Engage & Learn

The Trinity River Plays Activities

Curious to learn more from your study guide on The Trinity River Plays? Many of the articles in The Trinity River Plays study guide have corresponding activities that are great for the classroom or individual learning. The goal of these activities is to help enrich your understanding of the articles. Each activity is listed under the title of its article. These range from written projects, to research, to performances and presentation. Some require help from teammates, and some are individual endeavors. You can find them below:

Travel, Transfer and Enhancement

Activity: Imagine that a commercial producer has offered you enhancement money for a transfer production of your new show. You and your staff have faith in the show: it’s edgy, but should be popular and draw audiences. First, decide whether you would be in favor of accepting commercial money for a non-profit venture. Based on your stance, imagine you must argue your opinion to your company, who has the opposite view on the issue. Based on information from the article and research you’ve done on your own, form a presentation arguing in your favor: either to accept the commercial money, or reject it.

Uniquely Three

Activity: Consider the work of a street photographer (ex: Vivian Maier, Cindy Sherman, Walker Evans), and find at least three themes prevalent therein. Choose three photos to work with, and explore your themes by creating a trilogy, using the photos as inspiration for scenes in your piece. Consider how Regina Taylor uses the trilogy format to explore the family dynamic in The Trinity River Plays before you begin rendering your piece. Notice how the family dynamic evolves and shifts between each play, and consider using such evolution in your own work.

Note: Using existing artwork to start a dialogue with your own writing is called ekphrasis.

Local Speech: Speaking My Language

Activity 1: Taylor utilizes slang in The Trinity River Plays as a way to denote class, generation and age without being explicit. What would happen if Taylor had used slang as a way to represent miscommunication between her characters? Write a dialogue between people who do not understand each other’s slang. Consider gaps in generation, class, gender, ethnicity, etc. when writing these characters. What sort of conflicts ensue? Is there an element of the comic or tragic (or both) brought out by such misunderstandings? How does this conflict resolve?

Consider this: Take a look at how Chicago, or your neighborhood, is represented in the media. What role does slang play in representation? (Think video and audio interviews, famous people from the area, and presence in music, TV and film.)

Another Narrative

Activity: After reading the article “Another Narrative” in the study guide, consider how society is capable of accepting two very different versions, or sides, of a story or event. Research a (perhaps controversial) historical event, global, national, or local. Learn about this even inside-and-out so that you understand each “side” of the story. Then, write each side either as a narrative or as a monologue. Remember to keep certain details consistent in order to demonstrate a minute continuity between versions of the event. Upon revision, reflect on how the actual event is warped or deformed by two opposing versions of its happening. Does the event seem more or less powerful? Is there an implicit tension when the two versions are juxtaposed? If so, then how does that tension complicate the issue at hand?

The Trinity River

Activity: Like Taylor’s use of cicadas, the use of the Trinity River effectively symbolizes the idea of trilogy as it exists in real life: two smaller tributaries (or stories) feed into a larger one. Consider, then, the implicit meaning of setting and scenery when you render your next work. How can the inclusion of a chocolate factory,  mountain or abandoned hospital add depth, insight or complication to your plot?

What Is Cancer?

Activity: In The Trinity River Plays, Regina Taylor tells the story of a woman with cancer. Using resources from http://www.cancer.org and any others you can find, see if you can find some personal stories from cancer survivors. What do these stories have in common, and what’s different? Are there common struggles across types of cancer and different treatments? What makes each survivor’s story unique? If you were a director tasked with turning these stories into a non-fiction play, think about how you would do it. What has Regina done that inspires you? What would you do differently?

A Culture of Mistrust

Activity: When a group of individuals, especially those in positions of power, exploit another group, a culture of mistrust is created. That’s what happened when the US healthcare system exploited Alabamian men in Tuskegee and then Henrietta Lacks. That mistrust was passed down from generation to generation, which is why Rose Spears in The Trinity River Plays did not seek medical attention for a year when she was quite clearly ill.

Consider other ways in which mistrust permeates our society. Are politicians considered trustworthy? Teachers? Social workers? Nurses? Artists? If a group of people is mistrusted by another group, reflect on why that seems to be the case. Conduct research to attempt to find examples of moments in time when one group may have exploited the other. If you can’t find any such examples, brainstorm other ways in which trust may have been broke.

Demystify the Silence

Consider this: It’s important for young adults to understand the definition of consent in order to prevent rape and sexual assault and to encourage survivors to seek help. When Iris Spears was raped by her uncle in The Trinity River Plays, she felt as though she had no one to turn to for help, since her own cousin turned her back on her. Perhaps if Iris had a better grasp on what consent really is, then she would have had the courage to seek help after she was assaulted.

Consent looks like enthusiasm, which means that a sexual partner should express excitement. No means no. Silence means no. An inability to respond to sexual advancement due to intoxication or other ailments/issues also means no.

If you or anyone you know is a survivor of rape or sexual assault, please refer to the Rape, Abuse & Incest Nation Network (RAINN) at http://www.rainn.org/ or 800.656.HOPE for more information on how and where to get help.

Activity: Research some statistics on your own: While we’ve given you the national statistics, see what you can find about the statistics of rape and sexual abuse in Chicago. Pay special attention to rape and sexual abuse as it pertains to gender and ethnicity. Do you see any patterns? Think about how Iris uses art to express herself. Find a way to express your reaction to the findings in a painting, poem, or collage. This can be representational or abstract in the way in which it reflects your emotional reaction and the data you found.

Finding Their Place

Activity 1: Choose an African American female playwright, either one already mentioned or another. Research this playwright. What was her early life like? How did/does this influence her career? Did/does she subscribe to any political or religious ideologies that have a big place in her work? Write a paper or craft a presentation, or write a biographic film (biopic) on what you discover.

Activity 2: Choose a black female playwright from another country and research her life and career. How were things different for her in her home country from the circumstances of American playwrights? Were conditions better or worse? What are some of her most famous works, and does she focus on any themes in particular? What are her perspectives on life, society, religion, and politics?

Just Write!

Activity 1: To help avoid the writer’s block that Iris Spears encountered in Rain, keep a journal on your person at all times, and be sure to write down the most mundane details or ideas that cross your mind. Also, spend at least ten minutes a day free-writing, so as to allow writing to become a daily habit. Whenever you start to feel the symptoms of writer’s block, read through your journal to gander at your previous ideas. Something in there will ignite inspiration, and you’ll be sure to surprise yourself.

P.S. Don’t forget to keep your favorite book handy! Reading is one of the best ways to inspire writing!

Activity 2: Translate a poem from English to English. Yes, that sounds funny, but you must remember that because synonyms are just different enough to invoke new ideas, they will get the creative center of your brain moving. So, find your favorite poem and translate away. It’s okay to leave articles and prepositions the same, but try to translate them as well, if you can.

Insects in Folklore

Activity 1: Based on this article and some further research, could you come up with a folk story featuring insects? Which insect or insects would you choose? What role would the insect play: would it be good or evil? What would it represent? What obstacles could it overcome? Think of a way to present this story, preferably by telling it vocally in a creative way or through some other means of live performance.

Activity 2: Regina Taylor’s choice to use the cicada as a symbol for rebirth was successful not only because of the representation, but also because the cicada is indigenous to Dallas, where the play is set, and the cicada births in droves every 17 years — the same amount of time that elapsed between the first and second plays. Here, Taylor demonstrates a complete understanding of how to use a symbol in literature. What other insects or animals can represent/symbolize deep concepts about humanity? How else can that symbol tie into the central themes of your idea? If you were to write out this type of symbolism, what form would most match the concept: poem, short story, play, film, essay?


Activity: In The Trinity River Plays, Taylor utilizes the archetypes of nerd, jock, and rebel in order to create immediate relationships between characters for the audience to interpret. List as many character archetypes as you can in ten minutes. Then, pick two archetypes on which you will base two characters. Fill in these characters’ details by writing a conversation they would have with each other. This conversation should take place in one of the characters’ homes. Consider how the setting helps individualize the character:

  • What’s in his/her refrigerator?
  • What’s on his/her mantle or bookshelf?
  • How clean/messy is the space?

Also consider how the guest character demonstrates her/his comfort level. Does s/he

  • fidget?
  • put her/his feet on the table?
  • throw her/his jacket on the ground or hang it up?
  • sit up straight, stiffly?

Demonstrate this through dialogue as well. Remember to integrate the characters’ body language throughout the dialogue — don’t just write paragraph after paragraph of gestures.

A Christmas Carol

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page to stage
From Page to Stage

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Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men

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Teddy Ferrara

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Measure for Measure

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By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

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Bayard Rustin speaking to a crowd in 1965. Photo by Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (via Wikimedia Commons)
The March on Washington

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Momma’s Boyz

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