Theatre Arts 275: Advanced Topics in Theatre


Professor Mazer

Fall 2000


Bennett Hall 305, x7382;

Office Hours: Tu 1:30-3:00; Th 1:30-3:00, and by appointment


This 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; the other two assignments (alternating weeks) will 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 will be a team writing assignment.


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.


We will also consider the process of “New Play Dramaturgy”--ways in which the dramaturg works directly with the playwright in creating or revising a script--by reading Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, and considering the revisions of the script for the revival of the play the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago (and, subsequently, on Broadway). To be scheduled: a visit with Michele Volansky, formerly the dramaturg for Steppenwolf, now dramaturg for the Philadelphia Theatre Company. Other possible classroom visits: Carrie Ryan (The Wilma Theatre), and Shannon O’Donnell (People’s Light & Theatre Company).


II. oral presentation A): 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.upenn web site, 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. Oral presentation B): Dramaturging the Season (biweekly, team).


The class will be divided into TWO OR THREE dramaturgical teams. We will imagine that we are collectively serving as “production dramaturgs” for an ongoing hypothetical theatre season of three plays. For the first play, each team will be assigned two dramaturgical tasks, each of which will be reported on, orally, every second week; different tasks will be assigned TO each team for each of the other two plays (so that, by the end of the semester, each team will have worked on all six different tasks). The plays in our hypothetical season are:


Harold Pinter, Old Times

Caryl Churchill, Cloud Nine

a third play to be announced


Dramaturgical assignments include:


1) Versions, texts, editions, translations, etc.


2) The play in the context of the playwright’s life, career, other works, etc.


3) The specific period, place, and conditions of the play’s composition and original performance, including relevant imagery, iconography, artifacts, cognate art forms, etc.


4) The specific period, place, and conditions of the play (or the performance’s) setting, including relevant imagery, iconography, artifacts, cognate art forms, etc.


5) The play’s subsequent performance history.


6) Useful scholarship and criticism, on the play and on related subjects.


IV. Oral presentation C): Planning Next Season (biweekly, team).


Throughout the semester while we are collectively dramaturging our hypothetical three-play season, we will also be planning the repertoire of plays for a hypothetical five-play season for next year. In the first few weeks of the semester, we will establish the hypothetical criteria for the season (venue, budget, audience, artistic mission, etc.), and develop a list of about 100 plays that we wish to consider for this season. Every second week (alternating with the team production-dramaturgy reports), each team will make a brief presentation in which each member of each team (i.e. every student in the class) will be responsible for one play from the list, describing the play (its plot, theme and significance; its physical, budgetary, and personnel demands; etc.) and making a recommendation about its inclusion in the next season. At the end of the semester, we will collectively select the five plays for the hypothetical season, based on the individual and team recommendations.


V. The final writing assignment (team).


At the end of the semester (at a date to be announced) each team will present a set of written materials on a single play, including a) a program note about the playwright; b) a program note about the play and the (hypothetical) production; c) a packet of materials for a program insert or a subscriber bulletin; d) a packet of materials to be sent to the press; and e) a packet of materials to be sent to school groups.


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.


The books for the course (Dramaturgy in American Theater: A Source Book, Old Times, Cloud Nine, Buried Child), are available for purchase in the Penn Book Center (34th and Sansom). There may be a bulkpack for this course later in the semester, which 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 cmazer@english. You may wish to create aliases or listservs for your individual teams.


An electronic version of this syllabus, including a hot link to the dramturgy web site:, is available on line at: Make a bookmark on your web browser for this site. In addition, we will be using an experimental web site for this course. Make a bookmark on your browser for, click on Theatre Arts, and click on our course. If you are registered, you are automatically subscribed: your login will be your PennNet ID and your password is your PennNet password. 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 class and team uses of this web site over the course of the semester.