Spring 2018 Course Descriptions
History of Theatrical Theory
(Professor David Savran)
This course will introduce students to theatrical theory as a research discipline and will examine theories that have influenced contemporary theatre and performance studies. We will begin with a general discussion of what constitutes theory and then proceed modularly to examine such key theatrical and performance concepts as representation, mimesis, dramaturgy, and audience response. A modular structure will allow us to follow and create ongoing dialogues about these concepts as they have evolved. The second objective of the course will be met through, again, a modular approach to the presentation and discussion of such influential critical and cultural theories as formalism and structuralism, semiotics, post-structuralism, deconstruction, feminism, and cultural theory, as well as other disciplinary approaches—coming from, for instance, anthropology, sociology, and psychology—that have transformed theatre and performance
Tuesdays, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Studies in the Current Season
(Professor Marvin Carlson)
This course will be built around class visits to five current New York productions during the term. Around each production will be gathered a set of historical and theoretical readings to contextualize and discuss that production. The selection of productions will attempt to cover as wide a range as possible of theatrical approaches, including plays representative of different traditions, historical periods, and dramatic types. Before the beginning of classes in the Spring the first two or three productions will have been chosen, but others will probably not be selected until later in the season, to take advantage of later announcements. Every effort will be made to procure reduced or student seating prices, but students should be prepared to spend up to $200 for theatre admissions. No textbooks, however, will be required.
Assignments: Students will be asked to submit two reports on additional productions.
Mondays, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Seminar in Theatre History: Advanced Theatre Research
(Professor Jean Graham-Jones)
This core course is designed to provide students who have passed their first exam with an examination of the historiographic and theoretical methodologies that have proven most important for theatre and performance studies in recent years. Encouraging students to become fluent in these critical languages, the course aims to prepare them to define their fields of study, frame their dissertation topics, conduct original research, and select the models most useful for interpreting and elaborating on their research. Because this course is intended in part to provide an overview of recent work in theatre studies, we will examine new historical methods and attempt to pinpoint emerging areas of research. The course will develop students’ theoretical self-awareness by allowing them to experiment with a variety of approaches and to do research in one of their three second exam fields.
Assignments: Over the course of the semester, students will be expected to submit several written assignments (including a professional autobiography and statement of interests, a field statement, and an analysis of two CUNY dissertations) as well as lead a class based on the student’s field statement and reading list, stressing theoretical and methodological tools.
Wednesdays, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Seminar in Contemporary Performance Theory and Technique: Dramaturgy and the Reinvention of Contemporary Theatre
(Professor Peter Eckersall)
This course is an examination of the theories and practices of dramaturgy as a critical tool in devising contemporary performance. We will preface our study with consideration of the development of dramaturgy in historical and modern times, including discussions of the foundations of dramaturgy in Aristotle’s ‘The Poetics,’ G. E Lessing’s ‘Hamburgische Dramaturgie,’ and writing on modern theatre and dramaturgy by Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud, among others. We will further investigate dramaturgy as a perceptibly transforming agency in the construction, presentation, and reception of contemporary performance. Hence, we consider the provocation that contemporary performance has an intrinsic dramaturgical aspect and that the proliferation of dramaturgical practices has led to a substantial reinvention of contemporary theatre. We will consider how the practice of ‘new dramaturgy,’ a term coined by Marianne Van Kerkhoven to describe the work of dramaturgs in aiding the development of interdisciplinary performance, has led to this awareness. Her work was predicated on dramaturgy as the basis for an emergent hybridity in theatre that we will examine with reference to case studies. Moreover, dramaturgy has revived an interest in how live performance engages with social contexts and political themes, and we will consider how the field of contemporary performance has grown as a result of this. Theories of dramaturgy now engage with the theme of cultural transformation and we examine notions such as dramaturgy and ecology, new media dramaturgy, and dramaturgies of place. In this situation, dramaturgy has become what Van Kerkhoven described as ‘a means to handle complexity’ and we consider the nature of this complexity, how it has evolved and the implications of this for theatre and society. Finally, the course will examine the changing work of dramaturgs in this expanded territory. What do dramaturgs now do in rehearsal studios and how is their work perceived by other artists? We will investigate these questions through examination of documentation of production processes, published interviews, and writing by dramaturgs.
Assignments: Student evaluation for this course will be: (1) a long research essay of 15-20 pages that will consider an aspect of historical, modern, or contemporary dramaturgical practice, (2) a dramaturgical analysis of 5-6 pages on a piece of contemporary performance either seen live or from documentation that considers how the ideas and inspiration of the performance are translated into artistic practice, and (3) a group exercise to develop and present a dramaturgical activity.
Tuesdays, 4:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.
Theatre and Society: Medieval Theatre and Performance
(Professor Erika Lin)
This course offers an interdisciplinary introduction to theatre and performance in England and Europe from the Byzantine era through the mid-1500s, with special emphasis on the later centuries. Combining dramatic analysis with varied historical and theoretical methods, we will examine a range of theatrical genres, including biblical plays, morality drama, saints’ plays, interludes, and farces. Because scripted drama was only one of many ways that performance permeated medieval culture, we will consider theatre’s extensive links with other social practices, such as music, dancing, sports, festivity, civic pageantry, royal ceremony, devotional ritual, and judicial punishment, and we will draw connections with broader cultural discourses on topics such as gender, class, religion, marriage, witchcraft, and politics. Throughout our investigations, we will pay particular attention to popular beliefs about—and experiences of—spectacle, audience, identity, and social formations. Beyond a historicist focus, the course also has three more theoretical aims: (1) to consider how the study of pre-modern theatre can enrich the field of performance studies, which has been shaped largely by contemporary concerns; (2) to develop new critical tools through analysis of unfamiliar earlier periods, which offer alternative epistemologies; and (3) to address self-reflexive questions about methodology, materiality, gaps in evidence, and the stakes of research on ephemeral phenomena. Primary readings will include both plays and other extant texts related to performance, such as property lists, ballads, household records, and parish accounts. We may also consider some visual evidence. Non-English sources will be provided in translation; all archival documents will be transcribed (no experience with paleography required). Secondary readings will be drawn from a variety of fields, including not only theatre studies, cultural history, and literature, but also history of science, musicology, dance studies, architecture, art history, and religious studies.
Evaluation: active class participation, short weekly response papers, possible brief in-class presentation, research proposal with annotated bibliography, and a final paper.
Thursdays, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
History of Cinema II: 1930-Present
(Professor Elizabeth Alsop)
This course will explore the international development of film as an art form, industry, and medium of communication, from approximately 1930 to the present. That is to say, it will survey major developments in film culture from the advent of sound, to an era in which cinema’s production and reception is once more undergoing transformation as the result of digital technologies, globalization, and media convergence. Through weekly screenings, students will gain familiarity with key traditions and tendencies in U.S. and global cinema. Subjects covered will include Hollywood filmmaking during the Depression years; French Poetic Realism; Italian Neorealism; film noir, the melodrama, and other postwar Hollywood genres; the rise of global “new waves”; modernist tendencies in international cinema; American independent film; and the global blockbuster. Several topics will recur throughout the semester: the trajectory of realism as a cinematic aesthetic; the transformation of Hollywood genres by other world cinemas; cinema’s capacity for self-reflexivity; the contributions of female directors to world cinema; and the ways international filmmakers have responded to and challenged Hollywood modes of production. We will also discuss the politics of historiography, and consider the role critics, scholars, film festivals, etc. play in consolidating (or disrupting) dominant narratives of film history. Students will be asked to engage in the close analysis of individual films, while also examining the historical, political, and industrial contexts from which these films emerged. Films to be screened might include: M, Footlight Parade, The Rules of the Game, Paisà, Rashomon, Touch of Evil, Cléo from 5 to 7, Daisies, 8 ½, Memories of Underdevelopment, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Do the Right Thing, Close Up, Breaking the Waves, Mulholland Drive, and Snowpiercer. Readings may include selections from Kristin Thomson and David Bordwell’s Film History: An Introduction, 3rd ed., Robert C. Allen and David Gomery’s Film History: Theory and Practice, and Richard Maltby’s Hollywood Cinema, 2nd ed. as well as additional readings to be posted to our course site.
Assignments: Students will write a 15-20 page paper on a topic developed in consultation with me, and for which they will submit a formal proposal midway through the semester. In addition, they are also expected to participate in seminar discussions, submit weekly 1-page responses to the previous week’s screening, and give a brief oral presentation.
Tuesdays, 4:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.
Seminar in Film Studies: Mediatized Performance: Movement and Dance in Film and Video
(Professor Edward Miller)
This course is an introduction to mediatized dance performance. We address the following: how do choreography and cinematography correlate as modes of inscription and expression? Certainly film alerts the viewer to how bodies move within a sequence but in what ways do viewers become aware of the motion of the camera? How does delivery system, media platform, and venue impact reception? In order to share a common vocabulary in the aesthetics of film and video we read selections from Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses (2015). We complement this with pertinent reading in media theory, including Guiliana Bruno’s Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media (2016), WJT Mitchell’s Image Science: Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics (2015) and Carol Vernallis’s Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema (2013). This vocabulary allows us to analyze the aesthetics of heralded moments in dance/film history including the work of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Gene Kelly, the choreography of Agnes DeMille, Bob Fosse, and Jerome Robbins in the Hollywood Musical, the avant-garde dance films of Maya Deren, films by and about Pina Bausch and her company including those by Wim Wenders and Chantal Ackerman, the collaboration between Merce Cunningham and Charles Atlas, the filmed experiments by Judson pioneers such as Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown, and the dance videos of Michael Jackson, Missy Elliot, and Beyoncé. In our discussions of dancefilms, we foreground the expressivity and performativity of gender, race, and sexuality and how this is enabled by media. Key texts in the exploration of film/video as movement are Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 1: The Movement Image (1986) and Giorgio Agamben’s essay “Notes on Gesture” (1992); key texts in the examination of dance in film/video include Douglas Rosenberg’s Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image (2012) and Erin Branigan’s Dancefilm: Choreography and the Moving Image (2011). We also read relevant texts by dance theorists/historians including Mark Franko, Tommy DeFrantz, and Sally Banes as well as “classic” texts in mediatized performance from Philip Auslander, Matthew Causey, and Steve Dixon. We complete the course by analyzing the social choreography of political resistance and explore how contemporary protest movements are devised, represented, and amplified via various forms of media.
Wednesdays, 4:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.
Seminar in Film Theory: Theory of the Cinema
(Professor Jerry Carlson)
This course will offer an analytical survey of film theory from its classical period to its multiple voices in the 21st century. The course will explore the robust and never predictable conversation between film theory and film practice. Different film theories perform different functions. Each theoretical position will be examined in its historical context and for its own claims of purpose. To what degree are theories prescriptive, descriptive, practical, analytical, or some dynamic mixture of functions? Theorists under consideration, among others, may include Arnheim, Balázs, Barthes, Bazin, Deleuze, Deren, Fanon, Eisenstein, Hall, Jameson, Kracauer, Metz, Mulvey, Naficy, Rich, Shohat, and Stam. In addition, each theoretical position will be examined next to a film from the period of the theory and a film from another historical moment. What do theories tell us about films? But, equally important, what do films tell us about theories? The repertoire of films will reach beyond Hollywood and Europe to the riches of global cinema. The key textbook will be Critical Visions of Film Theory: Classic & Contemporary Readings by Timothy Corrigan & Patricia White with Meta Mazaj.
Mondays, 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.