MFA Course Descriptions

Playwriting Workshop

First and second year playwrights meet together in this seminar, which each writer takes four times. The primary goals of the course are to hone basic craft and to create an environment that will guide the writers' exploration of their individual voices. We concentrate on four major issues: storytelling, character, structure, and the poetic voice. The course is taught from overlapping perspectives of traditional and alternative techniques. The traditional approach is rooted in character and narrative structure with emphasis on a play's arc through its beginning, turning point, and ending. The alternative approaches playwriting as collage, emphasizing the power of image, gesture, and narrative structures including non-linear. Exercises are rooted in storytelling techniques and character development. From this work emerges the shape of a one-act play which is then fleshed out scene by scene. After a session devoted to the methods of giving and receiving constructive feedback, work is read around the table and the group responds. Reading is a component; classic plays are used as models of structural principles. Exercises introducing alternative techniques of writing enrich their process. Rewriting follows feedback. The process includes seminars with guest playwrights and trips to New Dramatists. The final project of the semester will be a reading of the completed plays before an invited audience.

Collaboration

The ability to collaborate is the fundamental skill necessary for the creation of theatre. This course will explore the vocabularies of design, acting, playwriting, and directing to create a common fluency in the dialects of each discipline. This will increase the playwright's ability to listen and communicate, the chief tools of collaboration. Structured exercises will guide teams to create short pieces together, rotating responsibilities, and always placing a strong collaborative process as the highest goal. This is a two-semester course.

Theatre History I

The course charts the developments from the ancient Greek theatre through the 17th century across the globe from England to Japan to using major plays as our focus. We will explore their context-when, where, and why they were written-the lives of the playwrights, and the culture and the politics of their society. With the Greeks, our prime focus will be the nature of tragedy. Readings include Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, and The Oresteia, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Pasolini's Oedipus, Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone, Lee Breuer and Bob Telson's The Gospel at Colonus, Sophocles' Electra, Euripides' Electra, Adrienne Kennedy's Electra, Euripides' The Bacchae, Wole Soyinka's The Bacchae, Euripides' Medea, Heiner Müller's Medeaplay, and Euripides' Hippolytus. Moving forward in time, we read Hrotsvitha, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Calderón de la Barca, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Molière, Racine, Congreve, and Susannah Centlivre.

Screenwriting

This course focuses on analyzing and writing screenplays for film and television. Class time is devoted to exercises, lectures, and assignments that focus on creating and improving plots and premise, developing potent characters, understanding and honing structure, and sharpening dialogue. In-class activities and lectures are supplemented with guest seminars, film viewings, and screenplay readings, followed by discussion and analysis on themes of craft, including plot, character, technique, and structure. The course is writing-intensive, and student drafts will be workshopped regularly.

Theatre History II 

The course explores the major developments in Theatre from 1879 to the present using major plays of Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Wedekind, Stein, Brecht, O'Neill, Artaud, Genet, Beckett, Soyinka, Mishima, Kennedy, Hansberry, Churchill, Parks, and the movements of performance art and Butoh. We explore their context (when, where, and why they were written), the lives of the playwrights, and the culture and the politics of their society.

Alternative Theatre

Playwrights will learn the history of theatre outside the mainstream, concentrating on non-linear works, Art-related movements, such as DADA, language experiments, such as Gertrude Stein's, movement theatre, and other experimental forms. They will also survey the contemporary ways these historic roots have taken form now. And then they will imagine and execute their own alternative works in scale model.

Adaptation

Introduction to the craft of adaptation for the stage and screen. Emphasis will be placed on learning to recognize and evaluate the kinds of source material that invite adaptation, and subsequently how to effectively translate elements from that material to craft powerful stories. Class discussion, lectures, readings, and guest seminars will examine source material that includes short stories, novels, news items, biographies, and true stories developed from journalistic sources and original research, as well as examples of its successful adaptation. In selecting and workshopping their own material for adaptation, students will continue to hone skills in dramatic structure, visual storytelling, and plot development.

Design for Playwrights

Playwrights write texts to be performed in actual space, so the playwright who begins from imagining the place where action occurs is activating the essential core of the dramatic imagination. Playwrights must understand how to collaborate with designers, and they may benefit enormously from allowing a designer in to the creative process early. To this end it advances the Playwrights craft to learn the Designer's craft of line, shape, concept, drawing, model making, and finding ways to embody thematic ideas in concrete spaces.

Dramatic Structure

Consider a dinosaur skeleton in the museum. With bones alone, without any flesh, no muscle, no skin, we are able to "see" the dinosaur. Structures project. There's nothing in nature without structure, no animal, plant, or mineral. Even the amoeba has a membranous enclosure. Your structure can be unconventional, it can be unpredictable, it can be hidden out of sight, but your play can no more stand without structure than could your body if you didn't have a skeleton. Iconoclasts have shaped the history of our art form's progression, from Euripides to Shakespeare to Beckett. Someone creates the rules and then someone else breaks it, and so we advance. The purpose of this course is to understand the rules to foment the next possibility of advance. Theatre is an art of radical change. There are other forms of change. Evolution is slow and incremental, and pervasive, but it is not dramatic. Change in drama is precipitous and explosive. That kind of change must be structured to channel its volatility with full impact. The most basic unit of our art is the scene. A scene as a journey in which the destination is a new place. Plays are vehicles to transport us to places we would not otherwise go, places of danger, places of abandon. You can get over a narrow stream with a single log, but to traverse a wide river you need a structure. Dramatic Structure is a plan for a journey.

Text Analysis

Introduces students to various methods for investigating a script and uncovering the many different stories that can be told in production. Students are exposed to a variety of plays, with the emphasis placed on exploring the language of the plays themselves rather than on researching their historical and theatrical context, although these areas may also be touched on. By semester's end, each student is expected to have a command of the basic tools of text-analysis, and should be able to use these tools to have an insightful and informed discussion about a play with artistic collaborators.

Contemporary Theatre

A playwright is the person who has her ear to the rail, the one who channels the zeitgeist. To that end this class will obsess on the present moment. What is happening in politics now? What is happening in literature now? What is happening in science now? And where in New York City theatre and global theatre are these revolutions and innovations finding expression? The writers in the course will see a never-before-produced play every week, meet with the makers of new work, and use those experiences attuning themselves to the cutting edge to write a play that resonates with the present moment.

Playwriting Strategies and Exercises for the 21st Century

This course for second year playwrights focuses on writing strategies, generating new work, and giving writers unique tools for confronting and overcoming writing challenges the playwright faces. The playwright will be introduced to readings and interviews by playwrights on the generative writing process, the act of rewriting, and new forms of creating stage events. The playwright will be exposed to seminal plays offering basic tools for textual analysis, making the students more effective artistic collaborators. The writer will be exposed to artists from other art forms and their horizon bending perspectives on the creative process. The playwright will encounter commentary on the creative process through the work and thoughts of such artists as: Robert Altman, Mikhail Bakhtin, Samuel Beckett, Henri Bergson, Edward Bond, Jorge Luis Borges, Peter Brook, Mel Brooks, Joseph Campbell, Lewis Carroll, Anton Chekhov, Ta-Nehesi Coates, Billy Collins, Joseph Cornell, David Eagleman, Euripides, Clyde W. Ford, Maria Irene Fornes, Ibsen, Rajiv Joseph, Franz Kafka, John Keats, Milan Kundera, Alan Lightman, Matthew Maguire, Suzan-Lori Parks, Pablo Picasso, Proust, Rembrandt, Simon Schama, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Eudora Welty, Walt Whitman, and the films Blazing Saddles, Nashville, and BBC's The Power of Art. In addition to readings, the playwrights will be required to write a series of ten minute scenes or short plays throughout the course of the semester in response to the teacher's exercises or prompts. The final project will be to write a one act play based upon of the exercises created during the semester.

The Playwright Prepares

This course for second year playwrights focuses on preparing the writers to encounter the professional world. It prepares the writers to submit their plays to theaters, theater development venues, contests, agents, and television studios. Visiting agents, dramaturgs, screenwriters, directors, and managing directors will deepen and enhance the students' understanding of the communities they wish to enter. The writers will learn about playwright contracts, how to develop submission letters for theaters, theater development venues, and agents, select and format submission plays, choose appropriate venues for their work, develop resumes, establish a recommendation file, and create short and long range plans with action plans. The class will also serve as a foundational course for the student's full length production in the Spring of their graduation year. Finally, contemporary theater and media issues will also be discussed, particularly those related to the role of the writer in society.