1. GENERAL HEADING: Video and Film Analysis

2. TITLE OF EXERCISE: "Introduction to Theatre Vocabulary and Stage Conventions"

3. GOALS: To introduce students to the historicity and context of signifiers in the art of theatre.

4. NUMBER OF STUDENTS: Any number of students.

5. EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES: VCR; at least two videotapes of different stagings of the same moment from a play in which there are radical differences in theatrical means and conventions.

(Alan Dessen used two versions of the third episode of Oedipus, in which the Messenger from Corinth reveals that Oedipus was not the son of Polybos, and Jocasta guesses the truth: the BBC version, directed by Don Taylor, which uses Edwardian dress and naturalistic staging conventions within the vocabulary of contemporary students; followed by the video of Tyrone Guthrie's Stratford production, which uses the unfamiliar vocabulary of masks, stylized gestures, and heightened design choices.)

6. CLASS TIME NEEDED: 20 - 30 minutes.


1. Introduce characters and action of scene.

2. View at least two different versions of the scene.

3. Invite discussion, comparison, contrasts.

8. POINTS FOR OBSERVATION, DISCUSSION: Concept of theatrical conventions as particular to a specific theatre and audience, and the circumstances that might create them:

What happens if audience is too far away to see facial expressions?

What conventions arise to compensate?

How to achieve darkness on stage without artificial lighting?

How to let audience know that the same actor expresses more than one character?

What else is different between the original audience and the present-day audience?

What might the original audience have understood that we miss?

9. SOURCE/REFERENCE: Prof. Alan Dessen, University of North Carolina, 1995-96 NEH Institute "Shakespeare Examined through Performance."

10. ADDITIONAL READING: Patrice Pavis, Languages of the Stage (NY, 1982)