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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 Four: Agency in Motion: Dramatism in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods

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CHAPTER FOUR

Agency in Motion: Dramatism in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods

In the third chapter, we focused on the agent ratio and its use in writing, in interpretation, and in musical theater staging. In this fourth chapter, we focus on Burke’s agency and the agency ratio, or “by what means” has the act been accomplished. This seems like a simple question, but like all the other ratios, it grows more complicated the further we describe these means, for the focus is on the description of those means, not the literal name or object. How we describe “by what means the act occurred” has important consequences on how we view student writers, how actors create believable interpretations, and how directors can motivate agency-directed staging.

Agency Ratios

In an analysis of the dramatistic pentad, Burke continues with agency, or “by what means the act occurred.” In our example of the red tide phenomenon in Florida, we might describe the “means by which the act occurred” as “harmful pollutants” or we could describe the “means by which the act occurred” as “mother nature.” One description supports a climate crisis interpretation, while the other one does not. In our example of President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, we could describe the “means by which the act occurred” as a Carcono Infantry Rifle or we could describe the “means by which the act occurred” as “anti-Kennedy sentiment among a disaffected veteran.” One description supports the...

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