A selection of courses taught over the last five years.
A History of Post-War Live Art
an upper-level undergraduate seminar / graduate seminar
Faced with a progressively mediated and dispersed society following WWII, artists turned to live performance as a means of immediate expression, ephemeral action, and local intervention. Painters, sculptors, composers, and poets joined dancers and theatre artists to expand the possibilities of the stage and gallery. This course surveys some of the most significant tendencies in experimental performance across these disciplines, taking the claim to experimentation seriously and regarding performance as a laboratory with its own particular modes of thinking. Equal weight is given to theoretical and artistic work, to the written and the enacted. Students of theatre, dance, music, and the visual arts will find common ground here, and it is the intent of the class to foster discourse accessible to those coming from any of these intersecting disciplines, to encourage exchanges of ideas and future collaborations. Theoretical questions addressed throughout the course include: How do we document a live event? What are the relationships between performer, audience, and institution? What ethical responsibility do we bear as witnesses of an event? How does one perform the self and the other? What do we mean by “living” at this turn of the millennium and what do we mean by saying an event is “live”?
Writing & Reading Imaginative Literature
a seminar/workshop for first-year honors students
This course combines critical analysis with creative writing and prepares students from a variety of backgrounds to approach a range of written texts—fiction, non-fiction, and everything in between—with an imaginative and open mind. We focus on works that make use of the very short form or the fragment and that challenge what we mean when we call something a story or a poem or a play or an essay, what we mean by the fictional as opposed to the non-fictional. At the back of all our conversations, we question the function of the imagination in relationship to writing. In what ways does writing require a reader to collaborate in its production of meaning or sense? Are we co-creators of the work of literature? How does writing allow us to imagine the world differently from its current constitution? Are all works of literature imaginative?
Beckett Across the Arts
an upper-level undergraduate seminar
Samuel Beckett's singular body of work during the mid- to late- 20th century spanned a variety of different genres and media; he wrote novels, short stories, poems, plays, radio dramas, television scripts, a film, and, even, an opera. He collaborated with visual artists on stage productions and books, and his written work tended increasingly toward the production of a single striking image. While common stylistics and themes link these diverse productions, Beckett explored the limits and possibilities afforded by specific mediums, their capacities and incapacities, and looked askance at any transference of a text from one formulation to another. If Beckett was an artist of deep metaphysical and existential attention, he also experimented formally across different media. This seminar considers the idiosyncracy of his vision and its profound influence across the arts.
Choosing your own Adventure: Interactive Art and Performance
a trial course for honors students
Readers and spectators are always implicitly involved in the creation of an artwork—perhaps as interpreters or as respondents. But what happens when that work explicitly invites one to collaborate in its fictional world, to act in its arena? This course surveys a small selection of art and entertainment from the last 50 years aimed at creating an interactive experience on the page, stage, gallery, or screen. We will witness the participation of others, and will ourselves practice playing with (and in) the work. Together we ask: What do we mean by interaction, participation, or agency in a fictional world? How is it different from activity in the actual world? What are the limits and possibilities afforded by its promise? As the culmination of these investigations, students will compose an interactive fictional work in the medium of their choice.
Tragedy: the Forms of Catastrophe
an upper-level undergraduate seminar / graduate seminar
A survey of some of the many lives and deaths of tragedy as a theatrical form, this course considers representative plays in the genre from its origins in Ancient Greece through to the crisis of the form in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This is not a seminar in Classics; it is an investigation of a genre as a mode of thought and artistic production. Our primary focus will be upon the way in which modern and contemporary artists and theorists have revised, rehearsed, and rejected the oldest genre of Western theatrical production. Questions for the seminar include: In what ways does tragedy offer an audience refuge from the catastrophic or the unknowable? What are the relationships between ritual, sacrifice, and tragedy? What are the politics of the form? Who gets to be a tragic figure and who is excluded from such an honor? Is tragedy the story of the one or the many? Do older works in the genre speak to contemporary audiences? Is tragedy still possible in the contemporary world after what Nietzsche called “the death of god” and the fragmentation of cohesive community and values? How can we stage a tragedy today?
All the World's a Stage: an Introduction to Performance Studies
an undergraduate seminar
Over the past fifty years, theories of performance have become influential means towards articulating questions of enactment, embodiment, representation, and temporality in contemporary culture. Sociologists, anthropologists, linguists, and literary theorists have found both common and contested ground with artists and theorists more conventionally concerned with the performing arts. According to this sudden expansion of thought, one can speak of the performance of an actor, of a waiter taking an order, of a computer processing data, of a reader facing a text, or a writer facing the blank page. Can one conceptualize a single notion applicable to these various modes of performance or are there many kinds of performance? This course offers a very partial and incomplete introduction to the field of performance studies. We begin this course by surveying some of the major strands of thought concerned with defining the essence of performing, acting, and reenacting in an aesthetic context. We then devote particular attention to the concept of performativity derived from Speech Act theory, detailing its consequences in theatrical and non-theatrical settings, on identity formation, gender and sexuality. Finally, we will explore the ways in which performance acts as a form of research or thought and how writing itself can become a performance.
Other undergraduate courses:
American Women Playwrights, Modern American Drama, Modern Irish Drama, and World Theatre History (I and II).
Other graduate seminars:
Performance Theory and Experimental Criticism.