In the Classroom
Many classic plays are timeless because they deal with universal themes. Yet the language is often a barrier for middle and high school students. Our Town also deals with "big" themes of love, death, and time, but its language is plain and direct, easy for students to understand. Young people, increasingly accustomed to art that reflects the fast-paced and harsh realities of life, may find the play baffling or boring at first. (Where are the props? When does the action start? What does a small town like Grover's Corners have to do with me?) But as they explore Our Town, in the classroom or on stage, they'll begin to understand the deeper truths contained within it. As poet and president of the Thornton Wilder Society, J.D. McClatchy notes:
Wilder's portrait of the citizens of Grover's Corners, their lives and deaths, is not about the past so much as it is about the way we remember the past, what is illuminated and obscured by memory, gained and lost, the pathos of innocence, the sublimity of the ordinary, the acceptance of the dark ineluctable.
For English teachers, the richness of the play's themes makes it an ideal starting point for students to reflect on their own lives and values. Assignments, including autobiography, journal writing, essays, and debate, afford students a chance to think about larger issues. Since each act has a clear beginning, middle, and end, teachers may want to divide their classroom study of the play into three sections. English teachers may also find that having students perform dramatic readings will greatly enhance their understanding and appreciation of the play.
Drama teachers may want to use scenes for monologues as audition pieces or produce a full-scale production. See From Page to Stage for helpful hints.
The film is 120 minutes. You may want to divide the classroom viewing into three sections, corresponding with the three acts of the play.
Act I is approximately 30 minutes.
Act II is approximately 60 minutes.
Act III is approximately 30 minutes.
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