I am currently on a course studying Performance Studies in theatre. There are four of us doing a class presentation/seminar (20 minutes) on subtext focusing on the plays of Pinter, Mamet, Caryl...

I am currently on a course studying Performance Studies in theatre. There are four of us doing a class presentation/seminar (20 minutes) on subtext focusing on the plays of Pinter, Mamet, Caryl Churchill, and Chekov

We have many ideas on how to show subtext in an interesting way as we were once all performers ourselves at one time... but we are struggling to devise a question that we can argue.

thanks for your help

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Asked on by charchey

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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There are several ways you could approach this, depending on whether you need to cover all the plays you've studied over the term or just a few. Harold Pinter and David Mamet fit together very well, as they both use fairly spare staging and somewhat minimalistic plots in which character is revealed in dialogue (often with ominous subtext) rather than action. Chekov's plays have a more conventional narrative trajectory, although subplot and backstory are sometimes revealed in key moments of quiet dialogue, often with subtext that becomes foregrounded as we approach the play's resolution. Churchill's plays tend to rely less on dialogue with subtext as a main plot engine, often using devices such as staged flashbacks almost cinematically to reveal what is behind segments of dialogue.

One approach you could take would be to argue that the past or backstory always is part of the subtext in the beginning of plays, and that the structure of many of these works is one in which the action of the play is not a series of actual deeds done by the characters, unlike, say, revenge tragedy whether protagonists busily deceive and murder people or romantic comedy where young couples overcome obstacles to arrive at a happy marriage. Instead the plot trajectory in most works by these authors (Churchill is somewhat the odd woman out here) starts with a secret from the past, which first runs through the dialogue as a subtext and then gradually becomes foregrounded. The degree to which these plays seem to have some form of resolution or denouement depends on the level of explicit foregrounding.

As performers, you can have fun with some of you acting the text and some acting the subtext, perhaps moving from individual speaking to talking in unison as you reach the key moments where the subtext is revealed explicitly in the text. Although some of your arguments need to be explicit (especially in your Prologue), in Performance Studies, you can, to a certain degree let your performance talk -- though you might want to meet briefly with your professor to get a sense of how much creative latitude is acceptable. 

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