20th & 21st C. Drama & Performance

Visions of Home in Post-War Drama and Performance

This course surveys twentieth- and twenty-first century drama from World War II to the present by exploring how dominant post-war artistic movements responded to urban development, suburbanization, and changing definitions of home. We will begin with American realism, focusing on the dream of middle class attainment through property ownership. We will explore plays tackling issues of housing discrimination and the desire for homeownership across different regions and communities during the Civil Rights movement, and examine the dramatic conflicts arising from territory, property, and identity in American post-war theatre. We will also cover representations of domestic life shattered by the societal upheavals and revolutionary politics of the 1960s and 1970s, dramatic responses to the urban “ghetto,” and site-specific performance about the instability of the renter’s life. As we go, we will ask how playwrights have used the setting of the home space to dramatize class divisions, present new representations of ethnic identity and neighborhood community, and depict post-recession housing inequities.

Queer drama: The art of the Quick-change

The Boys in the Band, Mart Crowley’s landmark 1968 play about a group of gay men in New York City, marks its 50th anniversary with a star-studded Broadway production in 2018Crowley’s play is celebrated as a path-breaking representation of queer characters on the mainstream stage. Yet the theatrical fluidity of gender and sexuality has been explored for centuries, from Shakespeare’s comedies of cross-dressing to the kabuki theater of Japan. What is queer drama? This senior seminar will focus on the development of “queer theater” in twentieth and twenty-first century American theater. From the scandalous “dirt plays” of the 1920s to the success of “gay plays” on Broadway to the convergence of LGBT politics and the Civil Rights movement on stage, we will investigate the representation of queer identities in dramatic literature. With the “quick-change” stagecraft of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre as our inspiration, we will investigate the use of dramatic transformations to express changing identities. Our topics will include dramatic responses to censorship and crisis, the aesthetics of drag and camp, narratives of shame, and the shifting boundaries between queer drama and “mainstream” entertainment.

URBAN STAGES: Dramatic Literature & the City

[Fall 2019]

This course explores the interdisciplinary nexus of dramatic literature, the stage, and urban space. We will trace the city on stage from the Progressive Era to the present and address the “spatial turn” in literary and theatre studies, which conceptualizes dramatic literature as part of urban processes. In order to consider the many geographies of drama, we will investigate stage representations of the modern and contemporary city and analyze the various ways in which theatre engages with urban life.

Our readings of dramatic literature will emphasize struggles over urban space, including the tensions between private space and political freedom, and the local and the global. How has the spatial and social organization of the modern city informed the thematic and formal choices writers make? How have literary texts shaped our own experiences of the city? How do conceptions of place and space alter our interpretations of dramatic texts? How have playwrights spatialized the concerns of city dwellers, such as development, homelessness, segregation, or contested definitions of “public”? How have playwrights responded to changing sites of theatrical production in cities?

Readings from literary studies, cultural studies, and geography may include theorists Timothy Cresswell, Arlene Dávila, Elizabeth Grosz, David Harvey, Jen Harvie, Henri Lefebvre, Doreen Massey, Michael McKinney, and J. Chris Westgate. Playwrights may include Lisa D’Amour, Kristoffer Diaz, Michael V. Gazzo, Madeleine George, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Charles Hale Hoyt, Katori Hall, Ron Milner, José Rivera, Anna Deavere Smith, Diana Son, and August Wilson.

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Histories of race & ethnicity in u.s. drama & performance

This course is an introduction to the topic of race and ethnicity on U.S. stages since the mid-19th century. We will investigate a range of issues in the history of performance, from the antebellum era to the present, including anti-lynching plays, racist performance genres, politics and aesthetics, immigration and racial formation, race and the avant-garde, civic assimilation and the theatre, postwar urban development and suburbanization, “colorblind” casting, and the performance of memory and trauma. How have race and ethnicity operated in the American theatre? How are social constructions of race and ethnicity represented on local, national, and transnational stages? In what ways have definitions of race and ethnicity changed over time, and, in so changing, transformed theatre and performance practices?

Readings include plays by Angelina Weld Grimké, Young Jean Lee, Georgia Douglas Johnson, David Henry Hwang, and Israel Zangwill. Writings by intellectuals, activists, and theorists include James Baldwin, Brandi Wilkins Cantanese, WEB DuBois, Fred Moten, Robin D.G. Kelley, Robin Bernstein, Vron Ware, and others.


[Fall 2019]

José Rivera describes good playwriting as “a collaboration between your many selves.” Tony Kushner describes it as an art that “proceeds from contradiction.” In this playwriting workshop, we will find our own paths to playwriting, and explore the collaborations and contradictions in writing for the stage. We will focus on the fundamental building blocks of dramatic writing, and ask a series of questions as we go: What do our characters want? How do they achieve their desires and change over time? How might our characters speak and listen to each other? Can a focus on intention, action, conflict, and image create powerful and effective playwriting? When do theatricality and imagination enter into the writing process? Can we avoid the clichés of the stage and instead find inspiration in the contradictions of the theatre? 

Your energies in this class will be directed toward cultivating your craft and habits as playwrights. This will include the completion of dramatic writing prompts and generative exercises; scene and monologue writing and re-writing; aesthetic experimentation; reading scripts aloud and in performance; collaborative group writing; peer feedback; revision; and research. We will learn strategies to thoughtfully critique our own writing as well as the writing of our peers. In our reading and viewing of sample plays, we will investigate the key elements of dramatic structure and contemporary techniques of theatrical storytelling. 

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This course is an introduction to theater, performance art, history and cultural politics in the Americas. We will read and discuss theatre and performance in Latin America as an aesthetic and sociocultural practice. Particular attention will be paid to the principal trends and movements of late-twentieth-century Latin American theatre. Readings will include plays and performance texts from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. Topics will include pre-colonial ritual and conquest drama, political theatre, relations to European theatre traditions, translation, revolution, censorship and self-censorship, trauma and social memory, queerness and gender, and mestizaje and indigenous performance.

Readings will include plays by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Emilio Carballido, José Triana, Jorge Díaz, Griselda Gambaro, Rosario Castellanos, Sabina Berman, and Astrid Hadad. Writings by artists and theorists include Augusto Boal, Diana Taylor, Patricia Ybarra, Juan Villegas, Jean Graham-Jones, Gastón A. Alzate, and Tamara Underiner.