Students discuss lessons learned from the lives of Kentucky playwrights Marsha Norman and George C. Wolfe and, following the playwrights’ advice, draw from their own life experiences to develop short plays.
- Length: From 1 class to several weeks
- Grades: 9-12
- Students will identify the necessary education, skills, and training to successfully pursue a career as a playwright or a director of a drama.
- Students will apply what they learn in brainstorming ideas for a play and/or in writing a short play based on their personal experiences.
On Directing: George C. Wolfe
Found On: About Drama
Playwriting: Marsha Norman
Found On: About Drama
Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts
blocking, director, literary elements, performance elements, playwright, stage directions, staging, technical elements
TV/VCR or DVD player
- Writing/Performing Activity: Student Instructions
- Reflection Questions
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Explain to students that in this lesson they are going to explore careers in theater. Part 1 will focus on the playwright; Part 2 will focus on the director. If you have time, you may want to have the class explore other careers. In addition, you may decide to continue the lesson with a writing/producing activity.
Another Take on Directing
The former artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, Jon Jory, had a profound influence on Marsha Norman, and you meet Jon Jory in the Marsha Norman clip. You can learn more about Jory and his work with actors as they develop their characters by viewing another video excerpt from the Drama Arts Toolkit: Rehearsal Process: Heartbreak House. Compare and contrast the two directorsJon Jory and George C. Wolfe.
Define and discuss the role of a playwright to introduce the video excerpt Playwriting: Marsha Norman.
Pre-Viewing Discussion Questions:
- Do you ever wonder how confident a playwright really is about his or her script?
- Think about a time you have written for an audience, whether it was a portfolio piece, a speech, a short story, or a play. Were you confident that the audience would enjoy the piece, praise the piece, even give the piece an award?
- Do you think that playwrights and novelists may have these same insecurities?
Background/directions for students on the video excerpt: Marsha Norman is a playwright from Louisville. She has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for her work. She studied philosophy at Agnes Scott College in Georgia and received a masters degree in education from the University of Louisville. This excerpt is about Normans first break as a playwright. She discusses how the play Getting Out launched her career in New York and the important lessons that go along with writing.
While viewing this excerpt, have students write down some characteristics and skills of the playwright that they feel are significant to her success. Have them underline those that they feel they possess, too.
View the excerpt on Marsha Norman with students, then discuss their responses to the clip and their notes. Some discussion questions: What do you feel is the strongest attribute needed to become a playwright? Do you feel that education is necessary to become a successful playwright?
Signature: The Series
The two excerpts in this lesson are taken from Signature, a KET-produced series of six 60-minute documentaries that explore the lives, creative processes, and impacts of two giants of contemporary theater—Marsha Norman and George C. Wolfe—and four other prominent contemporary Southern writers.
A playwright writes a script; a director brings the script to life by visualizing and guiding the production on stage. The director brings all the elements together. Tell the students that they will now explore the role of the director and discuss skills necessary to establish a career as a director.
Define and discuss the role of a director to introduce the excerpt On Directing: George C. Wolfe.
Pre-Viewing Discussion Questions:
- Do any of you feel you are talented in visualizing scenarios?
- Can you imagine yourself re-creating these scenarios on stage and guiding actors and actresses?
- Do you feel you are effective in telling people what to do (without offending) and conveying your ideas to others?
- What skills do you believe directors must have to be effective?
Background: In the next clip, students will meet director and playwright George C. Wolfe. Wolfe grew up in Frankfort, KY in the late 1950s and 60s, a time when segregation was still in place in most aspects of life. When he was a child, Wolfe wanted to see 101 Dalmations but was turned away from Frankforts Capitol Theater because he was black. These experiences strengthened him and helped him prepare and succeed in his career and life.
Wolfe, an award-winning director, started directing plays in his backyard as a child. He studied at Kentucky State University, received his bachelors degree from Pomona College in Claremont, CA, and worked on his masters degree in fine arts at New York University. Wolfe is also the author of several plays. In this excerpt, though, we hear about his role as a director.
While viewing this excerpt, ask students to consider the impact a good director has on the cast and crew. Discussion questions: Why is it important to follow the vision of one person in moving a play from the script to performance? What might be the disadvantages of having several interpretations of a play and how it should be produced? Why is the director crucial to the success of a performance?
View the clip on George C. Wolfe with students and discuss the points mentioned above. List skills that are necessary to directing. What education or training is needed? Discuss.
Other Careers in the Theater
Extend your exploration into theater careers by showing KETs Electronic Field Trip to Horse Cave Theatre and/or having students explore the Kentuckians in Theater web feature. Have students identify, analyze, and discuss the roles of
- the cast (actors and actresses)
- the stage manager
- the lighting designer
- light hangers
- the stage crew
- the costume designer
- the makeup artist
- the set designer/builder
- the marketing director
- the box office staff
- the education director and interns
Applying What Youve Learned
Optional Writing/Performing Activity
This activity can be done in whole or in part. You may choose to simply have groups write their plays and then have other groups critique them.
Introduce the activity by telling students they will apply what theyve learned about writing and directing plays from Marsha Norman and George C. Wolfe by writing, directing, and performing their own short plays. As part of the introduction, review the literary, technical, and performance elements.
Divide the class into groups of 4-6. Give each student the Writing/Performing Activity: Student Instructions handout. Review the instructions with the students and then set them to work. Your job is to encourage, clarify, and gently critique students as they work in their small groups.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Students will no doubt be struck by the fact that Kentucky could produce such influential and talented artists as George C. Wolfe from Frankfort and Marsha Norman from Louisvillefodder for a discussion about the stereotypes people hold about Kentuckians versus the reality.
- Brainstorm a list of lessons learned from the experiences of and comments by Marsha Norman and George C. Wolfe (e.g., strategies such as goal setting, decision making, perseverance). The Reflection Questions handout is useful here.
- Brainstorm a list of careers in the theater. Include the skills and education needed for each.
Open Response Assessment
In viewing the video excerpts about Marsha Norman and George C. Wolfe, we get the sense that life experience played a major role in their success.
You have been invited to submit a personal statement for an original play competition. If your personal statement is selected, you will be commissioned to write and direct your play.
- Choose a topic or theme for the story on which you will base your play.
- Describe how your life experiences will influence the choices you make about creating the story and writing the script and how personal feelings and experiences will affect how you direct a live performance of your play.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student selects a play topic and clearly describes the relationship between his/her life experiences and how they influence his/her approach to writing and directing the play. Response clearly demonstrates extensive knowledge about how an individuals cultural experiences affect writing, creating, and performing in theater. Response includes insightful and detailed examples of life experiences and their impacts.||Student selects a play topic and describes the relationship between his/her life experiences and how they influence his/her approach to writing and directing the play. Response demonstrates a broad knowledge about how an individuals cultural experiences affect writing, creating, and performing in theater. Response includes several examples of life experiences and their impacts.||Student selects a play topic and describes, at a basic level, the relationship between his/her life experiences and how they influence his/her approach to writing and directing the play. Response demonstrates a basic knowledge about how an individuals cultural experiences affect writing, creating, and performing in theater. Response includes some limited examples of life experiences and their impacts.||Student selects a play topic. Student is ineffective in describing the relationship between his/her life experiences and how they influence his/her approach to writing and directing the play. Response demonstrates limited knowledge about how an individuals cultural experiences affect writing, creating, and performing in theater. Response includes few or no examples of life experiences and their impacts.||Blank, no answer, or irrelevant response.|
Marsha Norman said that her first play, Getting Out, was inspired by an experience she had while working at Central State Hospital. We all face difficulties that may lead us to grow and develop our characters. In groups of four to six, write brief plays (3-5 minutes long) inspired by a personal experience and perform them for the class.
Part 1: In small groups, brainstorm ideas for short plays based on a personal experience. Select the most promising scenario and develop a script for a 3- to 5-minute play. Include dialogue, stage directions, and relevant technical and performance elements.
Part 2: Exchange the completed play with another group. This groups task will be to analyze and produce the play, assigning roles to each group member. Perform the play for the class.
Part 3: Critique the scripts, the performances, and the experience.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Assignment is complete and clearly demonstrates extensive understanding of the roles of playwright and director. The student demonstrates extensive understanding of the literary, technical, and performance elements. This understanding is applied effectively to demonstrate extensive critical thinking skills, creativity, and insight in the writing and performing of the plays, capturing the full essence of the conflict and the characters.||Assignment is complete and demonstrates a broad understanding of the roles of playwright and director. The student demonstrates broad understanding of the literary, technical, and performance elements. This understanding is applied effectively to demonstrate broad critical thinking skills, creativity, and insight in the writing and performing of the plays, capturing the essence of the conflict and the characters.||Assignment is partially complete and demonstrates a basic understanding of the roles of playwright and director. The student demonstrates basic understanding of the literary, technical, and performance elements. The student demonstrates basic critical thinking skills, creativity, and insight in the writing and performing of the plays, somewhat capturing the essence of the conflict and the characters.||Assignment is minimally complete and demonstrates minimal understanding of the roles of playwright and director. The student demonstrates minimal understanding of the literary, technical, and performance elements. The student demonstrates few or no critical thinking skills and little or no creativity in the writing and performing of the plays and does not capture the essence of the conflict and the characters.||Non-participation.|