicated on the idea that auditioning is a learned skill at which one gets better with more experience and practical knowledge, the class will focus at its core on the only unalienable factor: the individuality of the actor him/herself. As much time will be spent on material selection as on execution; actors will be asked to make necessary friendships with the dreaded “monologues” and, hopefully, come to regard them as necessary filters through which they can express themselves as both people and artists. Cold-reading prep will also be covered. The hope is for the actor to leave class with not only one or two terrific audition pieces but also a better understanding of the casting process itself and what is in and out of his/her control.

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Breaking the Code

Intermediate—Year

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.

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Close Up and Personal

Advanced—Year

Great camera work demands intimacy, emotional adaptability, risk, and connection. Students will learn how to maintain an organic experience in spite of the rigid technical restrictions and requirements. During the fall semester, we will work on cold-reading techniques, emotional expansion exercises, and scenes from published works. In the second semester, we will put original monologues and scenes on camera. We will use a monitor playback system for reviewing work to help identify specific problems.

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Comedy Workshop

Intermediate—Year

An exploration of the classic structures of comedy and the unique comic mind, this course begins with a strong focus on improvisation and ensemble work. The athletics of the creative comedic mind is the primary objective of the first-semester exercises. Status play, narrative storytelling, and the Harold exercise are used to develop the artist’s freedom and confidence. The ensemble learns to trust the spontaneous response and their own comic madness. Second semester educates the theatre artist in the theories of comedy. It is designed to introduce students to commedia dell’arte, vaudeville, parody, satire, and standup comedy. At the end of the final semester, each student will write five minutes of standup material that will be performed one night at a comedy club in New York City and then on the College campus on Comedy Night.

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Contemporary Scene Study

Advanced—Year

This class will take a rigorous approach to the preparation and process of performance. Building on your “toolbox,” you will go deeper into text, character exploration, and action, expanding self-awareness and revealing and risking more. The first hour will focus on movement and making ephemeral works as a way to tune your instrument. The following two hours will be devoted to scene study, using contemporary and modern texts.

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Creating a Role

Open—Year

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. Traditional as well as alternative approaches to acting techniques are applied. Fall semester concentrates on working on roles such as Hamlet, Leontes, Caliban, Othello, Lear, Macbeth, Hecuba, Medea, Antigone, and Lady Macbeth; spring semester, applied to scene study from works by Arrabal, Beckett, Ionesco, Maria Irene Fornes, Sam Shepard, Albert Camus, and Jean Genet.

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Improvisation Laboratory

Advanced—Year

Improvisation forces you to face the pain and the joy in your life, use it…and then move on. Using experimental exercises and improvisation, we will explore the character’s connections to his or her environment, relationships, needs, and wants. In the second semester, we will concentrate on fashioning a workable technique, as well as on using improvisation to illuminate scene work from the great dramatic playwrights: Lorca, Chekhov, Strindberg, O’Neill, Shaw, etc.

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Singing Workshop

Open—Year

This workshop is a lab where we explore techniques of vocal performance using songs and various styles, both past and present, including popular music, musical theatre, cabaret, and original work. Weekly presentations will emphasize dynamics, vocal interpretation, and material selection, as well as connections with the audience. This class requires enrollment in a weekly voice lesson and an Alexander Technique class.

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SLC Lampoon

Advanced—Year

SLC Lampoon is a comedy ensemble of actors, directors, and writers. The techniques of Second City and TheatreSports will be used to create an improvisational troupe that will perform throughout the campus. The ensemble will craft comic characters and write sketches, parodies, and political satire. This work will culminate in a final SLC Lampoon Mainstage performance in the style of Second City or Saturday Night Live.

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The Webisodics Project/Web Series Asylum

Advanced—Year

During the fall semester, we will develop—through the theatrical exercises, extensive improvisations, and intensive character creation—an original concept that, during the spring semester, will be shot and edited over the following year.

The final concept will be determined by class input and the outcome of the creative process. Some characters will expand, some compress, some will go the way of the Tasmanian Tiger. The object is not to have the biggest role, the most dialogue, or the most scenes but to create the best collaborative ensemble work possible within the timeframe and academic constraints. The past three Web series ensembles have proudly created the Web series Socially Active, which can be viewed online at http://vimeo.com/channels/sociallyactive); the Web feature Elusive, which will be submitted to various film festivals this spring; and the one-hour dramatic pilot Providers, which is in its final postproduction stage and will be festival- or Web-released later this year.

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Forensics: Actor and Director Lab

Advanced—Year

See the full description in the Performance/Acting section, above.

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Alexander Technique

Open—Year

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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Breathing Coordination for the Performer

Open—Year

Students in this class improve their vocal power and ease through an understanding of basic breathing mechanics and anatomy. Utilizing recent discoveries of breathing coordination, performers can achieve their true potential by freeing their voices, reducing tension, and increasing vocal stamina. In the second semester, principles of the Alexander Technique are introduced. Students consolidate their progress by performing songs and monologues in a supportive atmosphere.

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Building a Vocal Technique

Intermediate—Year

A continuation of Breathing Coordination for the Performer, which is suggested as a prerequisite, students deepen their understanding of breathing coordination and Alexander Technique and work on songs and monologues of their choice. The emphasis is on maintaining physical ease in performance to increase vocal range and power.

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Contemporary Practice I for Dance and Theatre

Open—Year

Successful performances in dance and theatre rely on training that prepares performers—in mind, body, and spirit—to enter the realm of aesthetic exploration and expression. In this class, we will work toward acquiring skills that facilitate the investigation of how the body moves in familiar and previously unimagined ways. Through traditional and experimental practices, students will develop a sense of functional alignment, form, physical energy and dynamics, strength, and focus, as well as awareness of time and rhythm. Improvisation is an important aspect of this study.

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Introduction to Stage Combat

Open—Year

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 both 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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Advanced Stage Combat

Intermediate—Year

This course is a continuation of Introduction to Stage Combat and offers additional training in more complex weapons forms such as rapier and dagger, single sword, and small sword. Students receive training as fight captains and have the opportunity to take additional skills proficiency tests, leading to actor/combatant status in the Society of American Fight Directors.

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Directing the 20th Century: From Chekhov to Churchill

Intermediate—Year

This class will focus on directing plays in the 20th-century canon, covering a range of styles and content. It will cover the whole journey of directing a play, with a strong emphasis on practical work. Students will be required to bring in design research for plays and to direct scenes from the plays, both of which they will present to the class for critique. The class will focus on how to use the text to inform the choices made by the director.

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Directing, Devising, and Performance

Intermediate—Year

This class is a laboratory, where students will explore (on their feet) a range of methodologies, philosophies, and approaches to creating performance and theatre. How do you direct a theatre piece without starting with a play? Alongside a broad survey of artists and art movements of the 20th century that continue to influence theatre artists today, students will practice a variety of ways of staging, both with and without text and always in relation to being a “live event.” Following a trajectory from the Dadaists to Fluxus, from the surrealists to John Cage (and beyond), we will wrangle with these “postdramatic” artists and explore how their ideas can lead us in finding our own unique theatrical voice. Students will be given reading and creative assignments outside of class and will be expected to work collaboratively throughout the term.

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Movement for Performance

Open—Year

We will explore the full instrument of the performer; namely, the human body. Daily exercises open the body to larger movement potential while introducing students to a better functioning alignment, efficient muscle and energy use, full breathing, clear weight transfer, and an increased awareness while traveling through space. In addition, students will be asked to create “movement-based pieces” in an effort to discover and articulate the languages that the body communicates 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 expression, and more personally expressive in their performances. In addition to occasional reading handouts, there will be opportunities to visit rehearsals and performances of professional theatre and dance in New York City.

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New Musical Theatre Development Lab

Open—Year

Investigations for those aspiring to produce, direct, create, and/or perform musical theatre and experimental chamber opera, this class is open to theatre designers and technicians, actors, singers, dancers, composers, lyricists, and musicians who are interested in learning and using crossover skills. Students will create teams to present and perform in class project scenes that include set and costume designs and musical and choreographic styles and that go from concept ideas to production. Students will research the history of musicals, including European cabaret and global performance, with a particular focus on the influence of interdisciplinary needs of contemporary musicals. The process of adaptation, auditioning, casting, rewriting, rehearsals, and performance will also be presented. Second semester, the class will develop an open performance workshop.

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Puppet Theatre

Open—Year

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 these forms through individual and group research projects. We will further our exploration with hands-on learning in various techniques of construction. Students will then have the opportunity to develop their own manipulation skills, as well as to gain an understanding of how to prepare the puppeteer’s body for performance. The class will culminate with the creation and presentation of puppetry pieces of their own making.

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Voice Lessons in Collaboration With Singing Workshop and New Musical Theatre Development Lab

Year

This weekly voice lesson is required for students in Singing Workshop class and is optional for students in New Musical Theatre Development Lab.

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Voice and Speech I: Vocal Practice

Year

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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Costume Design I

Open—Year

This introduction to the many aspects of costuming is for students with little or no experience in the field. Among the topics covered are: basics of design, color, and style; presentation of costume design from preliminary concept sketches to final renderings; researching period styles; costume bookkeeping from preliminary character lists to wardrobe maintenance charts; and the costume shop from threading a needle to identifying fabric. The major class project will have each student research, bookkeep, and present costume sketches for a play. Some student projects will incorporate production work.

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Costume Design II

Intermediate—Year

This more advanced course in costume design is for students who have completed Costume Design I or who have the instructor’s permission to enroll. Topics covered in Costume Design I will be examined in greater depth, with the focus on students designing actual productions. An emphasis will be placed on developing sketching techniques and beginning and maintaining a portfolio.

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Advanced Costume Conference

Advanced—Year

This is an advanced conference in costume design.

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Lighting Design I

Open—Year

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

Intermediate—Year

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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Scenic Design I

Open—Year

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 puppetry. Student projects will include both conceptual designs and production work in the department.

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Advanced Design Theatre Studio

Intermediate—Year

This class will further develop the student’s skill set as a scenic designer through work on department productions and individual projects. Students will deepen their skills in drafting and rendering for the stage and develop their ability to communicate with directors, fellow designers, and the technical crew. CAD drafting and modeling in Vectorworks will be introduced through the course, as well as the use of Photoshop. In addition, students will continue to have hands-on exposure to practical scenic construction, rigging, and painting techniques. Students in this course are required to design a department production. This course is open to select students who have completed puppetry and projection design for advanced design work in those fields.

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Sound Design

Open—Year

This course will cover sound design from the beginning of the design process through expectations when meeting with a director, how to collaborate with the rest of the design team, and ultimately how to create a full sound design for performance. The course will explain how to edit sound, as well as many of the programs commonly used in a professional atmosphere. Throughout the course, we will create sound effects and sound collages and cover the many ways that sound is used in the theatre. Skills learned in this class will prepare students to design sound in many different venues and on different types of systems. The class will focus on the creative side of sound design while covering the basics of system design, sound equipment, and software.

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Projection Design for Theatre and Puppetry

Open—Year

This course allows students to explore design possibilities in projection, animation, scenic design, and puppetry through a series of exploratory projects and group work. We will create visual sequences using the overhead projector, stop-motion animation techniques, shadow puppetry, and video animation. The course will introduce basic digital manipulation in Photoshop, simple video animation in After Effects, and the live manipulation of video using Isadora media interface software. Individual projects in the second semester will challenge students to integrate these techniques into performance. A basic knowledge of Photoshop and the Macintosh operating system is highly recommended.

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CultureHub Live Media Workshop

Open—Year

This course will explore live-feed projection design and technology with theatre students of Sarah Lawrence College and design and video students at the Seoul Institute of the Arts in Ansan, South Korea. The course will focus on creating puppetry and miniature environments for theatrical performance in two separate locations by utilizing the telepresence studios at SeoulArts and CultureHub. Students in both locations, Seoul and New York, will be introduced to basic puppetry manipulation and construction techniques, as well as to methods for designing and building miniature sets and environments. In addition, live video feeds, chroma keying, and depth-sensing cameras will be implemented to enhance the media and performance landscape. Through the process, students will be exposed to a variety of multimedia theatre and puppetry forms and will gain an understanding of critical design considerations, including lighting, manipulation, chroma key, and live video techniques. The goal of the course will be to create collaborative performances that are a combination of manipulated figures and sets in separate physical locations. The course will be team-taught by: Professor Seung-Ho Jeong, scenic and lighting designer at Seoul Institute for the Arts and one of Korea’s most high-profile, in-demand set designers; Tom Lee, puppet artist, theatre designer, and guest faculty at Sarah Lawrence College; and Billy Clark, director of CultureHub New York City and faculty of the Seoul Arts Institute.

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Creative Impulse: The Process of Writing for the Stage

Advanced—Fall

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, 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, RichardMaxwell, 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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Experiments in Language and Form

Advanced—Fall

In this class, we focus on writing “experimental theatre”; that is, we experiment with theatrical forms that extend beyond traditional portrayals of time, three-dimensional space, language, character, and dramatic structure to discover the impact that different types of onstage presentations might have on audiences. We are not interested in imitating the style of “experimental” playwrights but, rather, using their texts as influence, stimulus, and encouragement as we attempt our own “experiments.” We will also style experimental texts to ascertain the types of environments—political, spiritual, mental, social—-that influenced such texts to be generated; that is, created. Our aim, first and foremost, is to investigate and explore ways to genuinely investigate and give theatrical expression to our own personal, political, and spiritual interior lives, values, observations, and beliefs. We will then strive to examine the most effective manner of communicating our theatrical experiments to an audience. Our experimental writing may include multimedia presentations as part of the scripted onstage play or performance.

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Writer’s Gym

Open—Fall

“You can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club.” —Jack London

Writer’s Gym is a yearlong writing workshop designed for writers of any genre and any level of experience, from beginner to advanced. Our focus is on writing exercises that develop characters and stories—whether for the stage, screen, or prose narration. In addition, we study theories about the nature of creativity. Our goals are as follows: to study writing methods that help to inspire, nurture, encourage, and sustain our urge/need to write; to learn how to transform personal experiences and observations into imaginative dramatic and/or prose fiction or poetic metaphor and imagery; to concentrate on building the inner lives of our characters through in-depth character work in order to create stronger stories; to explore—that is to say, investigate—and gain access to our spontaneous ideas; to articulate and gain a more conscious relationship to the “inner territory” from which we draw ideas; to confront issues that block the writing process and gain greater confidence in relation to revision as we pursue clarification of the work.

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Medley Workshop: Developing the Dramatic Idea

Intermediate—Fall

The purpose of this workshop is to develop and complete a draft of a final project play of any length. Our focus is on originating character-driven stories that involve multiple events and/or multiple turning points and revelations, concluding with a major crisis and/or consequence for the characters. From the very beginning of the semester, writers create several short drafts of “mini plays,” as we practice the components that lead to effective playwriting. Writers allow various characters, topics, and concerns to be revealed to them as their in-process project(s) take shape. We will also study a selection of full-length plays and/or screenplays for inspiration, guidance, and analysis of various contemporary styles of drama. Styles may be varied; but as dramatists, we are all challenged by a form of storytelling that requires us to try and hold the public attention of an audience for a condensed length of “real” time in a public space.

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Playwriting Techniques

Open—Year

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

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Playwright’s Workshop

Advanced—Year

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

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Learning That Matters: Teaching Artists and Society

Open—Fall

This course is about the history of workshops and projects by artists who are continuing to be in the forefront of new ideas in education, as well as in community collaborations. The development of connecting devised expressive work and the creative process has proven to directly support new work on the brain and how one learns. Presenting and developing the techniques, talents, and skills needed in one’s creative practice is part of the weekly class, along with videos on issues and the use of art forms extending into new works that speak to the needs of people everywhere.

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Crisis Mode: Theatre From the Late 1960s Through Today

Open—Year

Crisis Mode examines how theatre has responded to certain events of historical significance and moments of crisis. It is of particular value to those directors, actors, and theatre makers/producers interested in an expansive view of theatre and in how and why a play can change the way that we think. The course provides a working foundation for performance and production. Crisis Mode will examine plays and playwrights and theatre movements and styles that have developed and come to expression in the past several decades. Students will discuss a variety of plays, with an emphasis on looking at the world in which those plays were written and why they continue to resonate today. Students will study documentaries and make presentations on events of historical/political/cultural significance as a way of providing a play with a rich context for production and performance. Crisis Mode will concentrate on American plays and political movements but will encompass a global and cultural perspective, with discussion ranging from the influential works and innovations of Brecht and Beckett to political theatre groups such as El Teatro Campesino of the 1960s, to agitprop theatre events like those of the Vietnam War and civil rights eras, and to those of ACT UP in the 1980s AIDS crisis. Students in Crisis Mode will devise projects to serve their particular theatre interests. Projects range from staging and acting scenes to design work, dramaturgical presentations, and original plays written in the style/spirit of the events studied.

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Theatre Outreach: Collaboration and Community

Open—Year

Developing original, issue-oriented, dramatic material using music and theatre media, this course 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 with 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. We will study sociological and psychological dynamics 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 afterschool programs, styles and forms of community on-site performances, and media techniques for artists who teach, as well as working with the Sarah Lawrence College Human Genetics program.

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Dramaturgy

Advanced—Year

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

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History and Histrionics

Open—Year

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

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Global Theatre: The Syncretic Journey

Open—Year

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to La MaMa, dedicated to the playwright and to all aspects of the theatre.” —Ellen Stewart

The La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City has been the host of contemporary and international theatre artists for 50 years. You will have the opportunity to attend the performances, meet the artists, and participate in workshops led by them, as well as have access to the La MaMa archives on the history of international theatre in New York. Your personal “syncretic theatre journey” is enhanced by the observance of fellow theatre makers and oneself that is informed concretely by the application of text, research, movement, music, design, puppetry, and multimedia, as well as social and political debate in class. Coordinators of the LaMaMa International Symposium for Directors, David Diamond and Mia Yoo, will host you in New York City, where you will exchange ideas with visiting and local artists: Yara Arts Group and artists of the Great Jones Repertory Theatre. Historical/contemporary experimental texts will be discussed, such as: Psychosis by Sarah Kane, Death and the Kings Horseman by Wole Soyinka, Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill, The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt, A Dream Play by August Strindberg, Thunderstorm by Cao Yu, Goshram Kwotal by Vijay Tendulkar, Venus by Susan-Lori Parks, Ruined by Lynn Nottage, Mistero Buffo by Dario Fo, And They Put Handcuffs On The Flowers by Arrabal, and the works of Martin Crimp. Required reading: The Empty Space by Peter Brook.

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Far-Off, Off-Off, Off, and On Broadway: Experiencing the 2015-2016 Theatre Season

Open—Year

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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Downstage

Sophomore and above—Year

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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Production Workshop

Fall 2015 Theatre Season Productions
Spring 2016 Theatre Season Productions

The creative director of the theatre program will lead a discussion group for all of the directors, assistant directors, and playwrights participating in the fall theatre season (including readings, workshops, and productions). This is an opportunity for students to discuss with their peers the process, problems, and pleasures of making theatre at Sarah Lawrence College (and beyond). This workshop is part problem solving and part support group, with the emphasis on problem solving.

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Stage Management

Open

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

Open—Year

This is a stagehand course that focuses on the nuts and bolts of light 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, drafting and 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 program.

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Internship Conference

Intermediate—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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Grad Lab

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. Ensemble acting, movement, design and fabrication, playwriting, devised work, and music performance are all explored. The class is a forum for workshops, master classes, and open rehearsals, with a focus on the development of critical skills. In addition, students in Grad Lab are expected to generate a new piece of theatre to be performed each month for the Sarah Lawrence community. These performances may include graduate and undergraduate students alike.

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Contemporary Collaborative Performance: Grad Projects I

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 class work, there will be several opportunities to visit rehearsals and performances of professional theatre and dance in New York City.

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Thesis Project

Year

This course will provide a critical and supportive forum for the development of new works of original theatre with a focus on conducting research in a variety of ways, including historical and artistic research, workshops, improvisations, experiments, and conversation. Each student will focus on creating one original project—typically, but not limited to, a solo—over the course of the full year. During the class, students will show works in progress. During conference, students and faculty will meet to discuss these showings and any relevant artistic and practical problems that may arise.

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London Theatre Tour

Open

The purpose of this course is to experience and examine present-day British theatre: its practices, playwrights, traditions, theatres, and artists. This is a two-credit academic course, and any student enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College is eligible to participate in the class. During two weeks in London, students will attend a minimum of 12 productions, tour various London theatres, meet with British theatre artists, attend regularly scheduled morning seminars, and make an oral presentation on one of the plays that the group is attending. Plays will be assigned prior to the end of the fall semester, and preparation and research for the presentation should be complete before arriving in London. Productions attended will include as wide a variety of venues, styles, and periods of theatre as possible. Seminars will analyze and critique the work seen, as well as discover themes, trends, and movement in the contemporary theatre of the country. Free time is scheduled for students to explore London and surrounding areas at their leisure.

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The London Theatre Program (BADA)

Sponsored by Sarah Lawrence College and the British American Drama Academy (BADA), the London Theatre Program offers undergraduates from Sarah Lawrence an opportunity to work and study with leading actors and directors from the world of British theatre. The program offers acting classes with leading artists from the British stage. These are complemented by individual tutorials, where students will work one-on-one with their teachers. Faculty selected from Britain’s foremost drama schools teaches technical classes in voice, movement, and stage fighting. This intense conservatory training is accompanied by courses in theatre history and theatre criticism, tickets to productions, and the experience of performing in a professional theatre. In addition, master classes and workshops feature more of Britain’s fine actors and directors. Designed for dedicated students who wish to study acting in London, the program offers enrollment in either the fall or spring semester for single-semester study. Those wishing to pursue their training more intensely are strongly encouraged to begin their training in the fall and continue with the Advanced London Theatre Program in the spring semester.

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La MaMa E.T.C.

La MaMa E.T.C. sponsors two summer events in Umbria, Italy, in conjunction with Sarah Lawrence College: International Symposium for Directors, a three-week training program for professional directors, choreographers, and actors in which internationally renowned theatre artists conduct workshops and lecture/demonstrations; and Playwright Retreat, a one-week program where participants have ample time to work on new or existing material. Each day, master playwright Lisa Kron will meet with the playwrights to facilitate discussions, workshops, and exercises designed to help the writers with whatever challenges they are facing. More information is available at http://lamama.org/programs/umbria/.

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Projects: Grad II

Year

This course will provide a critical and supportive forum for the development of new works of original theatre with a focus on conducting research in a variety of ways, including historical and artistic research, workshops, improvisations, experiments, and conversation. Each student will focus on creating one original project—typically, but not limited to, a solo—over the course of the full year. During the class, students will show works in progress. During conference, students and faculty will meet to discuss these showings and any relevant artistic and practical problems that may arise.

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