Teaching The Glass Menagerie
Handle with care.
While a FRAGILE sticker wouldn't be out of place on Laura's glass menagerie (or Laura herself, honestly), they don't need to go on your class. You can charge full-speed ahead into this play because it's still relevant to young'uns today.
Our teaching guide has some extra lessons you can add to your menagerie:
- Activities that put students behind the scenes, designing the set and casting the show
- Essay questions exploring the vivid symbols in the play
- Pop culture connections, like a revival with none other than Dr. Spock himself
And much more.
We don't play around with plays.
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Instructions for You
Objective: In a show with only four characters, the cast has to be pitch-perfect. These characters are conflicted, complicated people, and students will miss the meaning of this play if they don't fully understand each character. In this lesson, students will explore the characters of The Glass Menagerie by taking on the role of casting director. They'll need to dig into who these characters are and what makes them tick in order to select the perfect cast. This is all about in-depth character analysis, so keep our handy Shmoop characters link at the ready.
This activity will take two to three class periods with students completing some of the work at home.
- Copies of The Glass Menagerie
- Computer with internet access
Step 1: Start with a discussion about the characters in the text. Who are these people externally? Who are they internally? How does the audience become aware of their internal lives? What does each character want? What motivates their choices?
Next, discuss the characters in terms of their stage presence. What physical characteristics does each character have? How do students imagine these characters would look? What are their speech patterns or mannerisms like? What physical characteristics are important for the meaning of the play?
Explain that for this assignment, students will take on the role casting director and find a cast for The Glass Menagerie. They'll need to thoroughly analyze each character in order to choose an effective cast, and they'll need to explain and support their choices with text evidence. This isn't about choosing their favorite actors; it's about finding the right actors for these specific characters.
Step 2: Show an example of a casting notice from the links below. Discuss the purpose of the casting notice. What kind of information is included? How does the casting director communicate what is needed for this particular character?
Note: These links include very specific information, just as pay, union status, production times, etc. You can direct your students to include that info or ignore it as you prefer. The important pieces to include are the physical descriptions, character descriptions, and synopsis.
Step 3: Give students a day or two to write a casting notice for each character. Notices should include a thorough description/analysis of the character and a description of the kind of actor that is being sought after. The notice should also include a synopsis of the play from that character's perspective. We want these to be based on an analysis of the text, so students should include text evidence in their notice to support their character descriptions. Gotta make 'em prove it!
Step 4: Next, students will cast the play with their dream cast. They will write a letter to the director, explaining why they think the actors they've chosen would be perfect for the roles. They'll support this letter with brilliant text evidence, of course. Included with the letter should be a head shot or picture of each actor.
Step 5: It's a good idea for students to see how others might interpret these same characters, so as a final step, allow students to meet in small groups to share and discuss their casting choices. If you want to get a good debate going, see if your groups can agree on one perfect cast for the play. Just one more way to sneak in those higher-order thinking skills.
Instructions for Your Students
You guessed it; it's character analysis time (hold your applause). In this lesson, you'll explore the characters of The Glass Menagerie by taking on the role of casting director. You'll need to dig into who these characters are and what makes them tick in order to select the perfect cast. This is all about in-depth character analysis, so keep our handy Shmoop characters link at the ready.
Step 1: The Glass Menagerie is one of the most produced of all American plays. It's been done tons of times and has had lots of different people play its parts. This week it's going to be your turn to take a swing at casting the play as you take on the role of casting director for an imaginary production.
Let's start with a discussion about the characters in the text.
- Who are these people externally?
- Who are they internally?
- How does the audience become aware of their internal lives?
- What does each character want?
- What motivates their choices?
Now let's think about these characters in terms of their stage presence. Any good reader has an image of the characters in their head, and it can be pretty jarring to watch a play or a movie where the actors look completely different than your image, so let's talk about this:
- What physical characteristics does each character have?
- How do you imagine these characters would look?
- How would they definitely NOT look?
- What are their speech patterns or mannerisms like?
- What physical characteristics are important for the meaning of the play?
These questions are just to get you started. You'll need to thoroughly analyze each character in order to choose an effective cast, and (big surprise here) you'll need to explain and support your choices with text evidence. This isn't about choosing your favorite actors; it's about finding the right actors for these specific characters. We love Brad Pitt too, but before you cast him as Tom, you should consider whether he has the right qualities to play an alcoholic, guilt-ridden, would-be young writer who abandons his family.
Step 2: Your first step is to write a casting notice for each character. Let's look at a few examples:
What kind of information is included? How does the casting director communicate what is needed for this particular character?
Step 3: Like these, your notices should include a synopsis of the character's role, a detailed description of the character, and a description of the type of actor you're looking for. You know how we feel about lists, so here's a list of the points you should hit:
- Give a physical description of the character (age, height, weight, hair, eyes, etc.)
- Give a detailed description/analysis of who the character is. Include obvious personality traits and mannerisms as well as a description of the character's interior life, desires, and motivations.
- Give a plot summary from the character's perspective. How do the events unfold for this specific character?
- Include text evidence in your notice to support the major points in your descriptions. You gotta prove it!
- Format your casting call like those in the examples. Make it look legit!
Step 4: Now that your notices are complete, it's time to cast the play. We're going to pretend that you're the most powerful casting director in New York and you can get anybody you want. So, the sky is the limit. If you want Meryl Streep to be Amanda Wingfield, go for it. Also, don't be afraid to make "out-of-the-box" casting choices. What would happen if Gabourey Sidibe, the girl from Precious, was cast as Laura?
To prove your cast is the best, you will write a letter to the "director" of the play explaining why you chose each actor and supporting your explanations with text evidence. This is where you'll need to show that your "out-of-the-box" choice is based on a brilliant insight, not just an actor you like. Your letter should also be accompanied by a headshot, or picture, of each actor.
Step 5: Curious what your classmates came up with? Let's find out. You will meet in small groups to share and discuss your casting choices. Do you agree or disagree with one another's choices? Did anyone make a surprising choice? Do you think it works? How do these choices impact the play? Just for fun, see if your group can agree on the ultimate cast based on each of your casting choices.