Theatre Arts 274


Professor Mazer

Fall 2008


519 Annenberg Center, 3-2659;

Office Hours:  Tu, Th Noon-1:20, and by appointment


THERE IS NO SYLLABUS, PER SE, FOR THIS COURSE; the course is not organized on a tight schedule of weekly readings and occasional writing assignments.  Rather, there will be regular in-class discussions of ongoing topics through the semester, with some of them cued to specific readings; and there will be regular assignments of succinct oral presentations (since much of the dramaturg’s work in the theatre involves making succinct and persuasive oral presentations).  One of the presentations (weekly) will be individual; other assignments may be team presentations (since virtually all of the dramaturg’s work in the theatre involves collaboration as a team member).  At the end of the semester, there writing assignment, which may be team or may be individual.


I.  Discussion Topics and Readings.


Topics include:  What is a dramaturg?  What is the dramaturg’s function?  What is the dramaturg’s function in relation to certain institutional structures, special tasks, ways of organizing rehearsals, etc.?


Readings will be drawn, for the most part, from Dramaturgy in American Theater:  A Source Book, ed. Susan Jonas, Geoffrey S. Proehl, and Michael Lupu.  Essays to be read include:


Anne Cataneo, “Dramaturgy:  An Overview.”

Joel Schechter, “In the Beginning There Was Lessing ... Then Brecht, Müller and Other Dramaturgs.”

Martin Esslin, “Towards an American Dramaturgy:  Adapting the function of dramaturgy to U.S. conditions.”

Geoffrey S. Proehl, “The Images Before Us:  Metaphors for the Role of the Dramaturg in American Theater.”


and other essays to be announced.  There way be additional readings, for other sources, depending on our other work during the semester.


II.  The Grab Bag (weekly, individual).


Each Tuesday, each student will draw a dramaturgical question at random from a hat.  BEFORE CLASS the following Tuesday, each student will post the answer to the  question on the courseweb.library.upenn web site (see below), and bibliographical references (reference book, web site, etc.) for the sources of the information; in the Tuesday class, each student will make a brief presentation of the answer to the question.


III.  Dramaturging the Season.


Over the course of the semester, we will both select a season of five plays and begin dramaturgical work on at least two of these plays.  The season has a theme:  electoral politics.  Our collective task is to select a full season of plays, representing a balance of genre, tone, and company size, appropriate to the particular times of the year in which the plays are slotted (i.e. before, during, and after a presidential election, with election day in November).


The artistic director has already selected Continental Divide, by the British playwright David Edgar.  Originally commissioned in 2003 by Berkeley Rep and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Continental Divide consists of two plays, designed to be performed in repertory:  part 1, Mothers Against is told from the point of view of the Republican party; and part 2, Daughters of the Revolution is told from the point of view of the Democrats.


One of the plays in the five play season will be a play of our choice by Shakespeare.


During the first part of the semester, we will devise a system for reading, discussing, and selecting the three remaining plays of the season, to be drawn from a list of appropriate plays we collectively research and compile.  These plays might include, among others:


An American Daughter, by Wendy Wasserstein

The Best Man, by Gore Vidal.

Born Yesterday, by Garson Kanin.

Fiorello, by Jerome Weidman, George Abbott, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerry Bock.

November, by David Mamet.

Of Thee I Sing, by George and Ira Gershwin, George S. Kaufman, and Morrie Ryskind.

Spin, by Robert William Sherwood.

The War Party, by Vincent Delaney

Waste, by H. Granville Barker.


We might also consider constructing our own documentary play, commissioning an adaptation of a novel or screenplay, or dramatizing non-dramatic material (e.g. The Federalist Papers).


As we select the plays, we will schedule individual and group dramaturgical projects for some or all of the plays in the season.  These might include:


Researching period contexts, historical and political details, etc.

Preparing visual materials for the director, designers, and cast.

For the Shakespeare play:  recommending period settings (historical, Elizabethan, contemporary, some other period, eclectic), preparing doubling schemes, cutting the text, etc.  (We will be assisted by readings from Andrew James Hartley, The Shakespearean Dramaturg).

If we choose to cast the season from a resident company of actors, devising cross-casting between the five plays of the season.


IV.  New Play Dramaturgy.


Reading:  August:  Osage County, by Tracy Letts.

Special guest (date to be announced):  Edward Sobel, Director of New Play Development, Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, and dramaturg for August:  Osage County, at Steppenwolf and on Broadway.  (Sobel is a Penn alumnus and Theatre Arts major, class of 1987).


V.  Required Theatregoing.


The War Party, by Vincent Delaney, InterAct Theatre Company, October 24-November 23.

(other possible required theatregoing to be announced.)


VI.  The final writing assignment.


At the end of the semester (at a date to be announced) we will, individually or collectively, prepare a set of written and visual materials for THE ENTIRE SEASON, including some or all of the following:  a) a program note about the playwrights; b) a program note about the plays and the (hypothetical) productions; c) a packet of materials for a program insert or a subscriber bulletin; d) a packet of materials to be sent to the press; e) a packet of materials to be sent to school groups.; f) visual displays for the theatre lobby.  Materials should be posted on the website for comment, and presented in the final class.


Attendance and participation are mandatory.  Persistent unexcused absences, especially an absence on a day of an individual or team presentation, will be reflected in your semester grade.  If your absences of unpreparedness jeopardize another student’s work, you will be asked to drop the class.


The books for the course (Dramaturgy in American Theater:  A Source Book; The Shakespearean Dramaturg:  A Theoretical and Practical Guide; Continental Divide, and August:  Osage County) are available for purchase in the Penn Book Center (34th and Sansom).  There may be a bulkpack for this course later in the semester; if so, it will be available at the Campus Copy Center, 3900 block of Walnut St.


The listserv for this course is  You have been subscribed automatically.  If you do not seem to be on it, or if you drop the course and wish to be unsubscribed, please send a note to  An electronic version of this syllabus at:  Make a bookmark on your web browser for this site.  In addition, we will be using a “Blackboard” web site for this course.  Set your browser to and bookmark the site.  You should be automatically subscribed to the site.  CHECK THIS SITE DAILY.  The web site will include daily announcements (including information about theatregoing assignments), and an electronic copy of the syllabus.  The site also includes a discussion group, with access restricted to members of the course.  We may discover other class and team uses for this web site over the course of the semester.