Thespian voices rise at NMT

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New Mexico Tech English professor Glenda Stewart-Langley teaches a class called Theater 360, Intro to Theater — a literature class.

“The idea behind the class was studying drama as literature and using the same literary devices (in drama) that one uses for a short story or novel or poetry,” Stewart-Langley said.

Rather than attempt to look at theater devoid of the trappings of implementation, she incorporates acting into things.

“Drama is a unique art form that is meant to be read aloud and meant to be done in a public space,” she said.

Staging a performance, though, gets costly and time consuming, especially when homework appropriate of an upper-level college English class is expected, too. But Stewart-Langley doesn’t consider performance optional.

“It could be done with reading aloud in the classroom and still be fairly successful, but the students never really seem to appreciate the nature of drama until they’ve done a little bit of performing,” she said.

Readers’ theater is a compromise. The actors read from their scripts, eliminating the need for memorization. Little stage space is necessary; there are no props, costumes or physical interactions. All the focus is on character and emotion as expressed through the dialog.

In order to perform effectively, the actors must really understand the characters they present. This personal understanding leads to a better understanding of the work as literature.

As a culminating project, Stewart-Langley’s class selects a few cuttings from plays they’ve studied over the course of the semester, plus a few other sources, and presents the selections to an audience.

This summer’s theater class pulled together a selection of nine cuttings, mostly humorous. The performance opened with a selection from the classic Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” a play about ancient Greek women bringing a swift end to the Peloponnesian War by refusing to go to bed with their husbands so long as it continues. Throughout, the show was peppered with three selections from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a standard for Tech culture and a British classic.

Two serious selections were present: Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” and Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” Williams’ play is a classic American work and a tragedy about a struggling family falling apart. “Angels in America” is the most recently published of the pieces presented, looking at religion and sexuality in late 80s America.

The production rounded out with some older humorous pieces, such as Thornton Wilder’s farcical “The Skin of Our Teeth” from 1942, Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Cold War absurdity “The Physicists” from 1962, and Molière’s classic comedy “Tartuffe” from 1664.

“The big thing is that it’s just a lot of fun,” Stewart-Langley said. “They don’t realize until they’ve done it that they’re gaining things like confidence and teamwork and a greater sense of comprehension of what drama is. But ultimately, it’s a reward, because I do make them work very, very hard, and it’s a lot of fun. We always end the class with a very fun exercise.”