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DRAMA 494 A: Special Studies in Theatre and Drama

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
CDH 309C
Odai Johnson \ Photo by Kyler Martin
Odai Johnson

Syllabus Description:

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


              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 many re-actions against naturalism, to the multi-media scenographers at the close of the century.

The course allots six weeks with 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 is 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
  • Augusto Boal and the inter-active style of the Theatre of the Oppressed
  • The Group Theatre
  • Tadashi Suzuki: ‘The Grammar of the Feet,’ from The Way of Acting; Anne Bogart, SITI Co.
  • Robert Wilson, Ping Chong, and other sceneographers


Content:  the politics of representation  (Weeks Seven-Eight-Nine)

  • August Wilson’s Cycle
  • David Henry Hwang: Butterfly  
  • Luis Valdez, El Teatro Campesino
  • Athol Fugard and Anti-Apartheid theatre
  • Tony Kushner, Angels in America


Presentations: Week Ten.   Working individually, 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 their major contributions. 


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, Ping Chong, Techtonic Theaetre Company . . . 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.   Mostly, there are 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, some of the plays can be checked out from the Drama Library, others are available in online editions.   

Grades are based on four components, each equally weighted:  your day to day engagement with the material; your prepared responses on the prompts; the presentation, and the final paper.    Each worth 50 points, for a total of 200, graded on a 10% scale.  



Week One:   (March 26-28):    Styles and Aesthetics

             Tuesday:  Introduction to the class.     Who knows what?   A map to Aesthetics and styles.   Building an Efficacy Index of major companies.  What is the state of theatre, 1900?  

             Thursday:    The beginnings of the Independent Theatre movement.  Read from Andre Antoine, The Theatre Libre, and the Independent Theatre (canvas)


Week Two (April 2-4): Stanislavski, Chekhov and the Moscow Art Theatre

             Tuesday:  Reading from Stanislavski, My Life in Art; Reading from Vladimir Danchencko,  My Life in the Russian Theatre; (1)

             Thursday:  Reading from Vladimir Danchencko,  My Life in the Russian Theatre, (part 2); Chekov’s Sea Gull(1st prompt:  How is naturalism as a style suited to Chekhov's plays?)     The Seagull online:     https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1754/1754-h/1754-h.htm

Week Three (April 9-11 ):   Edwin Piscator; Berthold Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble

             Tuesday:  Read from ‘A Short Organum’; available online   https://archive.org/details/139brechtashortorganumforthetheatre/page/4/mode/2up  

             Thursday:  read Mother Courage and her Children;   (2nd prompt:  what are the epic moments in Mother Courage and how do they work?)

Week Four (April 16-18)

            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 23-25)  

              Tuesday:  Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed; Invisible Theatre  (canvas)

              Thursday:   Group Theatre / Worker's Theatre; read from The Fervent Years, and the one-act, Waiting for Lefty.  (both on canvas)  (3rd prompt:  how does Workers theatre or theatre of the oppressed envision social change?)

Week Six(April 30-May 2)    Sceneographers and ethnographers: 

            Tues:   The work of Robert Wilson; Ping Chong and Co. , Pina Bausch.   (no reading, just viewing)

            Thurs.    Anna Devere Smith and Verbatim Theatre, excerpts from Twilight Los Angeles (canvas)    (4th prompt:  what kind of material is Verbatim theatre best suited to and how might you use it?

Week Seven(May 7-9)     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 Eight (May 14-16)

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

               David Henry Hwang:  M. Butterfly;  Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino, read Los Venditos.   (5th response:  how does/might theatre deconstruct cultural myths about people?  Use examples from the plays.)

Week Nine(May 21-23)

              Tony Kushner, Angels in America; Act-up

Week Ten(May 28-30)

              Final Presentations

              Tuesday, June 5:  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 1, 2024 - 8:56pm