Category Archives: Topics

Incomplete Information, Dependency, and Social Media

Love and Information, the play by Caryl Churchill, is one that requires some digging. No, not actually going outside and digging holes in the backyard as you may have once done, but digging into the context in which the play was written and into it’s unique structure. There are two messages that I received after reading and analyzing the text.

The first message is that today’s society is way too dependent on technology. This message really stood out in the final chapter, and more specifically under the headings “Virtual” and “Facts.” Virtual displayed a conversation between two people talking about one of the participant’s (in the conversation) current relationship. About half way through the section it is evident that the conversation (or argument) is about one of the people’s intimate relationship with their computer. Similarly, Facts displays a “Siri-esque” string of dialogue between a person and their computer, who answers most of the person’s questions with facts. When the person asks the computer “Do you love me?” the computer responds by saying “Don’t do that.” Churchill intended for these scene’s to over exaggerate human dependence on technology to portray her message that if humans continue to rely so deeply on technology it may be detrimental to true human emotion and social skills.

The second message is that today’s society makes assumptions based on incomplete sources of information. Churchill portrays this message by the design of the dialogue in the play. There are countless instances throughout the play in which during a conversation one person does not finish their thought and the other person has already made an assumption based on the other’s incomplete thought. To connect this theme to the real world, many types of social media only display incomplete information. For example, text messages are meant to be short messages that can be sent quickly and are often times abbreviated with terms like “TTYL” and “JK.” Twitter allows people to display their opinions, but holds users to a character limit, so the entry must be fairly short. Snapchat pictures only stay on your screen for as long as the sender wants you to see it. The list goes on and on. All of these social media examples are relevant because society depends on them for information, and that information is extremely limited. Humans naturally make assumptions based on what they know, and if what they know is not the whole truth, then our assumptions will be flawed and inaccurate.

In his book Revolutions in Communication, Bill Kovarik explores how communication has developed over time. In chapter 12 he specifically explores the rise of digital media and the culture that has followed it. He mentions that a reason digital and social media grew so quickly was because “people enjoyed becoming part of a virtual community” (Kovarik 316). With this rise of media and instant communication, came the rise of an information war. Kovarik states that an increase in hackers in the 70’s and 80’s portrayed the message that “information wants to be free” (Kovarik 317). Kovarik seems to have a positive outlook on the rise of technology as he almost praises Twitter for their “culture of generosity,” among other aspects (Kovarik 327). Chapter 12 absolutely relates to Love and Information because of both work’s focus on digital media. Although they are related, I do not believe Kovarik and Churchill are trying to send the same message. Love and Information carries a more negative connotation of social media and the complementing culture, and Kovarik seems to point out the benefits of technology more so than he points out the negative effects.

After reading both works I have a few questions. First, is Caryl Churchill attempting to send a message about what society’s future will be like if we continue our “binge” use of technology? And, second, do you believe that the recent outbreak in technology is beneficial or costly to society?

Woyzeck II: Naturalism in Woyzeck

For this week, when we try to stage a scene from Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck it is helpful to make a connection between the elements of the scene and Naturalism. I find the most useful material in section 4.8 on page 144. Here in the scene Doctor and Woyzeck are talking about the experiment that Woyzeck is a part of. Woyzeck is treated almost like a lab rat in this interaction. When we look at some of the characteristics of Naturalism, we can remember that the writers who wrote in this fashion had a Darwinist approach to their characters. Natural selection and survival of the fittest are themes that could be handled in Naturalism. Throughout the play, especially in this scene we can observe how Woyzeck is struggling, and the Doctor criticizing him for following “the call of the nature”. The conflict between the ‘nature of men’ and the ‘free will’ can be a reference to ideas of Naturalism, which point out the fact that humans are controlled by their instincts and hereditary characteristics.


Doctor compares Woyzeck to a dog for peeing on the wall. Similarly both the Doctor and Captain keep reminding Woyzeck of his lower standing in the society, especially by making comparisons to animals. In Captain’s case he repeats many times the phrase “You’re a good man”, however he also talks about Woyzeck’s actions by saying “A good man doesn’t act like that, a good man with a good conscience” (p.142). Woyzeck is surrounded by people who repeatedly belittle his place in the society and question his values, pushing him beyond his limits to commit a crime. In Naturalism it is also suggested that the characters don’t have free will, and in Woyzeck’s case I can make a clear connection with that statement. Woyzeck’s lack of control over his own life, and how characters like the Doctor and Captain shape Woyzeck’s days shows the clash of classes in Büchner’s time. Long before the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Buchner starts writing Woyzeck(1836) which also tackles the underlying class differences within the German society.

The reason why Woyzeck is one of the most popular plays in German theater could be that it reflects the struggles of its time very well. Incorporating the sense of boosting industry and science through the experiments, and recognizing mental disorder, and the corruption created by urbanization, the play paints a broad social picture.

Would Woyzeck still kill his mistress if the Doctor and Captain were not a part of Woyzeck’s life?

Is the character Doctor a critique of the science at the time? Considering that Büchner himself was a scientist how can we interpret the role of science/medicine in the play?

What would Büchner think of Communist Manifesto? Would he find it realistic?

Love, Homoeroticism, and Patriarchy

William Shakespeare illuminates the sexual desires in England during the early modern period. Shakespeare uses the intimate relationships between opposite-sex couples to allow the audience to explore the desire for same-sex love. This was explored by using “cross-dressed boys between the ages of eight and eighteen” to perform the women characters as stated by Bruce McConachie in Theatre Histories (Zarrilli 227). Throughout the play homoerotic desire is apparent with the use of only male actors. Olivia who is played by a male falls in love with “Cesario” who she believes is a male but, in fact, is Viola who is also played by a male; “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit/Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast! Soft, soft!/Unless the master were the man. How now?/Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” (1.5, 297-301). Here Olivia has fallen in love with “Cesario” and compares it to catching the bubonic “plague” which had swept through England during the time period and was relatable. The relationship between Antonio and Sebastian also captures homoerotic emotions as well with Antonio proclaiming his devotion to follow Sebastian. These intimate scenes tapped into the homoerotic desires of a Shakespearean audience and evoked various emotions such as pleasure or anxiety.

Shakespeare captures the patriarchal ideology of England through the relationships in the play as well. Orsino exemplifies the sentiment of male over female sexuality when he states to “Cesario”, “There is no woman’s side/Can bide the beating of so strong a passion/As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart/So big, to hold so much; they lack retention./… Make no compare/ Between that love a woman can bear me/ And that I owe Olivia.” (2.4, 92-102). Throughout the play Orsino feels Olivia must love him because no woman can resist him or love as much as he can. Orsino needs Olivia “as a means of cementing alliances and accumulating property through marriage” to solidify the patriarchal order (Zarrilli 228). Orsino ends up marrying Viola who is of an inferior social class which symbolizes the same-sex love by men in superior positions which is enabled by the patriarchal ideology. In addition, Malvolio desire for Olivia’s love can be seen as a relationship that threatened the patriarchy so he was abused by the other characters to be seen as a madman which is similar to men convicted of “sodomy” who were punished for an act that threatened the social order.

What role does the hierarchy of class and gender play in the play?

How come Viola gets married to the Duke while dressed as a boy?

How is foolishness embodied through human behavior in the play?

Topic 4: Death and Mortality

In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Beckett seeks to explore the topic of death and mortality. Death is something that is not taken very seriously in the play as Vladimir and Estragon constantly undermine the severity and gravity of it. This is evidenced when they are trying to figure out what to do and Estragon suggests that they hang themselves, to which Vladimir replies “Hmm. It’d give us an erection,” and Estragon excitedly responds “An erection!…Let’s hang ourselves immediately!” (1.231-236). The characters lack an understanding of the consequences of death and do not seem to be able to fathom the seriousness that comes with it. Estragon talks about death further in the play when he says “the best thing to do would be to kill me, like the other,” and then when Vladimir asks “what other?” Estragon replies “billions of others,” causing Vladimir to say “to every man his little cross. Till he dies. And is forgotten” (2.136-140). While most people fear death, Estragon seems to find comfort in it, calling it the ‘best thing.’ Meanwhile, Vladimir seems to have a greater comprehension of the sadness associated with death as he sadly speaks of passing away and being forgotten. While Estragon appears to value life very little and is indifferent towards death, Vladimir seeks to find meaning in his own life.  This is apparent after Pozzo asks him for help, causing Vladimir to go into a short speech about action, saying

“let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it…” (2.638-644).

Vladimir becomes excited and assigns meaning to his life after being relied upon. He feels that Pozzo needs him, and that is suddenly enough to break the cyclical inaction that Beckett is known for. This suggests that while Estragon is largely unfazed by the prospect of death, Vladimir finds a meaning for his life when he feels needed by others.

In Zarrilli chapter 8, one of the topics is the 1900s move away from naturalism/realism and towards symbolism. Waiting for Godot is an excellent example of this as a mid-1900s play that is flooded with symbolism. One could speculate for hours or even days about the true meaning of the play and what Samuel Beckett’s message or intentions were. Theatre Histories describes symbolism as urging audiences to look past the surface and literal appearance of a play in order to “discover more significant realities within” (page 358). The exploration of death and mortality is a great example of this because Beckett orchestrates lines that can seem silly on the surface, but actually can be a message about more significant realities. An example of this is the erection line from earlier that is absurd but actually is a reflection of a carefree and potentially naive attitude regarding mortality.

Is there any evolution of character in Godot like we saw with Nora in A Doll’s House?

The obvious question the play brings up: What is the meaning of Godot and what can we make of its portrayal in the play?

Is there anything comparable to Waiting for Godot in modern media?

How could the play function differently or similarly with the addition of female characters?



Topic #3 Self-deception and responsibilities

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen introduces ideas in his play, A Doll’s House, that are so controversial for his time; he has become a trailblazer in Realism. In the course of the play, Nora Helmer-a wife and a mother- faces many challenges that prompts her to be reborn as a new independent person. Published in 1879, the play has a context when women in Europe were not accepted as people who can vote and have rights regarding their life and marriage. In most European countries women were not given their right to vote until the 20th century. Keeping that in mind, Ibsen started tackling this idea ‘where a woman belongs” and “individuality and independence of women” 34 years before Norwegian women could vote.

Ibsen portrays a dynamic between Nora and Torvald where Nora gets treated and scolded like a child by her husband. He has degrading pet names for Nora such as; “skylark”, “squirrel”, “spendthrift”, “noodlehead” and many other. To the reader until the Act III, Nora seems like she’s not offended by any of the remarks her husband makes. She lives in an illusion where she believes that her husband would risk everything; his life, his reputation for her sake. Torvald, on the other hand, does not perceive Nora as a person with her own ideas and aspirations for life. He makes his idea of Nora clear when he says “my little lark is talking like a real person” (Act III, 208), Nora, Nora, you are such a woman!”(Act I, 34), “The child will have its way!”(Act III, 648), and “my most precious possession”(Act III, 216). Torvald does not see Nora as a person, he rather accepts her as a “possession” that plays the role of a wife and mother. Ibsen harshly criticizes the objectification of women through his realistic portrayal of rich characters that mirror the spirit of his time.

When Torvald states “You are a wife and mother, first and foremost”(Act III, 562), Nora’s reply voices Ibsen’s vision for the women. Nora says, “I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that first and foremost, I’m a human being-just as much as you-or at least I should try to become one”(Act III, 563). This possibility of equality between men and women is a groundbreaking revelation to make in Ibsen’s time. His play lived through years, and unfortunately is still relevant to our time where men and women are not equal in many social spheres of life.

My question for further discussion would be:

Where is the line between a person’s responsibilities for her or himself, and the responsibilities towards other people in her or his life?

Do people lie and deceive themselves more than they deceive other people? Nora deceived herself through out her 8 years of marriage, while all along she knew how it wasn’t what she wanted for herself. Why do people put up with situations they don’t like?

Trendsetting and the Modernist Movement

Date: February 16-18

Topic: Trendsetting and the Modernist Movement 

In Kovarik’s fourth chapter in Revolutions in Communication detailing the history of photography, a common theme is the “breakthrough” and its frequent appearance throughout the 1800s and 1900s as the science and technology behind photography progressed at a breakneck rate. Once the mechanisms behind photography were more or less well established, trends and movements began to appear and interact. A particularly interesting conflict occurred as the pictorialist movement to popularity. In response, photographers like Paul Strand spearheaded the Straight Photography movement focused on clear, sharp images, counteracting the “soft visual effects in artistic poses” of pictorialism which “did not take advantage of the new medium” (Kovarik, p. 161).

A similar reaction came from Henrik Ibsen in response to the then-popular “well-made play,” which essentially focused on a suspenseful, melodramatic plot line rather than well-developed characters (Zarilli, p. 391). The theater of Ibsen’s time was also one of increasing spectacle as technological advances sprang up. In response, Ibsen began to write plays that were relatively simple in set, but verbally complex and deep. These later developed into works like “A Doll House,” which directly confront issues in the Norwegian middle class, or the “bourgeois” (Norton Anthology of Drama, p. 719). In this way, Ibsen also parallels the trend of muckraking photography, which spread images of inequalities to expose societal evils (Kovarik, p. 163). Ibsen’s unique style, emerging from his response to contemporary theater, was a large part of the “breakthrough” of modernist theater.

However, according to Zarilli et al. in their analysis of the modernist movement, “both Ibsen and Chekhov believed that photography, the basis of realist theatre, had little to reveal about human experience” (p. 390). While Ibsen’s stylistic development mirrors that of photography, he was not a huge supporter of the art or its social impacts. He preferred to aim for a higher plane with his works, reflecting the transcendental views of Kant in which the highest achievement is non-material self-realization (Zarilli, p. 390). This is evident in “A Doll House” as Nora goes through crisis only to find that she has never been allowed to grow outside of a man’s household and social constructs, being passed “from Papa’s hands into [Torvald’s]” (Norton Anthology of Drama, p. 766). At the time, this abrupt desertion of a family and husband by a wife was completely shocking to audiences. However, in present day, it is much easier to accept this behavior as a woman finding independence, and consequently, herself.

A few questions:

While a connection between Kant and Ibsen is easy to forge, what about with another contemporary “thinker” like those we studied in class? Specifically, in “A Doll House,” are Torvald’s interactions and perceptions of Nora (much like a child) reminiscent of Freud’s theories?

If Nora had an Instagram account, what would she post pictures of? How would her feed change as she experiences this abrupt change in thinking?

Finally, I found this interesting short film (~9 minutes) from 2012 in response to “A Doll House”:


-Phoebe Thompson

Bridging Gaps of Time with Oral Tradition (Topic 1)

Date: February 2-4

Topic: Bridging Gaps of Time with Oral Tradition

In the introduction of Revolutions in Communication, Bill Kovarik states “without a sense of the past—without some concept of the lives, triumphs, and mistakes of people who have lived before us—we are merely groping blindly into the future” (Kovarik, p. 1). It seems that the group of people in Acts I and II of Mr. Burns were attempting to weave that thread through time, post-apocalypse. They knew that civilization was experiencing an extreme loss, and in that desperation, they tried to preserve something. An episode of “The Simpsons” was perfect for that, because it’s probably the best reflection of pop culture over the past (almost) three decades. On top of that, it’s humorous, and seemed to provide them with some relief… But the episode they chose was also somewhat reflective of their situation. In “Cape Feare,” Bart is cornered and about to be killed by this menacing force… But he uses theater (specifically an unplanned reenactment of a theatrical work) as a distraction tool, and it ultimately saves him. In a way, this is what the group is doing around their campfire.

            In the first chapter of Theatre Histories, we are introduced to the concept of differing oralities. It seems that the characters and events in Mr. Burns exist somewhere between primary and secondary orality. They have encountered writing before, and they keep some notes on people in their notebooks, so their orality is not entirely primary (absolutely no encounters with writing at all). But their orality post-apocalypse is no longer “sustained by telephone, radio, television, and other electronic devices” (Zarilli, McConachie, Williams, and Sorgenfrei, p. 17). They’re in this liminal space where, again, the pressure is on to carry some thread of pop culture into the future, and they must do it completely from memory. The result of this 75 years down the road is a totally twisted and darkened version of what the episode was originally and when they were first recalling it, which shows that the apocalyptic event has definitely pushed the orality of civilization back toward “primary” on the spectrum. Otherwise, with written records as in secondary orality, the reenactment of the episode would be nearly perfect.

Some questions: How similar is this “post-electric,” apocalyptic scenario depicted in Mr. Burns to the early oral/theater traditions that first appeared in early human history? Did the apocalypse effectively set media back to such a point?

What is the point/metaphor in exchanging Sideshow Bob for Mr. Burns (Homer’s menacing boss at the nuclear plant) in the production 75 years after the apocalyptic event?​

-Phoebe Thompson


Topic 1- Griffin Ross

Date: February 2nd-4th

Topic: Pop Culture, Communication History, and the Loss of Technology

Anne Washburn captures the endurance of pop culture through the characters in Mr. Burns. In the first act the characters recall lines and scenes of The Simpsons episode Cape Feare. Overall, they recount the episode fairly accurate and just leave out some minor details. The second act occurs 7 years later and we start to see more details being left out from the original episode as the characters turn the show into a theatrical performance. Lines from various episodes that people remembered are bought and sold for use in plays. In the intro of Revolutions in Communications, Bill Kovarik states, “If there are no final answers, there is at least a need to be conscious of the issues; to attempt to steer one’s own best course past the Scylla and Charybdis of historiographic calamity; to write the truth to one’s best ability; and to serve the muse of history.” (Kovarik, p. 5). The characters in Mr. Burns must recreate the episodes from the Simpsons with their memory as their only tool due to the ‘calamity’ from the disaster. 75 years later during the third act the entire plotline is altered as an explosion at the nuclear plant forces the Simpson family to flee and Mr. Burns, not sideshow Bob, is the killer. With no technologies to help communicate the verbatim and scenes of the original episode it becomes history. However, the fact the episode was still being portrayed 75 years later is a testament to the importance of pop culture.

Kovarik examines how technology has such a vast impact on civilization; “Technological progress was the primary factor driving civilization, accordging to some early anthropologists, while others have seen the use of energy or the accumulation of information as central to cultural development.” (Kovarik, p. 7). In the case of Mr. Burns, there was a technological digression, which impedes the accumulation of information. As a result, 75 years later the play has little resemblance to the original episode and is versed. The play is a much darker version than the original episode because Mr. Burns kills everyone but Bart, which helps communicate the sentiments of a world where many people lost all of their loved ones.

The characters in the play served as historians investigating what happened in the original episode and coming up with their versions as a play. They were able to capture what Kovarik calls the “Two fundamental motivations for historians” which are “to remember and honor history’s heroes; and, to learn the lessons of history.” (Kovarik, p. 2). Bart is ‘history’s hero’ as he perseveres and survives. The play also serves as a lesson of history because there is an explosion at the power plant, which is similar to what happened in real life. It shows that these situations must be avoided and planned for or else people will be hurt.

How does the play 75 years later reflect the disaster that happened in real life?

What is the importance of theater in a society that loses technology?

What does the play say about the importance of history?

Topic: The Evolution of Theatre

As I began reading Anne Washburn’s play Mr. Burns I found myself to be very confused. I could not figure out who these characters were, why they were sitting around a fire, and more importantly why they were trying to recall the lines from an old Simpsons episode named Cape Fear? Why is this specific Simpsons episode important enough to be the centerpiece for an entire production? As I continued reading into the second and third acts of the play, I found my answer. I concluded that there actually was nothing extremely special about this particular Simpsons episode. The episode was only used by the playwright to portray a much larger message: The evolution of theatre. This evolution was shown in steps each displayed by the three different acts in the play. The first act featured theatre as a type of storytelling (or ritual) and a very basic social gathering. In post-apocalyptic times the characters of the play recalled the Simpsons episode only as a memory. In the second act of the play (seven years later) the group of amateur storytellers was now a complete acting troupe traveling and rehearsing for shows they put on for audiences. Finally, the third scene (75 years later) displays a rendition of Cape Fear, but the play is now being performed by a professional group who sings and makes the play into a major production. Washburn shows her take on the evolution of theatre by portraying the same story originally told by a camp fire and finally being told in the form of a major production.

In the introduction and chapter 1 of Phillip Zarrilli’s Theatre Histories: An Introduction, Zarrilli attempts to uncover how “humans developed the unique ability for symbolic communication” (Zarrilli 4). He states that the earliest forms of communication were strictly non verbal, for example, hunting, dancing, and music. Over the years as oral language developed, cultural rituals began to “interact with the new forms of dramatic performance” (Zarrilli 31). Zarrilli’s explanation of the evolution of human communication and rituals mirrors Washburn’s portrayal of the evolution of theatre. For example, since the final production in Mr. Burns evolved from camp fire activities, it supports the notion that “theatre was born out of ritual” Zarrilli 31).

After reading Mr. Burns and the chapter’s in Zarrilli’s book I have a few major questions. First, is theatre an art form that naturally evolved over time (by the means of human evolution) or is it a conscious creation of human beings? Also, since we know how theatre has evolved in the past, how do we think theatre will evolve in the future?