THETR 461:

Scene Breakdown Description


The scene breakdown is a common tool in the theatre for script analysis. It is used by directors, designers, stage managers, and anyone else who needs to look at a script from a particular perspective and extract pertinent information in a readily accessible form.

I find that the scene breakdown is most useful (and is typically presented) in a table format. Below are the basic contents of the scene breakdown. You may include other topic headings that you want to track as well, such as imagery.  The process of making a scene breakdown can be very instructive as to the structure and inner workings of a script.

Act/ Scene and Page Numbers: The scene breakdown can be a very useful reference for finding where in the script a certain thing happens. This can be especially useful in longer, multi-act plays. Organizing the paper by scene with page numbers makes this possible.

Who: Knowing which characters are in each scene can show you very practical things like the rhythm of large and small scenes, or the persistence of a certain character's presence throughout the play. It may also be useful to indicate which other characters are referenced in any given scene, even if they are not on stage. The increasing number of remembered characters in Mamet's Reunion indicates the point at which father and daughter are comfortable enough to begin really communicating. You should include characters who are referenced but not present in a scene with italics or a smaller font.

Where: Where a scene happens informs the content of the scene. The playwright has made specific choices about the environment in which the action happens in order to support or contrast that action; the location may even be metaphoric. There may also be very practical reasons for understanding the location. For instance, in Riders to the Sea, voices are heard coming from the pier, the wind is from the southwest and the boat is tacking in from Galway. Analyzing this information with a map tells you where the door to the cottage is located, where the pier is, and if the sun is shining through the door. You will need to know this information if you are doing a production!

When: The time period, season and elapsed time should be plotted here. Many plays employ non-linear time, such as flash backs, that are essential to understand structurally. Elapsed time may also support the writers story: Blanche's visit mirrors Stella's pregnancy; she arrives in late spring, stays in their tiny apartment throughout the hot summer, and falls into madness as autumn approaches.

What's Needed: This is an accounting of any props, furniture, costume pieces, scenic items, sounds, etc. that are required for the success of the scene. These are generally specifically stated, but may be implied, as well.

Action: This is a brief synopsis of key plot points in the scene.

Imagery: The scene breakdown you will do for Play Analysis class will also include and “Imagery” column. Perhaps because I am a designer, I find this as pertinent to the understanding of a play as the other columns. Directors will also find this to be necessary information. "Imagery" column can include written imagery that a character speaks or a description of the scene by the playwright. It should not describe your design of the play; stay objective and make note of what the playwright gives you.