Guidelines for Theatre Papers


Students are required to turn in theatre papers to Blackboard. You should use questions below as a guide for your theatre papers and remember original thinking and creative approaches will make a difference between an average grade and an excellent one. (All the questions may not apply to every play or production.) Please critique the plays listed in your syllabus. Papers should be typed and double-spaced. The font should not be larger than 12 points and the margins should not exceed one inch. Paper #1 should be two-to-three pages long, Paper #2 should be four-to-five pages long, and both should be carefully proofread before you turn them in.

Papers that fail to meet the minimum length requirement will be ineligible for an 'A' grade. Papers that are awarded A's will address the guidelines, display acuity with regard to observation and expression, utilize examples drawn from the production, display knowledge of the art form through accurate use of terminology, and exhibit the writer's ability to analyze and draw his or her own conclusions. Papers that are largely synopsis of plot will receive a lower grade.

*Please write your papers no later than one week after the performance. Write while your memory is fresh. Turn in the paper on Blackboard no later than the specified due date, but make sure you write while you clearly remember the details of the production. Papers must be typed!

Key Questions for a Theatre Papers

These questions are intended as a guide for writing a theater critique. You can use them to help you focus your thoughts about the various elements of a production. Remember: Critiques should be of the plays listed in syllabus!

Identify the subject matter of the play and the (historical) time in which it takes place. Identify the number of characters, who they are and what their relationship is to one another. Identify the location in which the play takes place, whether a single location or many.

We have investigated the components of a play as defined by Aristotle in the Poetics. Select some of the six elements [plot, character, theme, diction, music, spectacle (scenery, costumes, lighting)] and evaluate those topics as they are specifically applied to the production you saw for the theatre paper. In all cases you should use examples from the production itself to support and justify your comparisons and conclusions. Identify examples that amplify your understanding of and response to each of the elements that you choose to evaluate. Synopsis should be used sparingly; however, plot cannot be investigated without identifying the mechanics of the story telling.

What was the central theme of the production?

These questions must be addressed in your paper:

How does the play embrace the human condition? What do we learn about ourselves from the people in the play, and is it relevant to us (or yourself) today? 

What elements (acting, setting, costumes etc.) of the production did you find to be the most interesting? Why? 

How did the play end? Was the play’s ending successful or satisfying?

Below are additional questions that may help you shape your paper:

How did the playwright's characters reinforce the theme and details of the story? How did the production design (scenery, costumes, lighting, makeup, sound, properties) contribute to the main idea of the play? When and how was symbol or metaphor used to expand the story-telling and increase the audience's connection to the theme? Were you interested in the story that was told? If so, why, if no, why not?


1. Were the actors believable, given the requirements of the play? If they were believable, how did they seem to accomplish this? If they weren't believable, what occurred to impair or destroy believability? (As you discuss this, be sure to separate the performer from the role. For example, you can dislike a character but admire the performance.)

2. Identify the performers you considered most successful. Citing specifics from the production, note what they did well: particular gestures, lines, or moments. Try to describe each performer so as to give the reader a clear image. For example, how did the performer's voice sound? How did he or she move? How did he or she interpret the role?

3. If there were performers you did not like, identify them and explain why you did not like them. Give concrete examples to explain why their performances were less successful.


What type of theater was it? How large or small was it? How opulent or elaborate? How simple or modern? What type of stage did it have: proscenium, thrust, arena, or some other type? How did the stage space relate to audience seating?


What was the text for the performance? Was it a traditional play? Was it a piece created by the actors or director? Was the piece improvisatory? (Note that most productions you attend will use traditional scripts as texts, and most of the following questions are based on this traditional model. However, you can adapt these questions for texts which have been created in nontraditional ways.)


Were the characters realistic, symbolic, allegorical, totally divorced from reality, etc.? Was there a protagonist? Was there an antagonist? Identify them.

Did you identify most with one of the characters? If so, describe this character and explain why you identified with him or her.


1. What information was conveyed by the scenery about time, place, characters, and situation? How was this information conveyed to you?

2. What was the overall atmosphere of the setting?

3. Did any colors dominate? How did colors affect your impression of the theater event?

4. Was the setting a specific place, or was it no recognizable or real locale? Did that choice seem appropriate for the play.?

5. If the setting was realistic, how effectively did it reproduce what the place would actually look like? 6. Were there symbolic elements in the scenery? If so, what were they? How did they relate to the play?


1. What information was conveyed by the costumes about time, place, characters, and situation? How was this information conveyed to you?

2. What was the period of the costumes? What was the style? Were the costumes from a period other than the period in which the play was written or originally set? If so, how did this affect the production? Why do you think this choice was made?

3. How was color used to give you clues to the personalities of the characters?

4. Did each character's costume or costumes seem appropriate for his or her personality, social status, occupation, etc.? Why or why not?

5. Did the costumes help you understand conflicts, differing social groups, and interpersonal relationships? if so, how?


1. What information was conveyed by the lighting about time, place, characters, and situation? How was this information conveyed to you?

2. Describe the mood of the lighting. How was color and intensity used to affect mood? What other characteristics of light were used to affect mood? Was the lighting appropriate for the mood of each scene? Why or why not?