The Power of Theater

Lee Blessing

"A playwright... first and foremost has to compel people."


Age range: 15 - 18

Estimated Time: You can view all the videos in this series in about 30 minutes, but you may want to allow some time in between to reflect on what you hear.

Key Technology: This multimedia resource is bandwidth-intensive, requiring a high-speed Internet connection. Users should be equipped with speakers (or headphones in a lab or classroom setting).

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What does theater "do"? Does it matter in a contemporary, screen-driven society? This series of 6 interviews excerpted from the Kennedy Center Education Department archives examines the way theater impacts modern society and culture. Hear from esteemed playwrights and actors about why the theater is essential to our lives and what it can achieve for humanity.

Think About...

Viewing Strategy:

This story is downloadable- grab it for your MP3 player for repeated listening.

Ready, Set, Learn!

Before you get started, think of what you already know about live theater. Keep this in mind as you listen to the interviews. As you watch and listen, stop the video track now and then to sum up what you have learned or playback a segment and pause to think about what it means to you.

As you watch, notice if common threads run through each of the interviews, any ideas each of these personalities share or if they disagree or express original opinions.

Why Write for the Theater?
Lee Blessing talks about the role of the playwright. “A playwright…first and foremost has to compel people.” From the Kennedy Center Education Department’s summer intensive for playwrights, playwright Lee Blessing discusses the difference between writing for the theater and writing for television and film.

Hold on to Your Seats!
Think about all of the things Lee Blessing said the audience wants from the theater, the thrill and excitement. What do you understand about the nature of the theater experience? How does the playwright “compel” the audience?

Anything Can, And Probably Will!, Happen
Live theater is more intimate, immediate, unfiltered, unedited, original, unrepeatable experience for each audience member. How exactly does all that is involved in attending theater translate into experience?

We Are All Players
For live theater to be successful everyone must do their part, the playwright, the director, the actors, the audience, etc. Essentially there is an unwritten agreement between all parties involved to bring something to the table. Talk about how TV and film differ from theater from the audience point of view, from the player’s point of view. What must each person bring to the table, what do you think they get in return?

Learn More

Movie Mogul or Stage Producer, You Decide?

Imagine you have just read a wonderful new story and you have the job of deciding how to produce this story for an audience. How will you decide whether this story is suited for the stage and what it will take to accomplish it?

Dig Deeper!

There is always more to learn. Get out into your community and find out what is there. Consider the different levels of theater; community, regional, Broadway, national and international tours, and the effects they have on their audiences and on society. Consider these questions:

  • What do they have in common? (each have audiences, actors, directors, costumes, props, challenges of theater productions, etc.)
  • What are their differences? (budgets, notoriety, obscurity, experience)
  • What value do they offer what purposes do they serve. (communication, mirroring, entertainment)
  • Are there communities where live theater does not exist or reach? (you bet there is) If so, what, if anything, should be done about that? (community support, petition government for support, spread the word, start a stage company)

Try the following activities:

Go ahead, unleash your inner playwright.

You know you’ve got a story to tell, here’s your chance. Think of yourself or a person you know (or have read about). Take a common experience from your own or another person’s life and create a short scene about it (5 minutes or less). Describe the scene in detail imagining how it you would envision it on stage. Add some monologue or dialogue. See if you can extract from it some bigger theme that would appeal to a variety of people. Think about how you would cast this story and tell it on a stage. As an example consider the following ideas or choose something familiar to you:

  • A student athlete is bullied at school but works hard to make the team. Theme: overcoming obstacles
  • A writer is collecting rejections slips for her story until it is finally published. Theme: perseverance
  • A community comes together to raise money for a family in need. Theme: strength in numbers
  • A family member sacrifices something so someone else can get what they need. Theme: letting go of desire for a greater purpose
  • A parent remarries and the new blended family has to figure out how to share a bathroom or a closet. Theme: making adjustments, finding humor in life

Just thought I’d ask…

Invite the director and actors from a local community theater production to come to your class or school for a forum on the value of theater today. Select a student or teacher to moderate the discussion. The moderator should have studied bios of the invited guests and have prepared 3 or 4 relevant questions to start the discussion and keep it going. Look for anything unusual in their bios and refer to it. Examples of questions might be:

  • Are there common themes in the characters/plays performed by the actors?
  • What has playing this character taught them about themselves? About humanity?
  • Describe a moment during in the play when you feel most connected to the audience.
  • What are you looking for as you watch the actors rehearse and perform? How do you convey that to your cast?

Allow time for audience/class members to ask their own questions.

For the Educator

Though not necessary, reading a synopsis of Waiting for Godot, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Twelve Angry Men will give you added context and understanding of the video content.

You can find a summary of these plays at:

Waiting for Godot

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Twelve Angry Men

Let’s Get Started

These interviews address the value and meaning not only of live theater, but of storytelling as an art form, as a reflection of culture, as an experience that enriches us as individuals and as a society. You can use these videos as an introduction to a theater field trip, staging a play, or for a unit on creative writing and storytelling, or just to find out what’s on your student’s minds.

Take some time to preview the video interviews before presenting this lesson to the class/student. Think about questions/comments your students may have when they view it to be ready for a group discussion of the content.

Let’s Talk About It

You may want to watch and listen to the interviews as a large group. When you hear a point relevant to your group pause the video so you can discuss it. Stop in between interviews for guided group discussion. Use the questions in the tab above to get the conversation going if you need to.

Some people are shy about speaking out in a large group. As an alternative you can set up two or three video stations and break the class into small groups. Have the groups select a moderator and let them watch and discuss the videos at their own pace using the guiding questions provided.

Alternatively, assign students to listen to interviews for homework and write a commentary of what they learned about the importance of theater.

What the heck did you learn?

Ask the group what they think they learned from watching and talking about the interviews with each other. Did the group conversation give you different ideas or reinforce what you already thought? Would you recommend this activity to other students who want to learn about the theater? Why or why not? Are you more curious about the theater now that you have discussed these videos?


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