INTERPRETING A PLAY (assignment)
As high school students we all read (hopefully) a few plays in our English classes. I’m assuming most of you have read some Shakespeare (if you have not– we should talk– email me immediately), you should have read some Sophocles (Oedipus, Antigone, etc.), and then more than likely your teacher chose a modern playwright (Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, August Wilson, etc.) for you to read with your classmates.
The number of plays and the depth of which you explored them varies but the point here is that most students are introduced to the theater within an English class.
There is a long-standing debate within academia as to where plays should be taught– English departments vs. Theater departments.
Ultimately, the debate can be narrowed down to one point of contention: Are plays meant to be read or seen? Is the play-script enough of a final product that it can be studied and interpreted on the basis of its own merit? Or does the interpretation need to come with an understanding of a fully mounted production (or at least an understanding of the characteristics and process leading to a fully mounted production)?
In the Theater department we teach our students that the play-script is not the play. There is still a great deal of work to be done before a final product (something worthy of an audience) is achieved. The “work” that needs to be done can be defined as “interpretation”– actors need to interpret their characters, directors need to interpret the greater themes of the play, scenic designers need to interpret the world of the play (as you will see in the next module) and ultimately audiences need to determine the worthiness of the production as a whole– not just the play on its own (though often times– that ends up happening anyway).
For this week’s module assignment I’d like you to watch the film version of DOUBT by John Patrick Shanley (posted below). Normally I would cringe at interpreting a film version of a play however this film was written and directed by the playwright himself. Therefore, we can be confident that the intentions of the playwright are being honored. After watching the film I would like you to write a 1,000 word response paper (specific instructions below).
- Watch the film.
- Take notes on the following:
- Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s interpretation of Father Flynn (does he look, sound, and act the same way you interpreted Father Flynn? What does he do differently? Where has he succeeded in creating the character you read from the page and where has he diverted from your interpretation?)
- Do the same with Meryl Streep’s interpretation of Sister Aloysius, Amy Adams’ interpretation of Sister James, and Viola Davis’ interpretation of Mrs. Miller (they changed the name for the film).
- The world of the play (does it look the way you interpreted the world of the play when you read the script? Costumes, scenic choices, etc.)?
- The major moments of conflict– especially the final scene between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius (does this scene play out the same way you read it?)
- Anything about the film that strikes you as a completely different interpretation than the way you envisioned the play.
- Anything about the film that appears to be an interpretation very similar to your own.
- Write a 1,000 word (minimum) response paper that addresses the differences and similarities between the film’s interpretation of the play and your own.
— Obviously the film was able to use more characters (Donald is actually in the film) and more set locations. This is because film budgets are much larger than theater budgets (there is no need to point this difference out in your paper).
— It is not enough to simply say: “The film was exactly the way I interpreted the play.”– If that is the case (though I would find it hard to believe) you still need to be specific. Tell me exactly what about the film is the same way you envisioned it (the characterization, the costuming, the scenic design, etc.) and exactly where in the script does your interpretation intersect with the filmmaker.
— The more specific you are (use page numbers from the play, and time marks from the film) the better you will do on this assignment.
Watch this film: