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Writer’s Craft Day 4: The Play is the Thing

Today we’re going to explore different play writing styles. Try to pick a favourite because you’re going to try to recreate it next class.


Style:    Classical Expressionist and Classical Naturalist

To this day, these styles represent the majority of most theater. Both styles are seen in Classical Theater, where the play brings the audience into a real life situation.  Cause and effect are central to the script’s structure, with the subjects focused on conflicts of “nature vs. nurture”, the natural order of things, survival, notions of evolution. However, we must still accept certainly central conceits such as coincidence, fortuitous timing and moralizing. Their only difference comes in staging. A expressionist production using minimalist props and sets, which a naturalist production tries to make the stage look as real as possible.


The Crucible – Naturalist

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The Crucible – Expressionist

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Hamlet – Naturalist

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Hamlet – Expressionist

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Death of a Salesman – Naturalist

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Death of a Salesman – Expressionist

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Style:   Realism

Portraying characters on stage that are close to real life, with realistic settings and staging. Realism is an effort to satisfy all the theatrical conventions necessary to the production, but to do so in a way that seems to be “normal” life.

Examples of a realist playwright: David Mamet

Mamet’s style of writing dialogue, marked by a cynical, street-smart edge, precisely crafted for effect, is so distinctive that it has come to be called Mamet speak. He often uses italics and quotation marks to highlight particular words and to draw attention to his characters’ frequent manipulation and deceitful use of language. His characters frequently interrupt one another, their sentences trail off unfinished, and their dialogue overlaps.

Style:   Modernism

A broad concept that sees art, including theater, as detached from life in a pure way and able to reflect on life critically. 

Example of modernist playwright: Tom Stoppard

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was Stoppard’s first major play to gain recognition. The story of Hamlet, as told from the viewpoint of two courtiers explore existential themes and language play. “Stoppardian” became a term describing works using wit and comedy while addressing philosophical concepts. Critic Dennis Kennedy notes “It established several characteristics of Stoppard’s dramaturgy: his word-playing intellectuality, audacious, paradoxical, and self-conscious theatricality, and preference for reworking pre-existing narratives.”

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Style:   Postmodernism

There are multiple meanings, and meaning is what you create, not what is. This approach often uses other media and breaks accepted conventions and practices

Example of postmodernist playwright: David Ives

David Ives’ most celebrated work of modernism is his collection of one-act plays called ‘All in the Timing’.  The short plays are almost all comedies, focusing mainly on language and wordplay, exploring perspectives on life and meaning, and the complications involved in romantic relationships. High-school and college students frequently perform the plays, often due to their brevity and undemanding staging.

Style:     Epic Theater/Absurdism

This style of theater forces audience members to constantly return to rational observation, rather that emotional immersion. Sudden bursts of song, elements of absurdity and breaches of the fourth wall are all prime examples of how this rational observation is constantly revitalized.

1st Example of absurdist playwright:  Bertolt Brecht

Brecht wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognize social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theater and effect change in the world outside. For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of realisty and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience’s reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.

2nd Example of expressionist/absurdist playwright:  Samuel Beckett

Irish born playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is an absurdist play in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait endlessly and in vain for the arrival of someone named Godot. Godot’s absence, as well as numerous other aspects of the play, have led to many different interpretations since the play’s 1953 premiere. It was voted “the most significant English language play of the 20th century”.


Author: pattersonmalvern

I am a teacher at Malvern Collegiate Institute. This is a blog to help students keep track of their work.

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