by Alice Pencavel
Alice Pencavel’s lesson plan uses close reading of A Streetcar Named Desire as a starting point for students to write their own dramatic scenes. If many students are already familiar with Streetcar, choose a different play to teach the same lesson.
Grades: High School
- To introduce students to the fundamental aspects of script analysis.
- To help students acquire a deepened sense of inquiry, patience, and appreciation for the literary aspect of a play through the practice of creative writing.
- What themes are alive in this scene? How might you create a play or world that addresses the same themes, but reflects an aspect of truth alive in the world you experience today?
- Does the Tennessee Williams quote from the beginning of the lesson ring true or false for you? Do your feelings regarding the quote remain the same or are they different after having engaged creatively as writers?
- How did it feel to have your words said aloud by others? Did they sound the way you had envisioned and hoped? What would you change to make the scene truer to your intention?
- Why is going line by line, and reading slowly through stage directions first, so important? What can we glean about the period, time, and place it was written based on how we are introduced to this play?
- What about reading the script in this way was different or the same from how you normally read?
Configure desks or chairs so that everyone is sitting in a circle or open rectangle.
- Students take out a single sheet of paper and write a reflection on the following quote: “If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.” —Tennessee Williams
- Students are invited to share reflections.
- Together, read aloud the opening stage directions of A Streetcar Named Desire. Take it slowly, examining all the clues alive in the text, discussing students’ observations about the world of the play as indicated in the stage directions, before arriving at the characters. Approach the script sensorially (a la Elinor Fuchs’ “Visit to a Small Planet”), paying specific attention to detail, without jumping to conclusions, but rather encouraging students to maintain their capacity for open observation.
- Students get into pairs and together create and write a scene they guess might follow, based solely on the stage directions they just read. Each student is responsible for one character, and together they pass the same sheet of paper back and forth as they write out the dialogue of the characters and situation they have created based only on the opening stage directions.
- Each pair then swaps their scenes with another pair, and reads the scene aloud for the class. In this way, the work is heard in a manner that reflects the experience of a playwright: to hear your words in the voice and interpretation of someone else.
- As a class, read aloud the full opening scene of A Streetcar Named Desire and discuss how the scene was different or similar to what students expected, specifically pointing discussion around the role of stage directions and how playwrights inform actors, directors, and designers about the world they intend to create.
- After reading the scene, dissect the lines carefully, combing through the interactions and moments, again searching for clues. In this way, the students glean a deeper understanding of what it means to read a play, particularly a play one intends to work on and devote time to.
- Return to the Williams quote and ask students to re-examine their opening thoughts and how they might be the same or changed.