/educators/lessons/grade-9-12/Exploring_Streetcar

Exploring A Streetcar Named Desire

A study of setting, plot, character development

Overview

Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique

Summary

Students study setting, plot, and character development in Tennessee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire and discuss its impact on American theater. Students will participate in a group reading and analysis of the play and share their collective findings with the class.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Explicate and appreciate the power of visual and auditory expressionistic elements to help shape set design, narrative, characterization, and theme in the building of dramatic scripts.
  • Exercise skills of explication.
  • Craft essays of critical analysis.
  • Recognize elements that build artistic tension in dramatic scripts.
  • Experience growth in the writing process, oral skills, skills of research, and contextual analysis.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Research
  • Reflection

Assessment Type

Observation

Preparation

What You'll Need

Materials
Resources
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Prior Student Knowledge

Before beginning the lesson, students should read the Tennessee Williams: Themes and Forms handout, which introduces characteristics of Williams' works as well as those of American playwrights in the mid 20th century. Distribute to students as appropriate or use as background material in planning your lesson. Be sure that the students have read and discussed the Biographical Information of Tennessee Williams handout.

Physical Space

Classroom

Grouping

Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.

Instruction

Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Apply
Reflect

Engage

1. Tell students that they will be studying the Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Note that Williams' work is often reflective of the "Southern Gothic" aesthetic, which presents a lurid, decadent, and macabre vision of the American South. The setting of the play, New Orleans, is an essential element of Williams' play.

2. Ask if any students have lived in or visited New Orleans, which is the setting of A Streetcar Named Desire. If so, have them share their impressions of the city. Expand this discussion by asking other students to share any perceptions they have of New Orleans.

3. To provide further background for the study of the play, consider assigning students, either in collaborative groups or independently, to research the following references related to New Orleans. Advise them to take notes as preparation for brief class presentations of the information they have gathered. A display map of New Orleans would be a useful backup for the presentations.

  • The French Quarter
  • Elysian Fields
  • Bourbon Street
  • Preservation Hall
  • Lake Pontchartrain
  • Location of the New Orleans street Desire

ther ideas for student projects:

  • An overview of the antebellum South in comparison to the pre-Civil War "plantation" life
  • French Hugenots (note that Blanche makes reference to her French Hugenot background)
  • The implication of the Napoleonic Code

Note: Because the Blues and polka music are such important elements in the development of the play, consider allowing time for special background work on the following references:

  • Ask one or more volunteers to prepare a special presentation on the "birth" of the Blues
  • Encourage students talented in instrumental music to give a "live" demonstration of the Blues; if possible, add a student vocal accompaniment
  • As an option, a vocal rendition could be performed separately
  • As a backup for the above suggestion, play a student selected tape or CD of Blues music
  • Initiate a discussion concerning the tone quality of the Blues, the type of themes in the lyrics, and the connotative implications associated with Blues music
  • Encourage an instrumental presentation of polka music or play a vignette of a tape or CD; ask a student interested in dance to give a brief demonstration of polka dance steps

Build Knowledge

1. Initiate the reading of A Streetcar Named Desire in a large group format. Consider assigning one student to read all of the long italicized passages. Select a starting position in the room; ask each student to pick up the reading of a line of Scene I in sequence (circling the room) through to where Eunice exits and Stella enters. (The brevity of the lines in the opening dialogue lends itself to this pattern of oral reading; such an approach seems to help draw students quickly into the "magic" of the play.)

2. Raise the question: What "two worlds" are juxtaposed in the opening of Scene I? Ask for detailed descriptions of each “world” based on the context clues of the italicized descriptions and the dialogue.

In his italicized account of the setting of the first scene, Williams calls attention to the music coming from a “tinny piano” being played at a barroom around the corner. He comments that "This 'Blue Piano' expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here." Ask students to draw from other remarks Williams makes in the italics, and from events and characterizations in the opening of the play, to define specifically their perception of this spirit.

Excerpts from Tennessee William’s plays. Ideas for sources for A Streetcar Named Desire can be found here.

Apply

1. Divide students into small oral play reading groups. Suggest that a director be named in the group to parcel out and rotate the reading of roles and the italicized passages. Assign the groups to read through to the end of Scene Two and prepare to discuss the Discussion Questions for Scenes 1 and 2 Handout.

2. Realign the oral play reading groups for the reading of Scenes Three and Four. Ideally, if time allows, these scenes would be read in class. If time is a factor, however, consider assigning these scenes as homework to be discussed in class before reading proceeds. Distribute the Discussion Questions for Scenes 3 and 4 Handout.

3. Scene Five lends itself well to large group in-class reading. The end of the scene, where the Young Man enters, offers a good opportunity for experimentation in how the scene should be acted out. You may wish to enlist the help of your school's drama coach to run this classroom experiment. Divide the students into at least three groups and have them stage the scene as they believe it should be played. Have the class evaluate the success of each interpretation.

4. Assign Scenes Six and Ten as outside reading assignments, covering Scenes Seven, Eight, and Nine in play reading groups, and reading Scene Eleven in the large group (perhaps staging it).

In preparation for the large group reading of Scene Eleven:

Reflect

1. Analyze the play’s impact with students. Divide the class into small collaborative groups. Assign the groups to negotiate and record conclusions about the Study Questions handout. Advise students that the conclusions will be shared in class. Dissenting opinions, if the group cannot reach a consensus, also can be shared.

Assessment

Assess the students based upon the following criteria:

  • Level of serious and cooperative participation in research and collaborative assignments
  • Level of discernment in contributions from research and to collaborative work - substantive contributions to class discussion and special projects
  • Range and depth in analysis
  • Evidence of creative thinking
  • Organization, meaningful substance, rhetorical skill, and poise in formal oral presentation
  • Thoughtful response in pre-writing, pre-discussion "brainstorming" activities - seriousness of purpose in following through on creative and expository writing assignments
  • Solid preparation for performance activities
  • Alignment of written performance with good practices of the writing process
  • General level of engagement in all activities and assignments

Key Vocabulary

  • Character
  • Actors
  • Puritanism
  • Drama
  • Style
  • Narrative
  • Theme

Extending the Learning: Suggestion for a Special Project

Students interested in drama and the history of dramatic theater could be encouraged to trace the background of some of the famous actors and actresses who have played the lead roles in performances of Williams’ plays.

Particularly interesting is the array of famous actors and actresses who played key roles in The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The list includes such luminaries as Tallulah Bankhead, Barbara Bel Geddes, Burl Ives, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Marlon Brandon and others. Williams’ response to different "star" performances—especially that of Tallulah Bankhead as Blanche Du Bois—could be an added topic to pursue.

Standards

The Common Core State Standards Initiative seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment through a set of common learning goals and assessments. In 2010, Standards were released for English language arts and mathematics. Common standards have not yet been released for science, social studies, and other subject areas, including the arts. In addition, some states have yet to, or have chosen not to, adopt the Common Core standards.

During this transitional period, ArtsEdge will present all relevant state and nationals standards as they apply to our lessons.

National Standards for Arts Education

For the full text of the content and achievement standards in Arts Education, visit our Standards section.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
Theater

Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 2: Acting by developing, communicating, and sustaining characters in improvisations and informal or formal productions

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Language Arts Standard 6: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Credits

Writers

Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard
Adaptation

© 1996-2014 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center

with the support of

Department of Education



The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2014 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts   Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions

Close

You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:
http://absoluteshakespeare.com

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.

Cancel

Close