Learning to write in the language of major

February 07, 2012

Behind every great fictional character, set-design or prop, there is a pile of dramaturgical research that helped shape and mold its nuances.

The Writing-in-Discipline (WID) courses of the Theatre Department illustrate the need for this important skill, among others. When devising the writing requirements for the Theatre major, the Theatre department faculty knew they would need a variety of courses to accommodate each student’s individual focus, said department chair Elizabeth van den Berg.

All departments offer courses geared to teach students how to write in their particular discipline, but the specifics of those courses vary from major to major.

“We sometimes speak of ‘writing’ as though it were a single thing, but different academic disciplines speak different languages and write in different ways,” said Tom Falkner, provost and dean of the faculty. “Art historians write differently from biologists or sociologists or economists.

“To learn how to write in the discourse of a particular major is an effective way to learn about the goals and methods of the discipline itself.”

Whitney Walker, left, as Mrs. Shin, Yi Chong Li as Shui Ta and Shelley Hierstetter as The Unemployed Person in the McDaniel College production of “Good Soul of Szechuan”

Each Theatre student must take two WID labs, a required Texts & Traditions lab, which focuses on the genres of theatre history and research, as well as one of three different aspects: Acting, Interactive Theatre, and Production.

The final component of the Theatre writing requirement is a practicum, in which students complete three more projects. They first re-submit all materials from the first two WID courses for revision and refining, and then take on two additional assignments in their specific area of focus – with considerably less guidance and instruction.

Sophomore Whitney Walker of Cumberland, Md., took the WID: Acting course, in conjunction with an Asian Acting Styles class and her performance in Bertolt Brecht’s “The Good Soul of Szechuan,” presented last semester by McDaniel College Theatre.

“For my WID lab, I did papers on the Onnagata character in Kabuki theatre to create characteristics for my character in ‘Good Soul,’” she said. “It allowed me to understand the beginnings of that type of theatre so I could create my character of a widowed controlling mentor.”

Many professions in the theatre industry require writing, points out van den Berg, citing concept statements writing by directors, designers, and technical crew.

“As an actor, it’s important to learn how to research. Here, we give students specific assignments to learn how to get into character,” she said, “no one is going to ask you to do that in the real world, you should be doing it yourself.”