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Ideas and Activities

Liz’s Circus Story is a one-woman play written and performed by Kentuckian Liz Bussey Fentress. The KET television program of this humorous and inspiring play and this web site together offer numerous resources for middle and high school students to explore the elements of performance and production, to find out more about the role of the playwright and other theater careers, and to compare stage and film/television production.

Here are some ideas for you to use:

  • DISCUSSION/WRITING: Liz Fentress rewrote her script numerous times, including a special rewrite for the 60-minute television program. Ask students to discuss the comment from her mentor, Warren Hammack of Horse Cave Theatre, that “Plays are not written; they are rewritten.” To expand, have students write a dramatic scene based on a personal experience or personal narrative.

  • DISCUSSION/GROUP ACTIVITY: The From Stage to Screen section of this web site deals with the differences between the stage version and the television version of Liz’s Circus Story. Have students discuss these differences, then, singly or in groups, choose another play script and suggest adaptations that would be needed to create a television production.

  • DISCUSSION: Liz Fentress plays all the roles in Liz’s Circus Story. After viewing the program, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. What challenges does it create for the actor? For the audience? How are the different characters portrayed? How would the play be different if an individual actor played each role?

  • DISCUSSION/RESEARCH/WRITING: Liz’s Circus Story tells a real story: Liz’s lizreflections on her circus experiences and the impact Wayne Franzen had on her commitment to follow her own dream of a career in the theater. It is an excellent production for discussing the differences between plot and theme. How is each conveyed in the story? The play also contains a great deal of symbolism. Discuss what the wind blowing through the circus grounds symbolizes to Liz. What do “dancing with the horses” and her dance at the end of the play symbolize? As a related activity, have students interview a parent or older acquaintance about their dreams when they were younger. Have they fulfilled them? Or ask students to imagine how they will feel as middle-aged adults looking back on their lives. What do they hope to have achieved, and what are they willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their dreams?

  • DISCUSSION/PERFORMANCE ACTIVITY: The puppets play an important role in this play. How effective are the puppets in conveying the characters of the animals? As a related activity, have students create puppets, using foam or other materials.

  • RESEARCH/DISCUSSION: Liz’s Circus Story spans 23 years, from the 1970s to lizthe late 1990s. For costume designer Janet Whitaker, finding contemporary clothes that looked appropriate to the setting and to the 1970s and ’80s was a challenge. Have students research the 1970s, the era in which Liz Bussey graduated from college and joined the circus. What were the trends and fashions? What were important world and U.S. events of this era? In the first scene of the play, Liz tells her mother, “Mom, I’m 21! And the economy is terrible—everyone I know is cleaning houses. And Nixon’s in way too much trouble to do anything about it. I might as well work for a circus!” To what is she referring? Have students compare this scenario to the environment today’s college graduates face.

  • DISCUSSION/RESEARCH: Wayne Franzen’s lifelong dream was to own a circus, but he started his circus at a time when attendance for this type of entertainment was dwindling. Discuss the circus as popular entertainment. Have students in your class seen a circus? How does it compare to other types of entertainment available today? Have students research the history of the circus and its current status.

  • RESEARCH/WRITING: Wayne Franzen’s death made national news. In 2003, Las Vegas entertainer Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy was mauled by a tiger. The use of animals like tigers in circuses and other performances has become a controversial issue. Have students research this issue, then formulate and defend an opinion.

  • PERFORMANCE ACTIVITY: Use the program and the From Stage to Screen information on this web site as a model for creating a video production as a class.

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