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Spring Quarter 2010

London's Contemporary Theater

ENGL 444 or DRAMA 494

5 credits

Professor John Webster

UW English Department Faculty


Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates | Blackboard

Course Overview:

The goal of this class is to help students become more informed, confident and, especially, active readers and watchers of contemporary theater. We will approach this goal in five ways.

  • First, we will be seeing a series of theatrical productions during the course of the quarter, and discussing each of those productions both before and after we see them.
  • Second, we will be reading several of these plays before we actually see the production—thinking about possibilities for dramatic representations of what we read.
  • Third, students will be writing about what they see. They’ll be keeping a theatre notebook as their contribution to the formal work of the quarter, and I will be reviewing material from that notebook on several different occasions.
  • Fourth, we’ll be engaging in a range of informal dramatic exercises throughout the quarter, introducing students to a range of theatrical techniques that will significantly increase their ability to “see” what’s happening on stage.
  • And fifth and finally, we’ll be visiting several physical sites with special importance to the history of drama in London--the Globe Theater, The National Theater, The Royal Court Theater, The Theater Museum, The Southbank environs of Shakespeare's London. For this is the place!—for fans of the English-language theater, London is the sacred ground of sacred grounds.

(The course will also be linked with an excursion to Stratford Upon Avon and what will by then be the newly reopened Memorial Theater. This course meets the Senior Capstone Requirement for English majors.)

Structured writing for the course will be in the form of a Theatre Notebook. This should be loose-leaf rather than bound because you’ll be handing in assignments that will be returned to you for inclusion in the final notebook/portfolio. Assignments handed in week by week will be graded +, v, -; you will select one to rewrite/extend to hand in at midterm, and a second to rewrite/extend for the final Notebook review on or before June 4. I’ll also ask you to do a 2-3 page Self-reflective essay to hand in with the notebook.

Course Grading: 300 Points, apportioned in the following way:

Mid-term Notebook Review .............40
First Formal Assignment ..................50
Final Notebook Review .....................60
Second Formal Assignment .............100
Attendance/Participation ....................50

The actual relation between total points accumulated and final grade is not fixed; rather, I adjust to allow for the highest achieved total.

Why so much writing? You will write a lot in this class, although in fact I’m asking for less than half of what I’d ask at home. Still, it may seem like plenty plus, so I want to explain why I ask it. First, writing is the single most effective way most of us have to make the learning we do active. The mere reading of assignments, or watching of a play, is essentially passive. Though your mind goes through steps enough to make the performance make sense, it rarely goes much beyond that point, nor is it forced to build connections to the conceptual frameworks you already have with any kind of strength or resilience. Most restricting of all, however, is that without active and engaged work with pen (or computer) and paper your mind will also not do the re-structuring of conceptual frameworks you will need to make yourself comfortable with the active reading of literature.

Second, the writing you do will also prepare you for our (very limited) time together in class. With your having been actively engaged in a writing project, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more efficient, and every person in the class will actually have read the assignment and be able to contribute to the whole. Our work will be more interesting because you will have already made progress on the day’s work before class even begins.

Third, you will simply learn more. Having to write will force you to confront what you don’t already know, and will give you constant practice with the skills that the active reading of drama (and much else) requires.

Finally, writing well truly is central to education in English. It is, after all, what the rest of the world thinks an English major is all about—and will expect you to be able to do. You SHOULD be doing constant writing—so much so that it doesn’t feel like quite such a big deal in the first place.

What I want. My criterion for these writings is ECI: “engaged critical intelligence.” You don’t have to be “right,” and you don’t have to be polished. You don’t even have to solve entirely whatever problem I give you. But I do want to see real effort, even if it’s only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing? These are serious writing assignments, but in the past some students have taken them too seriously. Please understand: I’m not asking for a series of “English papers.” In specific terms that means: I expect from you the equivalent of either TWO typed pages, or ONE FULL hour of writing. If you truly want to spend more time than that—fine. Just don’t go over two pages (three if you are handwriting and write big). It should certainly make sense, but it doesn’t need to be perfect. Think ECI.

My response to your writing. Because these papers are informal in this way, I will also not generally read them with the same attention I will give to your formal work. Their primary usefulness is in the writing itself. I take it as axiomatic that you will get much more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would—and end of quarter evaluations from earlier classes confirm that most students agree.

Moreover, my intent is that these exercises would be useful to you whether I actually read them or not. Indeed, I may not collect every set of papers at the time you write them (though I will be collecting them all as part of the course notebook/portfolio at quarter’s end). And when I do collect them, my comments will be of the “OK,” “good,” or “I’d like to see more thinking going on here” variety. If you want more specific response to your work, please come talk with me during my office hours—to be held in a pub somewhere near the classroom!

Late Papers. I do not read late response papers. With the reading of 6 to 8 sets of papers over the course of the quarter I will have trouble enough keeping them straight already, so late papers are simply to be included in the course-end notebook.

Attendance and Participation are part of the course, and full credit for them presupposes engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I take role randomly during the quarter; I also use my review of your notebook/portfolio work to evaluate your class participation. Incomplete notebooks mean incomplete participation.




Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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