Script Analysis for Theater

This is a Boston Conservatory course offered through Berklee Online.


Authored by David Valdes


Course Code: OCTHR-103

Next Semester Starts
June 26, 2023

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Welcome to Script Analysis for Theater. In this course we’re going to work backwards from your love of theater to closely examine how the plays you fell in love with were made. We’ll look at the movements in theater that spawned important genres and aesthetic devices that writers have used to engage audiences across time. Each week, we’ll discuss specific terminology and tools from within specific traditions, while considering how these movements speak to each other, and we’ll apply those ideas to selected readings. Our lens will be global, from ancient Japan and India to twenty-first century Broadway and Boston Conservatory. After deepening our understanding of the roots of theater-making, we’ll end the semester with our eyes focused on the present and the future, by together considering contemporary issues (including racism in American theater), and as students work in groups to present their prognosis for the longevity of specific plays.

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This course will not only make you more fluent in some of the most important theater traditions in the world, but enhance your understanding of the texts with which you will engage as theater artists.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • recognize the genre of a work and the way that genre varies by time and culture
  • identify modes of presentation and how they signal meaning beyond the text of a work
  • analyze the intended effect on the audience of a playwright’s choice to defy genre or established modes
  • articulate the role of race and culture in how theater is received, promoted, and sustained
  • make a critical case for the longevity of a text, based on its artistic merits, cultural context, and your understanding of theater history
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: What Makes Theater Distinct

  • The Difference of a Live Genre
  • Character, Conflict, and Motion
  • How to Read a Play Manuscript
  • Beats, Scenes, and Acts
  • Assignment 1: The Narrative Trio in Action

Lesson 2: Tragedy

  • Ancient Tragedy in Greece 
  • Tragedy in Japan’s Noh Theater 
  • Shakespearean Tragedy and 'Revenge Plays' 
  • Tragedy in African Theater
  • The Role of Tragedy in Native American Theater Tradition
  • The Debate over Modern Tragedy 
  • Assignment 2: Tragedy in Comparison

Lesson 3: Comedy

  • Sanskrit Comedy
  • Ancient Comedy: Greek and Roman
  • From Clowns to Comedy of Manners
  • Farce, Satire, Parody, and Black Comedy
  • Assignment 3: Comedy Comparison and Analysis

Lesson 4: ‘Well-Made’ Plays and Beyond

  • Story Structure
  • The ‘Well-Made’ Play 
  • The Influence of the Well-Made Play on TV and Film Structure
  • Well-Made Play Redux
  • Assignment 4: BFE Analysis

Lesson 5: Beyond Genre

  • Tragicomedy and Dramedy
  • Playing with Tropes and Conventions
  • Trope Bingo
  • The Perils of Using Tropes
  • Devised Work
  • Directing Father Comes Home from the Wars
  • Assignment 5: Bootycandy Analysis

Lesson 6: Naturalism and Realism

  • Why Realism and Naturalism Aren’t Always Interchangeable
  • Naturalism in France 
  • Realism from Ibsen to Chekhov 
  • ‘Angry Young Men’ and ‘Kitchen Sink’ Plays 
  • Assignment 6: A Taste of Honey Analysis 

Lesson 7: Beyond Naturalism

  • Non-Naturalism
  • Heightened Naturalism
  • Absurdism
  • Playing with Time
  • Assignment 7: Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue Analysis

Lesson 8: Musicals and Their Conventions

  • Music and Spectacle from the Beginning
  • Popular Genres of Musicals
  • Archetypal Numbers and Characters
  • Musicals That Defy Expectations
  • Assignment 8: The Band’s Visit Analysis

Lesson 9: Contemporary Theater Part One: Theater as Protest and Movement

  • Twentieth Century Movements for Theater as Change
  • Perils and Promises of ‘Message Plays’
  • Documentary Theatre
  • Assignment 9: Pipeline Analysis

Lesson 10: Contemporary Theater Part Two: Racism and Bias in American Theater

  • Language Matters 
  • Own Voices
  • Reenacting Trauma
  • Colorblind vs. Conscious Casting
  • Intersectionality 
  • Assignment 10: Identity and Intersectionality in American Theater

Lesson 11: Central Inquiry, Part One: The Lifespan of a Play

  • ‘Canon’ and Gatekeepers
  • The Influence of Criticism
  • Critical Reception, Then and Now
  • Context Matters
  • Assignment 11: Central Inquiry Research and Preparation 

Lesson 12: Central Inquiry, Part Two: Presentation and Portfolio

  • Encapsulating a Play
  • What Makes the Work (and Its Author) Unique or Distinct?
  • What Makes a Play Last?
  • You Take the Stage
  • Assignment 12: Final Project (Central Inquiry)


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

  • This course does not have any prerequisites.

Required Textbook(s)

Most of this course's required readings are included in the Reading Anthology compiled by course author, David Valdes. You’ll be able to access the Anthology upon registration.
In addition to the Anthology, the following plays are required (purchase links included below).

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


David Valdes

Author & Instructor

David Valdes is an award-winning playwright whose work has been performed across the US and abroad. He has worked with Actor’s Theater of Charlotte, Milagro, Borderline, Mixed Blood, Boulder Ensemble Studio Theater, The Humana Festival, New York International Fringe Festival, Portland Stage, Stage Left, Fresh Ink, the Boston Center for the Arts, Company One, and others. His plays have twice been featured in the National Showcase of New Plays, and he has received fellowships from Company One, IATI, and the Boston Foundation. As a columnist, he has written for the New York TimesBoston GlobeHuffington Post, and Medium.

Elizabeth Wong


Elizabeth Wong’s work has been produced nationally and internationally. Her award-winning plays include Letters To A Student Revolutionary, Dating & Mating in Modern Times, Code of Conduct: A Soldiers’ Awakening at Guantanamo, Kimchee & Chitlins: A Serious Comedy About Getting Along, Tam Tran Goes To Washington, and China Doll. Her awards include the Tanne Foundation Award for Artistic Achievement, the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, and the Kennedy Center’s David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award. Ms. Wong was a Disney Writing Fellow, a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed columnist, and writer for the ABC sitcom All-American Girl starring Margaret Cho. Her residencies include The Hermitage, Yaddo, Ucross Big Red Foundation, and the Ecole Cantonale D’art Du Valais in Switzerland. Her publishers include Dramatic Publishing Company, Smith & Kraus Publishing, Samuel French, and Playscripts Inc. Her memberships include the Writers Guild of America, PEN, the Playwrights Center, and The Dramatist Guild. She holds an MFA in dramatic writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and she has taught playwriting and writing workshops at numerous educational institutions, including Texas A & M, Bowdoin College, Southern University of Maine, State University of New York, Geneseo; SUNY Potsdam; SUNY Albany; the University of California, Santa Barbara, and most recently at the University of Southern California.  She was a member of Circle Rep Playwrights Lab, the Asian-American Playwrights Workshop at the Mark Taper Forum, the Nautilus Music Theatre Workshop, and currently she’s member of the Antaeus Theatre Company’s Playwriting Lab.


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