World Theatres I: Texts and Performance across Cultures

World Theatre I examines theatre history from the origins of performance to the 18th century. Throughout, the course emphasizes the importance of cultural context and historiography to understanding the creation and transformation of theatre as an art form. Students learn techniques of script analysis, performance analysis, and independent research as tools for analyzing theatre from literary, aesthetic, and historical perspectives. FTT majors acquire knowledge and skills that will inform and support their choices as artists, while other students gain an informed understanding and appreciation of theatre as audience members and future patrons of the arts.

It follows a chronological sequence that introduces major canonical works of world theatre and situates them within historical, geographic, and cultural contexts. At the same time, we also examine modern and contemporary pieces that adapt or draw inspiration from that canon. The latter demonstrate the diverse ways in which the theatre continually alludes to, reinvents, critiques, and queers its own history, as well as reveal more problematic cases of appropriation. Such cases enable us to investigate how cultural biases and power hierarchies affect literary composition and creative practice, as well as how defamiliarization and adaptation can function as tactics of resistance. Through this course, you will practice multiple ways of seeing, thinking about, and responding to theatre, gain a global perspective on the development of theatre and drama, and ponder the role of the past in the arts of the present.

Spectacular Asia

From martial arts blockbusters to extravagant expos to space-age cityscapes, countries in East and Southeast Asia have achieved worldwide renown both for their affinity for mega-events and as spectacular backdrops for filmed narratives, multinational gatherings, and global tourism. Most recently, the “quarantine theatre” of the COVID-19 pandemic and controversy over face masks has drawn a new round of attention to countries and cultures in East Asia. But what forces are at work in the creation and dissemination of such spectacle? To what ends and for whom are these spectacles designed? How do different spectators interact with and interpret them? And what resistance, if any, has there been to the seeming excess and superficiality of extravaganza and its attendant mass-mediated images?

This course examines recent works of performance, visual art, and film from China, Taiwan, Japan, the Koreas, and Singapore in relation to the politics of spectatorship and theories of spectacle. Covering a period roughly from the mid-20th century rise of the “society of the spectacle” to the present, we will ask how different forms of spectacle—still and moving, mediated and live—come to represent Asian nations and shape viewers’ experiences of Asian cultures. Doing so will enable us to better understand the dynamics of seeing and being seen on a global scale, as well as to explore how alternative modes of performance, visual culture, and viewership engendered by Asian contexts challenge established power hierarchies and modes of audience engagement.  

Politics and Performance in Modern China

Politics has always been theatrical. Rhetoric and oratory shaped the civic spheres of ancient Greece and Rome. European monarchs and Chinese emperors alike staged elaborate court pageants for visiting dignitaries. Today, politicians constantly perform for their constituents on camera and on social media. But perhaps nowhere has the use of performance for political ends and the theatricality of politics been taken to such an extreme as in modern China. From the celebrity-like “cult of personality” surrounding Chairman Mao Zedong to massive student protests to impressive performances like the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has been home to some of the most spectacular political displays of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

But how and why did political performance become such a prominent phenomenon in China, especially under the People’s Republic (PRC)? This course will explore this question through two main lines of inquiry: First, it will examine how theatre and performance themselves have been used as political tools in modern China, both in support of and in protest against ruling regimes. Second, it will look at the ways in which political events such as mass rallies, show trials, and protests have taken on highly performative and theatrical qualities in the Chinese context. It will consider cases that relate directly to state and Party politics, as well as to the politics of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity. Through this course, students will gain a deeper understanding of modern Chinese performance, politics, and history, as well as the critical and theoretical tools necessary to analyze political theatre and theatrical politics in China and beyond.  

Collaboration: The Art of Making Theatre

“Collaboration: The Art of Making Theatre” explores the roles of the artists who create the material world in which a performance exists and most importantly, the collaborative nature of those relationships. Students will be challenged to understand the thinking behind the work of designers, writers, directors, and off-stage personnel who bring stories to life on stage. Incorporating hands-on projects as well as lecture/discussion formats, students will experiment with storytelling through the visual elements of scenery, costumes, lighting, etc. This course is an excellent entry point to the theatre concentration.

Beginning from spring semester 2021, the course will be framed specifically with the question of how to make anti-racist theatre. In Summer 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, a group of 300+ BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) theatre artists issued a manifesto entitled “We See You, White American Theatre” that called for reflection on the prevalence of racism in the industry and an end to exclusionary practices. As future theatre artists and audience members, it is imperative that students in this course understand the way race intersects with theatre, both on and offstage. Therefore, as we explore the art of making theatre, we will ask how each area of the theatre and the very practice of artistic collaboration itself can be made more inclusive, equitable, and actively engaged in pursing social justice. 

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