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DRAMA 490 C: Special Studies in Acting-Directing

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
HUT 201
Bradley Wrenn
Bradley Wrenn

Syllabus Description:

DRAMA 490 C - Play

Winter Quarter 2022

Monday and Wednesday, 3:30 – 5:20 pm

4 Credits


Instructor:   Bradley Wrenn

Emailbwrenn@uw.edu - This is by far the best way to contact me. Email and I will respond within 48 hours.

Office Hours: Please make appointments by emailing me directly


Course Primer

Acting as Play

The straight ahead, western approach to acting/performance is for a performer to start with the question “What’s my objective?” In other words, what do you want at this moment in the action? Playing your objective is a valuable anchoring device to enable you to interpret the text. But I find focusing on this to the exclusion of all else can close doors and limit the choices a performer makes. 

For example, let's say in the pursuit of your objective, you decide your character will slam a door in frustration. That was your first choice and your instinct the first time you ran through the scene. You’ve made your choice, you're done. But what if we take a different approach, what if we play “the door closing game”? What if we experiment with all the ways a human can close a door? Suddenly the options are endless and you become much more daring in your choices. By asking you to find a game in the action rather than solely executing your motivation, I'm inviting you to take the action beyond the psychological function in the scene, and I'm encouraging you to explore the action for its own sake. Of course, if you do this all the time you'll wreck the scene and muddy the drama, but if you rely exclusively on playing your objectives you'll be in danger of becoming too small, and too literal in your playing of the text. 

If you are creating a scene or play without a pre-existing script, focusing solely on character objectives can limit the potential for innovation and development. Instead, incorporating a sense of play and experimentation can lead to more dynamic interactions and inspire new ideas. By encouraging actors to approach actions and choices with a playful mindset, rather than simply repeating previously rehearsed objectives, there is potential for more spontaneous and engaging performances. This approach invites actors to have fun with their choices and to add a sense of mischief and excitement to the scene.

I have spent years devising and creating my own performances from scratch. So I am rough with text and I don’t subscribe to the idea of the Playwright as god. The best covers of songs have been messed with, knocked about a bit, allowing the artist to make their mark.  Yes, I believe scripted plays are akin to cover songs and you may use this against me when I am tried in front of the great theater tribunal. In order to mess about fully, you need to feel a sense of ownership. Theater-making is the most collaborative of all the arts and in a really good production, the entire creative team has ownership. If you want to play anything credibly, you must own it in its entirety. If you don't feel the performance to be yours, you'll soon start to feel phony and lose confidence or just get bored with it. 

You can't fake play. You're either enjoying yourself in a game that's delicate, unpredictable, and compelling to play, or you're not. Whether you're in a high drama or the wildest physical comedy imaginable, if it doesn't feel alive and absorbing to you while you're playing it - how do you think it's going to feel to the audience?

Key Terms


A voluntary effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles.


A structured activity that is designed to elicit certain behaviors or responses from its participants. 


The thing that is fun about a scene.



Generally speaking, fun is something that brings pleasure or enjoyment. It is an activity or experience that people engage in because it makes them feel good or happy. Fun can involve physical activity, social interaction, or mental challenge, and it can be experienced alone or with others. 


To “have fun” with something invites invention and gives us license to turn it on its head. I believe fun is essential in artmaking.



Refers to the sense of connection and shared understanding between actors in a scene. It is the willingness to take risks and trust one another, as well as a willingness to play off of and respond to each other in a spontaneous and authentic way. In other words, complicity is the sense of shared enjoyment and commitment to the scene that allows actors to fully engage in the play and create a dynamic, compelling performance.


This concept also refers to the sense of play between the performer and audience as both are actively participating in the performance. The performer is seeking to create a sense of shared experience and understanding with the audience. Lecoq believed that the performer should aim to create a sense of intimacy and connection with the audience, and that this connection is essential to the success of the performance.

Final word on play

One of the nasty things about performing Shakespeare is there is always THAT cast member who will make a passive aggressive comment about how you are performing some line “incorrectly”. They draw a line in the sand and declare that there is a right way and a wrong way to make art. That can seep into a rehearsal process and like a thick smoke it chokes out all the fun. It can make the whole process feel like some mystical artform that can only be understood by the initiated. 

Comedy and the creative spirit thrives in an atmosphere of irreverence, pleasure and rule breaking. The rehearsal room needs to feel like a place where anything can happen, a space of discovery and wonder. Play doesn’t mean the work is frivolous. It means that we take play very seriously. It’s fun, it’s liberating and it gives us the freedom to explore more expansively and enables us to generate meaning, take risks and make wonderful discoveries.

Written into the rider of every contract my theater company signs is this phrase - “It may look like we aren’t working but often in those silly, careless, playground moments we make the greatest discoveries.”  


 Class Objectives

  • To investigate play and understand its crucial place in the creative process 
  • To explore methods of accessing and unlocking the playful creator
  • To apply the principles of play to both interpretive and generative rehearsal processes
  • To investigate play in relationship to tension, rhythm, status and character
  • To intellectually understand that “YOU are enough”


Course Journey

Week 1 & 2 - Ensemble building - Exercises will be geared toward establishing trust in the room and introducing foundational ideas

Week 3 & 4 - Complicity - Begin to play with partners, discover that thrilling energy exchange between yourself and a trusted scene partner

Week 5 & 6 - Rhythm and timing and tension - explore these concepts through game and play  

Weeks 7 & 8 - Scene work and character - create scenes and characters from the outside in, find the game first and then discover the meaning

Weeks 9 & 10 - Foundational clown - step off the ledge and attempt to be funny


Required Materials

  • Most important: An open mind!
  • No books required for purchase! Come chat with me if you want reading 


Attendance/Lateness Policy

This course is practical in nature – in other words the techniques are only learned by doing them. In other words, if you aren't there, you can’t learn. We rely on each other to show up both literally and metaphorically.

At the same time, there are plenty of ways that traditional attendance and tardiness policies do not take humanness into account. For that reason, I’ll start every class with a grace period of 5 minutes. Please do your best to come on time, both for yourself and for the focus and energy of those you share the digital space with. If you are having a tough time making it to class, please contact me ASAP. If you miss more than a single class in a row, I’ll likely reach out to check in.

Also, if you miss a class, reach out and I can probably meet with you before class and let you know what you missed. I will allow everyone 2 missed classes that will not count against your grade, I don’t need an excuse. 


Class Work

CLASS PARTICIPATION (18 classes at 4% each and 10 written reflections at 2.8% each):

Show up. Try. At the end of every Wednesday class I’ll leave 10 minutes for you to do a “flash” response to the session. This can be either a written response or audio log of your experiences and discoveries in the session. This is a chance for you to offer feedback and reflections on your work thus far. I’m going to make these due by Friday (we don’t meet on Friday) but I use these responses to make tweaks to my lesson plans and I want them the weekend before.  I will allow everyone 2 missed classes that will not count against your grade, I don’t need an excuse. 


Grading Scale:

4.0-3.9: A    3.8-3.5: A-  3.4-3.2: B+ 3.1-2.9: B    2.8-2.5: B-   2.4-2.2: C+

2.1-1.9: C    1.8-1.5: C-  1.4-1.2: D+ 1.1-0.9: D    0.8-0.7: D-     

Any student under 0.7 points will receive a failing (E) grade. You may always email me if you are unsure about your progress in class or want feedback about your work.


Conduct In Class:

The following notes are required for this class. If you agree to stay in this course you are expected to follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid distractions. Cell phone interruptions are distracting to the entire class. Checking email in another tab pulls you out of present tense focus. Do your best to minimize outside distractions while in class. (Emergency exceptions should be discussed prior to class).
  • Be respectful of other classmates. Making stuff is hard and often uneven in its progress. One week you may find something awesome and then for the next three weeks everything might feel wooden and terrible. It happens to everyone, even the most seasoned creators, so remember when giving feedback that failure is part of the process. To be creative requires support and mutual trust, so let’s offer each other dignity and kindness to each other as best as we are able in our work together.
  • Please reach out if you feel like I’m not creating a class in which you can be your whole self. As a person who walks through the world with a wealth of privileges, I know that I have blind spots. It’s ongoing the practice of learning, listening and making changes accordingly is the measure of success. Therefore, if something I do harms you or makes you feel excluded, I very much hope you feel comfortable enough with me to let me know. I will do my best to listen with open ears and THANK YOU for being generous enough to offer that perspective. If you need to voice a concern anonymously or beyond this scope, see the link on voicing concerns under the “Respect for Diversity Statement” section below.
  • Approach the work with bravery and curiosity. Exploring new creative territory requires you to dare to go places that are unknown and, hopefully, exciting. I make the promise not to push to places you are not ready to go to, especially if you voice those concerns. In return I ask that students are willing to try to the best of their ability, even if an exercise seems strange. If you are confused about why we’re doing something, ASK! Chances are your questions are those of others in the room and offer an opportunity to learn together.
  • Making art is about making mistakes and a culture of hypervigilance and fear surrounding saying the “wrong” thing, showing up imperfectly or using the “wrong” words can squash creativity. We cannot expect people to show up wholly in an environment where they will be punished for saying the wrong thing. We are going to step on each other's toes, we are all imperfect in this room. If we want authenticity, realness and truth - it is our responsibility to create environments where it is allowed to exist without punishment. 


Pro Tips

Please do not talk to me about absences or grades during class time. I am often focused on the plan for the day and rarely have the brain space to talk about numbers and grades. Email is the way to go.

Leap before you look. Get up there. I promise you’ll learn more on your feet than you will watching other people. Also, we may only do an exercise once and if you don’t get up there and give it a go it may be gone forever.

Respect for Diversity Statement:

The diversity students bring to this class (including gender identity, sexuality, dis/ability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, and culture) should be honored as a resource, strength and benefit. I will do my best to create an online environment in which each class member is able to hear and respect others. If something is said or done in the virtual classroom, in a discussion, or in the group project process, by myself as instructor or by other students, that is troubling or causes discomfort or offense, the impact of that experience is something important, deserving of attention and I would like to know about its occurrence. The School of Drama has developed the following resource that can help you navigate how to proceed if you would like to voice a concern beyond one of us as your instructor:



Academic Accommodations:

Your experience in this class is important to me. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course.

 If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at disability.uw.edu.

 The UW Food Pantry:

A student should never have to make the choice between buying food or textbooks. The UW Food Pantry helps mitigate the social and academic effects of campus food insecurity. We aim to lessen the financial burden of purchasing food by providing students with access to food and hygiene products at no-cost. Students can expect to receive 4 to 5 days’ worth of supplemental food support when they visit the Pantry. For information including operating hours, location, and additional food support resources visit https://www.washington.edu/anyhungryhusky/the-uw-food-pantry/

 Academic Honesty:

Students at the University of Washington are expected to maintain the highest standards of academic conduct. Cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct are considered serious offenses and could result in a variety of disciplinary actions, including suspension or permanent dismissal from the University.

 For more information on Academic Honesty (Cheating and Plagiarism) see:


 For information on Student Standards of Conduct see:



 Religious Accommodations:

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).

 Disability Resource Services:

The process of artistic creation should be equally available to every student regardless of disability! If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

 If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


Safe Campus:  https://www.washington.edu/safecampus/

Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime – no matter where you work or study – to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. SafeCampus’s team of caring professionals will provide individualized support, while discussing short- and long-term solutions and connecting you with additional resources when requested.

GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
October 26, 2022 - 9:58pm