What is a play? - Emporia State University

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THEATRE, Brief Version
By Robert Cohen
Chapter 2
A play is, essentially, what
happens in theatre. It is
not a thing but an event.
The play is the theatre’s
dran (something done).
A play, unlike a drama, is
ACTION, not words in a
book.
Plays have a beginning, a middle and an
end and can be classified...
By duration
OR
By type
According to Arthur Miller,
the length of any given play
is as long as it should be.
Full-length plays are between 2 and three hours
Shakespeare refers to “the three hours traffic of our stage”
But in our own time plays can be almost any length
Beckett’s Breath can be performed in one minute
Many popular one-act plays are ten-minute plays
Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia ran 9 hours
Green Day’s American Idiot runs 90 minutes
Another word for kind
Genre is also the root for our word “gender”
Another word meaning genre is type
Characteristics of GENRE are not absolute, but it is
a useful means of classifying plays
 Identified
by Aristotle in his POETICS
 The two most ancient forms of plays
A tragedy is a serious play with a topic of universal
human import as its theme. The central character
or PROTAGONIST is a person of high-rank or
stature. During the play this character goes
through a decline in fortune which leads to
suffering or death.
Oedipus Rex and Antigone are
examples of classical Greek
Tragedy
Hamlet and King Lear are
examples of Shakespeare
tragedies
Arthur Miller’s Death of
a Salesman is a
modern tragedy
Aristotle wrote that
comedy evolved from
improvised
entertainments and
bawdy sketches
 Moliere
 George
 Alan
 Neil
Bernard Shaw
Ayckbourn
Simon
 Anti-play
 Grim
comedy
 Tragic farce
 Grand guignol
 Satire
 Vaudeville
 Interludes
(secular comedies)
 Mystery plays (Bible stories)
 Morality plays (allegories)
Some say that Shakespeare invented another
GENRE expemplified by such works as HENRY V
Another classical form,
tragicomedy is a form that
bridges tragedy and comedy.
Some call it a tragedy that
ends happily.
Examples include the
Amphytrion of Plautus
(Roman) or even
Shakespeare’s The Tempest
and All’s Well That Ends Well
A
comic or disturbing play that ends
darkly or ironically, like many Coen
Brother films...
 Outwardly
serious but embellished with
spectacle, flamboyant dialogue, suspence
and contrivance
 Originally
accompanied by music
Clear delineation between good and evil
and a clear resolution are shared
attributes...
A pure creation of the
theatre where we
expect the find wildly
hilarious treatment of a
trivial theme—
mistaken identity, illicit
infatuation, monetary
scheming—using stock
characters, stock
situations, repitition,
quick changes, etc.
Musicals will be discussed at length later
The DOCUMENTARY
is exemplified by
Moises Kauffman’s
THE LARAMIE PROJECT
THE CONSTRUCTION OF DRAMA AND
DRAMATIC PERFORMANCE
In a Play, action is patterned as it is crafted
in well-understood compositional patterns.
We call these patterns dramaturgy.
Plot
is the structure of actions
Characters are the agents of the plot
Theme is its meaning
Diction is its use of language
Music
Spectacle
 Use
of asides and soliloquys
 Passage
action
of time in light or
 Actors “freeze” to
specific behavior
 Each
denote
era develops its own
conventions
 Preplay
refers to the procession of the
ancient Greek theatre and the gathering
of the audience in the modern theatre
The background
information the audience
must have in order to
understand what is going
on in the action of the
play...
Conflict and confrontation are the mechanism
by which a situation becomes dramatic.
Conflict is set up between characters, within them
or outside of them as in melodrama.
All are punished...
...the final action or speech or even a
single word or gesture indicates that the
passions aroused by the entire play are
now stilled...
Company bow or curtain call
 What
saw?
did we think about what we just
 Old
comedy
 Epic theatre
 Theatre of cruelty
 Happenings
 Clowning
 Postmodernism
 Anti-play
 Circus
 Comedy
Focus on
Theatricalism
...Not plot
 It
was not invented by Aristotle, he was
simply the first to describe it
Aristotelian and
non-Aristotelian
theatre can be
valid, surprising,
entertaining and
more…

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