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 September 23

12 Weeks

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 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills

  • This course does not have any prerequisites.


  • All of the following plays are required:
  • A reading anthology compiled by course author, David Valdes, will be included as a free download in the course.


Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. 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


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.

Sarah Anne Stinnett


Sarah Anne Stinnett is a multi-disciplinary artist and educator. Since 2017 she has served as Teaching Assistant for Harvard Extension and Harvard Summer Schools in the subjects of speech, communication, and social media. At Lesley University she is Teaching Assistant for Musical Theater Writing and instructs curriculum in collaboration, voice, and performance. Her core tenets in teaching are as in life: employ unparalleled curiosity, to do is to discover, and a life of learning and imagination is impelled by the study of the masters before.

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With Boston Dance Theatre, Sarah Anne teaches acting, voicework, and creative writing. Coaching and writing credits include Body speaking supported by New England Foundation for the Arts, SURGE presented by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution & Boston Center for the Arts, and Man of the Hour presented by Global Arts Live at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Through her MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University, expected 2023, Sarah Anne’s writing explores the crosspollination of poetry and music with research specializing in Stephen Sondheim’s lyric. She expects her ALM in Dramatic Arts in 2022 from Harvard Extension. Her scholarship coalesces voice and embodiment with a focus on Shakespeare’s plays. She received her ALB with honors from Harvard Extension where she now serves as Academic Advisor.

Previously, she attended Berklee College of Music for bass performance, often extending her studies through the ProArts Consortium at Emerson College, Boston Conservatory, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Read Less


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