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DRAMA 490 C: Special Studies in Acting-Directing

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
* *
Adrienne Mackey
Adrienne Mackey

Syllabus Description:

DRAMA 490C Advanced Acting

Winter Quarter 2024

Tuesday & Thursday 11:30am – 1:20pm

Hutchinson Hall 205


“The Activated Actor”


Instructor:          Assistant Professor Adrienne Mackey, School of Drama

Office:                Hutchinson 213 / Condon 532

Email:                 amackey1@uw.edu

This is by far the best way to contact me. Email and I will generally respond within 48 hours.

Office Hours:    By appointment. I’m generally available after class on Tuesdays.


Class Description:

In this contemporary moment where so much of life is uncertain and changing, what’s the use in studying the art of acting? To act is to be in motion, to be agile and in response. Through acting we learn to study how humans relate to each other and the world around them. My hope is that by building up your tools of real-time experimentation, empathic storytelling and creative impulse we’ll find that exploring the lives and stories of others helps us better understand and respond to our ever-shifting world.

The traditional role of the actor is often framed as one that passively serves a writer or director’s vision. Too often we frame opportunities to act as something given to us, rather than something we create and explore for ourselves. My hope is that in this advanced acting course you feel yourself the author of your quarter’s creative journey and take an active role in working with student directors on the material we explore. In this vein, I’m hoping this class will be a space of co-creation, dialogue and discussion.

Practically, this course is aimed at giving you hands-on experience in researching, developing and creating theatrical roles in scripted scenes. As an ensemble of artists, we will engage with exercises in movement and voice to increase our range as performers, explore theatrical improvisations and script analysis, and work on understanding deeper artistic questions in the plays we take on. I’m hoping we also develop a brave and rigorous creative intuition ie, a capacity to commit to and trust your instincts and a hunger for experimentation even if you’re not sure if something will work.

The last thing I’ll say is that this is a class based in the ideas of praxis – a process that is equal parts researching/thinking in your mind and on-your-feet testing/trying out of those proposals through real-world implementation. In this kind of creative process, good ideas are only half the work – we can only know if an artistic choice is the right by testing it out. Iteration is key to praxis – we form a creative idea, come up with a proposal about how to execute it, try that idea and collect data about how the experiment went, then go back and reflect on whether to keep pursuing it or make changes it given the new information gained.


Questions I’m excited to explore:

  • What is the function live performance in this contemporary moment?
  • How do we find material that speaks to our unique individuality?
  • How do we deepen our ability to use our bodies as tools of expression?
  • How do you collaborate in a rehearsal process? What do you need personally to make your best work and how do you support others in doing so simultaneously?
  • What is art that means something to YOU?


Class Objectives:

  • To increase comfort and confidence in creating character portrayals in performance
  • To think critically about different styles of performance and presentation
  • To practice compromise and collaboration with other artists
  • To build concrete skills in vocal, movement and textual analysis


Required Materials:

  • Most important: An open mind!
  • No books required for purchase! All readings will be handed out in class or online.


Attendance/Lateness Policy:

This course is practical in nature – in other words the techniques are only learned by doing them. In other words, if aren’t here, you can’t learn. Similarly, the work of this class is interdependent. We rely on each other to show up both literally and metaphorically to make our art.

At the same time, there are plenty of ways that traditional attendance and tardiness policies are grounded in cultures of white supremacy and racism. For that reason, I’ll offer one no-questions excused absence per quarter before your participation grade will be impacted. Please do your best to come on time, both for yourself and for the focus and energy of those you share the space with. If you are having a tough time making it to class on time, please contact me. If you miss more than a single class in a row, I’ll likely reach out to check in.


Required Class Work:

  • WEEKLY RESPONSES (10 at 5 pts each):

Each week I’ll ask you to check in about the work you’re doing. These will range from a write up of your dramaturgical and/or background preparatory research, reflection on rehearsal progress or assessment of your completed scenes. I’ll offer a specific set of questions to use in responding. Your opinions are never on trial, but honest and critical thinking is expected. This is also a space for you to offer feedback to me about the class as a whole. This can be either a written response or audio recording.


  • CLASS PARTICIPATION & PREPARATION (17 classes at 3 points each):

Prep as needed outside of class. Find time to rehearse with your group. Show up. Try. I expect that you will often attempt things that don’t work (initially or ever!). This is key to creating new things. I want you to test your capacities and am more interested in consistent brave efforts that “success” at every stage. As mentioned above, you’ll have one “freebie” excused absence per quarter. For every absence beyond this, you’ll be marked with a 0 for a missed day. Please try to let your artistic partners know if you’ll be missing ahead of time.

Note that the total points for this class add up to 101. That extra point is a freebie, and your grade will be based on a traditional 100 point scale.


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. 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. 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.
  • No discrimination of others on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, nationality, age, etc. This includes “teasing” or “joking,” even if your intention is to be friendly. It will not be tolerated.
  • 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.
  • Please call ME in 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. To invoke activist and educator Jay Smooth, I subscribe to the “dental hygiene” model of anti-discrimination: I don’t brush my teeth once and assume they are forever good to go and the same goes for the approach to creating an inclusive educational space. It’s ongoing the practice of learning, listening and making changes accordingly that 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.


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 do my best to create an environment in which each class member is able to hear and respect others. If something is said or done in the 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 also 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:



Statement on Consent, Power Dynamics and Staging of Intimate Material:

Theater is, by nature, an act that requires great vulnerability from its creators. To do the work of bringing forth affective and emotional storytelling in live time using our actual bodies for an audience of other people in the room watching can be overwhelming and disorienting in the moment. Bringing ourselves to those heightened performance states or trying to assist others in doing so can also mean we walk up to and negotiate lots of boundaries and discomforts. In the past some theaters made it routine practice to treat artists (especially actors) without the care, respect and consenting participation that is every person’s human right. Even if such practices weren’t glaringly obviously ethical concerns that should make us pause (and, just to be clear, they are) I genuinely don’t believe it’s even artistically beneficial to encourage someone to push through a creative process that makes them feel unsafe or violated. I’m a firm believer that our greatest growth comes not when we’re scared or untrusting of our environment, but when we feel centered, empowered, and supported in taking big risks we understand the parameters of and have enthusiastically agreed to. Working with trust allows us to play the long game of art-making: to find the honest and authentic places that make our creative work sing, to learn how to trust our intuition – the most useful creative muscles we have – rather than abdicate that judgment to some outside force.

Because of that fact, it’s hugely important to set ground rules, build trust, and work toward common understanding when negotiating common rehearsal elements like physical touch, staging heavy or intimate material, or “pushing” artists into new territory. In this class, we’ll talk more about rehearsal etiquette, and how to build trust and work through disagreements in respectful and consent-oriented ways. But as a starting tool here’s the popular “FRIES” acronym to help remember best practices around consent:

Freely given: Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence. If you feel like a part of you is being pushed into something, you are welcome to ask for a pause to reflect on that feeling at any time. Actively building in time during rehearsals to check in regularly about this is a key way to avoid coercion!

Reversible: Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. (This includes actors, directors, stage managers, designers, etc). Even if you’ve worked on this section of script before, even if you’re in the midst of a scene, even if there’s pressure to get something finished for a deadline. It can be useful to practice this early on so everyone feels comfortable!

Informed: You can only consent to something if you have a full understanding of what’s going to happen. For example, if a director gives another actor a secret direction to push you or touch you in a way that hasn’t been agreed upon in advance. If you have a question about something, stop and ask!

Enthusiastic: You should only do stuff you genuinely agree to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do. Pushing through discomforts to find growth IS part of the artistic process, suppressing your judgment about what feels right is not. The boundary can be tricky! If you’re not sure, slow down, step back, and/or call in an outside person to reflect with. I am SO happy to jump in and talk through these kinds of issues.

Specific: Saying yes to one thing (like holding hands with an acting partner) doesn’t confer a blanket yes to other “risky” or “intimate” choices (like being kissed or shoved).

We’re not here to “wing it.” This is a space of learning. The point is to figure out how you want to do things, try it, assess and adjust. Pushing through without giving yourself time to do that learning undercuts the whole point of the class. My mantra for our work together is:




And with all this said, it’s also likely people will make mistakes along the way. In art and life we can’t always be perfect and definitely can’t predict the future, which means that sometimes people can’t know what will feel weird before it happens we will sometimes cause hurt we don’t mean to. It’s not the job of someone on the receiving end of a mistake to fix it AND ALSO I know from my own journey as an artist that it can be MASSIVELY helpful for someone to get such feedback so they can know how their actions are impacting others. (Providing that person does the work of listening with openness and curiosity.) If something happens, it absolutely can be possible to back up, repair, rebuild trust and come back stronger than before. The key isn’t proposing that no one will ever make a mistake, but instead building a robust collaborative space so when smaller issues arise, we have instilled the practice of talking about and addressing them so we avoid ongoing or systemic problems of mistrust and abuse.


Above all:

  • If you’re not sure how to solve something, are feeling uncertain about best practices in rehearsal, or need a gut check about whether something that’s happening is ok or not, know that I am always here to listen and help.
  • It can be uncomfortable or feel weird to implement some of these things up in groups, especially when you’re just getting to know each other. Resist the temptation to minimize or dismiss your intuition! Take the daring creative step to name these complex dynamics and learn to solve them together!
  • Telling someone when something bothers you allows them a chance to fix and adjust, which they may not be aware of or able to do without that feedback. (That doesn’t mean it’s ok, but it does mean that with such useful info they may be more likely to do better.)
  • If someone from within the School of Drama (fellow undergrad, graduate student, staff or faculty member) is making you feel violated or sexualized, that is unequivocally not ok and is a violation of the program’s philosophy.
  • I am here to be a support and advocate. If you need especially timeline assistance with something related to consent, rehearsal process, etc email me with the phrase “TIME SENSITIVE ASAP” in the subject line and I will respond as soon as I can.


Tentative Schedule:

  • Week 1 - 2: Introductions & Initial Explorations

The first week we’ll begin talking about process and find out what topics and methods are interesting to you. In the second week we’ll explore a few exercises to help us gain a common vocabulary and start to explore what scene work to tackle.

  • Weeks 3 – 6: Scene 1

In these weeks we’ll look at how to research a character and work with directors. We’ll think about how to collect the things you’ll need to build out the embodiment of a character, how to analyze a script, prep backstory, and take that work into practical application with a partner.

  • Weeks 7 - 10: Scene 2

During these weeks you’ll further the explorations of the first weeks with a second round of scene work with a new group.


Note: This schedule is subject to change and is only an approximation.



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.


  • Please note that submitting material produced by AI essay generating apps as your work, without explicitly naming it as such, also counts as academic dishonesty. If AI is used to generate some or all of an essay or reflection, it must be explicitly stated and not violate to the core principle that writing for my class is aimed at assessment YOUR understanding of the course material.


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



For information on Student Standards of Conduct see:





Academic Accommodations and Wellbeing:

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.

Similarly, if you are experiencing mental health issues, please alert me to discuss how to move forward in the best fashion. The university has resources or health and wellness, please take advantage of them if you want or need to. https://wellbeing.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/


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/).



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: 
November 17, 2023 - 8:27pm