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THEA 361: Theatre History & Dramatic Literature: Home

An 18th-century etching of theatrical performanceCovent Garden Theatre, etching by Thomas Rowlandson

Library Research Guide for THEA 361: Theatre History & Dramatic Literature

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The Production History Project


  • First choose one play written before 1700. It can be one of the plays we've read for class or it can be another play that you are interested in reading/writing about. Read the play thoroughly and write a brief summary of the play's plot and its historical context (when was it written, by whom, where was it first performed, what historical events surrounded the original production of this play, how was it originally received by audiences). Your plot summary should be no more than 1 paragraph while your summary of its historical context should be 1-2 paragraphs. 


  • Next, identify three significant professional productions of your chosen play (each from a different time period). You should choose productions for which you can find ample information. You will likely want to be able to find reviews or accounts of the production, as well as information about the physical set (photos, video, sketches, detailed descriptions), the actors, director and/or designer. If video recording of the production exists you should watch it. Based on this research, write 2-3 paragraphs describing each production of the play. This description should include detailed examples from your research including memorable descriptions from  reviews. In these paragraphs, consider what distinctive creative decisions the director, producer, actors, designers made in the production. In what ways is it similar to and in what ways is it different from other productions of the same play. What themes or ideas from the play were being emphasized in this particular production? How do these themes, images, or ideas resonate with what was going on in the world when the play was produced? 


  • In the third section of this paper you should draw some interesting conclusions about the play you've chosen, popular interpretations of it and, more broadly, something you've learned about the process of reinterpreting a play from page to stage. In your conclusion, consider what about our treatment of the play has remained the same since its first production, what has changed, and why. Are there any trends in how directors interpret the play? Have audiences always loved it? Why or why not? These conclusions can be speculative, but they should be supported by evidence or references to what you learned in your research. 


  • In the final section of this paper describe, if you were to direct this play today at UMW what would your production look and sound like and why. Consider why this play might still be meaningful now, what problems or lessons does it present that speak to 21st century concerns, what do you want your audiences to feel or experience when they watch your version of the play?

Research and Instruction Librarian