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Eduction Department A Study Guide for Teachers and Students • Written by Shelley Manis, University of

Eduction Department

A Study Guide for Teachers and Students • Written by Shelley Manis, University of Texas

Thornton Wilder’s

Our TOwn

Starring Jaston Williams of Greater Tuna

Directed by Dave Steakley

“we all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t

names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars

...

–Stage Manager in Our Town.

Thornton Wilder was born April 17, 1897 and lived until December 7, 1975. Our Town was produced in 1938, which means he would have grown up during the time he wrote about in the play (1901-1913)–so in many ways, he was writing

about what he knew. He taught at private high schools and at the University of Chicago, and he served in World War

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. This supremacy of the theater derives from the fact that it is always ‘now’ on the stage.”

Thornton Wilder (as told to a Paris Review journalist)

II from 1942-1945 in the U.S. Army Air Intelligence. When the U.S. was entering WWII, Wilder wrote his second most famous play, The Skin of Our Teeth. That play looked at the world at three different points in time: the Ice Age,

the Great Flood as in the Bible’s Book of Genesis and a years’-long modern global war. Finally, his third most famous play (originally called The Merchant of Yonkers) was initially a failure in the U.S., but when a new director took the play to London, re-worked it and gave it a new name, it became even more successful than Our Town, both in London and in the U.S. The newly named play was called The Matchmaker, and it was adapted into the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly!

Eduction Department A Study Guide for Teachers and Students • Written by Shelley Manis, University of

Thornton Wilder won three Pulitzer Prizes: One in 1938 for Our Town, one in 1943 for The Skin of Our Teeth and one much earlier 1928 for a novel he wrote called The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Related Discussion Question: What do you think he meant by naming the ‘now’ on the stage as what makes theatre so powerful? How is seeing a play a different experience than reading a book? Do you agree or disagree with Wilder?

Theatre TEKS: 117.65, Level II

Eduction Department A Study Guide for Teachers and Students • Written by Shelley Manis, University of

Time Capsules The Stage Manager talks about creating a time capsule for Grover’s Corners at the turn of the century. He wants to include a copy of the play, the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and Shakespeare’s works.

If your class were to create a time capsule, what do you think would be important to include? Why? What would you want those items to tell future generations about you?

TEKS: 117.34, 117.37, 117.40

Director’s Notes

I grew up in a small Texas town–Grandview, population 935–a place very much like

Grover’s Corners. Our town was so small that once I mailed a card with an incorrect address and it was returned to my house, even though I had not included a return

address. The post office simply recognized

my handwriting. No surprise then that Our Town was the only play we ever read in Grandview—no Greek drama or Shakespeare or Arthur Miller, only Thornton Wilder’s extraordinary classic.

When I first came to work at ZACH nearly

20 years ago, director Jim Fritzler and an all- star line-up of Austin actors and musicians created a beautiful production of Our Town that is one of my most cherished theatre- going experiences. I love this play. It is a

touchstone we should all revisit at different stages in our lives as new truths unfurl.

All of the actors in ZACH’s production are from Austin. It’s important to me that this company of actors come from our community, and that you may run into them at the grocery store or on the Hike and Bike Trail.

For our production I chose to perform it in contemporary dress and set it in what feels like Austin today to underscore the timelessness of this story, even though we have not altered Wilder’s language. Emily and George’s nuptials are one of the most

significant events to happen in this play;

because weddings are hyped as the most

On ZACH’s minimalist set (typical of Epic theatre) with lighting by Jason Amato, Jaston Williams as
On ZACH’s minimalist set (typical of
Epic theatre) with lighting by Jason
Amato, Jaston Williams as the Stage
Manager talks to the audience and
explains the layout of the town of
Grover’s Corners.
Photos: www.kirktuck.com

What is Epic Theatre?

Epic theatre was a style of theatre made

famous in 1900s in the West by German playwright Bertolt Brecht. (Brecht wrote

Mother Courage and Her Children, The

writing at about the same time, and Our Town was written and produced in that spirit. Some of the aspects of Our Town that make it similar to “epic theater” are:

important day in a young woman’s life, I have

created a site-specific wedding to provide a

different visual identity for each act of this remarkable play, united by a heavenly galaxy of stars. A star’s mighty good company.

–Director DAVE STEAKLEY

Be a blogger for ZACH. Write a show review about an experience at Our Town or another ZACH show, ZACH Performing Arts School classes or camps, and email it to education@zachtheatre.org for the opportunity to be published in our blog.

Do you like to write?

Threepenny Opera, and The Life of Galileo, among many other plays.) Inspired by Russian artists who used theatre to create social change, Brecht tried to create theatre that worked differently than the most popular form of theatre at the time (and even still now), which was realism. (Realist theatre attempted to recreate the “real” world onstage).

In Brecht’s “epic theatre,” the goal was to prevent the audience from what is called “willing suspension of disbelief.” If audiences willingly suspend their disbelief, they can lose themselves in the world of a play and accept it, temporarily, as “real.” Epic theatre was designed to distance the audience from the characters and stage so they focused on both the action onstage and off, rather than just feeling something. Brecht’s epic theatre inspired Thornton Wilder, who was

a bare stage, characters talking directly to the audience (mostly the Stage Manager, though other characters do too–which ones do you remember?); way the acts are given titles; bits of “lecture” given by the Stage Manager and other characters. Think about ZACH’s production; what reminds you that you are watching a play rather than peeking in on someone’s life?

Brecht also inspired the work of later playwrights like Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, The Crucible), Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie), Susan Lori-Parks (The America Play), and Tony Kushner (Angels in America).

Theatre TEKS: 117.66 Level III, 117.67 Level IV

1. Our Town surprised American audiences when it first premiered, because the original production did notw w w . m a c d o w e l l c o l o n y . o r g Past residents of MacDowell: Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland, Milton Avery, James Baldwin, Spalding Gray, and recently Alice Walker, Alice Sebold, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Meredith Monk. " id="pdf-obj-2-2" src="pdf-obj-2-2.jpg">

1. Our Town surprised American audiences when it first

premiered, because the original production did not have

and Our Town, whether it’s Austin or someplace else?

used to, the actors work on a blank set, without soundtracks,

imagination. What effect would that have on you?

describe Our Town’s idea about time? What are some of the

Discussion Questions

How are any of those relevant to you now?

remind you to “look at” more often?

  • 5. What similarities do you see between Grover’s Corners

other themes in Our Town?

Theatre TEKS: 117.64 -117.67

and today?

The actors mimed all of the props. What kind of an effect

vividly “real” location, you have to fill in the blanks with your

the current moment, how time passes. How would you

Town? What is significant about baseball during Wilder’s time

  • 4. What are some world or political events outside of

we don’t take them out and look at them very often.” What

used only a couple of stools, a bench, chairs and two ladders.

  • 6. Why do you think baseball was such a big part of Our

  • 3. Our Town is a play that asks audiences to think about time,

Grover’s Corners that affect the characters in the play? How

a realistic set as most popular plays of the time. Instead, it

do you think that had on audiences? Imagine going to a

one of Our Town’s major themes–it reminds audiences about

2. The Stage Manager says, “There are things we all know, but

special effects or props. Instead of seeing the plot unfold in a

do you think he means by that? What things does Our Town

do they affect individual characters and/or the town itself?

movie and instead of ultra-realist audio and visuals you’re

Photos: Kirk R. Tuck
Photos: Kirk R. Tuck
Emily Webb (played by Jordan McRae) in Act III.
Emily Webb (played by Jordan McRae) in Act III.
1. Our Town surprised American audiences when it first premiered, because the original production did notw w w . m a c d o w e l l c o l o n y . o r g Past residents of MacDowell: Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland, Milton Avery, James Baldwin, Spalding Gray, and recently Alice Walker, Alice Sebold, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Meredith Monk. " id="pdf-obj-2-90" src="pdf-obj-2-90.jpg">
George Gibbs (played by Michael Amendola) with little sister Rebecca Gibbs (Crystal Odom) gazing at moonlight
George Gibbs (played by Michael Amendola) with little sister
Rebecca Gibbs (Crystal Odom) gazing at moonlight in Our Town.
1. Our Town surprised American audiences when it first premiered, because the original production did notw w w . m a c d o w e l l c o l o n y . o r g Past residents of MacDowell: Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland, Milton Avery, James Baldwin, Spalding Gray, and recently Alice Walker, Alice Sebold, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Meredith Monk. " id="pdf-obj-2-95" src="pdf-obj-2-95.jpg">

Life in an artists’s colony Imagine living in a studio for five weeks

without phone or TV

...

no

interruptions allowed except when meals are delivered!

That is what Thornton Wilder experienced at The MacDowell Colony when he

wrote the play Our Town.

The MacDowell Colony is an art colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, founded

in 1907 by Marian MacDowell, pianist and wife of composer Edward MacDowell,

who died a year after the colony opened in 1908. She established it primarily with

donations and led it for almost 25 years through both world wars and the Great

Depression.

Edward and Marian MacDowell

The colony is a temporary haven for authors, poets, playwrights, artists and

composers. Artists apply to MacDowell and if accepted, live in the colony for up to

two months to concentrate on their work. Room and board are free. Each artist is assigned one of 32 studios to use 24-hours-a-

day. Each studio is a separate building with power, heat, simple amenities and lunch delivery. The artists generally share breakfast

and dinner in a common area and allow interruptions by invitation only. They engage in group activities in the evenings. To find

out more go to: www.macdowellcolony.org

Past residents of MacDowell: Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland, Milton Avery, James Baldwin, Spalding

Gray, and recently Alice Walker, Alice Sebold, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Meredith Monk.

Glossary

Theatre TEKS: 117.64-117.67

Convention: A feature of a literary work, play or performance style that has become standardized and expected over time,

such as a soliloquy. It often refers to an unrealistic device (such as Mrs. Soames gushing to the audience about her love of

weddings) that the audience agrees to accept as normal.

Fourth Wall: The imaginary line dividing the audience from the characters and action of the play, which creates a sense that

the audience is watching things without the characters’/actors’ knowledge.

Pulitzer Prize: One of the most prestigious national awards Americans can receive. First awarded in 1917, it is named after

Joseph Pulitzer, a journalist and newspaper publisher who left money to Columbia University when he died in 1911. The prize

is awarded in 21 categories (in the general areas of journalism, arts and letters, and fiction–including drama) and comes with a

$10,000 award. Other playwrights who have won the Pulitzer are: Arthur Miller, Tony Kushner, August Wilson and Suzan-Lori

Parks. Wilder is a rarity, because he has won Pulitzers in two categories (drama and fiction).

Realism: An approach to art that assumes that art should accurately reproduce an image of life. In theatre, it means that the

set will have the look and feel of the location it represents in “real” life, and that conventions such as actors directly addressing

the audience or speaking their thoughts out loud in soliloquies will not take place. Instead, the audience will seem to watch the

events unfold as though through a “fourth wall.”

Soliloquy: A speech in which an actor, usually alone onstage, utters his or her thoughts aloud, revealing personal feelings.

Theme: A central idea of the play. There can easily be more than one, and themes may be stated directly or only implied.

Time Capsule: A collection of historical materials that serve as a snapshot in time of a particular generation, place or people.

Often created for ceremonial purposes to commemorate a major event, such as a state bicentennial, they are buried or placed

in the cornerstone (the first stone set in the foundation of a new structure) of a significant building, such as the state capital.

Willing suspension of disbelief: An act of temporarily accepting what is onstage (or in a movie or TV show) as “real” for

the duration of the performance in order to fully relate to the characters and plot.

Cool links

This website has a wonderfully thorough biography of

Wilder and his family, as well as a descriptive list of his

major works.

This is home to one of the most important and

influential productions of Our Town today. The website

has images and video of the production.

www.tufts.edu A unique operatic version of the play.

After writing Our Town, Wilder himself played the Stage Manager on Broadway for two weeks and later in summer stock productions.

Mr. Wilder served in both World Wars I and II.

Wilder was actually born a twin. The twin brother, however, died at birth. He had one older brother and three younger sisters, all accomplished scholars and writers too.

In high school, Mr. Wilder became interested in theater and began regularly attending plays. He also began to demonstrate his unique talents for writing.

Learn something new every day:

Find out more about ZACH Theatre and Education Department upcoming shows: zachtheatre.org

Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!

Glossary Theatre TEKS: 117.64-117.67 Convention: A feature of a literary work, play or performance style thatw w w . t h o r n t o n w i l d e r s o c i e t y . c o m This website has a wonderfully thorough biography of Wilder and his family, as well as a descriptive list of his major works. w w w . b a r r o w s t r e e t t h e a t r e . c o m This is home to one of the most important and influential productions of Our Town today. The website has images and video of the production. w w w . t u f t s . e d u A unique operatic version of the play. • After writing Our Town , Wilder himself played the Stage Manager on Broadway for two weeks and later in summer stock productions. • Mr. Wilder served in both World Wars I and II. • Wilder was actually born a twin. The twin brother, however, died at birth. He had one older brother and three younger sisters, all accomplished scholars and writers too. • In high school, Mr. Wilder became interested in theater and began regularly attending plays. He also began to demonstrate his unique talents for writing. Learn something new every day: Find out more about ZACH Theatre and Education Department upcoming shows: zachtheatre.org Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter! http://www.facebook.com/zachtheatre http://twitter.com/zachtheatre Our Town Production Sponsors This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. " id="pdf-obj-3-174" src="pdf-obj-3-174.jpg">

Our Town Production Sponsors

Glossary Theatre TEKS: 117.64-117.67 Convention: A feature of a literary work, play or performance style thatw w w . t h o r n t o n w i l d e r s o c i e t y . c o m This website has a wonderfully thorough biography of Wilder and his family, as well as a descriptive list of his major works. w w w . b a r r o w s t r e e t t h e a t r e . c o m This is home to one of the most important and influential productions of Our Town today. The website has images and video of the production. w w w . t u f t s . e d u A unique operatic version of the play. • After writing Our Town , Wilder himself played the Stage Manager on Broadway for two weeks and later in summer stock productions. • Mr. Wilder served in both World Wars I and II. • Wilder was actually born a twin. The twin brother, however, died at birth. He had one older brother and three younger sisters, all accomplished scholars and writers too. • In high school, Mr. Wilder became interested in theater and began regularly attending plays. He also began to demonstrate his unique talents for writing. Learn something new every day: Find out more about ZACH Theatre and Education Department upcoming shows: zachtheatre.org Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter! http://www.facebook.com/zachtheatre http://twitter.com/zachtheatre Our Town Production Sponsors This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. " id="pdf-obj-3-184" src="pdf-obj-3-184.jpg">
Glossary Theatre TEKS: 117.64-117.67 Convention: A feature of a literary work, play or performance style thatw w w . t h o r n t o n w i l d e r s o c i e t y . c o m This website has a wonderfully thorough biography of Wilder and his family, as well as a descriptive list of his major works. w w w . b a r r o w s t r e e t t h e a t r e . c o m This is home to one of the most important and influential productions of Our Town today. The website has images and video of the production. w w w . t u f t s . e d u A unique operatic version of the play. • After writing Our Town , Wilder himself played the Stage Manager on Broadway for two weeks and later in summer stock productions. • Mr. Wilder served in both World Wars I and II. • Wilder was actually born a twin. The twin brother, however, died at birth. He had one older brother and three younger sisters, all accomplished scholars and writers too. • In high school, Mr. Wilder became interested in theater and began regularly attending plays. He also began to demonstrate his unique talents for writing. Learn something new every day: Find out more about ZACH Theatre and Education Department upcoming shows: zachtheatre.org Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter! http://www.facebook.com/zachtheatre http://twitter.com/zachtheatre Our Town Production Sponsors This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. " id="pdf-obj-3-186" src="pdf-obj-3-186.jpg">

This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the

Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts

and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.