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Dramatism and Musical Theater

Experiments in Rhetorical Performance

by Kimberly Eckel Beasley (Author) James P. Beasley (Author)
Textbook XIV, 226 Pages

Summary

Dramatism and Musical Theater: Experiments in Rhetorical Performance is an innovative workbook for both students and teachers in advanced communication performance. Meeting at the nexus of English composition, advanced rhetoric, theater, music, and drama, this book utilizes Kenneth Burke's method of dramatism to discover the motives inherent in performance practices, whether they be in the classroom or on the stage. In this book Kimberly Eckel Beasley and James P. Beasley take the five corners of the dramatistic pentad (act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose) and demonstrate their utilization in performance analysis. The authors then correlate those performance practices with the production of five contemporary musicals: Little Women, Aida, Street Scene, Into the Woods, and Children of Eden in order to emphasize the use of the dramatistic pentad in character, scene, and staging direction. By doing so, the book highlights dramatism as a performance practice necessary for effective participation in artistic communities.
Dramatism and Musical Theater: Experiments in Rhetorical Performance is also an indispensable guide for teachers and directors to successfully navigate the challenges of collegiate theatrical production.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Acts in Motion: Dramatism in Jason Howland’s Little Women
  • Chapter Two: Scenes in Motion: Dramatism in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida
  • Chapter Three: Agents in Motion: Dramatism in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene
  • Chapter Four: Agency in Motion: Dramatism in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods
  • Chapter Five: Purpose in Motion: Dramatism in Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden
  • Conclusion

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List of Figures

Front Cover: Into the Woods: “Last Midnight”

Figure 1.1. Pentad Table Work

Figure 2.1. Aida Pre-Production

Figure 2.2. Aida and Mereb

Figure 2.3. Amneris in the Museum

Figure 2.4. Aida and Radames

Figure 2.5. Aida Dancer

Figure 3.1. Street Scene: “Three Women”

Figure 4.1. Into the Woods: “Rapunzel”

Figure 4.2. Into the Woods: “Last Midnight”

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Acknowledgments

Writing this together with James, I’d first like to thank him for including me in his scholarship and in the vision he has had for more than a decade of researching Kenneth Burke and Burke’s theory of dramatism and using it to elevate the writing of a writer, the acting of an actor, and the performing of a performer. That Jim has always been inspired by Burke’s theory, encouraging me as a director to utilize it in production, has changed the way I approach a show with my cast—my students. Thank you to my fellow design colleagues at Jacksonville University who have tirelessly seen my productions through from start to finish. Thank you to my fellow voice colleagues at JU, whose teaching of singing is sound and solid as we together support each other and our students in their craft. Thank you to the Kurt Weill Foundation for their College/ University Performance grant that helped make Street Scene, an American Opera possible. Thank you to the cast, crew, and musicians of every production featured in this book. Without the combined efforts of on stage, back stage, and under the stage, none of this is a reality. And special thanks to the cast of my first musical at JU, Little Women, the first to experience Kenneth Burke’s pentad and go with the flow. You are all “astonishing”!

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Writing this together with Kimberly, I’d first like to thank her for including me in her scholarship and in the vision that she brings to each production she directs. Her attention to detail is an inspiration to her students and to the audiences that have been able to attend her productions. Thank you to our families for their support, and thank you to Peter Lang Publishing for their guidance in the editorial process, and we are grateful for the support of Peter Lang Publishing for bringing these stories to life.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reproduce material in this book:

Astonishing

Fire Within Me

from the Broadway Musical LITTLE WOMEN

Music by Jason Howland

Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein

Copyright (c) 2005 BMG Sapphire Songs (BMI), Howland Music (BMI)

and Little Esky Publishing (ASCAP)

All Rights Administered by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved

Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard LLC

AIN’T IT AWFUL THE HEAT

From the Musical Production “Street Scene”

Lyrics by Langston Hughes, Music by Kurt Weill

TRO-© Copyright 1948 (Renewed) Hampshire House Publishing Corp.,

New York, NY

and Chappell & Co., Inc., Los Angeles, CA

International Copyright Secured Made In U.S.A.

All Rights Reserved Including Public Performance For Profit

Used by Permission

LONELY HOUSE

From the Musical Production “Street Scene”

Lyrics by Langston Hughes, Music by Kurt Weill

TRO-© Copyright 1948 (Renewed) Hampshire House Publishing Corp.,

New York, NY

and Chappell & Co., Inc., Los Angeles, CA

International Copyright Secured Made In U.S.A.

All Rights Reserved Including Public Performance For Profit

Used by Permission

←XII | XIII→

WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO BE ON BROADWAY

From the Musical Production “Street Scene”

Lyrics by Langston Hughes, Music by Kurt Weill

TRO-© Copyright 1948 (Renewed) Hampshire House Publishing Corp.,

New York, NY

and Chappell & Co., Inc., Los Angeles, CA

International Copyright Secured Made In U.S.A.

All Rights Reserved Including Public Performance For Profit

Used by Permission

THE LILAC BUSH

From the Musical Production “Street Scene”

Lyrics by Langston Hughes, Music by Kurt Weill

TRO-© Copyright 1948 (Renewed) Hampshire House Publishing Corp.,

New York, NY

and Chappell & Co., Inc., Los Angeles, CA

International Copyright Secured Made In U.S.A.

All Rights Reserved Including Public Performance For Profit

Used by Permission

←XIII |
 1→

Introduction

←1 | 2→

On February 26, 2017, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented awards for the best films of 2016. It was the first Academy Awards Ceremony since Donald J. Trump had been elected president, and it was not even two months into the new administration. In those two short months, however, Trump’s administration had already banned citizens from several Muslim countries, creating chaos in the immigration system and on travel infrastructures. Many actors had condemned President Trump for his policies, and even more for his demagoguery toward people of color at home and abroad. Even the host, Jimmy Kimmel, began his opening monologue by saying, “This broadcast is being seen by over 200 million people in over 200 countries. All of them who now hate us.”1 Yet, just before the broadcastbegan, Justin Timberlake entered the auditorium singing, “I got this feelin/ inside my bones/ ,” the beginning verse of his smash hit, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”2 For the first five full minutes of the broadcast, everyone in the auditorium was standing and singing along, a chorus of dance and emotion. The moment brought together everyone in the room, as if they needed to exhale for a bit and just enjoy that moment. When I use the word “chorus” here, I do so in its classical sense, coming from the Greek word chora, which implies a gathering together, and chora is one of the most important concepts in the larger meaning of rhetoric. While rhetoric comes from the Greek word rhetra or “a bargain (between two people),” there cannot be a bargain between people without those people “coming together,” without chora. In this sense, Justin Timberlake at the Academy Awards becomes what Kenneth Burke called a “representative anecdote,”3 as his song and the audience’s participation created a choratic moment, a coming together. In the same way, we fully acknowledge that there is much to worry about in the present moment. As we write this, the Trump administration is defying a Supreme Court decision to ask a citizenship question on the 2020 census. Are there more important issues to write about in this present moment? Yes. Are there more important uses of rhetoric in this present moment? Yes. However, we choose to write about rhetoric and music theater at this moment because it is our way to “gather together,” to show how music, movement, drama, and rhetoric can make our world a closer place.

How to Use This Book

This book is intended for three audiences: students in advanced writing courses, students in advanced theater or music theater courses, and directors of university musical theater productions. For the students in the advanced writing course, we hope that this book makes the rhetorical theory of Kenneth Burke very approachable through examples of the dramatistic pentad in popular musicals. For the advanced theater or music theater students, we hope that this book gives you a method of characterization through staging, giving you more ownership over the roles you are inhabiting, whether your director tells you what they want or if they do not. For the director of university theater, we hope that this book provides tools to give you more ownership over the choices you make on your production, from choice of musical, to using limited resources, to articulating this intellectual work to university administrators, and to empowering the students you work with on the stage.

Dramatism

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Chances are that many of you have never heard of Kenneth Burke or the concept of “dramatism” before. However, there is a very good chance that your teachers have heard of him and/ or have used his concepts of literary theory in their teaching. Kenneth Burke dropped out of college twice, once when he was a first-year student at Ohio State in 1918 and later at Columbia University. In New York, he began hanging out in Greenwich Village with a group of writers such as John Dos Passos, Hart Crane, and his childhood friend, the critic Malcolm Cowley.4 In the magazine The Dial, he became known for writing literary criticism of modernist authors such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But writing about literature wasn’t all he did. He went out on the town, and when he did, it was to go to concerts at the symphony or the theater. At the time Burke was living in New York, he turned his attention to writing music and theater criticism, and his good opinion was one of the most sought after in those intellectual circles. While writing about the literature, music, and theater of New York, however, Burke kept his eye on world politics and affairs, and at the beginning of the 1930s, he would turn his talents to these broader concerns.5 In the 1930s, Europe was experiencing a revolution, with demagogues finding footholds in Spain, Italy, and of course, in Germany. Burke was always intrigued at the writer’s, musician’s, or the actor’s purpose and how that purpose would impact the audiences they wrote, performed, or acted for. In turning his attention to political rhetoric, Burke sought to analyze how communication in the two realms, literature and life, were not separate but were part of what he called “the human barnyard.”6 Over the next twenty years, Burke devoted his study to bridging the gap between “literature and life,” and the resulting theory that Burke developed would later become known as “dramatism.”

In A Grammar of Motives (1945), Kenneth Burke outlined his conception of what he would call “dramatism”: a method that readers can use to identify the rhetorical nature of any text or act, opening it to multiple perspectives.

ACT: what was done?
SCENE: When and where was the act performed?
AGENT: Who did it?
AGENCY: How and with what was the act performed?
PURPOSE: What motivated the act?7
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While these questions might seem simplistic, how we answer these questions quickly becomes complicated. Ask two people to describe a traffic accident, and you will not get the same answer, but beyond this cliché lies a simple truth, “It’s more complicated than that,”8 as Burke used to say. Burke’s questions were not unique to him, of course, since it was Aristotle who asked similar questions in his famous treatise, On Rhetoric, in the 3rd century BCE. Burke’s application of these questions was unique to him, however, in that these questions became that bridge between “literature and life” that he was searching for. Think about it for a minute; you write a paper for a class; what kinds of response do we usually get? Something like the following: “You need a stronger thesis statement,” “You don’t have a counterargument here,” or even “You don’t repeat your thesis in your conclusion.” In other words, we often think of our own writing and the writing of others as an object, a piece of art, or a piece of garbage. Burke encouraged thinking of our own writing and the writing of others as an act, not pieces of art or garbage, but as actions made to achieve specific purposes. If we think about writing that way, it changes our orientation to what is valuable. If we think of writing as an object, we focus on its intrinsic characteristics: intro, thesis, supporting points, counterargument, or conclusion. But if we think of writing as an act, we focus on its extrinsic characteristics: who wrote it, under what conditions, by what means or method, and for what purpose. There are no “norming” characteristics, common denominators that all writing must have, but there is an accounting for differences in writers, conditions, and purposes. We began this introduction with an apology of sorts for not taking on the issues confronting our country, but in a way, we have come back around to it here. Burke’s pentad makes allowances for writers of different countries, religions, backgrounds, and educational levels. As Asao Inoue has written:

Reading to correct, or reading to compare to an ideal text in our heads, always means that readers never really read each other as intellectuals, never respect the labor and effort that goes into drafting even a messy draft, never engage well with the writer as thinker, never engage well with their ideas, and certainly never critique the very discourse the writer is attempting to learn and perhaps change. What happens is that we read to look for deficits, not differences.9

If the word rhetoric comes from the Greek word for “a bargain (between two people),” then what also happens when we only read for those intrinsic characteristics is that we ignore its rhetorical capabilities. We will have several opportunities for students to practice this “pentad” throughout this book, and we hope that students enjoy getting to “read each other as intellectuals,” respecting “the labor that goes into messy drafts,” engaging “with other writers,” and ultimately enjoying the ways to “interpret the interpretations.”

Dramatism and Theater

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Congratulations! You’ve just been cast as the lead in your favorite musical. You know the music by heart, and you’ve been rehearsing everything from your favorite moments to your curtain bows. There’s nothing else to do, right? “It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Burke used to say, and he would be correct. While everything is perfect in your world right now, chances are that your director is feeling less confident. Chances are that she chose this particular show not just for your acting and singing ability, but because it somehow meets other expectations or requirements. Perhaps the sets are already in storage, so this particular production would cut costs; or maybe the director has conducted archival research on the production and is needing more qualifications for tenure and promotion. Whatever the reason, your director is presenting this production as an academic opportunity for students and an addition to her scholarly activity.

Details

Pages
XIV, 226
ISBN (PDF)
9781433172854
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433172861
ISBN (Softcover)
9781433181344
ISBN (Softcover)
9781433172847
Language
English
Publication date
2021 (April)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XIV, 226 pp., 9 b/w ill., 16 tables.

Biographical notes

Kimberly Eckel Beasley (Author) James P. Beasley (Author)

Kimberly Eckel Beasley received a post-master's Certificate of Vocal Performance degree from Northwestern University in 2004. She teaches courses in opera history and vocal pedagogy, and she serves as chair of the department of music at Jacksonville University. She recently received an excellence in directing award from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival for her production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. James P. Beasley received a Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2007. He teaches courses in rhetorical history, theory, and research at the University of North Florida. He is the author of Rhetoric at the University of Chicago from Peter Lang Publishing.

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