There Is Always a Clock (DRA4384.01)

Sherry Kramer

The hero has till sundown to get out of Dodge. The heroine has to take the full course of cancer treatments. The polar vortex is coming. The iceberg is waiting for its date with the Titanic. They say that the main character of every story is time. In timebound art forms, there are two times running in parallel: the story’s, and the audience’s.

Almost all works for the stage and screen begin at a moment when something is about to happen. Some characters want it to happen, others do not. But regardless of a character’s hopes or fears, a fuse has been timed and measured and lit. And when it burns down, the play or movie is over.

Each work’s fuse is a clock that belongs to the story of the piece, where it controls and motivates actions and events. A strong clock counts down the when of the characters’ desires, it counts down how long they will be given to struggle to get them, it counts down the meaning of too late. But its greatest utility is that it shapes the audience’s attention. It organizes an audience’s hopes and fears. Who would get excited watching Cinderella stroll home leisurely after the ball? The clock is going to strike twelve, and the spectator is desperate for her to make it home before it does.

We will look at fairy tales, plays, films, and streaming series to investigate their use of time as an organizing principle, focusing on the way that an audience’s hopes are manipulated by urgency for greatest effect, and the way to craft the nextness that drives an audience most effectively. Works will include Arrival, An Octoroon, The Clean House, Back to the Future, Betrayal, Memento, Groundhog Day, The Piano Lesson, and a selection of action films.

Short writing assignments and critical papers will be required for each work we view or read, and a final play of 40-90 minutes will be required.


Learning Outcomes:
Students will discover the way both short and long clocks organize everything we have come to believe we are experiencing in timebound art—character, action, event.
Students will investigate the relationship of character arc and story arc to a work’s clock.
Students will learn how to use strong organizing clocks to create works with powerful, inescapable forward motion.


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Students must submit a paragraph explaining their interest in this class, along with a writing sample, which should be a piece of creative work at least 10 pages long, to skramer@bennington.edu by May 10. Please put CLOCK in the subject line of your email.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
Th 1:40PM - 5:20PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 12
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Drama , Four Credit , Fully In-Person
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