- Thinking Through Script Analysis by Suzanne Burgoyne and Patricia Downey
In his foreword to Thinking Through Script Analysis, emeritus biology professor Craig Nelson praises its help with teaching “close reading, critical thinking, effective writing, productive group work and ‘mental management’” (xvi), and the book is indeed most effective in examining and making visible the thought processes involved in critical, analytical, and creative thinking. Suzanne Burgoyne and Patricia Downey state that they want to make “visibility of thinking” (xxii) central to the text, and they accomplish this mission by including thorough and colloquial examples of the ways that an experienced practitioner would think her way through the various techniques they lay out. Drawing on Oedipus Rex, Tartuffe, Arms and the Man, and Avatar for examples, the book provides students and instructors with a manageable reading list and allows the authors to focus their work on linear plot-lines well-suited for an approach to script analysis grounded in Stanislavski’s acting practices.
Thinking Through Script Analysis has a decidedly actor-centric focus in its approach and would make an excellent supplementary text for an acting course in which the instructor does not want to spend a great deal of class time teaching script analysis, but relies upon students’ abilities to put it into practice. Burgoyne and Downey’s text walks the reader through each step of the process, starting with the first chapter, “Thinking About Thinking.” As in the chapters that follow, the authors highlight ways to develop successful thinking strategies by leading readers through building-block assignments. Throughout each chapter, early assignments ask students to apply skills outside of scripts (such as analyzing themselves before moving on to characters), which is an effective way of demonstrating the applicability of the material to real life as long as students invest themselves in doing exercises that sometimes appear self-evident. Burgoyne and Downey recommend using group work throughout, and such an approach would help ensure that students actually engage in the foundational exercises before attacking chapter “capstone” assignments. Each capstone assignment has a peer-review process built in (peer-review checklists are included as an appendix to the text), which makes it easy for the professor to actively engage all students in the development of these skills.
The other chapters in the book focus on more standard script-analysis techniques, such as identifying given circumstances (chapter 2), creating an action and structural analysis (chapter 3), writing root action statements (chapter 4), establishing tools for character development (chapter 5), breaking scripts down into scenic units (chapter 6), writing thematic statements (chapter 7), and generating a central production metaphor (chapter 8). Burgoyne and Downey contextualize each skill set, stating openly why they structure things as they do and giving explicit (if sometimes limiting) boundaries for their approach. For example, in the list of criteria for formatting scenic units, the authors note that the “format should be exactly the same as the format used in the example.… This format is … standard in the industry” (124; emphasis in original). Although the specific format is useful, wording such as this puts a professor who does not want to use this precise structure in the position of appearing to teach illegitimate techniques. This focus on industry standards also appears somewhat out of place in an intentionally approachable text on script analysis that frequently uses the term “story” in lieu of “play” or “script.”
Indeed, Burgoyne and Downey show a concerted effort to make Thinking Through Script Analysis as appealing as possible to an undergraduate audience. Theatrical terms (especially those with often contested definitions, such as “objectives”) are placed in boldface to alert readers that they are fully defined in the glossary at the end of the text. Visual examples illustrate concepts for visual learners. The authors attempt to reach students where they live by relying upon Avatar as the source material for many of their working examples of analysis techniques. In light of the fact that students are more likely to attend movies than plays and given the desire for a universal production approach...