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Pre Production

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Analysis of the script – Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’, described by Hartzell as ‘fresh and compelling’ because of the play’s ability to touch the  ‘audiences in different ways at different times in their lives’ is considered as one of his best works not just of the person but one of the best works during his time. ‘Our Town’ is a play about real life and how lessons about it are illustrated through a more surreal ending. Because of this, the general mood of the play is consistent with the general mood of people who are affected by the changes happening in the lives of the people/ characters involved in the scenes.

One of the many concerns that will involve the preproduction scrutiny of the script is the director’s execution of the play in a standard manner. This would require reviewing the analysis of previous stage directing style of the play Our Town and how stage critics and theater analysts see the style and its corresponding effectivity with regards to being consistent with Wilder’s style and his vision in lieu of the creation and setting of the play on stage.

Setting Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ on stage using directing and stage production styles consistent with the style of the playwright and accomplishing the desire to have a similar effect on the audience as how it was emotive and effective through the stage directorial direction of previous directors, it is important to review the script and note scene executions alongside notes taken from the review of previous works and the playwright’s personal style, which are consistent not just in ‘Our Town’ versions but as well as with the other plays Wilder has written.

One of the most important things the director should note is the presence of the Stage Manager in the play, which Digby describes as ‘another classic Thornton Wilder touch’ (2006). The role and performance of the Stage Manager is important and should not be altered drastically for it is not just important in the entire story, it is one of Wilder’s trademark in writing style and character creation.

Another important thing to observe with regards to the pursuit of showing a play that is considered standard when it comes to Our Town showing is the penchant of Wilder with regards to the time line jumping. This style is reflected in other Wilder opuses, thus making its presence in the execution of Our Town important if the director is going for the standard and classic Our Town appeal and personality.

            For an undertaking of yet another version of Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ in a standard manner, the director is expected to retain the characteristics of the play, including those which are tangible like stage set and props, and those which appeals to the emotion and senses, like line delivery, emotion evoked through movement and body language, blocking and the communication of the main theme and conflict of the story.

            To achieve the goal of being successful in executing a standard ‘Our Town’ presentation in its traditional form, the director realizes the important roles of every scene and how everything is integral in the story telling capacity and role of the play, therefore making it unnecessary to actually trim down the play by cutting scenes and obliterating sections of the script, since stage plays are allotted its needed run time and not the contrary.

            The tweaking in the non-speaking areas of the script like background music and sound effects cues is important when it comes to pre production script analysis since the expected minor changes in scene execution will result to the alteration in the scene notes (i.e. props originally present in particular scenes might vanish or be replaced by other new objects and materials while background music and sound effects notes and design maybe altered).

            The most important note in the play’s script is the consistency of the use of Wilder’s visual style, something which Watters describes as ‘bare’ save for very minimal stage props. Standard execution of the play should observe how the script manages to move the characters around a world full of tangible materials and transfer the sense of orientation towards objects absent in the stage set but is very much real and present in the imagination of the viewers since the execution of the actors are enough to lift these unseen objects out of the typically dark and empty background of Wilder’s setting.

That is the Wilder challenge that directors come across, and Digby (2006) noted how this has been consistent throughout the execution of Wilder’s play, saying that ‘the merest suggestion of sets or props’ is a ‘classic Thornton Wilder style’ that leaves the ‘talented actors, with the help of lighting and stage direction, to literally convince us…’Digby (2006). For her part, Hartzell describes Our Town’s visual requisites as ‘deceptively simple in plot and production style’.

            Lastly, script analysis should also focus on reviewing the important characters and aspect of the story. The script analysis should ensure that the lines, blockings and instructed stage design are consistent with the personality being created for each of the two families. The script should be reviewed so that scenarios are studied very well so that character in this particular play during the actual presentation is actually cognizant of the predicament  each character is in at a particular scene and time frame which is spread throughout the three separate acts of Our Town.

            Analysis of the inciting incident – While the play Our Town has in its script and story many different points that can be considered as the point of inciting the incident, the death of Emily can be used as the linchpin for this particular aspect of script analysis, rewriting and development. This is because it is through Emily’s death that the conflict of the story is being presented.

            The key area to explore when it comes to the analysis of inciting the incident in the script is the presentation of death. The original script of the play usually indicates that at the opening of the third and last act, the audience is introduced to a setting that already bypassed a certain time line.

Death is presented by the presence of the dead talking about their lives when they were alive and the presentation of Emily’s death is very symbolic and during script analysis, it is important that the manner by which Emily’s death is presented is tackled and analyzed since it is very euphemistic and soft and lacks the necessary emotive impact that goes along with death and ushers the viewers towards the feeling of grief and mourning, which is important in making the key lessons of the play delivered and appreciated by the viewers more clearly and succinctly.

            Conflict Analysis – The conflict of the story is basically focused on Emily and how she is torn with the fact that as a dead person, she cannot let go of the memories of her past life as a live human being and in the process being unable to start her new life as a the dead Emily that is presented in the play as a phantom or ghost who joined other previously alive neighbors.

            Death is something new to Emily, that is why this is her conflict, and the director and the scriptwriter’s task is focused on making sure Emily’s moment of conflict is given enough and sufficient time – sufficient that the audience will come to terms to Emily’s conflict and grasp the nature of her conflict (and perhaps enable the audience to empathize with her), and just enough that it neither lingers nor stay on too long it becomes a dragging experience both for the character and the audience who might feel that the play is inexplicably stuck in a loop of wanting to go back and failing to live the character’s present life – if being death really means living a new life, for all its semantic concerns and paradoxes.

            Climax – The important thing to remember in presenting the climax is being able to show how the story climaxes vis-à-vis the tension mounting inside Emily. The presentation of the conflict is situated in close proximity with the climactic apex of the story. Again, script concerns revolving the execution of the climax depends largely on the approach of the director, and the climactic point of the story should be assessed in detail since failure to enable the audience to feel the onset and peaking of the story’s climax may render them feeling shortchanged and hanging, story wise, since the ending is just very near the climax of the story.

Once Emily showed her acquiesce towards the reality that she is faced with upon her death, the director should rely on the strong closing scenes of the play to enable the audience to notice the shift in attitude and behavior of the lead character who was the one who experienced the key conflict points in the story and who is the one whom the story expects to exude the light of transformation.

Climax is one of the most important aspects of a play, and playwrights are very particular with the scene executed at this stage of the play since evoking the wrong emotions and having the audience misunderstand the entire sequences of events leading the climax can prove counterproductive to the idea that the audience’s emotions should be linked with those of the performers – the audience should be, from start to finish, in tune with what is happening during the performance and should connect and relate closely with the emotional experiences of the play’s characters and the director can accomplish that by making sure that the build up in the story as well as the build up in the cognition of the viewers move in a consistent arching line that allows for it to rise and to gradually drop, returning to the level of self realization of the play’s lesson and signaling the end of the story.

            Theme of the play – The theme of the play is basically the existence of the three stages of life: being alive, experiencing death and living the after life. Inside this particular theme, other smaller themes exist. The main character Emily personifies the many different sub themes present inside the play, and in some odd and contradictory fashion, the manner by which the dead behaves to illustrate the sub themes is very human that sometimes, the director is running the risk of confusing the audience that Emily is already dead.

            The director should focus on making sure that the little things that Emily starts to appreciate during her death is something that she nearly ignores during her life being alive. But the challenge to the director now is this – how can a character who, during her lifetime, was endowed with traits such as being emotional, sensitive and attuned with her inner self actually fail in the appreciation of the small things in life when her character during her past, alive life indicates that she is that? During the firs t two acts, the audience would be led to believe that Emily would be married because she is generally a good woman with a sound personality mentally and psychologically.

The audience who will witness the marriage will automatically think that the reason why they are getting married is that because Emily is a nice woman. Marriage is always linked towards the positive attributes of both the bride and the groom, and as the Act Two of the play is highlighted by the matrimonial ceremony that  united the two people together, it is hard to actually prove to the audience that little things, especially those involving and referring to domestic aspect of a married life, went pass by Emily’s eyes and heart unnoticed, making the theme of the play with a conspicuous hole in the middle simply because there are traces of inconsistency inside Emily’s character that affects the entire theme of the story.

            To answer this problem, the director can opt to use the style used by other directors – to illustrate through the play the commonness of the life cycle of the people that even the audience will also acquire the folly of the characters as the audience themselves would not notice the good things in the characters’ lives, making the stage wherein the absence of appreciation for life’s little things as something akin to guilt that the audience share, enabling the characters to still have the sympathy of the audience. This action will lead to the creation of the feeling that what the characters are experiencing on stage is actually what the audience in real life experiences as well, thus making them more eager to focus on the play so that they will be given an idea about this particular folly’s repercussion.

            Discussing the obstacles and the primary actions to overcome the obstacles of George and Emily – The director should also take a look at the manner by which obstacles of the personalities of George and Emily are being conquered by the characters via their actions, particularly in Act Two, the stage of their courtship and marriage. In the presentation of the standard play, the director would follow the similar style other directors and even Wilder himself used – the ability of the two main characters to finally grasp the reality presented in front of them. Gates describes the lives of the two very simply in her New York Times theater review section, saying that “Emily Webb and George Gibbs, who live next door to each other, discuss their homework, grow up, fall in love and marry” (Gates, 2002).

The obstacles of the two are generally the occurrence of new things in their lives and how these affects their lives – from the littlest things such as behavior shifts during their courtship days, to the presence of death during their married life. “Audiences watching the characters in their day-to-day routines will find themselves reflecting on the truths that matter most in their own lives, and celebrating the people and the values they hold dear,” (Hartzell).

The script allows for the character to conquer and hurdle the obstacles either by him or herself or by the help of other people (proof of this is how other ‘dead’ neighbors and fellow towns people talked the ‘dead’ Emily about the problems and realization the ‘dead’ face once they are already dead, and how they should let go of the concerns of the living (which means Emily should not bother herself by the problems of husband George brought about by her death) and instead focus on making the most out of their present state: dead and preparing for the life after death.

The superobjectives of the two characters, Emily and George, are distributed throughout the play, and the script clearly illustrates the many different ways each person / character addresses his or her own superobjective. The only thing certain is that through adherence to the well written script, the director can fully establish Emily and George’s superobjectives and at the same time allow the audience to clearly see how the two characters were able to negotiate and handle it. The standard Our Town performance illustrates it clearly and vividly, and the director only needs to understand that the key to achieving the full presentation of this particular aspect of the play is by following consistently the pattern set forth by Wilder and by the directors who staged the play Our Town in the past with convincing success.

Works Cited:

Digby, Horace J. “An Evening with Thornton Wilder.” 2007. 20 October 2007

      <http://www.lexingtonfilm.com>.

Gates, Anita. “Theater Review; A New Slant on Life for Young and Old Residents of

      Grover’s Corners.” The New York Times. 25 February 2002. 20 October 2007

      <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9403EED61E3EF936A15751C0A9

      649C8B63&n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/W/Wilder,%20Thornton>.

Hartzell, Janet. “Discover ‘Our Town’ all over again.” 2007. 20 October 2007

      <http://www.uwm.edu/News/report/old/nov98/events.html>.

Keuffel, Ken. “In Our Town: Thornton Wilder’s 1938 classic to be presented in two forms – a

      stage play and opera.” Journal Arts. 21 January 2007. 20 October 2007

      <http://www.journalnow.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WSJ/MGArticle/WSJ_

      RelishArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1149192745683>.

Watters, David H. Our Town Study Guide. Center for New England Culture. University of

      New Hampshire, Durham.  20 October 2007

      <http://www.nhpr.org/files/OurTownstudyguide.pdf>.

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