Spring 2019 Course Descriptions
History of Theatrical Theory
(Professor Jean Graham-Jones)
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.
Wednesdays, 2:00pm to 4:00pm
Advanced Theatre Research
(Professor David Savran)
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 frame their dissertation topics, conduct original research, and select the historiographic and theoretical 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 biography 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.
Tuesdays, 2:00pm to 4:00pm
Seminar in Comparative Drama: Theatre of the Middle East
(Professor Marvin Carlson)
Although the Arab world is thought by many Westerners to possess little or no theatre, a complex and thriving international drama has in fact developed there since the middle of the nineteenth century, anticipated by medieval passion plays in Persia and by shadow and puppet plays from as early as the eleventh century. Prestate theatres were established by the 1930s in Israel, and a major theatre has developed in that nation since statehood. This course will provide a brief survey of theatre in this region since the middle ages, and will focus on the twentieth-century theatre of the major traditions in the area, in Egypt, Syria, and Israel. Major dramatists from these countries such as Tawfik al-Hakim, Sadallah Wannus, and Joshua Sobol will be read, along with representative dramas from other states in the region such as Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Palestine and Kuwait. The course will consider how socio-political concerns, from colonialism to current conflicts, have operated on the theatre of this region, and such matters as levels of language and the use of history, religion, mythology, and folk material in this drama will also be considered. All material for the course will be read in English translation. Two 8-10 page papers will be required.
Thursdays, 2:00pm to 4:00pm
Studies in Theatre Aesthetics: Japanese Theatre and Performance: A Study in Theory and Practice (Professor Peter Eckersall)
This course will investigate theatre and performance in Japan. It will introduce students to classical performance forms of noh, kyôgen, kabuki and bunraku and consider their aesthetic formation and social context in history as well as today. It will further consider the ways that theatre has responded to modernization and explore in detail the development of contemporary theatre after the 1960s up to the present day. We will consider Japan’s encounter with modernity in the early 20th century when aesthetic developments in Japanese theatre occurred in dialogue with European avant-gardism. Radical theatre and performance during the 1960s will be discussed in relation to the rise of student protest and we will consider how contemporary theatre and performance in Japan coopts and resists experience of globalization. The course will study plays, documentation of performances and the historical and contemporary contexts for notable performance groups. As such, a selection of plays will be examined alongside the work of theatre directors and performance makers including artists working to develop interdisciplinary and intercultural forms of expression. A particular focus of the course will be the study of Japanese Theatre through reading and discussion alongside an exposure to training regimes and practical exercises. To this end, the class will include a workshop component that will introduce the training and practices of three contrasting forms, kyôgen, Suzuki method and butoh. Students are therefore invited to ‘learn through doing’ alongside their studies of the history of plays and performance. To accommodate this, the subject will proceed with alternating fortnightly blocks of seminar and workshop based study. No previous experience is required to participate in the training and students who are not able to undertake the workshop component will be asked to observe and document the process. Assessment will be in the form of a research paper on an aspect of Japanese theatre (60%) and a reflection and/or presentation on and/or response to the training component of the course (40%).
Tuesdays, 4:15pm to 6:15pm
History of American Theatre: Shifting Constructions of American Identity in 20th Century U.S. Theatre
(Professor Annette Saddik)
This course will cover the work of key playwrights and theatre movements in the United States in the context of changing social, cultural, and political developments from the 1920s to the present in order to examine shifting representations of American identity in U.S. theatre, or what it means to "be American" on the stage in terms of gender, social class, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and the concept of family. The course will begin with the work of the Provincetown Players, and explore the role of social class and gender relations in plays such as Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape (1921) and Susan Glaspell's The Verge (1922). We will go on to discuss how playwrights responded to negotiations of identity during depressed economic times, the growing struggles of the individual under postwar industrial capitalism after World War II, and the oppression of basic freedoms during the McCarthy era. Finally, we cover the changing dramatic styles that ushered in the 1960s and beyond, as the U.S. theatre embraced an era of diversity and inclusion that destabilized the notion of fixed identity and questioned the nature of reality, responding to the political events that shaped the nation. The course will include the work of Eugene O'Neill, Susan Glaspell, Elmer Rice, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, María Irene Fornés, Adrienne Kennedy, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Paula Vogel, John Guare, Tony Kushner, August Wilson, John Patrick Shanley, Naomi Wallace, and Lisa D'amour. Assignments will include two essays and an oral presentation. Essay #1 (7-10 pages) will be worth 30 percent; Essay #2 (10-15 pages) will be worth 40 percent; and the in-class presentation of 20-30 minutes will be worth 30 percent.
Mondays, 4:15pm to 6:15pm
Seminar in Film Studies: Film History III
(Professor Marc Dolan)
This is a course in the most recent era of international cinema, an age in which the digital tools, digital media, and digital communication of the contemporary world have transformed nearly every aspect of filmmaking—right down to making the word “film” increasingly obsolete. Throughout the course, technological changes will be the premises of our discussions, never their conclusions. Our focus will be on how new tools and techniques have affected preexisting methods of film production, distribution, and consumption (as such other innovations as synchronized sound, color, variations in aspect ratio, etc. have done in previous eras). The films we will consider will range from such critical successes as Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (1998), Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (2000), Jiaylin Liu’s Niu pi (2005), Cristian Mungiu’s 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile (2007), and Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015) to such popular successes as Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King (2003) and Sam Mendes’ Skyfall (2012). Students will be expected to prepare an annotated bibliography, 15-to-20-minute presentation, and a 5000-word essay on a topic related to this important transition in global cinema.
Thursdays, 11:45am to 2:45pm
Studies in Film Theory: Documenting the Self: Performance in Nonfiction Media
(Professor Edward Miller)
This seminar examines theories of nonfiction media and performances of the self. We begin by looking at depictions of the self in cinéma vérité and direct cinema in the 1960s. Filmmakers such as D.A. Pennebaker, the Maysles Brothers, and Fred Wiseman eliminated the artifice of voice-over, interviews, archival footage, and incidental music and made use of new lightweight equipment to create a new mode of documentary. They were especially drawn to capturing backstage views of rock stars (such as Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie) as well as gaining access to interactions of ordinary people in extraordinary situations (such as in mental institutions, on the road selling bibles, working in political campaigns). In their attempt at recording life as it occurs, an unintended consequence emerged as an aspect of these films--theatricality. This theatricality arises not from the staging of situations per se, but in the freedom the filmmaker gives subjects to act out and to pretend as if the filmmaker was not there. Indeed this contradiction generates riveting performances of self as the presence of the camera motivates and frames conscious and unconscious techniques of playing a role.
Wednesdays, 4:15pm to 8:15pm