Theatre Arts 274


Professor Mazer

Spring 2011


519 Annenberg Center, 3-2659;

Office Hours:  Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:30-2:30, 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).  Some of the presentations 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.  Historical/Social/Contextual Research (bi-weekly, team).


Every other week, each team will be assigned to research a particular aspect of a particular period, country, social class and/or activity.  The team can divide the assignment and presentation any way they wish.  BEFORE THE CLASS when the assignment is due, each team will information, visual aids, etc. on the Blackboard site, along with bibliographical references (reference book, web site, etc.) for the sources of the information; in class, each team 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 one of these plays.  The season has a theme:  “GAMES:  MIND AND BODY.”  Our collective task is to select a full season of plays, representing a balance of genre, tone, and company size, appropriate to theatre company’s audience and community.


The company’s Artistic Director has already made the following decisions:


1)  One of the plays will be by Shakespeare or one of his contemporaries.


2)  One of the plays will be an original adaptation of a non-dramatic source (e.g. a short story or a novel), which retains the original work’s narrative voice, and which can be performed in an hour.


During the first part of the semester, we will devise a system for reading, discussing, and selecting the five plays of the season, to be drawn from a list of appropriate plays we collectively research and compile.  It is likely that the process will initially involve the groups assigning plays for individual group members to report on, with a recommendation about whether the rest of the group, and the entire class, should read the play.  (I only ask that, in the initial stages, individuals report on plays THAT THEY HAVE NOT READ BEFORE; if you know a script that you think the group and the class should consider, that play should initially be reported on by someone ELSE in your group.)


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:  Superior Donuts, by Tracy Letts.

Special guest (date to be announced):  Edward Sobel, former Director of New Play Development, Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, and dramaturg for the original productions of both August:  Osage County and Superior Donuts at Steppenwolf and on Broadway; currently Assistant Professor of Theatre at Temple University and Associate Artistic Director of the Arden Theatre.  (Sobel is a Penn alumnus and Theatre Arts major, class of 1987).


V.  Required Theatregoing.


Superior Donuts, directed by Ed Sobel, Arden Theatre Company, March 3-April 3.

(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; The Shakespearean Dramturg; and Superior Donuts) 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:*cmazer/274sp11.htm.  In addition, we will be using a “Blackboard” web site for this course.