(my son hit the mouse and posted that too soon.)
A main questions raised by students usually is "Why did he take away all the scenery?" In Wilder's time, the stage was usually so full of scenery, there was hardly room for the actors. It became more important to have "things" there than the story and the words. By stripping away all the extras, and focusing on essentials, Wilder is able to show and teach with his piece, rather than put on a spectical of scenery. He felt the words were the power of the piece, not the decorations. "Our Town" is all about what is most important in life, the little things in life.
Some questions for discussion of Act I of "Our Town"
1. Is the Stage Manager like the other characters in the play? How is he different? What is his function?
2. What is Grover's Corners like? What seems to be the attitude of its residents? (refer to Polish Town & Canuck families)
3. How does the stage manager manipulate our sense of time? How does he introduce the past and refer to the future?
4. When the Stage Manager says, "In our town, we like to know the facts about everyobody..." what is he saying about the town? Is this bad or normal for such a small town?
5. What is the children's relationship to the adults? When Joe Crowell, Jr. and Dr. Gibbs talk, how does Joe speak to him?
6. Examine the character of Emily. She tells her mother, "I'm the birghtest girl in school for my age..." What is her tone here? Is she bragging?
7. What are the roles of the mothers as they see themselves? How was life in those days similar to now? How is it different?
8. Introduce the vocabulary, (below) & show a layout of a stage with the sections marked on it, stage right, left, etc. Discuss what "exposition" is and who is responsible for a lot of it in Act I?
Vocabulary: proscenium, hollyhocks, heliotrope, burdock, phosphate, basalt, savant, pince-nez, vestiges, Devonian, Mesozoic, shale, outcropping.
After reading Act I, the following quiz may be given. I've typed it out with the answers there:
1. Who sets the stage for the play? ~ Stage Manager
2. How are props handled? ~ pantomimed
3. What is the play's setting? Include date as accurately as possible, place, etc. ~ Grovers Corners, 1901, New Hampshire, May
4. Who besides the Stage Manager, gives important background to the town? ~ Mr. Webb or Prof. Willard
5. What two young people are the main characters? (first and last names 5 pnts each) ~ George Gibbs, Emily Webb
6. What is the gossip about Simon Stimson? ~ He's a drunk
7. What does Mr. Webb do for a living? ~ Editor of the paper (Sentinel)
8. Who is Wally? ~ Emily's brother
9. Who is Rebecca? ~ George's sister
10. Who is Joe Crowell, Jr.? ~ paper boy
Bonus: Name the Milkman ~ Howie Newson
Act II (some of the questions reflect Act I as review)
1. What is Prof. Willard's description of Grover's Corners? Why is it important? Is it important?
2. What sorts of things does Mr. Webb tell us about the people of Grover's Corners?
3. What is Emily's attitude towards school? How is this different from George's?
4. How many years have elapsed since the first act? (3)
5. Why is the name of the act so important? What was the name of Act I? discuss importance and speculate what the third act will be called.
6. What are the varying attitudes toward marriage here? Look at Joe Crowell, Si Crowell, George's and Emily's parents, etc. Look especially at Mrs. Gibb's comment about the over shoes.
7. There is a flashback in this play. It shows how George and Emily fell in love. Why is this important? Why was it shown in this way and not as it happened?
8. (may be used as a short essay) Explain: "The real hero of this scene isn't on the stage at all, and you know who he is. It's like what one of those European fellas said: every child born into the world is nature's attempt to make a perfect human being. Well, we've seen nature pushing and contriving for some time now. We all know that nature's interested in quantity; but I think she's interested in quality too..."
Vocabulary: gangling, pantomimes, alacrity, affronted, unobtrusively. After reading Act II, the following Quiz can be given.
1. What is the title of Act II? ~ Love and Marriage
2. How many years have passed since Act I took place? ~ 3 yrs
3. Why is this an important day for the Webbs and Gibbses?
~ Wedding of George and Emily
4. Where are George and Emily when they discover their love for each other? ~ Soda fountain
5. What part does the Stage Manager portray at the wedding?
~ the minister
6. How does George feel just before the wedding?
7. What does Emily say to her father just before the wedding? ~ she feels alone, not sure she loves him wishes she were dead.
8. What was the title of Act I? (it states it in Act II) ~ Daily LIfe
9. How do George's parents initially feel about his decision to marry Emily? ~ worried they are too young.
10 What is his mother's main worry? ~ he won't wear his boots or a warm coat.
Bonus: What's the weather like the day the act opens? ~ Stormy
Act III Discussion:
Reviewing Act II a bit.
1. What is the reason for George and Emily's apprehension over the wedding?
2. Is the ending of Act II simply platitudes about Love or is Wilder saying something more?
3. How is the tone of Act III different from the first 2 acts? Especially contrasting with Act II ending.
4. What is the Stage Manager's explanation for death and its effects? What has this to do with the play?
5. What does Emily mean when she says, "Live people don't understand, do they?"
6. Emily wants to go back for a day. Why does Mrs. Gibbs urge her not to? Why does she urger her to pick an "unimportant day"?
7. Explain: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?"
8. What are the differing views on life given her by the dead?
9. Discuss the Stage Manager's final speech. How does the speech take us back to our own time and lives?
10. What is the play's theme?
A Quiz which can be given after reading Act III
1. How many years have passed since Act II? ~ 9
2. Where is Act III set? ~ grave yard
3. Who has died recently? ~ Emily
4. How did this person die? ~ In child birth
5. Who is Joe Stoddard? ~ undertaker
6. Name TWO of the dead: Mrs. Soames, Mrs. Gibbs, Simon Stimson, Wally
7. What does the newly dead person (#3) wish to do that arouses comment from the others? ~ go back to a point in life.
8. What day is chosen? ~ her 12th birthday
9. Is the day successful and staisfying to this person? ~ No
10. What final comment about the living does this person make? ~ "They don't understand much, do they?"
Bonus: using answer to #6, choose one & giver his/ her name and tell how he/ she died.
(Hope this helps)