"The Play's the Thing...." A Critical Essay for Theatre

GSE: Theater GSET 4 (9-12) Ext -1a Students reflect upon, analyze and evaluate the work of self and others by researching and evaluating two or more plays or performances that share a common theme, playwright or other aspect, based on analysis of what is seen, heard, and known, to judge its value to humanity and contribution to the theater arts.

GSE: Written and Oral Communication and Structures of Language: Applying Understanding of Sentences, Paragraphs, Text Structures End of Grade 12 (Local): Students demonstrate command of the structures of sentences, paragraphs, and texts by (W-12-1.4) applying a format and text appropriate to purpose, audience, and context. Format examples include academic essay, extended research essay, critical analysis.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing: CCR Text Types and Purposes 2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. (CCSS/Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, p. 41)


Dramatic characters are brought to life on the theater stage by what they say, do, and through their interactions with other characters. Characters, as represented by actors, also respond to and interact with their environments. Audience appreciation for design elements such as sets, lighting, and sound enhances understanding of character, situation, and performance. If a production is a period piece (from an older tradition of dramatic writing), the director may choose to produce the play with technical elements appropriate to the era in which the play was first produced. The director may also choose an extrinsic production with sets, costumes, and other design elements reflecting influences other the setting in time and place of the original production.

Methods / Materials: 

Choose two theater productions from your field trip experience and note the artistic choices made by the directors/designers/ theatre companies regarding sets, costumes, lighting, sound and other effects. Complete the following essay.

Compare and contrast technical elements from your two selected performances and discuss how (and if) these technical elements advance or inhibit audience understanding of and reaction to the characters and the challenges they must resolve in each play.

Method/Materials Needed:

  1. Draft, write, and store a critical essay of 3-5 pages.
  2. You have the freedom to choose your approach, such as an in depth analysis of two leading characters, one from each play, or a focus on a specific design technique and its impact on a variety of characters and their situations (i.e. effects of lighting design on minor characters...choose what catches your interest as a member of the audience).
  3. Store essay to be retrieved for academic credit or for your graduation portfolio.
Time to Complete: 

12-15 hours including performance attendance; draft of 3-5 page paper; editing-revisions and final draft for portfolio storage, publication, or retrieval.  

Task Type:

Depth of Knowledge: