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Day 2: The 2018 TCNJ Summer Institute for English Language Arts Educators

he English Department at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is offering a summer institute for English language arts teachers on “Teaching Drama (without Fear).”  The four-day institute provides 20 hours of professional development, covers a wide range of topics, and is taught by TCNJ faculty.

Day 2: American One Acts/Theater as Public Ritual

July 10, 2018

facilitated by Prof. Lincoln Konkle

Linc & Albee   waiting for lefty


Lincoln Konkle (facilitator on Day 2)


This workshop focuses on the conventions of the one-act play, a theatrical form that can be less
intimidating for teachers and students to read, compose, and to stage than full-length plays or
musicals, but no less rich and rewarding to study. There will be opportunity for discussion of
classroom application and exercises, especially in the afternoon session.
The two plays we will discuss in the morning session illustrate the full range of theatrical styles
possible even in the one-act form. To represent phase one of Modern Drama—the revolt against
romanticism and melodrama of the early 19 th century—participants discuss Susan Glaspell’s
Trifles, a widely anthologized one-act play written to be performed in realistic style. Its detailed
set and prop requirements, period costumes, and low-key action and dialogue serve the story
based on a real-life turn-of- the-century Iowa murder of a farmer by his wife (which occurs
before the start of the play). Trifles is also a pre-19 th amendment commentary on the gender roles
of early twentieth-century America. (Participants may be more familiar with the short story
version, also by Glaspell, “A Jury of Her Peers.”)
In diametric contrast to the realism of Trifles is Thornton Wilder’s cosmic one-act Pullman Car
Hiawatha. This is one of three short nonrealistic plays Wilder experimented with before writing
his masterpiece Our Town, which is one of the more famous examples of phase two of Modern
Drama: the revolt against realism. Like the more famous full-length play, Pullman Car
Hiawatha employs a “Stage Manager” who breaks the “fourth wall” and addresses the audience
directly about the characters, actions, and philosophical implications of all that occurs. The play
dramatizes a journey from New York to Chicago, using only chairs and chalk markings on the
stage floor to represent a passenger train. The characters who ride on the train form a microcosm
of American society, but other characters are pure theatrical fancy: a ghost of a German
immigrant who died while constructing the bridge over which the train passes, a field in Ohio,
two archangels, the weather, and the planets. This short play contains the universe,
demonstrating that the only limitation to theater is the imaginations of the playwright and the
The principal goals of the morning workshop will be for participants to understand better
 the one-act play for its flexibility of form and potential for complexity of social and
philosophical commentary
 the requirements of stage realism
 the possibilities of theatricalism, expressionism, Epic Theatre, or other nonrealistic
approaches to playwriting and production
The afternoon session briefly reviews the origins of theater as religious ritual both in ancient
Greece and again in Medieval Europe, and how more secularized subject matter and realistic
theatrical style evolved from ritual, though literal public ritual survives to the present day in the
form of national and religious holiday celebration (e.g., Thanksgiving Day parades, Christmas
and Easter pageants). We next turn our attention to cultural anthropologist Victor Turner’s

theory of how theater as ritual functions as a critique of current societal structure against a
community’s deeper values. After hearing about a few historical examples of plays that sparked
or reflected social upheaval, the workshop participants explore in small groups an American one-
act play that responded to the distress of the Great Depression in a series of vignettes framed by a
union meeting that erupts into a strike: Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty (often cited as an
example of “agitprop”). Modeling a technique participants can employ with their own students,
each group a) analyzes one vignette for its commentary on 1930s American society and the core
American values at issue, and b) proposes a vignette idea to form part of the workshop
participants’ choice of contemporary American issue or crisis.
The principal goals of the afternoon workshop will be for participants to understand better
 theater’s origin in religious ritual
 theater’s communal function of social critique
 a classroom group exercise applying the lesson of theater as public ritual
Texts: Trifles by Susan Glaspell, Pullman Car Hiawatha by Thornton Wilder, Waiting for Lefty
by Clifford Odets

Lincoln Konkle

Having earned bachelor’s (Indiana University), master’s (Kansas State University) and doctoral  (University of Wisconsin-Madison) degrees in English, Lincoln Konkle is Professor of English at The College of New Jersey where he teaches courses in dramatic literature: World Drama, Modern European Drama, American Drama, and upper-level seminars on the playwrights he has published on and other drama/theater-related topics.  He has published articles in scholarly journals and books on Thornton Wilder, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, and others.  He is the author of Thornton Wilder and The Puritan Narrative Tradition (University of Missouri Press, 2006) and co-editor of Thornton Wilder: New Perspectives (Northwestern University Press, 2013) with Jackson R. Bryer, and co-editor of Stephen Vincent Benet: Essays on His Life and Work (McFarland, 2003) with David Garrett Izzo. He serves on the Boards of the Edward Albee Society and the Thornton Wilder Society.


Return to Institute information

Day 1: Drama: History, Genre, Performance Space facilitated by Prof. Diane Vanner Steinberg

Day 3: Shakespeare’s Language/Translating Shakespeare facilitated by Prof. Felicia Steele

Day 4: The Tragic Flaw of the Tragic Flaw/Writing an Agon facilitated by Prof. Glenn Steinberg

Register here:

For more information about registration, contact George Hefelle (
For more information about the institute’s curriculum, contact Glenn Steinberg (