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Black Women Playwrights | Teachers' Guide

The Art of Theater

In theater, society goes on stage to act out its joys and fears, hopes and confusions.

No other art speaks so literally and directly to the community. A theater performance is a public gathering, a meeting of actors and audience. In this public setting, no other art can match the immediacy of theater.

A painting is a window to the past, but theater brings the past, with its history and legend, into the present. A film may overwhelm with huge images and special effects, but the spectacle of theater is on a human scale.

The actors are a living presence, with us in the moment; we see them and above all hear them, because it is mainly the power of language that gives theater its power.

Regional Theater & American Shorts

Today in the United States, nonprofit regional theater is the prime source of new plays and playwrights.

Regional theaters are rooted in their local communities. The plays they premiere have a special intensity. They take risks. They reflect a range of perspectives and give voice to minorities and marginalized groups.

The libraries of regional theaters have hundreds of scripts, many of which could be made into good television dramas. American Shorts is designed to tap this artistic resource.

American Shorts is a series of dramas adapted from short plays introduced by regional theaters. It aims to give innovative theater a larger audience through television, to bring more thoughtful dramatic scripts to TV, and to lend itself to a variety of educational uses.

To make them as accessible as possible to a television audience, the dramas of American Shorts are opened up and shot on location in high-definition format. Each is followed by a documentary segment that takes viewers backstage to explore the drama's creative and social context.

Theater and Television

As many writers have noted, theater and television are complementary media. Given their respective limitations, both depend on actors' speeches to convey meaning and emotion.

Certainly the transition from stage to television is much easier to achieve than the leap from stage to film, a more visual medium in which words must co-exist with big-screen imagery.

In the Classroom

The immediacy of a stage drama is one key to its power. Have students describe their experiences as part of a theater audience. Do they believe a play is performed in exactly the same manner with each production? What factors could cause changes to be made in movement, voice, or dialogue? Have students ever realized that an actor was improvising or putting his own spin on a scene?

Have any students acted in their own school or regional stage productions? What experiences can they bring to a discussion of the immediacy of theater? What can these students tell their classmates about audience response and how it affects a performance?

Students are probably much more familiar with television sitcoms and series than with thoughtful teledramas such as Poof!. Have students consider the way their favorite ongoing series is structured, as compared to a teledrama. Is emphasis on character or dialogue? One-liners or contained action? What assumptions are made regarding audience of a sitcom or series?

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