Introduction to Theatre
Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

This page last modified: May 19, 2008  


SPD 130: Introduction to Theatre
Online Course

Instructor: Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre / Speech --

3 Credits


ELI Policies and Procedures
Contacting the Instructor
Beginning the Course
Other Considerations
Tentative Schedule





  The purpose of Introduction to Theatre is to increase students' understanding, appreciation, and critical perceptions of the theatrical event. Readings and lectures will focus on the elements of theatrical practice; artists and innovators of theatre throughout history; and on the theatre's development as an art form and a social phenomenon; participation in class forum discussions and sharing of critiques and short reports will offer avenues to explore students' individual theatrical interests; and optional attendance at theatrical events will offer first­hand experience in theatre arts.

Entry Level Competencies:  Since this course is taught entirely over the World Wide Web, you should also be familiar with how to use a standard Web browser (Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer) and electronic mail. Students are expected to be reasonably proficient in written and spoken Standard American English. Familiarity with computers, the Internet, and e-mail are also necessary for the best success in this class.

Each student MUST have an activated e-mail account and MUST send e-mail to me from that account within the first two weeks of class so that I can identify your e-mail address.

Each student must log on to the SPD 130 OnLine Discussion Board of the VCCS Blackboard at least once every two weeks to read and post messages concerning class or theatre-related issues or concerns.



This section of SPD 130 is a distance-learning course. We will not see one another, but we will be in contact: 

you will post comments to public forums; 

your instructor and fellow students will respond to your comments and you will read and respond to other students' comments

you will send and receive e-mail 

you will call the instructor occasionally to keep in touch. 

In short, you will not be isolated, although you will be doing your work apart from other students. Since this course is on the Internet, you need to have access to the Internet, including an email address, and be reasonably familiar with how the Internet works in order to do the course work. 

You will need to pass at least two of the three exams you are required to take in order to pass the course.

Failure to complete ONE of the critiques OR one of the short papers will result in a grade no higher than a "C." Failure to complete TWO of the critiques OR TWO of the short papers or ONE OF EACH will will result in a failing grade.


Americans with Disabilities Act -- Statement

If any student with any kind of disability has difficulty using any of the materials on these pages, please contact me for any help I can offer you.

I have made the assumption that most students have relatively fast computers and internet connections; if any of you have any difficulty using any of the material in this class, please contact me for any help I may be able to offer.







During this course you will learn to:

a. Distinguish characteristics of theatre that differentiate it from other art forms

b. Describe the major components of the theatrical event

c. Describe the functions of the various theatre personnel

d. Define specific terms relating to the study of theatre

e. List and describe the parts of a play

f. Describe the different forms of drama

g. Distinguish between theatre and drama

h. Describe the different parts of plot

i. Read and write critiques on major plays

j. Describe characteristics of theatre in various periods of history

k. Participate in online activities involving set design and construction, directing, acting, and playwriting

l. Develop an appreciation for theatre as an art form and a reflection of society

m. Pass three required exams

n. Write two short papers or web pages (click here to get information) on specific aspects of theatre (to be determined during the course), depending on students' individual areas of theatrical interest. [Look at the Project Suggestions and Research Topics pages for possible paper or web page subjects, or check with me on your own ideas...].

o. Participate in forum discussion activities with other members of the class

p. Write three critiques of plays that you read or see during the semester 



Each critique is to be a two­ to three­ page paper, typed and double­ spaced on standard­ size (8 1/2" x 11") paper, and MUST be submitted via Blackboard's Assignment Submission function (in our Blackboard course site, click on the tab on the left labeled "Submit Assignments" and then follow the instructions) as an
MS Word (version 2003 or earlier) document (if you do not have access to Microsoft Office, the FREE suite of programs can save documents in MS Office format). Most word processing programs will save documents in various formats, including an version of MSWord no later than 2003).

Web pages / presentations / papers
MUST also be submitted via Blackboard's Assignment Submission function (in Blackboard, click on the tab on the left labeled "Submit Assignments" and then follow the instructions).

PLEASE NOTE: at least ONE of these written papers / web pages MUST use a critique or critiques or a paper or papers (or web sites / presentations) of another student or students in the same class (same semester as yours). The other students' work can be used as part of your research material and /or can be used as a subject for a critique of your own -- a comment, as it were, on others' written work in the class. I am hoping that this requirement will "encourage" everyone to read others' papers and will help to open a dialog about class material. **NEW**: As of 08/09/07, this requirement has been eliminated.

PLEASE NOTE:  for all assignments you submit for this class (critiques, short papers, extra credit, etc.), you MUST include the following information at the top of your paper; include it as part of the text of the paper and not as a header or footer:

Your Name
Your Class (SPD 130, Introduction to Theatre)
The semester for which you are registered (i.e.: Fall 2004, Summer 2004, etc.)
& section number
The Assignment (i.e.: Critique One, Paper Two, etc.)
Date of submission

This information MUST be included on ALL written assignments.


Please be aware of an ELI policy applicable to this course:

Students are limited to submitting only:

ONE PAPER / CRITIQUE PER WEEK (any seven-day period);

this policy will ensure that you must pace yourself during the semester, and will ensure that your instructor is better able to deal with each student's papers as they are each submitted.

PLEASE: Do NOT submit more than one paper or critique to me during any seven-day period.
I will now be LOWERING the grade of any papers/critiques but the first received by me in a 7-day period (unless, of course, arrangements have been made with me beforehand). DO NOT submit more than one paper/critique to me in a 7-day period or your grade may suffer!




Edwin Wilson and Alvin Goldfarb, Theater: The Lively Art, 6th edition, (McGraw-Hill). ISBN-13 9780073514116 (or go HERE for the text's Resource Page)
(you may use the earlier 5th edition if that is all you can get)...

You may purchase the textbook for this course at any of the five NVCC bookstores. See ELI Policies and Procedures for locations and phone numbers. You may also purchase your textbook by mail by calling (888) 744-7839. Purchasing textbooks by mail takes longer, so order your book early. 

PLEASE: Read this important information about the relationship between the text and the class "lectures."


Sophocles -- Oedipus Rex (This play will sometimes be called Oedipus Tyrannus [or Tyrannos], Oedipus the King, or (as your text refers to it -- synopsis on p. 217), King Oedipus ["rex" and "tyrannus" both mean "king"] and may sometimes be found together with the rest of the trilogy, which includes Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus)

Plautus -- The Menaechmi or here
        or go here for a synopsis

Anonymous -- Second Shepherds' Play
                   or here
                   or here with brief introductory summary/discussion   

Henrik Ibsen -- A Doll House

Arthur Miller -- Death of a Salesman

Lorraine Hansberry -- A Raisin in the Sun

Jonathan Larson -- Rent
              Click here to read the libretto (the book of the musical, including the 
               lyrics without the music to the songs. The show is essentially an opera,
               however, so the "book" consists almost entirely of the lyrics). 

You may purchase your own copies of these plays, or you may borrow them from a library. A few of the classical plays are available on the Internet, and some are not. I highly encourage you to view as many of them as you can; many are on video or film, which you could rent or which are available at various libraries (including some of our campus LRCs). For instance, the Greek, Roman, and Medieval plays are available in various versions at our Woodbridge Campus LRC; A Doll's House is available in a variety of versions [the Golden Age of Television version, for instance, with Julie Harris and Christopher Plummer; or newer British versions, one with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins, and another with racier portrayals of Nora and Torvald]; the original Broadway cast of Death of a Salesman can be heard on LP (remember those?), and there is a video of the show with Dustin Hoffman as Willie; and A Raisin in the Sun was made into a movie starring Sidney Poitier. 

I'm afraid the only ways I can think of for you to get a copy of Rent is to buy the libretto or buy or borrow the CD from a library; you could also see the production at Wolf Trap this summer; I highly recommend seeing the show or listening to the CD as you read the libretto, as the whole "story" will then make much more sense. WARNING: Rent contains strong, adult language and themes and is not for the faint-hearted, but I believe it is a moving and intelligent work. 





IMPORTANT NOTE: ELI Policy States the Following:
"Students who do not send in their minimum required assignments as specified by the instructor by the last withdrawal date (shown on the first page of your Quick-Start Syllabus) will be administratively withdrawn with no refund."

Updated 01/13/08>
You may withdraw yourself from this course. If you withdraw before your Last Refund Date ("Refund"), you will receive a refund and there will be no record of your enrollment. If you withdraw after the refund date but before your Last Withdrawal Date ("Withdrawal"), you will receive no refund and a grade of W. If you withdraw after your last withdrawal date, you will receive no refund and a grade of F. (Contact me if you have mitigating circumstances.) For your specific course dates, refer to the Quick Start Syllabus mailed to you by ELI. For additional information, see Enrollment Dates and Withdrawal Policy.


You MUST click on the "ATTENDANCE" tab on the left and sign in to the electronic ELI logs to indicate your attendance in this class BEFORE you continue.

After the first two weeks of class (the "refund" date above), I WILL NOT withdraw you from the class -- it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY! At the end of the semester, your grade will be based on your completed assignments (incomplete assignments receiving a "0" [zero)], unless you have officially withdrawn from the course.

By the date for YOUR SECTION'S "Refund" date":
You MUST email me before this date (and, of course, indicated your attendance by following the instructions in the "Attendance" tab on the left).

By the date for YOUR SECTION'S "Withdrawal":
You MUST submit at least Critique 1 and Exam 1 before this date.
Updated 01/13/08


The incomplete grade is used for verifiable unavoidable reasons. If you have made significant progress in your course, your end date is near, and you have reasons that can be documented as unavoidable, you may request a grade of Incomplete. To request a grade of Incomplete for this course, you must:

1. Have satisfactorily completed at least Critique 1, Paper 1, and Exams 1 and 2.

2. Explain your extenuating circumstances to me in writing.

3. Provide a plan for completing the remaining assignments in writing.





The following is a breakdown of percentages for each assignment:

Exam 1 -­                            15%

Exam 2 ­­                            15%

Exam 3 --                            15% 

Critiques ­­                         30% (3 @ 10% each)

Short Papers ­­                   15% (2 @ 7.5% each)

Online Participation ­­          10% (includes Blackboard            "Discussion Board" reading and posting)

Exams will be based on textbook readings, class lectures, plays read and seen, and class discussions.

Note that the scale above is a guide only. The instructor reserves the right to curve the scale to reflect the overall class performance.

This syllabus and schedule may be changed if necessary. You are expected to comply with any announced changes.



Grading Scale

A 90-100 points 90-100 percent
B 80-89 points 80-89 percent
C 70-79 points 70-79 percent
D 60-69 points 60-69 percent
F Fewer than 60 points Less than 60 percent





Since ELI courses are self-paced, you take exams when you are ready. You must take the exams at one of the five NVCC campus Testing Centers. See ELI Policies and Procedures for locations and phone numbers and information about proctors for students who live outside the Northern Virginia area. Call the Testing Center before you go to make sure they will be open and will stay open long enough for you to complete the exams. Take along a photo ID and the appropriate Exam Pass

There are three exams in this course, all consisting of objective (multiple-choice / true-false) questions with the possibility of one or two short essay questions; allow about 1-2.hours to complete each exam.


ELI Policies and Procedures 


This is an Extended Learning Institute (ELI) course. ELI courses differ from campus courses in several important ways, including enrollment dates, communication with faculty, assignment completion requirements, and exams. You must follow ELI's policies and procedures if you take this course. Read (or review) ELI's Policies and Procedures before you begin the course. 



Contacting the Instructor 


You may contact me through regular e-mail at or by telephone at my Woodbridge Campus office (703) 878-5750 (leave a voicemail message if I do not answer). This is THE BEST WAY to get in touch with me other than e-mail.

If you send e-mail, please try to get in the habit of putting "SPD130" (quote marks unnecessary) in the subject line of your e-mail (clicking on my e-mail address above should open your e-mail program and place that text in the subject line for you).

**NEW: I get so much student e-mail that I generally do not reply unless specifically asked to, so ASK SPECIFICALLY for a reply if you need one. And sometimes I miss that, too. So if you asked for a reply and haven't gotten one in a couple days, please try again (or leave me a voicemail message - 703-878-5750)... Thanks.

DO NOT bother to try me by telephone at ELI, as my voicemail there will direct you to call my Woodbridge Campus phone number instead.

You may also call me to schedule a meeting in person at my campus office in Woodbridge. 


Beginning the Course 



To begin the class, go back to the main page at




Other Considerations


Other Considerations


Course Accommodations

If there are any students in this class who have special needs because of a learning disability or any other kind of disability, please feel free to discuss your situation with me. You MUST let me know of the disability within TWO WEEKS of the start of class or within TWO WEEKS of diagnosis of such a disability, and your disability MUST be documented with the Counseling Center.


Please read these! They are part of your success in this course.

Your success in class depends on your ability to understand and apply concepts that can be best mastered by participating in class activities


It is expected that you will do your own work. If it is discovered that you have taken your work from another source (either written document or a student’s work), you will receive an "F" and be dismissed from the class. There may also be additional action taken by the College.

 --Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive or abusive behavior on the Internet classroom that distracts from the learning-teaching process will not be tolerated. You are expected to do your very best to improve your own knowledge and abilities and to support other students in all aspects of the class. You are expected to behave with consideration and respect for others.

Special Notes

This course is designed to conform to the goals and objectives established for all courses in the SPD Program at NVCC, which include the following:


Students will

improve communication skills

understand that improving communication is a life­long learning process which involves integration of knowledge from other disciplines

understand the importance of testing ideas and the desirability of diverse points of view

be prepared to participate actively as responsible members of society have the knowledge and skills needed to perform successfully in a
baccalaureate degree program in Speech Communication at a four­year college or university


Students will

report increased self­confidence

express ideas with verbal fluency

apply knowledge of nonverbal communication in sending and receiving messages

demonstrate critical thinking skills in sending and receiving messages

demonstrate organizational skills

adapt messages and behaviors to different communication contexts

employ listening and responding skills adapted to different communication contexts

demonstrate an understanding of and respect for cultural and social diversity.


Tentative Schedule
Tentative Schedule: This class is "continuous enrollment," meaning that students enroll at different times throughout the semester they register for. You are expected to complete the course within a sixteen-week time period, starting from your enrollment date, using the following schedule as a guideline: 


Index of Lessons

Date                                                               Agenda                                               Assignments
Week 1:  UNIT I:

What is theatre? 

 Send e-mail to the instructor at within the first two weeks of start date.

Send e-mail periodically -- about once every 4 weeks -- throughout the semester just to check in and let me know of any concerns you may have.


Read forum messages and post a message on the Discussion Board (go to the VCCS Blackboard at You must post at least one message in each Blackboard forum (except numbers 11 and 12: "Class Issues / Concerns," and "Terms / Definitions" --- but please post messages there if appropriate), and you are of course encouraged to read and post messages frequently.

Read the "Introduction" from Wilson and Goldfarb (NOTE: you are NOT required to hand anyhthing in from the text -- just read and understand the information in the assigned chapters and complete the online lessons along with the text, as the text and the lessons are intended to complement each other. I encourage you to complete the online study quizzes on the publisher's web site).

Compete the following lessons:

Week 2:  Elements of theatre 
Audience and Theatre 

 Chapter 1


Week 3 The theatre environment 

Society, critic, and theatre

Chapters 2 and 3


By this time, you should have posted at least two comments to the "Theatre as Art" forum...
Week 4:  The play and the theatre  Chapters 2and 3(cont.)


Critique One
Week 5: UNIT II:

The Playwright and the play 

 EXAM 1 

Oedipus Rex (post comments / observations on the Blackboard Discussion Board)

Week 6: The actor and the theatre  Chapter 4 and 6


Week 7:  The director and the theatre  Chapter 5

The Director 

Week 8: The designers and the theatre  Chapters 7, 8, and 9

The Designers 

By this time, you should have posted at least two comments to the "Acting/Directing/Designing" forum...

Paper One

Week 9: 

UNIT III: Theatre History

Origins of theatre 
Greek and Roman Theatre 

The Menaechmi (post comments / observations on the Blackboard Discussion Board)

Chapter 10

Ancient Greek Theatre
Roman Theatre and Drama

Week 10:  Medieval and oriental theatre Second Shepherds' Play (post comments / observations on the Blackboard Discussion Board)

Chapter 11

Medieval Theatre 

Week 11:  The Renaissance  Critique Two

Chapter 12

The Renaissance and Neoclassicism in Italy 

Week 12: Elizabethan, French, and Spanish

Restoration, Eighteenth Century, Romanticism

Othello/Tartuffe (Extra Credit)

Paper Two

Chapters 11 and 12 (cont.)

Theatre from the Medieval to the Elizabethan Periods (England)

The Elizabethan Theatre 

Week 13: The rise of realism 
Twentieth­Century Realism
Chapter 12 (cont.) and 13

Spanish Theatre During the Renaissance

Restoration Theatre 

Eighteenth Century Theatre 

A Doll's House  (post comments / observations on the Blackboard Discussion Board)

Week 14: Modern Drama:

expressionism, absurdism

Death of a Salesman     (post comments / observations on the Blackboard Discussion Board)

Raisin in the Sun   
(post comments / observations on the Blackboard Discussion Board)

(post comments / observations on the Blackboard Discussion Board)


Chapter 13 (cont.)


19th Century Melodrama 

Critique Three

Week 15 Musical Theatre

Federal Theatre Project

Departures from Realism

Impressionism / Symbolism




Contemporary Theatre Practices

Chapters 14, 15, and 16

Early 20th century theatre
The Federal Theatre Project (For this page, please use a pre-version-6 Netscape or use Internet Explorer -- do NOT use Netscape 6, which will not display the page's menus correctly)



Week 16   EXAM 3


To begin this course, choose one of the units below.

To see a detailed listing of lessons click Index:

Course Main Page

A Note about the Textbook 

This page and all linked pages in this directory are copyrighted © Eric W. Trumbull, 1998-2007.

This page last modified: May 19, 2008