You know you’re out of practice blogging when you realize on Monday that you forgot to blog…on FRIDAY. I’ll tell you what; the school year found me and I am not as prepared as I wanted to be! Such is life.
One of the privileges (and I think, joys) I do have this teaching semester is the opportunity to teach an Introduction to World Literature class at a local university. Guess who’s going to be reading A LOT of plays? In a couple weeks I’ll also be teaching my first playwriting class for adults at the local library. I’ve enjoyed teaching teens for the past year…I’m a little intimidated to be teaching my peers. But I just have to keep reminding myself that the principles are the same…and maybe, just maybe, the adults will be a little bit calmer, a little bit quieter, a little bit more responsible…heheheheheheheh. I guess we’ll see.
Have you noticed I like the smiley icons today?
So on to the blogpost. I know I’ve mentioned before some of the books and plays I’m using in my classes, specifically ones written by women, so today I’d like to focus on some plays by women that I think SHOULD be taught, why, and what your students can get out of them.
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl - Obviously, if you’ve read my blog EVER you know how much I love Ruhl’s work. In the Next Room is probably her most well-known at the moment; The Clean House is incredibly funny and touching, and Passion Play is pretty much…epic. So why teach little ol’ Eurydice? Well, for one, maybe I’m influenced by the personal impact it had on ME when I was a young playwriting student. I used Eurydice in my playwriting classroom this year because when I was learning to write plays it opened my eyes to a world beyond the three-walled set. With my students I talked about the idea of taking a myth and using it as the foundation of a different story with new themes. We talked about sets consisting not of walls, but of elevators and string and what that might look like. We discussed the role of a chorus; we talked about double-casting and whether or not The Nasty Interesting Man and The Lord of the Underworld were actually one and the same. We discussed poetry in dialogue and monologue. We addressed how personal events in a playwright’s life (such as the death of Ruhl’s father) can affect, inform, or even inspire one’s writing. Interestingly enough (or maybe “predictably” would be a better term), I am also teaching Eurydice in my World Lit class. In that setting we’ll focus a little more on its source material (the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, commonly found in Greek mythology including Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses) and how the transition from ancient Greek poetry to modern American drama had an effect on the story’s evolution. It will be interesting to approach the play from yet another angle. Now to figure out how I can teach it in my speech class…
Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman – Bring on the Greeks! Since I’m treating my World Lit class like a comparative lit class, I’ve been having a ball finding plays, poems, fiction and non-fiction that tie together in unique and interesting ways. Like Ruhl, Zimmerman found inspiration in the world of class Greek mythology, but unlike Ruhl, she focuses more on the transcending truth of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to inform her own work. I love how true she is to the source material, I love that she also had the guts to say “screw it” when discovering one of her favorite myths (the tale of Cupid and Psyche) wasn’t IN Ovid’s masterpiece…and she decided to include it anyway. There is again this contrast of what has time, location, and genre done to affect the theme of this story (not to mention, what does the specific selection of THESE stories – out of all of Ovid’s stories – communicate), but Zimmerman’s play has a very different tone and purpose than Ruhl’s. I’m particularly excited about the student’s comparing Zimmerman’s take on Orpheus and Eurydice to Ruhl’s. Added bonus: the entire play takes place in a pool. Talk about theatrical!
The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien - Gien’s one-woman show is based on her experience growing up in South Africa during apartheid. There are SO MANY REASONS to teach this play. I love including a play like this in World Literature because Gien isn’t just talking about her experience in a different country, she is talking about her LIFE in a different country. There are huge themes to discuss from racism to the role of government to good old-fashioned coming of age. I wish greatly that there was a performance of this show going on in the immediate area this semester because I believe it’s a play everyone should see. Many times the one-woman show or the one-man show is a venue played up for comedy. Not so with The Syringa Tree. Yes, there funny moments, but an excellent actress knows the difference between colorful characters and caricatures. The moments that really stick out in my mind (having seen a performance several years ago) involve Gien’s little girl fear and innocence, as well as the seamless way in which the actress (in my case, Maura Malloy, though Gien herself has performed it many times) flowed from character to character to character as if each one of them lived under her skin. I love this play. Point of interest; Gien also penned a book by the same name, but the unique quality of seeing these stories threaded together through the performance of one actress adds an element that escapes the book. Hopefully my lit students will be able to appreciate it!
There are any number of plays that I could include on this list. Some that were inspirational to me as a playwriting student specifically include How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel, Twelve Ophelias by Caridad Svich, and The Skriker by Caryl Churchill. So many plays, so little time! I (hopefully) have an interview coming up for you all (still waiting to get the answers back!), and if I remember on Friday I may even have a new playwright spotlight or a play review. Thanks for sticking with me! Happy School Year!