21M.611 | Fall 2009 | Undergraduate

Foundations of Theater Practice


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

A memorable theatrical event is greater than the sum of its parts. Each language of theater – acting, directing, playwriting, sets, costumes, lighting, sound, music, gesture, choreography, etc. – is responsible for conveying the story and its underlying meaning to the audience. Yet each tells its own version of the story. In performance all of these intricately crafted stories come together — as the performance text — to create a layered narrative that the audience receives as both thought and experience.

The goals of this class are two-fold: the first is to experience the creative processes and story telling behind several of theater’s arts and to acquire the analytical skills necessary in assessing the meaning they transmit when they come together in production. Secondly, we will introduce you to these languages in a creative way by giving you hands-on experience in each. To that end, several Visiting Artists and MIT faculty in Theater Arts will guest lecture, lead workshops, and give you practical instruction in their individual art forms.

Going to the theater is an essential part of Foundations of Theater Practice. Over the course of the semester you will see assigned theater productions, both professional and university. Two of these have cost reductions, or were paid for, by the kind auspices of the Office for the Arts at MIT. (Please see the syllabus.) If for some reason you cannot attend the prearranged, ticketed performances, it is your responsibility to buy a ticket or volunteer to usher for the performance you can attend. You may try for a Student Rush ticket as well.

Each student must fulfill 8 hours of design/technical theater work to fulfill the requirement of this class. Please contact Michael Katz, MIT Theater Arts’ Technical Director, very early in the semester to work out the distribution of your hours. If you are extremely interested in one of the technical disciplines, then it is possible to arrange to focus on this alone. Mr. Katz signs off on all technical theater hours, and keeps a careful log of your progress.

The work of the class includes several short papers, attendance of performances, a portfolio of creative assignments, rehearsal of scenes, and at least two research assignments. These are to be undertaken with discipline and serious intent. Because the knowledge acquisition in this class focuses not only on verbal analysis, but on acquisition of the languages of texture, line, color, mass, action, composition, structure, rhythm, etc, your complete portfolio will comprise your grade. Please retain all of your work until the end of the semester. A final exam is given during exam week, and will be based on the play, Waiting for Godot. There are no other tests or graded quizzes during the semester. All papers are to be typed, double-spaced, and in a reasonably small font like Times New Roman 12 pt. Please bring a hard copy of each paper to class on its due date, and also send it to me as an attachment.

Class Objectives

In addition to our group participation in these ventures – and adventures – I ask you to keep these six objectives of the subject in mind:

  1. To provide the tools and nurture your ability to read plays and essays more seriously, pleasurably, and critically; I hope this will encourage you to remain a reader throughout your life.

  2. To encourage a clearer understanding of your own personal skills and creativity, increasing your self-awareness and the accuracy of your self-analysis, so that you can sustain a realistic sense of confidence and are better positioned to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself.

  3. To improve and refine your abilities to express and communicate ideas, feelings, and arguments effectively and persuasively, so that you can know what you believe and can contribute and lead as a member of a team or community.

  4. To encourage your understanding and enjoyment of the past and present, of theater and the roles history, philosophy, religion, economics, individual achievement, etc. have had in shaping it—and your awareness of the relationships among all of the above.

  5. To accustom you to the discipline of digesting new material and taking responsibility for communicating it clearly in a collaborative setting.

  6. To take significant steps in the process of making art with both playfulness and seriousness of intent.


Wilson, August. Fences. New York, NY: New American Library, 1986. ISBN: 9780452258426.

Allen, Greg. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Chicago, IL: Neo-Futurists, 1993. ISBN: 9781568500317.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Kenneth Muir. London, England: Arden Shakespeare, 1997. ISBN: 9781903436486.

Savick, Wesley. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Unpublished, 2009.

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1954.

Kurosawa, Akira. Throne of Blood. Irvington, NY: Criterion Collection, 2003.

Fukunaga, Cary. Sin Nombre. Universal City, CA: Focus Features, 2009.


Classroom contribution, discussion, participation, attendance and growth 30%
Creative work 30%
Written work 15%
Final presentation 15%
Final exam 10%

Guidelines for the Final Exam (PDF)

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2009
Learning Resource Types
Image Gallery
Written Assignments