Brenda Foley

Research Area: Theater and performance studies.
Brenda’s specific areas of interest include popular culture, gender and performance and contemporary plays and playwrights.

Liza Williams

Research Area: Theater, directing, and design.
Liza’s areas of specialty are directing, lighting design, and devised theatre and performance.

The core of the theatre program at Marlboro is the link between study and practice.  The curriculum in theatre and performance theory, history, literature, criticism, design, directing, acting, and production encourages students to view the processes of study and practice as symbiotic, with classes employing overlapping components of staging assignments, written work, and critical analysis. By its nature an interdisciplinary and collaborative endeavor, theatre at Marlboro spans diverse areas of inquiry including, but not limited to, social action, playwriting, pop culture, Shakespeare, gender studies, global perspectives, performance studies, embodiment and identity politics, directing, design, contemporary theatre, creative writing, and solo performance. 

Theatre students at Marlboro often work collaboratively with other disciplines combining their productions and research with visual arts, politics, sociology, history, environmental studies, Asian studies, dance, or music. Such interdisciplinary work is an integral part of the theatre program and students are encouraged to study subjects that will expand the parameters of their overall knowledge base and incorporate those disciplines into their projects and Plan productions (for example, Plans linking theatre and religion, theatre and chemistry, and theatre and environmental studies).

Multiple opportunities exist for theatre students to create their own performances. Working with a faculty sponsor through practicums and lab work, students develop their skills through smaller design, acting, and directorial endeavors as preparation and practice for their final Plan projects. In many ways, the trajectory of the theatre program mirrors the Plan process through a focus on elements of research, practice, writing, and independent projects.

In addition to faculty, student, and guest directed productions, each year the theatre program welcomes professional visiting artists and scholars who make an essential contribution to the curriculum through lectures, performances, and participation in workshops and residencies. Some of our former visiting artists include playwright Christine Evans, performance artist Tim Allen, performer Todd Robbins, Sandglass Puppet Theatre, as well as, through a collaboration with Vermont Performance Lab, writer/director/performer Ain Gordon, writer/director/performer Sebastienne Mundheim, and performance artist/composer and musician Cynthia Hopkins.

This year we will be joined by three Vermont Performance Lab Artists: writer/performance artist Alina Troyano (aka Carmelita Tropicana, who will develop a new work and be part of a spring course taught by Brenda Foley), choreographer luciana achugar who will workshop a new performance piece, and returning playwright Ain Gordon, as well as Boston’s Sleeping Weazel artistic director and playwright Charlotte Meehan, and other visiting artists TBA.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Directing and Acting
  • Theories of Performance
  • Contemporary Theatre
  • Playwriting
  • Theatre History
  • Elements of Design

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

Acting I is a practical theater course that explores the tools and techniques necessary for developing characters onstage. The course will consist of various exercises, monologue work and scene study. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 3

This class will allow students to work on basic building blocks of scene and character work. Starting from established scripts, directors will gain tools in script analysis and learn how to translate that information into a comprehensive directorial concept from which to begin the collaborative process of guiding a production to its full potential.

This seminar/lab will explore diverse case studies of designed settings and environments for performance (theater, film, opera, dance). We will consider compositional techniques as well as how space, materials, objects, light and sound participate in telling a story. Studies of the designs of others will be complemented with practical experiments in creating sets, working with light and integrating audio. Projects. Prerequisites: None     Introductory | Credits: 3

This course is designed to introduce students to both the practical and theoretical aspects of lighting design using lecture, projects and hands-on exercises.

Course projects will open up new ways of seeing light, both in terms of the theatrical experience and the world around us and to familiarize students with the tools of lighting design (instruments, control, color media, etc.) The course aims to enable students to work with a text and in collaboration with a director and other designers to create a working design that addresses mood, atmosphere and location.

This course is designed to allow students freedom to create individual projects and/or group projects that do not fall within standard theater pedagogy. It is a studio course, meaning that the bulk of the work in the semester will be creative, resulting in a product worthy of an audience. The course is designed to give students with limited or no prior experience with non-traditional forms some tools with which to begin to make performance pieces but also to allow students who have some background in non-traditional performance forms to advance their craft. Solo narrative, object-theater, use of media in live performance, and site-specific performance are all techniques that will be explored.

Through critical analysis of playwrights ranging from Susan Glaspell to Suzan-Lori Parks, this course will explore creative works by 20th and 21st-century female playwrights. Emphasis will be placed both on close textual study of the works and the realities of staging productions. Course materials will include primary texts, secondary analyses and essays situating the plays in the theatrical and historical contexts in which they were written and, where available, viewings of recorded performances. Class format will be a combination of response papers, essay exams, discussions and presentations. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Cultural references to the works of Tennessee Williams run the gamut from an opera of Orpheus Descending to The Simpsons episode in which A Streetcar Named Desire is updated to a musical titled A Streetcar Named Marge. Who in the United States hasn’t seen the film clip of Marlon Brando (or Bugs Bunny) wailing for “Stella?” Yet, in addition to his cultural iconicity, Williams was a writer of astonishing depth and poetic imagery, capable of critiquing human frailty even as he celebrated the grand messiness of life. Williams wrote, “Whether or not we admit it to ourselves, we are all haunted by a truly awful sense of impermanence.” Through analysis of his plays, poetry, short stories and film versions of his texts, this class will explore the theme of “impermanence” in the works of Tennessee Williams. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

This course will explore the history of the way underrepresented groups in the United States have historically been depicted or stereotyped in performance and through cultural iconography, and then to examine the reaction many theater artists (primarily playwrights) have responded to this history with their art. We will look at the power and legacy of stereotype and strategies theater artists have used to undermine that power. My intent is to broaden our understanding of what theater can represent and to show how theater can be used to foster greater understanding of our differences.

This course offers a practical examination of the theatrical process through the production and performance of a full-length play. Casting will occur as soon as the fall semester begins and rehearsals will take place both in the allotted class periods and in designated evening time slots. There are opportunities for acting, stage managing, participation as running crew for lights and sound, costumes and set building. Course credit will range from 1-4 according to the required duties and necessary time obligation. A firm commitment to the rehearsal process and the production is mandatory. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor, audition and/or interview      Credits: Variable

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

Acting II is an intermediate course designed to continue the training and development of actors with previous class/performance experience. The goal of the class is to expand knowledge and skills gained in Acting I. Exercises and scene study work will culminate in a final scene project with partners. There is significant rehearsal time outside of class. Prerequisite: Acting I     Intermediate | Credits: 3

Robert Barton has noted, “We perceive style in terms of our expectations.” From the expansiveness of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays to the taut control of Noel Coward’s texts, this class will give us the opportunity to interrogate our own expectations as we explore the possibilities of theatrical performance within the context of period plays. The course will result in a public performance of scenes that will require rehearsal time outside of the designated class period. Prerequisite: A college-level course in the fundamentals of acting and permission of the instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Advanced level course for actors, directors, designers and playwrights to develop new works of theater using contemporary ensemble techniques, primarily Viewpoints. This is a lab course in which all students will participate in all aspects of the creation process. This course can be physically vigorous. Half of the class will be dedicated to learning what the viewpoints are, practicing Viewpoints technique, and developing a strong sense of ensemble. The other half of the class will be dedicated to learning how to use composition to create new works, acting in each other’s pieces, exploring the various components of theater, and examining our assumptions about what constitutes theater. New works will be presented every few weeks throughout the semester, ending with a festival of work created by the class. Students will be expected to cooperate with each other and rehearse their work outside of class time, employing techniques learned in class. 

In this course we will explore the ways in which contemporary playwrights portray a vision of the secular apocalyptic. As with Vaçlav Havel's assessment of Absurdism, apocalyptic plays can be read as "not scenes from life, but theatrical images of the basic modalities of humanity in a state of collapse."  We'll take an expansive perspective on the definition of "apocalyptic" and use as a frame works from other disciplines such as Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake, the poetry of Japanese women following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in White Flash/Black Rain, and the BBC docudrama Threads. Prerequisite: None

The study of any dramatic literature is about asking questions. Who has the power? Why is there conflict? What premise is the play asking us to consider or reject? And why should we care? In an interview with W.J.T. Mitchell, Homi Bhabha referred to an “enunciative disturbance” that destabilizes the process of representation and interpretation. In this course we will read a variety of plays from diverse geographical regions and explore the complex negotiations between subject position and cultural gesture in the genre of postcolonial dramatic literature. We will interrogate the use of “postcolonial” as an umbrella term with multiple meanings through the reading of authors as varied as Judith Thompson, Athol Fugard and Chin Woon Ping.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Employing tools of critical analysis from the fields of performance studies and disability studies, this course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the ways in which cultural images of “normal” are constituted, legitimated and even occasionally subverted in theater and popular entertainment in the United States. We will study works as diverse as Tod Browning’s film Freaks, Doug Wright’s play I am My Own Wife and the TV pageant/plastic surgery extravaganza The Swan.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course takes a look at the changes in the way alcoholism and addiction have been portrayed on the American stage. Between the temperance movement that dominated the social activism of the nineteenth century and the war of drugs, the image of what alcoholism and addiction are has changed and in many ways served social needs for scapegoating. The power of the portrayals of addiction has shaped social attitudes and public policy, and has undergone radical shifts both in the way we see the addict, in our ideas about how to deal with the problems that surround addiction and who in fact is cast into the role of addict at all. This course will examine the changing social history and corresponding theatrical portrayals from the middle of the nineteenth century until the present day.

By way of a series of projects, this course will explore the creative relationship between directors and designers, including how directors can adapt their directorial concepts to accommodate designer visions, and also how designers can find a vision that helps the production move toward unity. The course will help work through stages and aspects of negotiation, designer/director dramaturgy, and inspirational research that help both directors and designers nurture their creative processes. The course will also examine how each design area corresponds to a specific directing tool, and how to create a design with the director’s staging needs in mind.

This course will be a collaborative seminar designed to give intermediate and advanced students who intend to use performing as an aspect of their Plan the opportunity to workshop their ideas and scripts. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor, and the class will be capped     Intermediate | Credits: 3

By the completion of four years of study, it is expected that theatre students will have gained broad knowledge of the constitutive elements of the discipline by taking classes in each area (history/lit/theory, design/production, acting/directing) as well as classes and tutorials specific to their own research and production interests.

In general, to graduate with a degree field in theatre all students will take:

  • the Intro to technical theatre class
  • three theatre history/theory/lit classes
  • two directing classes
  • one design class
  • two acting classes
  • and have worked crew for at least one production 

Additional classes and production projects relevant to the individual area of study (acting or design, for instance) will form the remainder of each student’s theatre curriculum as discussed with the advisor.

Sample Tutorial Topics:

  • Embodiment and Performance
  • (Dis)Integrating Form: Constructing a Play
  • Contemporary Plays and Playwrights
  • Lighting Design
  • Performance Lab
  • Theatre and Violence
  • Jacobean Plays