FREN-265 French Theater Workshop: Ionesco and Tardieu
Offered academic year 2015-2016
In this course, students take on a part in a production of a French comedic stage play of the 20th century. In so doing they not only improve their skills in spoken French through various techniques and strategies (diction, tempo, breathing, posture), but they also learn more about post-WWII French drama, and about comedy as both a literary and performative genre.
After the horrors and destruction of the Second World War (1939-1945), comedy—and theater in general—took a strikingly new direction. It seemed no longer enough to ridicule eternal human foibles (greed, lust, envy, jealousy, affectation) or to satirize contemporary society. Under the influence of emerging philosophical trends, notably existentialism, drama focused on exploring the apparent absurdity of the human condition through plays that also challenged the very conventions of the genre in terms of plot and characterization. While this trend was rooted in such pre-WWII intellectual and artistic movements as Dadaism and Surrealism, it generated a body of plays that, unlike their predecessors, found a durable echo among a wide audience. As it happens, several of the new authors came from outside of France—
Eugene Ionesco ( 1909 - 1994) from Rumania, Samuel Beckett ( 1906 - 1989) from Ireland, Arthur Adamov (1908 - 1970) from Armenia—, and their non-native use of the French language gave their plays a peculiar favor.
For this class, we will work with two very dark comedies that are still frequently acted today, Ionesco's breakthrough La Cantatrice Chauve (The Bald Soprano, 1950), perhaps the purest example of absurdist comedy (the author called it an "anti-play"), and Beckett's En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot, 1952), a kind of metaphysical debate between two vagrants expecting a providential man whose identity remains a mystery, and who never shows up. We will also rehearse several short pieces by Jean Tardieu (1903 - 1995), a playwright whose Théâtre de chambre experiments with various aspects of the Western dramatic genre (plot types, dialogues, conventions) with both poetic and comic effects.
The premise of this class is that we can really only understand plays from another era through performance, by studying the conditions in which they were staged, by seeing them staged or, better yet, by performing them ourselves.
Most of class time in FREN 267 is devoted to rehearsing stage plays and on various short performative exercises to develop students' ability to communicate expressively in French (using intonation, body language, gestures and movement). The teacher will provide constant suggestions and feedback on acting techniques as well as on French diction.
Students also reflect on the work being done through complementary readings of various post-WWII French comedies, and engage in a continuing conversation using BlackBoard's Discussion Board feature.
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