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How Government and Literature Studies Enhance Acting Ability

When it comes to arts integration education, it’s not too tough to see how math or science are taught through creative and hands-on applications. But how do government and literature studies enhance the arts?

Just how does an arts integrated high school tie together performing arts like acting with real world studies in literature and government?

Arts Academy in the Woods student Rosemarie explains below how it worked for her.

Using Government and Literature Studies to Understand Different Motivations 

“We did an odd assortment of plays this semester – 12 Angry Men, American W.A., and The Crucible. They all taught me something different. And they all had very different characters.

My performances consisted of being a temperamental and impatient businessman, to stage directing over the top men involved in a race for senator, to finally acting out a girl that needed nothing more than to survive a world of hanging and lies.

These characters all had different motivations and lives. To further understand this, I had to turn to literature, government and the history of these plays. As you will see, there were many twists and turns.

12 Angry Men

We did three beats from the dramatic play 12 Angry Men. This gave me plenty of time to develop a thorough understanding of my character Juror 7 and how to portray his thoughts and actions.

The plot of this play follows a jury trying to agree upon a verdict for a boy who allegedly killed his father. But it also opened up an analysis for a part of American history and the way our government works.

The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” This is great because it means that (ideally) verdicts will come from a range of perspectives and many voices will be heard.

That’s also pretty much the entire plot of 12 Angry Men. But something else that came to light doing these beats was the conflict that also arises from this type of system.

Conflict is something that can be tedious to work through. This points to Juror 7’s main issue – he is impatient when it comes to dealing with the slow process of all the jurors agreeing. I understand that this whole ordeal would naturally lead to the overall personality of 7, which is rude and temperamental.

However, something more leads to an understanding of my character. And that is his past.

It’s hinted at that Juror 7 had a rough life with his father. So instead of becoming sympathetic to the boy’s condition, he takes his anger out on the boy. He even goes as far as agreeing with the father’s poor treatment of the boy.

We also have to look at the social climate of the time. The play takes place during the 1950s. While we still have people who think the same way, gender stereotypes and poor treatment were quite common and many did not see this as something to fix back then.

Keeping this in mind, we also recognize that a huge stereotype for men was for them to “remain strong” and emotionless. This would call for Juror 7’s hard and aggressive fueled response instead of a softer and much kinder one.

American W.A.

Before 12 Angry Men, we did a beat out of American W.A.

Rather than an actor, I was the stage manager for this play. But I learned just as much about acting as I would have had I been an actor for this beat.

The plot of this play follows an election for Nevada’s senator. The twist, though, is that a general (who is also a retired wrestler) is thrown into the mix. That plot description may make it hard to believe that I could have gotten any sort of government knowledge from this play. But I did.

A major point of the play is that the general (General Mayhem) was actually hired by Terry Bowen (Wayne Kight’s campaign manager) to split the votes up and to make Kight’s opponent look bad. This would hopefully result in just enough votes for Kight’s win.

This, whether intentional or not, has come up in real life elections. Splitting votes up and being even just slightly better than seemingly worse opponents is a strategy that works quite well. As for this attributing to any sort of enhancement of acting, it can show you all of the character’s thoughts during the beat we did, which was the first debate.

This beat appears to be like any other debate at first. But it soon turns into a horror show of General Mayhem making Kight’s opponent (Corliss) appear ridiculous. He eventually falsely accuses Corliss of being involved with beastiality groups.

Corliss, naturally, doesn’t want his name tarnished while he is desperate to win an election. Finally, Kight has to realize the value of this act and has to put on quite an act of shock to maintain his innocence and to make sure he secures the votes that he needs.

In government, we want people that aren’t involved in scandals. But candidates seem to find value to pointing out the negative aspects of their opponents so they can get more votes. Even if they aren’t true. We see this in Corliss’ horror with Mayhem’s actions, and the sheer want from Mayhem and Kight for Mayhem to succeed.

The Crucible

Before the previous two plays, we did two beats of The Crucible.

This play was based upon the Salem Witch Trials. The beats we performed showed the horror and absolute fear that this historical event evoked. However, this play holds even more historical significance when you realize that this play was written as a metaphor to the “witch hunts” during the Red Scare. 

During the Red Scare, just about anyone could’ve been accused of being a Communist. And just like with the witch hunts, it caused great damage to people’s lives.

If you were accused of being a witch and denied it, you were killed. But if you didn’t deny it, you were completely stripped of any possessions. You lost so much either way.

Understanding all of this helped me to better understand my role as Mary Warren during both beats of The Crucible. She was frantic after realizing that she and the other girls were caught dancing in the woods while performing witchcraft.

At first, she wanted everyone to know the truth. But she understood that they would be killed if they did not admit to being witches.

This fear was what probably drove many people during the Red Scare too.   Their entire life was about to be ripped from them, and they needed others to believe the truth.

Building upon this even more, we need to look at what fueled these two events so greatly. And that was revenge. It may sound odd at first, but it was a huge theme.

Starting with the Red Scare, it was a time for opponents to be defeated. You could win elections and take care of someone that wronged you just by accusing them of being a Communist.

This was the same for the witch trials. It’s also why the public’s opinion so heavily fueled Mary Warren’s choices. She realized there was no benefit to being on the bad side of the wrong person. So throughout the play, she sided with whoever guaranteed her safety.

This ultimately led her to side with Abigail, a liar, to ensure that she lived. She was constantly bouncing between people, and it’s easy to see how she was always on edge – even being pushed, in the end, to do what was morally wrong.

Learning through Acting

From a jury trial, to an election race, and finally to the witch trials, a range of plays taught me how to properly act out my characters (or how to direct other characters) and introduced and furthered my understanding of government and literature studies.

I understand now that characters, plays and their history must be thoroughly analyzed to put on a truly great performance.”

Do you think you could benefit like Rosemarie has from an arts integrated education? Contact us. We’d love to meet you and show you what we have to offer.


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