HUT 101, The Art of Theatre, is the entrance level course for the Theatre program. It addresses the integrative learning core competency and the oral communication ability. As a freshman course, it provides a baseline for measurement of this competency and communication ability. It is required of all Theatre majors, and is part of the CUNY Flexible Core in Creative Expression. There are generally more non-majors than majors in the class. This assignment was originally developed during our first mini-grant period (2016-17 the academic year) by Celia Braxton and Abby Gerdts with the global learning core competency rubric and digital communication ability in mind. It was a close adaptation of an assignment Abby had devised for a course at another college, with a digital communication component tacked on. We discussed and refined the assignment in the late Fall 2016 semester, and it was introduced into the course in Spring I 2017 in two classes. That semester, the HUT 101 course was packed with two other Core Competency assignments--an inquiry and problem solving/written and an integrative learning/oral assignment. It was a tall order for one introductory freshman course!
During the evaluation at the end of the Spring I 2017 semester, it became clear that one course could not hold all three assignments, and that this particular assignment was much more suited to the integrative learning core competency than global learning. The digital communication aspect, which required a student to present three artifacts which influenced their script, seemed forced, and since all the artifacts presented were personal to the students, this reinforced our understanding that playwriting is really an integrative learning experience. However the oral communication ability seemed to offer an opportunity for students to reflect on their process, and that had proven useful to students as an endpoint of the assignment it had originally been a part of. Therefore, the playwriting assignment now addresses the integrative learning core competency and oral communication ability.
The main objective of this project is one of experiential learning. Students write a five-page play, one of several theatre arts experienced during the semester. The original freewrite prompt that started off the assignment asked students to:
Make a list of all the things you are passionate about. … Maybe think about your childhood and what you used to spend your time doing then? What occupied your time and your thoughts? What social/political ideas are you passionate about? There are no wrong answers.
This produced many highly conventional storylines (romances gone wrong, women fighting over men), or shapeless scripts with little structure.
Therefore, during the 2017-18 summer, I developed a new “ritual version” of the assignment. It was used in five classes in the Fall I 2017 semester. The ritual provides an outline for the action: the main character, character objective, and with the interruption, the major obstacle that the main character must overcome. The original assignment did not provide this skeleton. The addition of the ritual element has helped to overcome the problems identified above. This new assignment was presented in a charrette workshop early in the semester. Some changes to wording and scaffolding descriptions were made.
The project is a 3½ week project including three or four complete classes interspersed with other classwork. After the first class, the writing of the plays is done at home. In-class work includes reading the plays out loud for peer group critique, and at least one class in which second drafts are read for the class. Students may use these plays as the basis for development of a 10-minute (10-page) play to be submitted to the Summer Theatre Festival, which offers staged readings of student-written plays.
The integrative learning competency encourages students to reflect on their own creative processes and articulate the ways in which their own background, education, and experience have influenced the writing of the play. The entire project encourages development of knowledgeable theatregoers who understand the role the playwright plays within theatre and the differences between screen and playwriting.
During benchmarking sessions at the end of the Fall I 2017 semester, however, we noticed that other than the “Connections to Experience” and “Reflection and Self-assessment” dimensions, the other dimensions were not consistently and specifically addressed in the oral communication speeches, and many of the speeches were lacking in structure. Therefore, for the Spring I 2018 semester, more structured directions were provided for the oral communication ability. The version presented here includes those new directions. This version was used in three sections in the Spring I 2018 semester.
Main Course Learning Objectives:
Course learning objectives met by this project include:
- understanding the similarities and differences between theatre and other performance media and events, including rituals;
- understanding the key elements of theatrical production;
- developing a basic understanding of play structure; and experimentation with the practice of this particular theatrical art.
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Braxton, Celia, "Playwriting Project [Theater]" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.