Picnic By William Inge
Summary of style and themes....
by William Inge
Libby West and Bo Foxworth in Picnic
Table of Contents About this Study Guide
About the Play
Cast and Crew
What Can Picnic Teach My Students?
The Life of William Inge
Bringing Picnic to Life Onstage
Picnic and William Inge’s America
The Birth of the Teenager
Small Town America: An Extinct Species?
Reading and Watching Picnic Speaking Picnic
Love, Conformity and Defiance: Discussing the Characters of Picnic with Libby West
Notes for the Post-Performance Discussion Suggested Activities About Theatre Arts
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About A Noise Within
Costume Design by Jennifer Brawn Gittings
About this Study Guide Thank you for your commitment to sharing great literature with your students. It is a commitment that A Noise Within has shared with you since its founding in 1991, with the staging of its first play, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Classical plays are an indispensable part of our cultural heritage. It is the mission of A Noise Within’s educational programs to present these plays to students as living texts and to provide them with the opportunity to see such great literature come to life on the stage, as the playwrights originally intended their work to be experienced. With the goal of increasing students’ lifelong understanding and enjoyment of classic works and of theatre-going, A Noise Within is honored to partner with you in the effort to preserve our literary heritage. This study guide has been prepared as a prelude to A Noise Within’s production of Picnic, William Inge’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play about the emergence of teen culture in 1950s America. Please use it as a reference or as a teaching aid as you prepare your students to enter the classical world. All of the information and activities outlined in this guide were designed to meet the education content standards set forth by the state of California. Together, the activities fulfill content standards in English Language Arts and in Theatre, as follows: E N G L I S H L A N G U A G E A RT S Reading: Grades 9 and 10: 1.1, 2.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.10, 3.11, and 3.12 Grades 11 and 12: 1.1, 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.8, 3.9 Writing: Grades 9 and 10: 1.2 and 1.4 Grades 10 and 11: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.9 and 2.2 Listening and Speaking: Grades 9 and 10: 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.8, 1.9, 1.11 and 1.12 Grades 11 and 12: 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 1.11, 2.2, 2.3 T H E AT R E S TA N D A R D S , G R A D E S 9-12 Artistic Perception - 1.1 and 1.2 Creative Expression - 2.1, 2.3 Historical and Cultural Content – 3.1. 3.2 Aesthetic Valuing - 4.1 and 4.2
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Libby West, Mary Boucher and Deborah Strang in Picnic
Picnic Study Guide
About the Play C a s t a n d C rew
Picnic by William Inge Directed by Craig Belknap Presented by A Noise Within October 7, 2005 - November 27, 2005
Bo Foxworth and Jennifer DeCastroverde in Picnic
Cast (in order of appearance) Helen Potts Hal Carter Millie Owens Bomber Madge Owens Flo Owens Rosemary Sydney Alan Seymour Irma Kronkite Christine Schoenwalder Howard Bevans
Julia Silverman Bo Foxworth Jennifer DeCastroverde Mose Halperin Libby West Mary Boucher Deborah Strang Andrew Hopper Kathleen Taylor Ariane Owens Mark Bramhall
Crew Stage Manager Assistant Stage Manager Set Designer Costume Designer Lighting Designer Sound Designer Prop Master Dialect Dance Choreographer Technical Director Scenic Artist Master Electrician
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Veronica Stell Kara Nelson Michael C. Smith Jennifer Brawn Gittings James P. Taylor Ron Wyand Peter Veal Dwight Bacquie Marvin Tunney Joel Forsythe Vika Teplinskaya Jaymi Lee Smith
Sy n o p s i s Picnic masterfully captures the lazy, late summer atmosphere of a small, Kansas town just like the one in which the playwright grew up. The tranquility and amiable boredom, however, are disrupted by the arrival of Hal, a wayfaring stranger, who arrives to work some odd jobs at Helen Potts’ house. Hal’s friendliness is not enough to earn the trust of Mrs. Potts’ neighbor, Flo Owens, who remains suspicious of his rough nature and lack of “proper” upbringing. Flo’s daughters, Madge and Millie, meanwhile, struggle to reconcile their own ambitions and self-perceptions with what society expects of them as young women. Madge in particular, the beauty of the town, grows more and more torn between her requited love for the straight-arrow, A-student Alan Seymour (who enjoys Flo’s approval) and her irrepressible attraction for the escape Hal offers from the staid “perfection” of her life. Taboos are broken all around as the adults find it ever harder to control the young men and women of postwar America.
W h a t C a n P i c n i c Te a c h M y S t u d e n t s ? For budding playwrights, Inge’s play offers an instructive example of a classic play structure: a three-act work set in a single day. Picnic vividly depicts the 1950s as one of the major turning points in American society: intense patriotism and modest values run up against a generation coming into its own and discovering its impulses and passions. Notions of one’s proper “place,” determined by class and education, are challenged by the ever more seductive life of the nomad. Finally, Picnic is a brilliant, literary portrayal of the emotional turbulence and the questioning of self-identity that began to mark teenagers’ lives in the 1950s—or at least that was finally recognized by adult society at that time.
Th e L i f e o f Wi l l i a m I n g e William Inge’s Kansas boyhood is reflected in many of his works. Born in Independence on May 3, 1913, he was the youngest of five children. Inge’s fascination for the theatre began early. In the 1920s, affluent Independence hosted many cultural events and artists. As a member of the Boy Scouts, Inge had a unique opportunity to observe these performances. In 1935, he graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech and Drama. From 1938 to 1943, Inge was a member of the faculty at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. In 1943, he moved to St. Louis, where he worked as the drama and music critic for the St. Louis Times. While working at the Times, Inge became acquainted with Tennessee Williams and accompanied him to a performance of The Glass Menagerie. Inge was so fascinated by the play, and especially by the way in which Williams drew from his own life in writing, that he was inspired to write his own play, and within three months he had completed Farther Off from Heaven. He returned to a teaching position at Washington University and began serious work on turning a fragmentary short story into a one-act play. This work evolved into Come Back, Little Sheba, which earned him the title of most promising playwright of the 1950 Broadway season and was set in “a run-down neighborhood of a Midwestern city.” He followed this with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Picnic, Bus Stop (produced by A Noise Within in the 2001-2002 season), and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. All of these plays were later adapted as films and were set in towns inspired by the one in which Inge grew up. Specifically, Inge created characters who had come to know each other very well if only because their environment
was so small that they were forced to spend so much time together. The playwright explained: “I’ve always been glad that I grew up in Independence, because I feel it gave me a knowledge of people and a love of people. I’ve often wondered how people raised in our great cities ever develop any knowledge of humankind. People who grow up in small towns get to know each other so much more closely than they do in cities...Independence lies in the very heart of our country, and so maybe its people have more heart in human affairs. Big people come out of small towns.” (From a speech delivered for the Independence Centennial Ceremony in 1970)
What Inge neglected to mention in his praise of the small town, however, is that neighbors come to know each other’s secrets as well as their strengths, and his struggles with alcohol and his sexuality—Inge was gay in an era when it was considered a mental illness— were widely known, causing him much shame throughout his life.
Inge created characters who had come to know each other very well if only because their environment was so small that they were forced to spend so much time together.
In 1960, Inge wrote his first screenplay, Splendor in the Grass, which won him the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. His next two plays were unsuccessful. This prompted Inge to leave New York in 1963 and move to California. In 1968, he resumed his teaching career at the University of Irvine, but, becoming increasingly depressed, he quit in 1970. Inge committed suicide on June 10, 1973 at his home in Hollywood, where he lived with his sister. He was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in his hometown Independence, KS. His headstone reads simply, “Playwright.”
Picnic Study Guide
About the Play B r i n g i n g Pi c n i c to L i f e O n s tag e Picnic is set on the side-by-side front porches of Mrs. Flo Owens and Mrs. Helen Potts. M r s . O we n s’ H o u s e
William Inge’s Picnic set design
Mrs. Flo Owens: The single mother of Madge and Millie, Flo wants her daughters to enjoy a happiness and success in love and marriage that she herself never had, yet she has very traditional and conservative views about what and who will be able to provide that happiness. Madge Owens: The older of Flo’s two daughters, Madge is considered by everyone to be the prettiest girl in town and is a model of politeness and class. She works at the local “dime store” and is the sweetheart of Alan Seymour, the most successful and promising young man in town. Yet deep down she wonders whether her supposedly perfect life is what she actually wants and yearns for an identity beyond the beauty for which she is known. Millie Owens: Madge’s younger sister and, on the surface, at least, her polar opposite. Millie is bookish, a bit crass, and a tomboy, and she distinguishes herself from her older sister by consciously eschewing what she perceives as superficial prettiness. But will Hal’s arrival inspire Millie to think differently about love and beauty? Rosemary Sydney: A school teacher who is defiantly independent and unmarried, Rosemary rents a room in Flo’s house. She proudly calls herself an “old maid” and maintains a casual dating relationship with Howard Bevans.
M r s . Pot ts’ H o u s e
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Ariane Owens, Deborah Strang, Julia Silverman and Libby West in Picnic
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Mrs. Helen Potts: Eloped with her young flame, only to have her mother annul her marriage the very next day. She now takes care of her mom, who has grown elderly and dominates her life. To cope with her loneliness, she often takes in boarders, especially wandering, virile, young men, like Hal. Mrs. Potts’ Mother: We never see the older Mrs. Potts, but her voice from off stage, constantly interrupting her daughter’s conversation, suggests her crotchety nature—which means that no nursing home will taker her in, leaving the task of caring for her to her daughter.
Hal Carter: The latest in a series of handsome young men Mrs. Potts has taken in to work odd jobs, Hal spends the day cleaning her garden in exchange for home-cooked meals. He was a football star in high school and college, yet remains poorly educated. He projects a roughness developed by having a father with a drinking problem who died in jail and a mother who wants nothing to do with him. Inside he’s lonely and unsure of himself, ashamed of the unsophisticated upbringing that will always tag him as an outsider. His many wild stories involving women don’t help his longing for true love and normalcy.
Fr i e n d s f ro m A ro u n d Tow n Alan Seymour: Gentle and polite, Alan is Madge Owens’ boyfriend and comes from the richest and most prestigious family in town. He is about to go away for his final year in college, where he was a fraternity brother of Hal. Howard Bevans: A businessman from a nearby town who stops in to see Rosemary, whom he dates casually. Mr. Bevans enjoys relaxing with some nice whisky and fun company.
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Andrew Hopper and Bo Foxworth in Picnic
Irma Kronkite: A local school teacher and friend of Rosemary. Christine Schoenwalder: The high school’s new “feminine hygiene” teacher. Bomber: The paperboy, constantly making fun of Millie and asking Madge for a date.
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Andrew Hopper, Jennifer DeCastroverde, Mary Boucher, Julia Silverman and Bo Foxworth in Picnic
Picnic Study Guide
Picnic and William Inge’s America Th e B i rt h o f t h e Te e n ag e r Teenage 1921, formed from -teen as a separate word + age; derived noun teenager is from 1941 (the earlier word for this was teener, attested in Amer. Eng. from 1894). Teen-aged (adj.) is from 1952; shortened form teen is from 1951 (though this had been used as a noun to mean “teen-aged person” in 1818). (from the Online Etymology dictionary, www.etymonline.com)
The generation that entered junior high and high school in the 1950s was the first to grow up in an America that stood unchallenged in the Western world. The United States emerged from World War II primed for economic prosperity: the industrial capabilities that had been harnessed to manufacture an endless supply of tanks and war planes could now be used to mass produce consumer products of all kinds, from hair grease to processed cheese, and consumer culture took off accordingly. Children and young adults had access to his newfound national affluence in a way that previous generations did not, and the decade’s most important invention— television—was the perfect medium with which to whet their appetite for the newest products and trends. The small screen also brought America’s celebrity culture directly to the living room. Young men and women of driving age were the first to enjoy widespread access to cars, previously a commodity reserved almost exclusively for adults. High schoolers now were free to travel between home and school —or anywhere else—in a way they had never been before and developed an entire sub-culture free of the supervision of their parents, of which rebellion and a carefree youthful exuberance were the driving forces. 8
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The hard-working, polite, young man who followed his father into the family business was replaced as a model by the truant, directionless “bad boy” who hid his alienation, insecurities and fragility behind tough-looking greased hair and the uniform of a leather jacket, white t-shirt and jeans. While James Dean came to embody this archetype with his performance in Rebel Without a Cause, William Inge was actually more prescient: two years before Rebel hit the theatres, he invented the character of Hal Carter, who is simultaneously aware of his sex appeal and always self-doubting when it came to his status in society. In contrasting Hal with his well-dressed, polite college friend, Alan Seymour, and allowing Madge to feel ambivalent about which of the two can offer her the most happiness, Inge masterfully portrays the shifting paradigms of his age.
S m a l l Tow n A m e r i c a : A n E x t i n c t S pe c i e s ? The lazy, intimate feeling that defines Picnic is foreign to our experience of sprawling, hectic, impersonal Southern California. Indeed, the America of cozy small towns that William Inge so vividly depicts in his plays is an increasingly rare culture to find anywhere in the country. In the half-century since Picnic was first produced, the trend of urbanization in America has accelerated. The American population is now heavily concentrated on the coasts, in the South, and around the Great Lakes. One can occasionally see articles in the national press about the desertion of Midwestern towns that had maintained their genial, local cultures for over a century. While this demographic trend was already well under way when William Inge began his career as a dramaturge, the small towns in which he set his plays were still very much alive, and even many of those who saw Picnic on Broadway would have understood the culture he referenced. Indeed, one need only look at the kind of shows that were popular on television at the time to understand how the theme of small towns would have resonated to large audiences: Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, and the like ruled the airwaves. If we think of the busy, urban life depicted in contemporary shows such as Friends or Seinfeld, we can appreciate how much our cultural references have changed.
Independence, and the local history museum displays the costume worn by the very first queen), but Madge is visibly nonchalant about the honor bestowed on her. Similarly, the “dime store” in which Madge works, though the main business in any Midwestern town, stifles her festering desire for glamour, for something new. Hal’s arrival on the scene presents Madge with her first opportunity to act on her restlessness and forces her to prove to herself that she has the courage to pursue the dreams she repeatedly and casually expresses. Indeed, the transitions Madge goes through in Picnic bear a certain resemblance to the Independence experience of William Inge. Namely, she shares with the playwright the feeling of being torn between her affection for those in her town whom she has come to know so well and her desire to make a name for herself out in the unknown but exciting expanses of America.
William Holden and Kim Novak in the 1955 movie version of Picnic.
Picnic, to be fair, is not merely an exercise in nostalgia for a simpler, slower life. While the characters display great comfort and trust towards each other, as evidenced in the way Mrs. Owens’ porch is a communal gathering place open to all, the Owens sisters clearly yearn for greater, more exciting lives. Inge wistfully inserts a tradition from his boyhood (to this day, Neewollah, of which Madge was voted Queen, is celebrated every year in Picnic Study Guide
Reading and Watching Picnic S pe a k i n g Pi c n i c The characters of Picnic communicate in an English somewhat unlike our own. Slang has changed immeasurably since the 1950s, and we can sometimes be perplexed when we speak with people of that era. Here are some of the terms and expressions in Picnic that may leave students scratching their heads: Dime Store Exactly what its name implies: a general store that stocks a variety of products for daily life, all for ten cents or less. In today’s era of super chains and changing prices, such an idea seems positively quaint. Floozy A flirt; a loose woman. L to R -
Jennifer DeCastroverde and Libby West in Picnic
Goon, Goon-face a hired thug; a brutish, dumb character, an epithet especially insulting to a girl in the era in which Picnic is set. Hoppin’ bells bringing hotel guests’ luggage from check-in to their room. I got rolled I got swindled, cheated. In a pig’s eye I did! Like hell I did! (Like heck I did!) Pauper’s Row The section of the cemetery in which people too poor to afford a headstone or casket were buried. She takes in every Tom, Dick and Harry the person talked about is being accused of indiscriminately housing whomever shows up looking for a place to stay. Few things could be more damaging to one’s reputation in the 1950s—especially to a woman—than being known for her poor judgment about whom to have in her house. Skedaddle To run away (especially after having committed an act liable to get one in trouble).
Mark Bramhall and Deborah Strang in Picnic
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The Stork Club Begun as a Speakeasy during Prohibition, the Stork Club became one of the most famous hang-outs of New York’s literati and of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Joe Dimaggio and Frank Sinatra.
L ov e , C o n f o r m i t y a n d D e f i a n c e : D i s c u s s i n g Pi c n i c ’s C h a r ac t e r s w i t h L i b b y We s t Libby West’s performance of Madge in Picnic marks her second play at A Noise Within. She first graced the stage of the Masonic Temple when she played Lavinia Mannon in another American classic, Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra in the 2004-2005 season.
How did you prepare for playing Madge? Did you study the era? I focused both on the world of the play and on Madge’s own inner world (her favorite music, the pop stars on whom she has a crush, which magazines she prefers). I always find it very valuable to look not only at the events occurring at the exact time of the play (1952) but at those just preceding it (the Rosenberg trial, the Brink’s robbery, the McCarthy era), because those events have shaped the world in which your character lives and are things about which your character has heard and formed opinions. Madge is 18 years old when the play begins in 1952, so she was born in 1934. This means that the events of her lifetime include the Dust Bowl, WWII, the polio scare, and the Korean War. She’s listening to Rosemary Clooney and The Four Aces on the radio, and in the past year, she’s seen “A Place in the Sun” and “The African Queen” at the local movie theatre. All of it seemed important and interesting to me in bringing Madge to life. Which of Madge’s lines did you find especially revealing about her character? How did those lines shape the way you think of and portray Madge?
I am very intrigued by Madge’s somewhat existential dilemma. She reveals, “It just seems that when I’m looking in the mirror, that’s the only way I can prove to myself I’m alive…Lots of the time I wonder if I really exist.” She feels “worthless” and not real in the context of her town and in comparison with her extremely intelligent sister Millie. During Picnic, Madge moves beyond and finds the courage to leave the people and the town that valued her only for her beauty queen looks (and who have gone so far as to say to her, “I don’t care if you’re real or not. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”) and makes the bold decision to run away with the man who says to her, “You’re a real woman, aren’t you,” and “You’re the only real thing I ever had.” Throughout the play, Madge begins to think for herself, examines her options, and finds the strength to choose an uncertain future in lieu of staying in a place where she doesn’t “feel right.”
Libby West and Bo Foxworth in Picnic
At the opening of the play, the love between Madge and Alan seems unbreakable, and her falling for Hal seems to come out of nowhere. This transition must be one of the most difficult parts of playing Madge; do you think there’s a moment in the play that allows Madge to have the revelation of where her love really lies? Do you think it’s something gradual? Perhaps something she feels for him from the very first moment but doesn’t let herself acknowledge? In my opinion, Inge has really done something beautiful in crafting the Madge and Hal storyline. Early in the play, when she hears a train coming through town, Madge wonders, “maybe some wonderful person is getting off here, just by accident,” and of course, Hal himself has just jumped off a train to arrive in her town. Something extraordinary happens to Madge and Hal Picnic Study Guide
within moments of their meeting one another: it seems to me that they both immediately begin looking out for each other. Hal saves Madge from Bomber’s advances, and Madge scolds Millie for prying into Hal’s business and embarrassing him. It strikes me that both Madge and Hal begin the play a little lost: Hal is literally wandering the countryside, and Madge is adrift in her own life. Long before anything romantic occurs between Hal and Madge, Madge begins sticking up for him. She stands up to her mother and says, “I don’t see why he’s a tramp…He wasn’t doing any harm.” She continues to try to protect him from the others’ cruel comments, and it is in this context that we first see Madge react negatively to Alan, when Alan sort of verbally tries to keep Hal in his place. There is a beautiful scene in which Hal opens up and reveals himself and his background to Madge. He says, “I never told anybody this,” and in that moment, Madge begins to feel that she is truly special and, more importantly, useful to someone. She opens her heart to Hal and then makes an impulsive decision that propels the play in a new direction. Her happiness at the notion of “going with” someone who sees her as a “real woman” and not just an object of beauty is palpable, but, just moments later when Hal asks her if she loves him, she replies, “What good is it if I do?” An interesting aspect to the dramatic tension of Picnic is that we really don’t know until one of the last moments of the play if Madge is going to be with Hal, and in earlier drafts of the play, Inge actually did not have Madge leave with Hal. As you suggest, Madge’s realization and acceptance of her love for Hal is gradual: being so committed to her relationship with Alan and under the pressure of Flo’s hopes for a marriage between Alan and Madge, Madge only slowly allows herself to think of Hal romantically, and then 12
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she denies and fights her feelings, but in the end, Madge has found something in Hal that she can not lose. Despite all of her mother’s warnings and in face of all of the hardships that might follow, Madge literally runs off to be with him and to have a “real” life with all of its uncertainties and joys. On the surface, at least, Madge and her sister Millie seem polar opposites, and indeed Millie goes out of her way to not be beautiful like her sister while being bookish in way that Madge most definitely is not. Still, there are moments when the sisters’ genuine admiration of each other emerges. How do you conceive of your character’s relationship with her sister, and how might they both reinforce and console each other’s insecurities? It’s been a wonderful process working with Craig Belknap, our director, and Jennifer DeCastroverde, the actress playing Millie, to create an honest and interesting relationship between the sisters. From the first rehearsal, Craig has encouraged our entire cast to be “realer than real,” and, working from this place, Jennifer and I have explored the best and worst aspects of the sibling dynamic and discovered both the strong bond between the sisters and their fierce rivalry. Their differences often lead to explosive fights, but, during the play, we also have a chance to see that the girls admire and learn from one another. Millie comes to Madge for advice on beauty, and I think Madge does a lot to boost Millie’s social confidence by reassuring her that she is “very pretty.” In turn, Madge listens very carefully to Millie throughout the play, because she respects Millie’s intelligence and ability. Madge’s last line, in fact, is a tribute to Millie: when she says, “I’ve always been very proud I had such a smart sister,” she gives Millie all her due.
Madge’s mother alludes a few times to unspoken bad experiences with love: how do you think Madge copes with this taboo subject, and how has it affected her own emotions for Alan and then for Hal? What do you think Madge means when, at the end of the play, she asks Mrs. Potts to “take care of Mom”? Madge is very close to her mother, and Flo has certainly imprinted her daughter with the message, “It takes more than love to keep people happy.” Because of this and because of her strong desire to please her mother, Madge really almost doesn’t run away to be with Hal. It is only after Hal exits for the final time that Madge realizes how powerfully and irrevocably she loves him. Only when faced with the prospect of a life without real love and stunned by that pain does Madge find the courage to move beyond all of the warnings and pleadings of her mother and follow Hal to start a new life in Tulsa. It is a huge thing for Madge to leave Flo behind. I think there was always a sense in the Owens’ home that Millie would be the one to leave the small town behind and go on to other things and that Madge would (even if she married and had a family of her own) remain near her mother to help her and care for her as time progressed. When Madge turns to Mrs. Potts to ask, “Take care of Mom for me, will you?” I believe that she’s asking Mrs. Potts to help Flo through this sudden change and also in the years to come. Madge only has a few minutes before her bus leaves, but we see her do all she can to make her leaving easier on her mother and her sister. Finally, what can contemporary Southern California audiences learn from these characters from 1950s Midwestern small town culture? Picnic is a story about love and longing and dreams and risk that happens to be set in the 1950s, so the details of daily life are different
Bo Foxworth and Jennifer DeCastroverde in Picnic
from ours, but the experiences the characters have in Picnic are the same kinds of experiences you and I are having in our own lives. Great plays like Picnic, provoke us, inspire us, and move us, regardless of when or where they’re set, and if we pay attention to them, they can change us by taking us out of our own lives for a few hours and expanding our possibilities. In terms of what I personally think and hope that contemporary Southern California audiences listening to this story might walk away with, and speaking only for my character and her role in the events of the play: I’m really hoping that audience members consider how Madge’s “going to Tulsa” translates into their own lives…what risks and dreams and needs of their own they might suddenly find the strength within themselves to pursue, leaving behind anything and anyone who limited them or misunderstood or under-valued them. We’ll see! Picnic Study Guide
Notes for Post-Performance Discussion After A Noise Within’s performance of Picnic, you will have the opportunity to discuss the play’s content and style with the performing artists and directors. Use this section to take notes during the performance so you are prepared to participate in the discussion.
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S u g g e s t e d Ac t i v i t i e s f o r S t u dy i n g Pi c n i c BEFORE YOUR VISIT:
Discuss small-town Americana and 1950s pop culture. Have your class debate conformity and rebellion and what it might have meant to be the first generation of teenagers. What was so unusual and rebellious about the behavior of teenagers in the 1950s? Why were adults so surprised by the restless behavior of their children? Assign each student an aspect of 1950s American culture, such as the Cold War, James Dean and the “Greaser” fad, the origins of rock-n-roll, or poodle skirts to research and present to the class, focusing on what each of those elements of 1950s culture meant to young adults. Have your students act out parts of Picnic’s second act: this middle act is not broken up into scenes, but features almost all the characters at one point or another and will allow all class members to rotate into the action. Because we also get to see some the characters at both their most upstanding and their most shameful, this activity will allow students to explore the range of emotions that Inge gives to his characters.
Picnic Study Guide
S u g g e s t e d Ac t i v i t i e s f o r S t u dy i n g Pi c n i c AFTER YOUR VISIT:
Lead your class in a discussion about what a play set in a small town in the 1950s can teach them in 21st century Southern California. In what areas do the characters and story of Picnic strike them as relevant about their own lives? In what ways might the play seem dated? Do the students consider the Owens sisters, Alan and Hal to be their “predecessors” as American teenagers? Along the same lines, ask your class for ideas about how they would go about updating Picnic to Southern California in 2005. What event has the unifying power of a Labor Day picnic? What would the Owens sisters, Hal and Alan look and act like? Have your class discuss the portrayal of women in Picnic: how common in 2005 are mother-daughter relationships like the one we observe between Madge and Flo? Does Madge’s decision to run away with Hal still strike us as shocking? There is a very clear understanding in Picnic that Alan and Hal, to name just two characters, are from very different worlds. Perhaps no one is more acutely aware of this gap than Hal, and Rosemary and Flo, to name just two, express deep suspicion and resentment of his efforts to mingle with their “polite society.” Have your students debate the extent to which their own lives are defined by class and social status. Inge’s work, and Picnic in particular, has sometimes been criticized as being comprised of simplistic and stereotypical characters. (The college boy from a small town, the beauty queen, the drifter). Yet in the New York Times review of the play’s premiere, Brooks Atkinson wrote that “Inge has made a rich and fundamental play’’ from these ‘‘commonplace people’ and deemed Picnic an ‘‘original, honest play with an awareness of people.’’ Have each student write an analysis defending one of these views.
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Andrew Hopper and Libby West in Picnic
Deborah Strang and Bo Foxworth in Picnic
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Andrew Hopper and Bo Foxworth in Picnic
Picnic Study Guide
About Theatre Arts Th e at re Vo c a bu l a ry These terms will be included in pre- and post-performance discussions at A Noise Within. blocking The instructions a director gives his actors that tell them how and where to move in relation to each other or to the set in a particular scene. character The personality or part portrayed by an actor on stage. conflict The opposition of people or forces which causes the play’s rising action. genre Literally, “kind” or “type.” In literary terms, genre refers to the main types of literary form, principally comedy and tragedy. It can also refer to forms that are more specific to a given historical era, such as the revenge tragedy, or to more specific sub-genres of tragedy and comedy such as the comedy of manners, farce or social drama. motivation The situation or mood which initiates an action. Actors often look for their “motivation” when they try to dissect how a character thinks or acts. props Items carried on stage by an actor to represent objects mentioned in or implied by the script. Sometimes the props are actual, sometimes they are manufactured in the theatre shop.
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proscenium stage There is usually a front curtain on a proscenium stage. The audience views the play from the front through a “frame” called the proscenium arch. In this scenario, all audience members have the same view of the actors. set The physical world created on stage in which the action of the play takes place. setting The environment in which a play takes place. It may include the historical period as well as the physical space. stage areas The stage is divided into areas to help the director to note where action will take place. Upstage is the area furthest from the audience. Downstage is the area closest to the audience. Center stage defines the middle of the playing space. Stage left is the actor’s left as he faces the audience. Stage right is the actor’s right as he faces the audience. theme The overarching message or main idea of a literary or dramatic work. A recurring idea in a play or story. thrust stage A stage that juts out into the audience seating area so that patrons are seated on three sides. In this scenario, audience members see the play from varying viewpoints. A Noise Within features a thrust stage.
Th e at re L o re Why do actors say “break a leg”? Perhaps the saying comes—in a complicated way—from the use of “leg.” In theatre, a “leg” is a part of the mechanics that open and close the curtain. To break a leg is to earn so many curtain calls that opening and closing the curtain over and over during final applause causes the curtain mechanics to break. Why is it bad luck to say “Macbeth” inside the theatre? There are many origins for this superstition. Old actors believe the witches’ song in Macbeth to possess the uncanny power of casting evil spells. The reasons for this fear usually bring tales of accidents and ill-fortunes that have plagued productions of the play throughout the world. An alternative is that the superstition began in the days of stock companies, which would struggle to remain in business. Frequently, near the end of a season, a company would realize it was not going to break even, and, in an attempt to boost ticket sales, would announce the production of a crowd favorite: Macbeth. If times were particularly bad, the play would frequently be a portent of the company’s demise.
What is a ghost light? There is a superstition that if an emptied theater is ever left completely dark, a ghost will take up residence. In other versions of the same superstition the ghosts of past performances return to the stage to live out their glory moments. To prevent this, a single light called a ghost light is left burning at center stage after the audience and all of the actors and musicians have gone. Now, those in the world of theatre know that a “dark” theatre is one without a play. There is nothing sadder to a dramatic artist than an empty house and a playless stage. Therefore, a light is left burning center stage so that the theatre is never “dark;” it is simply awaiting the next production. What is a raked stage? Where do the terms upstage and downstage originate? Historically, stages were built on inclines, with the backs of the stages slightly higher than the fronts. The incline was called a rake and helped those in the back of the audience see the action onstage. Eventually, theatres started placing seats on inclines instead of stages, but the terminology stuck. Downstage is the front of the stage, closest to the audience, and upstage is the back of the stage. Why are actors called thespians? In the sixth century B.C., a Greek chorus performer named Thespus was the first person in history to step away from the chorus and speak by himself, exchanging dialogue with the group and impersonating a character instead of simply reciting a story as the chorus had done before then.
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About A Noise Within A Noise Within’s mission is to produce the great works of world drama in rotating repertory, with a company of professional, classically- trained actors. A Noise Within educates the public through comprehensive outreach efforts and conservatory training programs that foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of history’s greatest plays and playwrights. As the only company in Southern California working in the repertory tradition (rotating productions using a resident ensemble of professional, trained artists) A Noise Within is dedicated solely to producing classical literature from authors such as Shakespeare, Moliere, Ibsen, Shaw, and Euripedes. The company was formed in 1991 by founders Geoff Elliott, Julia RodriguezElliott, and Art Manke, each of whom were classically trained at the acclaimed American Conservatory Theatre in an Francisco. They envisioned A Noise Within after recognizing a lack of professional, classical productions and education in Southern California and sought out and assembled their own company of actors to
meet the need. All of A Noise Within’s resident artists have been classically trained, and a majority hold Master of Fine Arts degrees from some of the nation’s most respected institutions, such as Juilliard, Yale, and the American Conservatory Theatre. In its fourteen-year history, A Noise Within has garnered over 500 awards and commendations, including the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle’s revered Polly Warfield Award for Excellence and the coveted Margaret Hartford Award for Sustained Excellence. In 2004, A Noise Within accepted an invitation to collaborate with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a tandem performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. More than 25,000 individuals attend productions at A Noise Within, annually, and 13,000 of those are young people participating in the company’s arts education programming, which includes in-school workshops, conservatory training, and an internship program, as well as subsidized tickets to matinee and evening performances, discussions with artists, and study guides.
Written by Jonathan Matz Edited by Autumn Hilden Production Photography by Craig Schwartz Graphic Design by Christopher Komuro
Geoff Elliott & Julia Rodriguez Elliott, Artistic Directors Administrative Office: 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91204 Administration: Tel (818) 240-0910 / FAX (818) 240-0826 Website: www.anoisewithin.org Box Office: (818) 240-0910 ext.1
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