Instructor's Teaching Experience
This play is confusing and chaotic, without a plot. My students were resistant at first. However, my second day teaching, we laser focused on Julia’s speech in the second act and it was a really good for both close reading (this is a very metaphoric section and a beautiful depiction of internalized misogyny) AND for looking at how performance and set decisions can change the way we read a scene, so it was really good for examining the role of performance.
This is a three-act play, so I broke it up to focus on one act per day.
ACT I: For the first act, we start by a discussion of the first line: “My husband married me to have a constant reminder of how loathsome women are.” By this point in the semester, we’d had multiple opportunities to discuss Feminism and various moments in Feminist history. We use this first to both discuss how this line works as an opening, but also how this first scene presents Fufu, how she presents herself, and what the relationship between her and the two characters she spends most of Act I with.
I give a brief intro to Fornés and Fefu. My Intro PowerPoint is below. Many of the quotes about the play come straight from an interview between Bonnie Marranca and Fornés that is published with my copy of the play. The interview is published, in part, on American Theatre. During this intro to the play, I tell them it is considered a Feminist play, but we discuss why it is difficult to parse because it is a 70s play about a group of women in 1935. So, we talk about what is different between 1935 feminism and 70s feminism and, since we’re at it, feminism in our own time.
Finally, we break into groups and try to create character descriptions for the other seven women in the play.
ACT II: Act II is fun. It’s where the play gets formally interesting, because the audience moves from room to room and each of the four scenes are played simultaneously, four times, for each part of the audience. The audience experiences it in various orders. And so, we have to begin the discussion by contemplating why, how, and what the effect of this on the audience is. This is a great opportunity to discuss staging and ‘ingenuity’ by necessity. I tell them about Fornés’ first performance venue – an apartment in New York, where she liked the ‘backstage’ areas more than the main performance space. Then we look at pictures of Adam Rigg’s 2019 set design for Theater for a New Audience (some images on the PowerPoint below). We look at the logistics of the space, we discuss how sound travels, the experience of walking through this set.
Then we hyper focus on Julia’s monologue (the bedroom). I ask them to read the stage directions and tell me how they would stage this scene. Then I show them how Rigg designed the set, putting Julia below stage, and using headphones to communicate with the audience. If you’d like to see pictures click here or you can read the Playbill Behind the Scenes article. Because of this design, Julia is necessarily immobile. Then we watch the scene in a performance that happened at the Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House (time 55:05-1:04:40), which is a very mobile and active and loud performance of the scene. We then compare, discussing how each version interprets the scene.
Act III: Act III begins with the women practicing their speeches for a teaching conference. We briefly discuss what a teaching philosophy is, I use mine to explain, and in groups they begin the class by reading a character’s presentation and rewriting it into a contemporary teaching philosophy.
Then, because Emma’s teaching philosophy is performance, we spend the rest of the class performing. I give them ten minutes to search the halls of the building and my office for props that they can use to perform a brief scene. When they return, we talk about dramaturgy and direction. Each group has a person who is the designated director/dramaturg whose responsibility it is to explain their artistic choices and how the props they found helped them make performance decisions. The rest of the group performs, and it’s fun.