Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
This seminar examines the musicals of Stephen Sondheim from Company (1970) to Road Show (2009), from page to stage. For each musical, students explore the production, performance, and reception. The seminar asks, How do musical theatre’s elements of music, lyrics, script, dance, and design cohere in Sondheim’s musicals? How has his work changed and developed over his lifetime? What themes preoccupy him? What is the relationship between the written script and the musical in performance? What challenges do Sondheim’s musicals offer for theatre artists, including directors, designers, and actors, and for audiences, including literary, music, and cultural critics?
With the musicals themselves in the center, the seminar explores influences on Sondheim’s art, both personal and cultural, and the historical and theatrical milieu in which each production opened (and/or was revived). The curriculum studies the musicals themselves by reading libretti, listening to music, and seeing taped and live performances. The seminar also includes research on production histories and reading scholarly analyses of his work.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
The classroom discussion makes up the majority of the learning experience. To be fully engaged in the class discussions, it is essential to watch and listen to the musicals and complete the readings. Take notes on ideas that interest you during the class; there are no quizzes or exams, but these ideas may be useful for essay or final project topics.
Do contribute to the classroom discussion. Participation is helpful to other students because so much of the learning and analysis of these musicals comes from an active classroom discussion.
In addition to class discussions, Professor Wolf will often assign active performances and more “hands-on” activities. These are a fun and creative way to interact with the material.
Finally, students will lead their own classes near the end of the semester. This requires some external work, but students will be fully prepared to lead discussions and group activities after many of the former classes.
Learning For and From Assignments
The assignments consist mostly of watching the musical and reading its libretto and doing readings, often written about that particular musical. Professor Wolf will post discussion questions that guide the readings and musicals. It is helpful to keep these questions in mind when reading and watching, and jotting down ideas, thoughts, and questions that come to mind. This leads to better classroom discussions, which form the bulk of the learning.
There are no quizzes and exams, but instead there are two papers and the final project. To do well on the papers, it is important to include an in-depth analysis of the musical and to devise an argument. It is easy to lean too heavily on the analysis with no argument, or vice versa. Read the prompts for both papers before watching any of the musicals and keep them in mind when completing the readings and musicals. This way, it is easier to think about and devise a topic well before the paper is due to give ample time for its completion.
It’s helpful to stop by Professor Wolf’s office hours and discuss any arguments or ideas about the papers with her. She has great insights and will give feedback and guidance about the papers.
Professor Wolf hosts weekly office hours that are a great way to better know her and helpful for the assignments.
In addition, the Writing Center is a great resource for the papers and especially with ensuring that any papers have both the musical analysis and the argument that Professor Wolf is looking for.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
This seminar is such a fun and rewarding experience. It is important to be engaged and actively participate during class, and to visit Professor Wolf’s office hours. The interesting topics will make the reading and papers very enjoyable.