Catching a Streetcar at Bread Loaf

What’s it like to read a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, study it with a legendary drama professor and then see it performed by Equity actors—all in six weeks?

That’s what Sherry Brown (left) is doing this summer at the Bread Loaf School of English. This is her first year at Bread Loaf, and the secondary school teacher from San Antonio is in for a ride.

The class is called “Tennessee Williams at 100: How to Take A Streetcar Named Desire,” and it’s taught by Michael Cadden (right), a Bread Loaf veteran of 30 years and an absolute genius at building bridges between the worlds of academia and professional theatre.

And as the course comes to a close later this month, the class—and anyone else who wants to attend the public performance—will enjoy the focus of their summer study come to life. Alan MacVey (left), another one of those talented Bread Loaf veterans, is directing the summer program’s Equity company-in-residence in A Streetcar Named Desire. Like most plays performed each summer, it will likely be sold out, but Sherry plans to be front and center.

In the meantime, she’s going to keep MiddMag posted about her experiences while taking this class—from the readings and rambunctious discussions to visits from Equity actors and sneak peeks at the dress rehearsals. Here’s her view after the first two weeks of class:

“Before arriving this summer, we were expected to read everything for the course including Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and Williams’s plays, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as a production history of Streetcar.

We’re not studying the play scene by scene but looking at various aspects of the play, such as characterization, theme, and staging, and also exploring the influence of previous playwrights on Williams. We’re exploring the social and economic setting of the play, and discussing the production history—of this play and plays in general.

I have always loved the theater, but have only experienced it as an observer so I was intrigued by the idea of watching the play take shape and seeing how the director and actors work together to make the creative choices that lead to the final production. Also, we teach quite a bit of drama in my classroom (Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, and others) with mixed success. Without the luxury of taking the class to a live production of the play, I’m looking for ways to make the study of drama more engaging for students.

On our first day of class, the major actors for Streetcar came in to talk about their roles and the production. We’re also expected to attend several hours of rehearsal each week, which is really interesting. You get a whole new appreciation for an actor’s every move—each one becomes so significant.

And yesterday, an actor came in to read two monologues from The Glass Menagerie and talk about his experience playing Tom in the Vermont Stage Company’s production last fall. Last week, Michael got us all tickets to see a recording of the National Theatre production of The Cherry Orchard at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury.”

Stay tuned for more from Sherry in the coming weeks!

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