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THR 300 CSU Fullerton Urban Drama Film and Theatre Questions

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Urban Drama and Your Thoughts.

Urban Drama Defined:

A type of drama that focuses on issues and problems caused by modern and contemporary urban life. Often in these films, the city itself becomes a character, something that affects, changes, or hinders a protagonist as much, or more so, than any other element of the film. These films study or depict the effects of race, multi-culturalism, labor, over-population, filth, chaos, and corruption on their central characters. Because the advent of film coincided with the first major rush of people moving from the country into cities, cinema has always been fascinated with urban dramas. D.W. Griffith (A Child of the Ghetto, A Corner of Wheat), Charlie Chaplin (City Lights, Modern Times) and King Vidor (The Crowd) were just a handful of early filmmakers to probe the sudden population of American cities and the subsequent problems that followed. The city was transformed from problematic to menacing and deadly with the arrival of film noir in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Rain-swept, covered in shadows and darkness, and filled with corruption, city life trapped numerous protagonists into lives of immorality and crime in noirs like On Dangerous Ground, Night and the City and The Naked City. Contemporary depictions haven’t been as homogenous. Examinations often tend to vary depending on the focus groups and the filmmaker. For example, the works of Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets), Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, Crooklyn) and Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) all focus on urban dilemmas and pressures but have little else in common. These, plus other films such as Dog Day Afternoon, Short Cuts, and City of Hope, prove that city life has become increasingly difficult to stereotype as time moves on.

This week we have been looking at Urban Drama in Film and Theatre, its style, way of presentation, the people, the characters, and situations that fill up the pages of Urban Drama playwrights and screenwriters who seek to engage their audiences in very real and provocative ways. These films (like Crash) and the stage plays that are similar, can be intense and searing at times with their topics and issues related to so called “street life” or stories that reflect the everyday struggles of so many that live in highly urbanized areas dealing with poverty, crime, fractured family units, drug abuse, gangs, race injustice, and social and economic immobility, assimilation, gentrification and cultural appropriation.

It is interesting to note that many playwrights are employing the nature and style of the GENRE adding their social commentary within the fabric and dramatic action that occurs with the character relationships. Stephen Adly-Guirgis is an example of one of these playwrights who tends to tell his stories in a style rooted in the aesthetics of the streets of New York. The Last days of Judas Iscariot, Jesus Hopped the A-train, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, Mother F@$%*& With A Hat, all have characters that embody and reflect the kinds of people, situations, concerns, value systems, social norms and ailments that help to lift the drama in potentially provocative and entertaining ways. The language and often course vernacular of the people and characters that populate his plays are very important to him as way to convey aspects of behavior, culture, decorum and a certain point of view about the society around him.

Here are two clips from a production of his play: Our Lady of 121st Street.

WARNING: There is a lot of course language used in the dialogue within this clip(s)

It is important to note that Urban Drama is not exclusive to one racial or ethnic background. An argument could be made that the largest aspect of this genre is reflective of the African American experience. However, this would be misleading. In truth, Urban Drama can examine all races and ethnicities who happen to live in these similar “Urban” conditions. Remember the film 8 Miles? Who was the protagonist? How about the film Grand Torino? Couldn’t that be considered in the Urban Genre with is dramatic conflict revolving around the strife between an old white dude and a local Asian gang? How about films like American Me dealing with the urban experience of Latino/a’s? What about the musical Rent from the 90’s? That musical is completely within this genre even as a piece Musical Theatre, also dealing with the LGBTQ+ experience. These are four very fast examples of Urban Drama. We could compile a list of hundreds of titles from film, TV, the Theatre.

One could make the argument that Urban Drama is a melding of particular aspects of so many of the other genres of Theatre and Film that we have looked at so far this semester, African American Theatre, Latino Theatre, Asian and LGBT Theatre. There are so many common themes that cross over these genres. Urban Drama will often purposely blend the characters and cultures to look more at the humanity of particular group of people rather than the specific cultural or ethnic background being the underlying through line. These plays, television shows and films tend to have a “melting pot” kind of casting that adds to the language, the conflicts and social angst in these stories.

For your discussion this week:

Reflecting on your studies this week including your viewing of Crash and your own own research and conclusions to what Urban Drama in Theatre and Film is:

What is your opinion of this genre of Film and Theatre?

What do you believe are some of the major themes or issues that this genre deals with?

How do films like Crash serve to elevate, expose and illuminate the themes, circumstances and socio-economic issues that are expressed in films and television shows that are apart of the Urban Drama aesthetic form?

Would you ever go to a play like Our Lady of 121st Street or watch another film like Crash? Why or why not?

-Retype the question and then answer below each question with at least 150 words for each question


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