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Dramatism and Musical Theater

Experiments in Rhetorical Performance

Kimberly Eckel Beasley and James P. Beasley

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.

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Chapter One: Acts in Motion: Dramatism in Jason Howland’s Little Women



Acts in Motion: Dramatism in Jason Howland’s Little Women

Drama and Its Isms

We begin this chapter where we began our use of Burke’s dramatism. It was Memorial Day, 2003, and we were having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. We began talking about Kimberly’s upcoming auditions for Little Women: The Musical. As we began to talk about the motivations of the characters, we started to draw Burkean pentad on the paper tablecloth. We started with Jo’s refusal of Laurie’s proposal, describing the scene of this refusal, describing what kind of agent Jo is by refusing the proposal, describing the means by which she refuses his proposal, and finally, describing the purpose for refusing his proposal. But then we thought, what if Jo accepts Professor Bhaer’s proposal? Is that a different scene, a different agent, a different agency, and a differing purpose? So, we drew that pen-tad on the white paper tablecloth. This white paper tablecloth began the journey of utilizing Burke’s dramatism as a way to help the student actors understand their motivations. However, as we worked more and more with the pentad, we began to see how this work could help them see dramatism as a method of dramatistic staging. In other words, when an actor knows her purpose for performing the act, knows the agency by which she will accomplish the act, and knows who that character is when they accomplish the act, then that actor’s movement and...

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