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Discourse Community

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John Swales, in his essay The Concept of Discourse Community, establishes six characteristics that can be used to identify what qualifies as a discourse community—a group of people that uses social literacy practices to achieve a common goal. Because a discourse community is so difficult to define and there are so many different types and varieties of technique, Swales encourages a view reliant less on a standard definition and more on a set of criteria which the group must meet in order to qualify (217-218). Using these criterion, these six characteristics, it is no challenge to come to the realization that the Drama Society at ECSU indeed fits that description, four of which stand out as particularly applicable.

Common goals. Articulated in an interview with club President Lucy Shea, the primary goal of the Drama Society is “to encourage students who aren’t theatre majors to come and participate in the different theatre productions . . . It’s all about including others who aren’t in the theatre program or the music program who just miss theatre in all of its aspects.” In addition, the organization meets to vote on motions for the Eastern theatre department and serve as the liaison between the students and the professors in that department—goals all of which are established in the club’s mission statement and constitution.

Mechanisms of intercommunication. There are several systems in place that help the group communicate effectively. The most significant are the weekly meetings on Wednesdays at 3:00 pm, which are used to discuss the latest theatrical events or upcoming productions. At the end of each meeting, Secretary Emily John documents the minutes and notes the meeting content and sends the information to all the student members—as well as the theatre faculty. The club uses an e-mail list to do so, and it also has methods of communication via social media. “Apart from the meetings, Facebook I would say is our most active thing,” Shea explains, “because we post what we’re doing in meetings, and I need help with this [open mic night] event, so it’s pretty active . . . Our Facebook page is updated, I would say, every Tuesday about what we’re going to be doing on Wednesday, or if the meeting is cancelled, or when auditions are. It’s all in there.”

Specific lexis. The theatre world in general is rife with lexical terminology specific to certain jobs or directions, and the Eastern Drama Society is no exception. Each term has its purpose, and is used to quickly and effectively communicate what a person wants. Shea states in her interview: “One thing in tech theatre (when you’re in tech), is the light board op”—an appellation, to note, which is its own example of lexis—“will say ‘Going dark!’, which means the lights in the theatre are turning off, and everyone says ‘Thank you, dark!’ It’s to acknowledge you’ve heard them. So if I’m telling people something important, they’ll say, for example, ‘Thank you, five!’”—indicating a five-minute break—“or ‘Thank you, places!’”—indicating that the actors should be in their spot for the top of the show. “We talk about blocking,” she continues, “we talk about stage right, stage left, upstage, downstage, and that kind of terminology.” It doesn’t end with directing terms, either. Just like any field of study, actors have their own language. What the character means when s/he says a line is called “subtext,” and what s/he is thinking while another character is speaking is called “interior monologue.” A change in tactic during a scene is called a “beat change,” and the stressed word in a line is called an “operative.” There are many more examples of theatrical lexis that is used by every theatre organization, not just the Drama Society.

Levels of membership/expertise. “Survival of the community depends on a reasonable ratio between novices and experts,” Swales notes (222). This is certainly true of the Eastern Drama Society. Being part of a university, there are always members leaving (graduating) and members joining (matriculating). Level of expertise goes hand-in-hand with the university’s theatre program, as well; naturally the upperclassmen who have more training and studied longer are more skilled at the craft, and naturally the younger novices learn from them. “There’s a lot of emulation, I would say,” Shea describes. “If you’re a freshman and you’re coming to Eastern, and you see a show, and you see a senior do a really wonderful job, and then realize that senior’s been training for four years, and they’ve taken all the acting classes, and all the directing classes, and they’ve studied abroad, and they’ve done an apprenticeship, you realize that’s the work you need to do to get to that level. And so it gives you a goal.” She also emphasizes the idea of respect. Theatre is a very collaborative world, and one simply will not succeed if they don’t learn to communicate properly. The exchange of expertise fits into that; the older students take the younger ones under their wing and bestow their knowledge, keeping the ratio of skill level alive.

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