The nature of the academic discipline.
study of theatre on academic campuses is a relatively new phenomenon.
Only in the 1920s did there emerge, in certain ivy-league schools, a separate
emphasis on drama within Literature departments. The
trend spread slowly. A few institutions, particularly
in the midwest and the west began experimenting with staging plays as extra-curricular
activity, a form of socialization and recreation analogous, in the thinking of
the time, to sports activity. It took the end of World
War II in the mid-1940’s with the resultant tsunami of returning soldiers
privileged to the support of college access through government “G. I. Bills”
to establish theatre as a separate academic enterprise. Theatre
departments dedicated to both the study of dramatic literature and the techniques
for staging it sprang up all over the country, usually from the base of English
or Speech (now Communication) departments.
over 1600 colleges and universities in the nation support the discipline through
the offering of majors. With varying degrees of emphasis
on liberal arts or technical theatre training, the subject matter of these majors
have been standardized to provide preparation in what can be described
as three distinctive areas. Classroom (both lecture
and studio) instruction coupled with the practical experience of production has
emerged as standard pedagogical practice.
the study of dramatic literature, theatre history, dramatic theory
and training in criticism, emerged early as viable components of the discipline.
Logically, that is, considering that the roots of most stand-alone programs
were anchored in English and Literature departments. At
institutions focused on a liberal arts education, these contemplative and human
studies areas still form the background for instruction in the more technical
areas associated with theatre production.
training degrees such as the B.F.A. appeared late on the scene, and are directed
nearly exclusively to the training of actors. The
focus of attention in these programs is given to matters of ensemble, improvisation,
voice, accents, psycho-physical centering, specialized stage movement, and other
such distinctive performer skills.
past couple of decades has seen the rise of a distinctive discipline emerging
from the social science area and which centers around communication theory: the
study of meaning and purposeful manipulation of symbols.
This, too, is finding its way into the theatre curriculum (although the
theatre has been doing this since before recorded history).
studying plays, history, theory and theatrical criticism we sharpen skills of
discriminating reasoning, come to value clear argument, learn how to distinguish
themes, and increase our understanding of the world through contact with the past.
We learn methods for analyzing scripts, to appreciate the complexity of
really good ones, and come into direct contact with the great minds which have
given them birth. We are led to treasure language
and to comprehend the vastness of its possibilities. And
we come to view ourselves with a more discerning eye, and, hopefully, to work
second area of disciplinary interest is that of performance.
Course work associated with this area is concerned not alone with the technical
preparation of the performer, but in the study of audience control, presentation
choices, the nature of communication, and the creation of the artistic experience.
Study here does focus on the performer’s instrument of course
(imagination, sensitivity, putting aside of inhibitions, vocal and physical control,
self-knowledge, and so forth), but also with the process of play writing and the
specialized study of placing the play on the platform, stage directing.
subject matter of performance training includes elements shared with several other
academic disciplines: Literature, Writing, Communication, Psychology, Art, Music,
Dance, to name just a few. It directs its attention
toward both an understanding of audience (human) response, but also toward self-expression,
ideational development, persuasion. It must be super-sensitive
to techniques shared with other artistic disciplines, techniques of unity, insinuation
of meaning, and control of the meduim. It must, arguably,
unashamedly embrace and foster that which is poetical and ideal as well as demonstrating
acurately the world in which we live.
playwrights and stage directors then, beyond specialized techniques of their craft
must learn to 1) understand, contact, and discipline self, 2) comprehend the issues
of humanity, 3) employ persuasive and ethical choices in motivating and manipulating
the intellectual and emotional responses of others, and 4) become masterful in
the perception and use of both verbal and non-verbal communication.
third discrete area of study encompassed by the discipline is that of
theatrical design and technical craft. This notion
embraces envisioning and accomplishing the “world of a play’s action”,
including scenery, costuming, lighting, properties, and sound (leaving out a few).
The goal of this activity is to make the play's ideas and communication
clear, and to evoke a sense of era, place, society, and controlled emotional moods.
It must also concern itself with the practicalities of the available theatrical
space and equipment, the demands of the action, and the engineering of safe and
workable realizations of the designs.
design is directly tied, of course, to the same concerns which drive all visual
arts. It is distinctive, however, in that it submits
itself to the demands and needs of the script or scenario under development.
Its chief goal is one of communication, embracing and leading the audience
into another world. In this communication the methodology
is a social one rather than the statement of a solitary artist in a studio.
Many artists working together toward a central goal of enticing or enchanting
an artist is “social” indeed.
for the student of theatrical design and technical craft includes, but is certainly
not limited to 1) the development of an "aesthetic eye and ear" which
facilitates a sensitivity toward the demands and possibilities of opening the
ideas and moods of a script to an audience, 2) the discovery and control of the
means associated with the ordering of aesthetic responses in others, and
3) the acquiring of techniques and craftsmanship which will serve to facilitate
intended production concepts.
addition to studies in the three areas as defined above, the discipline of Theatre
also nurses a concern with the notion of business management, although not to
the degree, of course, of academic Business departments.
Theatre’s investigation is far more limited, and is chiefly concerned
with the acquiring and management of audiences: promotion, publicity,
ticket management, and audience development. Recently
several Arts Manager degrees have been emerging from academic Theatre programs
across the nation.
discipline of Theatre is also subject to special study interests
such as children's theatre and non-Western theatre, and theatre of special social
concerns: gender-based studies, racially-based studies, sexuality-based studies,
religion-based studies. Various of the institutions
which offer Theatre degrees will extend emphasis to one or more of these areas.
course offering are often made toward developing specialized skills in the performance
elements of theatre which are not intended as training for performance purposes.
Creative dramatics has long been a recognized tool for
teachers--primarily on the elementary level--useful for opening the imagination
and personality of pupils. And a degree of success
has been achieved in what is called psychodrama, informal and
improvisational playing out of personal issues for the purposes of psychotherapy.
These kind of courses are often taught with the cooperative support of
other academic disciplines.
The Christian and the Theatre