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Cohen Chapter 2

What is a Play?

Terie Spencer

on 20 October 2017

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Transcript of Cohen Chapter 2

Play Structure
the vertical axis:
What are the components
of the play?
What Is a Play?
What is a Play?
A play is the basic unit
of theatre.

It is not a thing;
it is an

The event of the play
is action-
Classifying Plays

CLASSIFICATION #1: duration- how long is it?

'full-length' traditionally 2-3 hours, 1 or 2 intermissions

'one acts' traditionally 20-60 minutes

10 minute plays

Neo-Futurists (30 plays in 60 minutes)
VERY long plays- 4,6,8 hours (Peer Gynt)

classic definition of TRAGEDY: the central character (protagonist), usually a king or high-ranking man, has a fatal flaw. during the course of the play, he recognizes his fatal flaw, then experiences suffering and death.

The audience feels pity and terror, purges those emotions in themselves, and become better people

ARE THERE MODERN TRAGEDIES? MAYBE. (Arthur Miller's plays "All My Sons" and "Death of a Salesman" are called modern tragedy)
The Vertical Axis
What are the components of a play?
Aristotle broke it down to six parts that he said were essential to a good tragedy
(from most to least important, in his opinion):

Plot, character, theme, diction, music, spectacle
Aristotle's Six Components of a Play
The structure of actions, inner and outer
(What makes a good plot?)
And our Modern Addition, # Seven
Theatrical Conventions

The agreement of “rules” between audience and performers
that help the audience in their “willing suspension of disbelief”
The Horizontal Axis

Plays exist as a shared experience,
occuring over time.

The time of a play is divided into three groupings:


All 3 are part of the theatre experience!
The Preplay
The preplay helps us make a transition
into the world of the play.

It attracts the audience to the theatre in the days, hours and minutes before the play.

It shifts focus to the play
The Play
Traditionally, the event of the play is sequenced into four features:

Gives audience information and structure-
who, what, where
The Postplay
The ending of the agreement between audience and performers
Non-Aristotelian Events
Many theatre artists rebel against Aristotle with

Over-the-top imagery
Deliberate artificiality
Alternative structures

Yet Aristotelian theatre remains the most prevalent

The best plays can reinvent the rules while retaining the core principles of theatre:
Structured action, compelling characters, increasing tension
Plays are also read and treated as literature

they have been for 2500 years.
Nowadays we divide plays mostly into

History play
Documentary drama
Anything you want to make up

The idea of genre is used for comparison, analysis and argument- it also helps people decide which play to attend!
(Greek word dran= drama= 'something done')
The action is framed and focused around a conflict
It can be conflict between characters or within a character- but there is conflict in every play, drama or comedy.
But remember- it's more than just words on a page- it's performance-

With actors playing characters,
and all the paradoxes-

scripted but live,
in the moment but rehearsed
Classification #2: genre- what type of play is it?
Greek philosopher and playwright Aristotle
said there were 2 genres:
COMEDY: humorous plays have always been popular and always will be.

2 subtypes are:
(physical humor, contrived plot devices)
(social commentary)
Comedy does not have the same historical reputation as tragedy. But some masterpieces, such as those by Molière, survive through the ages. (Why?)
How the action of a play is structured is known as its dramaturgy
There are 2 primary ways to analyze dramaturgy:

the horizontal axis:
What is the temporal
experience of the play?
We add a new component in modern theatre:

theatrical convention
The depth and quality of people
(human- make us care, make sense,
differ from each other)
Abstract intellectual content- what is the play "about"?
(does this help or hurt a play? Should it be obvious?)
The nature of the text- verse, prose, style, imagery, tone
(Williams vs. Mamet)
Orchestration of sonic palette -
ALL sound and music, as part of the action or not

The visual aspects of the stage-
the overall look;
specifically: scenery, lighting, costumes, makeup, props
(doesn't have to be 'spectacular')
We follow these rules without thinking too much about them.

Passage of time marked by lights and exits/entrances
Lights up and down
Abstract/symbolic settings and actions- we don't demand real blood
The curtain call

Actors and audience must both buy into the conventions-
“if you see it, they will”

Historically: processions, flags, speeches

Today: posters, billboards, advertisements
Audience members are seated

The audience becomes a community

The audience gets a taste of the play- preshow music, overture, possibly see the set, read the program.

The preplay draws us in!
Establishes character decisions, personalities and wants- characters have different desires, and those desires get in the way of each other
The extreme point of conflict
Resolution of conflict resulting in understanding
A traditional element is the curtain call
The actors bow to applause- they take off the 'mask' and become themselves again, and the audience recognizes that with their applause
Audience and actors recognize the shared experience
The audience continues the postplay outside the theatre, after the play:

They engage in discussions: dramatic analysis
Their behavior or thought processes may be affected
Since plays have structure, they can be classified.
What makes a play survive the test of time?
The “vertical” axis
The “horizontal” axis

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