Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts



First Advisor

Noreen C Barnes


This thesis is dedicated to illustrating the unique challenges of staging works by the playwright Tennessee Williams, and to making suggestions on how to avoid common pitfalls in production, performance, and direction of his plays. It uses evidence from the playwright’s various biographical works as well as insight and conjecture from the author’s experience to illuminate these challenges and help the reader to avoid hackneyed or ineffective staging practices. It touches on the effect of film adaptations on stage performances; the typical portrayal of American Southern characters onstage; the aural ramifications of Williams’s poetry to a now-visually-centered audience; stylistic elements similar to Williams’s contemporaries, including Rice, Brecht, O’Neill, and others; the delicacy of Williams’s signature meter and rhythm in his plays; dramaturgical groundwork in the playwright’s intentions; and a systemization of archetypical Williams characters. This thesis does not prescribe a cut-and-dried set of rules and regulations for performing Williams’s works, for the simple reason that the Williams canon is so diverse that no singular set of “tricks” will be effective in every play. Furthermore, the author understands that a producer, director, or actor will not find use in all facets of a rigid “system”. The thesis does outline a number of practices whose aims are to make productions more effective from an integral perspective. There are exercises to attempt, questions to pose, and matters to consider in the staging of Williams’s plays during any part of production—from in-class reading to designing the scenery, and from deciding why to put a Williams play in a season to the living moments of an actor’s performance. The thesis aims to be helpful, informative, and accessible, rather than doctrinaire: much like the playwright’s works, its purpose is to illuminate dark corners of something that viewers think they already fully understand.


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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2012