A Dramatic Literature Education
Sarah Moore explains the focus and scope of her major at New York University.
Michael Esper, Dick Latessa and Linda Lavin in The Lyons (© Carol Rosegg)
"So you just read a lot of plays?" people have asked about my major. "Pretty much," I say, keeping it simple. My major is complicated. I have read a lot of plays and theoretical texts over the course of completing the dramatic literature program, all valuable in different ways. I'll start from the beginning. The NYU Drama Lit major is part of the College and Arts and Sciences, not Tisch School of the Arts. The program requires 10 courses (at minimum). We are required to take both History of Drama I and II. If I remember correctly, part I went chronologically up to Phaedra by Jean Racine, and included Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Moliere and Shakespeare. Part 2 ended with Beckett and focused on melodrama as well as the naturalism of Ibsen and Chekov. We are also required to take a separate class on "Pre-1800" drama, which usually means Shakespeare. I took my Shakespeare seminar over the summer, focusing on Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well (which were the plays in rep at Shakespeare in the Park). If you remember my piece Bringing the Classroom to the Theater we were also fortunate enough to attend Measure for Measure and spent a lot of time discussing the production of the text we were studying in detail. The drama department often offers courses focused on one playwright to give a more focused look on one body of work, but I never took one for reasons of timing, and also...interest. (Basically I'm saying they never offered a Major Playwrights: O'Neill or Albee class in my time at NYU. I'd be into that. In fact, I would probably just do that for fun.) I have lots of friends studying other things that often come to me with interest, asking what they should read. What are the classics that they should read to be an educated human being in the arts? Most people are assigned the standard Greek drama (The Oedipus cycle perhaps) or Shakespeare (hopefully beyond Romeo and Juliet) in high school, but if they weren't, they should first cover those bases. I tell them I was assigned Death of a Salesman twice in my undergrad career that I remember; it might have been more. Also, Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill is probably my favorite "family drama." (By the way, can we get a revival? I'll cast it.) And of course, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, A Raisin in the Sun. I'll stop there.
For friends seeking more contemporary reading, I might recommend This is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan or something by David Rabe. And of course, both parts of Tony Kushner's Angels in America are essential. As far as drama lit beyond actual texts, I've dabbled in performance studies and musical theater, as well as my aforementioned Theories of Acting and Directing. I also took one film class, and friends have taken practical acting classes. Drama in Performance is a popular one, where you go and see all sorts of shows around the city. As with any department, there are gaps in the program. For example, I can tell you all about the Astor Place Riots, but I'm basically unfamiliar with British drama outside of Shakespeare. The only August Wilson play I know is Fences, I've never read anything by Inge, and there's plenty of other classics I haven't read. Some of this, of course, is my own fault (there was a Modern British Drama class on the course list once), but some of it is because our program is very small. It's impossible to teach everything there is to know in a few short years. I've taken a few classes with the word "modern" in the title that weren't too modern at all (though we did study Spring Awakening the musical, and both Lonergan and Rabe have new plays opening Off-Broadway this season). If I were to teach a modern drama class, it would include actual modern playwrights like Adam Rapp (Charles Isherwood's favorite), David Lindsay-Abaire, and Nicky Silver. Though, maybe that would just be a Sarah's Favorite Playwrights seminar. (Your assignment for that class is to go see Nicky Silver's The Lyons, beginning previews at The Cort this week.)