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DRAMA 494 A: Special Studies in Theatre and Drama

Meeting Time: 
TTh 9:30am - 11:20am
HUT 130
Odai Johnson \ Photo by Kyler Martin
Odai Johnson

Syllabus Description:

Drama 494    Movers and Shakers:   Influential Playwrights and Companies of the 20th century


              This senior seminar is an intensive exploration of some of the major influencers of the styles, aesthetics and genealogies of theatre training and content of the 20th century theatre, from the opening powerhouse of the Moscow Art Theatre, to the re-action against naturalism at the close of the century.

The course allots five weeks with four influential companies that shaped the direction of the theatre we still know and practice, and four weeks with major playwrights, whose work is routinely produced.  It is to recognize that all artists have ancestors, genealogies of performance that shape and influence them, and so in this class we meet some of the major figures.  And because so many great writers, artists and companies will be missed in this brief survey, the final week(s) are reserved for the class presentations on artists/companies/figures of choice that have not been covered.  There is a suggested list below of some major figures, but the presentations are not restricted to these alone.


Part One:  Styles of Production 


  • The Independent Theatre Movement; Stanislavski, Chekov and the Moscow Art Theatre – the development of Naturalism and its genealogy
  • Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble - The politics of Epic Theatre
  • Tadashi Suzuki: ‘The Grammar of the Feet,’ from The Way of Acting; Anne Bogart, SITI Co.
  • Augusto Boal and the inter-active style of the Theatre of the Oppressed


Content:  the politics of representation  (Weeks Five-Eight)

  • August Wilson’s Cycle
  • David Henry Hwang: Butterfly / Gao Xingjian, The Other Shore
  • Athol Fugard and Anti-Apartheid theatre
  • Tony Kushner, Angels in America


Presentations:  working individually or in small groups, present on the legacy of a theatre-artist of your choice; trace the influences both ways – who influenced them and who did they influence?    Survey the major productions, the critical reception, and chart some of the more prominent figures attached. 


Presentations on other major figures may include, but is not limited to:    Arian Mnouchkine and Le Theatre du Soleil, Robert Wilson, Jerzy Grotowski, Eugenio Barba, and the Polish Theatre Lab; George C. Wolfe; The Living Theatre, The Group Theatre, William Yeats, Lady Gregory, and the Abbey Theatre; Luis Valdez and Teatro Campesino; Pina Bausch and the Tanztheatre, Peter Brook and the International Center for Theatre Research; Joan Littlewood; Vsevolod Meyerhold; Suzan-Lori Parks; Eva Le Gallienne and the Civic Repertory Theatre; Max Reinhardt; Isadora Duncan; Gao Xingjian; the Provincetown Players, Hallie Flanagan and the Federal Theatre Project, Margo Jones and the Regional Theatre Movement . . . and so many more!



Guidelines for Presentation

 Introduce us to the Company or the artist; who were the principal players/ principal works? What tradition(s) did they come from?  What propelled them to create a company of their own?  What were their major productions, how were they received, what was their legacy?    Ask yourself, what was the theatre like before them, what were their objections to it, and what did they do differently?  Why this style for this content?  The information can involve a performance reconstruction, a survey of reviews, working through their major publications, a slide show of production photos, etc.   It should also include a basic bibliography of sources.


Guidelines for Paper

              The paper is an interpretive study of a major theatrical innovator of the twentieth century, not necessarily the same artist presented in class, but certainly can be.  To that end, summarize the state of the theatre prior to these artists and document what you consider to be their major contributions.   Ideally, you will be able to chart the sphere of influence between the artists.   The content is large, but try to restrict the material to the 10-12 page range, double-spaced and properly cited. 


Texts will be available in an assortment of forms.  There is a course packet (available at Professional Copy, 4200 University Ave) that contains some background reading; there are a few canvas files for some of the digitally available material, and there are plays.  As we are few in number, and the plays are common and frequently anthologized, these can be checked out from the Drama Library.   In the event we have to pivot back online, pick up the packet early. . .

Grades are based on three components, each equally weighted:  your day to day engagement with the material, the presentation, and the final paper.  



Week One:   (March 29- 31):    Styles and Aesthetics

             Tuesday:  Introduction to the class.     Who knows what?   A map to Aesthetics and styles.   Building an Efficacy Index of major events.

             Thursday:  What is the state of theatre, 1900?    What are the commercial plays?  The beginnings of the Independent Theatre movement.  For Thursday, read from Andre Antoine, The Theatre Libre, and the Independent Theatre (in packet)


Week Two (April 5-7): Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre

              No Class, Tuesday, April 5.

             Thursday:  Reading from Vladimir Danchencko,  My Life in the Russian Theatre;  Chekov’s Sea Gull, and excerpt from Stanislavski, My Life in Art.

Week Three (April 12-14 ):   Edwin Piscator; Berthold Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble

             Tuesday:  Read from ‘A Short Organum’;

             Thursday:  read Mother Courage and her Children;

Week Four:  (April 19-21)

            Tuesday:  Tadashi Suzuki, ‘The Grammar of the Feet,’ from The Way of Acting; Anne Bogart, SITI Co.

            Thursday:  styles beyond realism:   Suzuki training clip:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YujjdfQrxw  ; Anne Bogart and SITI company clip:  — https://citytheatrecompany.org/play/the-medium/    

Week Five:   (April 26-28)  

              Tuesday:  Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed; Invisible Theatre

              Thursday:   worker's theatre and Boal

Week Six:  (May 3-5)   Major Playwrights

              August Wilson, The Cycle;    read  (Tuesday)  Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,  https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C3607523#page/1/mode/1/chapter/bibliographic_entity%7Cdocument%7C3812381   

        and (Thursday)  Fences  -  https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C3607524      both available online through UW accounts.   

Week Seven:  (May 10-12)

            David Henry Hwang:  M. Butterfly / Gao Xingjian, The Other Shore

Week Eight:  (May 17-19)

              Athol Fugard and the Theatre of South Africa;  read from packet 'Township life', and Master Harold . . . and the boys.

Week Nine:  (May 24-26)

              Tony Kushner, Angels in America

Week Ten:  (May 31-June 2)

              Final Presentations

              Tuesday, June 7, final papers due.

Catalog Description: 
Topics in drama, history, and criticism. See Time Schedule for specific topic.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
February 15, 2022 - 9:55pm