At Play Teaching Teenagers Theater

Elizabeth Swados

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Young people and improvisational theater should be a natural combination—so why do we so rarely find this combo in today's classrooms? According to Elizabeth Swados—playwright, director, composer, poet, author of children's books and an acclaimed family memoir—improvisational theater is the perfect creative outlet for junior-high and high-school students . . . if only they can be given the tools and the guidance to make the most of this natural yet rigorous art form.

Drawing on her own experience teaching inner-city children in the musical Runaways and in teaching the techniques of improv theater in schools around the country, as well as on her own background in experimental theater, Swados provides a step-by-step guide to bringing out the natural creativity and enthusiasm key for young people to create—and enjoy—improvisational theater. Covering the basics—from freeing the imagination to learning how to work with an ensemble, from mastering different forms of movement and sound to creating different kinds of characters—this is the book for teachers and students eager to learn how to express fully the creative talent that all children are born with.


Praise for At Play

"Liz Swados has changed the lives of countless young people, and has changed the way all of us in the field think about making theater. Liz makes theater that matters; her fierce optimism that the world can be changed, by kids and by art, infuses this book as it does all her work. We are lucky to have her among us."—Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater

"Liz Swados is clear about the kind of theater she wants to create with young people. Theater has to connect to the heart, to what's authentic, but often buried and covered over by cliché and stereotypical thinking. To accomplish her kind of theater, Swados has created a comprehensive pedagogical system, which she describes in clear, often poetic yet immensely practical terms in her book, At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater. She presents sets of teaching exercises, each of which is prefaced by deeply principled views on both theater and the world within which teenagers struggle. She is explicit about what each set is meant to accomplish for teacher and student alike. The end result is an extraordinarily valuable teaching manual for anyone who aspires to be an effective theater arts teacher. Liz's consistently brilliant work is the best evidence of the success of her approach." —Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean, Tisch School of the Arts and Associate Provost of the Arts, NYU

"Liz Swados is a great creative artist who has done extraordinary work with kis and the theater." —Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director, Manhattan Theatre Club

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Excerpted from At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater by Elizabeth Swados. Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Swados. Published in June 2006 by Faber and Faber, Inc., an affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.


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  • Elizabeth Swados

  • Elizabeth Swados has composed, written, and directed more than thirty theater pieces, including The Trilogy, Nightclub Cantata, Runaways, Alice in Concert, Doonesbury, Rap Master Ronnie, The Haggadah, Jonah, Job, Esther, Jerusalem (with Yehudah Amichai), The 49 Years, and Missionaries. She has performed at La MaMa, The Public Theater, The Manhattan Theater Club, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, and other theaters on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and all over the world. Ms. Swados has composed music for film and television as well as a song cycle, Bible Women, which has toured the United States. She has published a memoir, novels, nonfiction books, and children's books.

    Her newest work includes a musical theater piece about the life and work of Alfred Jarry, which premiered at the Flea Theater in February 2005 and opens at the Alley Theater in Houson in September 2007. In the summer of 2005 she created a musical theater piece in collaboration with a cast of students about attending New York University and living in the city, which was performed for the incoming freshmen at NYU. The twenty-fifth anniversary concert of Missionaries was performed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in December 2005. My Depression: A Picture Book was published in April 2005. She is a faculty member at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and lives in New York City.

  • Elizabeth Swados