Drama and Performance Theory
Class meeting times: MWF 10:00-11:20 am
Location: Hutchinson 154
Instructor: Jason Eckard
Office Hours: Friday 2-4 pm (or by appointment), Hutchinson 301
Theatre theory—or the ways we think about drama and performance—informs how we approach theatre as theatre makers and spectators. Is theatre primarily an art, designed to entertain and to help us reflect on our lives? Should theatre perpetuate or challenge established social values? Who goes to the theatre and why? How should theatre be funded?
This course teaches some major contemporary methods for analyzing drama and performance, as well as the larger philosophical assumptions underlying these methods. We will study the major theories related to how critics and practitioners have answered the questions above throughout the twentieth century and during the first decades of the twenty-first. We will talk about how each of these methods can contribute to contemporary theatre-making and spectatorship.
By the end of the course you will
- become acquainted with a number of approaches to drama and performance
- learn how to read complex critical texts with understanding
- improve your writing skills
- improve your presentation skills
- expand your knowledge of contemporary plays and production styles
Required Texts: I have placed a request with the University Bookstore for all the texts we will be using in class (aside from PDFs available on the class Canvas page). However, all these texts are also available from online retailers like Amazon and AbeBooks, the UW Library systems, and local bookstores like Magus Books or Third Place Books.
- Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, Third
Edition. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-
(NOTE: There is a fourth edition of this text due to be published on 1 October and already
available for pre-order on Amazon. Its content may vary considerably from the edition we
are using for this class. Caveat Emptor: buy at your own risk.)
- Bhatti, Gurpreet Kuar. Behzti (Dishonour). London: Oberon Books, 2004. ISBN: 978-
- Cleage, Pearl. Song for Coretta. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2008. ISBN: 978-
- Fugard, Athol et al. Statements. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1993.
- Hwang, David Henry. Butterfly. New York: Plume, 1988. ISBN: 978-0452272590
- Hudes, Quiara Alegrìa. Water by the Spoonful. New York: Theatre Communications
Group, 2012. ISBN: 978-1559364386.
- Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horsemen. New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 2002.
Recommended Text: I have also placed an order for the text of The Humans.
- Karam, Stephen. The Humans. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2016. ISBN: 978-1559365420.
A Note on the Texts: The some of the plays studied in this class dramatize racial and sexual violence. Some of them also dramatize controversial subjects like abortion. Some playwrights engage with such topics knowing they may stir negative emotion. Others do not intend to cause negative emotions but their plays may provoke such emotions anyway. In this class, we will discuss the artistic, social, and analytical value of such emotions, while striving to be respectful of different viewpoints. If you have any concerns about the texts or your reactions to them, please contact the instructor.
- All students must see Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of Pride and Prejudice for your performance analysis paper. The show opens 29 September; the writing assignment is due 23 October.
- All students must also see SRT’s production of Stephen Karam’s The Humans by December 4, 2017. The show opens November 17. This will be for your final paper which is due 14 December.
If you feel like ticket prices are an undue hardship or that scheduling time to see the shows is problematic, please speak with the instructor.
All students are accountable for the information about academic integrity printed in the Student Conduct Code. Students are also responsible for the following standards: (1) Meaningful participation is required at all classes, and excessive absence is cause for failure. (2) Credit will not be given for two courses that meet at the same time. (3) To receive credit for a course, students must complete all the work assigned. (4) Assignments must be turned in on time. Students are not entitled to make-up assignments or to grades of Incomplete unless the instructor has approved such arrangements in advance. Requests for extensions will be granted in exceptional cases only. No extension requests made on the due date for an assignment will be honored.
This course will be strictly governed by the University of Washington’s policies on academic dishonesty.
This is a “W” course, and a large part of your grade is based on your writing. Expect to revisit assignments!!!
Participation and Daily Exercises: 15% Every class session
Presentation (30 minutes): 15% Dates Vary
Performance Analysis: 25% Sunday, October 22 by 11:59 pm
Revised Performance Analysis Sunday, November 5 by 11:59 pm
Midterm Exam: 10% Friday, October 27 in class
Drama analysis/Final Paper: 25% Thursday, December 14, 5:00 pm
Abstract and annotated bibliography Monday December 4, in class
Final Exam: 10% Monday, December 11, 8:30 am
Participation: Meaningful participation is crucial to your success. Meaningful participation involves asking questions about the material, especially questions that address difficult points in texts, lectures, and discussion; thinking of strong examples to test the methods studied in the class; and coming prepared for discussion or group work. I expect you to have an actually readable copy – i.e., one not on a cell phone -- of the texts we will be discussing each day. Anyone engaging in any non-class internet activity during class time will be asked to put up the device and to not return to class with it for the remainder of the quarter.
Presentation: (30 minutes per group, no more than 10 minutes per presenter) Each Wednesday after the first day of class, students will present with two partners (for a total of three students per presentation) on the critical articles and/or play assigned for that day, and prepare a hand-out that is an outline of the article(s) and their application to a reading of the play for their classmates. The outline will include the author’s topic or question and his or her thesis and method. What is the article about? What does it try to answer, prove, or disprove? What does the author do to answer his or her question or prove his or her thesis? What is his or her evidence? The presenters should also generate prompts or questions that draw on the writer’s argument, method, or theoretical frame for a discussion of or activity with the play. Do not give the class your interpretation initially, but have your interpretation in mind and impart it piecemeal while you discuss the play. The idea is to create an inquiry through discussion – one that applies the theory to the text in search of answers, images, or further questions. Since part of your presentation is to prompt with questions and direct a discussion, please allow plenty of time for this activity. In other words, explain the articles thoroughly, but in as brief a time as possible (around 10 minutes maximum per article). All research, preparation, and lecture should be divided equally amongst the presenters. You can always (and probably should) return to your main points on your handout as we apply the theory to the play. Be as creative as you want with these, but please visit with me before preparing your presentation.
Performance analysis (5-7 pages): This is a critical paper about SRT’s production of Pride and Prejudice, using the method of theatre semiotics as exemplified in Jim Carmody’s article “Alceste in Hollywood,” available on the Canvas site. This paper does not require additional research or quoting secondary sources. A digital version of the paper must be submitted to the class Canvas site by the due date and time.
Drama analysis (10-12 pages): This is a critical paper about SRT’s production of The Humans, using any blend of theoretical paradigms and critical methods (but be careful about trying to do too much). This paper requires additional research and quoting secondary sources. The abstract and annotated bibliography are integral to this assignment. Be aware that this is the majority of your grade. All students are required to meet with me at least once outside of class to discuss your project designs, research methods, and sources, but please feel free to meet with me as many times that you determine are beneficial. A digital version of the paper must be submitted to the class Canvas site by the due date and time.
Criteria for papers: Introduction: clear thesis explaining the aim of your paper, accurate explanation of the theory and theoretical terms you will use: Body of the paper: analysis that shows close reading of the play/performance, uses theoretical terms, and uses evidence from the text and/or performance; and an effective conclusion that draws your main ideas together and explains the larger relevance of what you have discussed. Format: Each paper must include a bibliography and either internal notes (MLA style) or endnotes (Chicago style). Create a title page with an essay title, your name, the name of the class and your teacher, and the date. Number your pages, double-space, 1” margins, 12 point type, plain white paper. Italicize all play, book, film, and newspaper titles. Use spellcheck.
Criteria for Assessment:
A grades reflect work that demonstrates deep, thorough, and detailed knowledge, clear logical structures, correct and purposeful use of language, proper referencing, vivid and imaginative thinking and writing, a clear grasp of theoretical concepts, developed reasoning, and well-substantiated arguments.
B grades reflect work that demonstrates deep, thorough and detailed knowledge, clear logical structures, correct and purposeful use of language, proper referencing, a good grasp of theoretical concepts, developed reasoning, and well-substantiated arguments, but not much imaginative thinking and writing. B work does not contribute original ideas and arguments, but relies only on the ideas and knowledge discussed in class.
C grades reflect work that shows inconsistent or partial solutions to problems, and understanding of basic ideas and methods.
Failing grades (D and lower) reflect work that shows inconsistent or partial solution to problems, is superficial, confused, showing incorrect or absent references, an unoriginal or absent viewpoint, poor grasp of critical theory, sloppy writing or proofreading, undeveloped ideas, lack of originality, irrelevant material, or irrelevant substantiation.
Students with disabilities will be accommodated on a confidential basis. See Instructor.
Class Schedule (by week number). Please note that materials are subject to alteration/revision/truncation
All texts should be read before the designated class.
BT=Beginning Theory; Canvas= pdfs on the Canvas website;
Week One Why Theory and Performance? and Formalism
W, September 27 Introductions; Laura Portwood-Stacer,“How to Email Your Professor (without being annoying AF)” available at [ https://medium.com/@lportwoodstacer/how-to-email-your-professor-without-being-annoying-af-cf64ae0e4087 ]; Canvas: Elinor Fuchs, “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet.”
F, September 29: Script Analysis revisited and Formalism lecture; Athol Fugard, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, from Statements; Canvas: Cleanth Brooks, “The Formalist Critics.”
Week Two Structuralism and Semiotics
M, October 2: Canvas: Viktor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique.”
W, October 4: BT: Structuralism (Chap. 2)
F, October 6: Bezhti (Dishonour)
Week Three Semiotics, cont.; Phenomenology
M, October 9: Canvas: Jim Carmody, “Alceste in Hollywood” and Susan Glaspell, Trifles.
W, October 11: Phenomenology Lecture; Canvas: Stanley Fish, “Is There a Text in This Class?” and Susan Bennett, excerpts from Theatre Audiences
F, October 13: Canvas: Reviews of Bezhti
Week Four Marxism
M, October 16: BT: Marxist criticism (Chap. 8);
W, October 18: Canvas: Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Read only “Editorial Introduction” [pgs. 2-4] and the actual text of the Manifesto [pgs. 14-35]) and “The German Ideology [all].”
F, October 20: Canvas: Martin McDonough, The Pillowman
Week Five Marxism, cont.
M, October 23: Canvas: Los Vendidos; Performance Analysis Due
W, October 25: Canvas: Bruce McConachie, “Historicizing the Relations of Theatrical Production.”
F, October 27: Midterm Exam
Week Six Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction
M, October 30: BT: Poststructuralism and Deconstruction (Chap. 3)
W, November 1: Canvas: Suzan-Lori Parks, “Elements of Style.” Also bring to class texts of Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Bezhti, Pillowman and Los Vendidos,
F, November 3: Quiara Alegrìa Hudes, Water by the Spoonful.
[Sunday November 5: revised performance analysis is due by 11:59 pm]
Week Seven Feminism
M, November 6: BT: Feminism (Chap. 6); Pearl Cleage, A Song for Coretta.
W, November 8: Canvas: Jill Dolan, excerpt from Presence and Desire and Dorothy Chansky, “Fall Girls of Modernism.”
F, November 10: NO CLASS, Veterans’ Day.
Week Eight Gay/Lesbian Criticism and Queer Theory
M, November 13: BT: Gay/Lesbian Criticism (Chap. 7), David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly
W, November 15: Canvas: Philip Osment, This Island’s Mine, Kim Marra, “Riding, Scarring, Knowing: A Queerly Embedded Performance Historiography,” and Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp.”
F, November 17: NO CLASS.
Week Nine Queer Theory (cont.) and Postcolonial Criticism
M, November 20: Canvas: Laurence Senelick, “The Queer Root of Theater” and Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?" [text of the first chapter only, pgs. 3-30] and Charles Busch, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
W, November 22: BT: Post-colonial Criticism (Chap. 10), Wole Soyinka, Death and the King’s Horsemen, and Canvas: Phillip Zarilli, “For Whom is the King a King?”
F, November 24: NO CLASS, Thanksgiving Holiday
Week Ten: Performance Studies
M, November 27: Individual Meetings with Instructor
W, November 29: TBD
F, December 1: Performance Studies Discussion; Canvas: Dwight Conquergood, “Peformance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research”
Week Eleven: Media Theory
M, December 4: Canvas: Marshall McLuhan, “The Galaxy Reconfigured” and Julie Stone Peters, “Re-inventing ‘Theatre’ via the Printing Press.”
W, December 6: Canvas: Alan Liu, “Imagining the New Media Encounter” and Complicite Mnemonic.
F, December 8 (Last day of Instruction) Canvas: Brown, Butler, Mahmood: “Is Critique Secular?”
Final Exam: Monday, December 11, 8:30 am Hutchinson 154
Thursday, December 14: Final Papers Due via email by 11:59 pm.