Honr 301: 20th Century Art

Political Theatres


Fall 2006                                                                                 Prof. Melanie Blood

TR 11:20-12:35                                                                       121 (Old 325) Brodie

208 (Old 356A) Brodie                                                           x5840, blood@geneseo.edu

                                                                                                Office hours: MWF 1, TR 9:30


Student Learning Outcomes

The successful student will

1.     Read and analyze (using a variety of methods) primary and secondary sources in political theatre

2.     Examine various styles and definitions of political theatre and evolve his/her own theory of the relationship between (theatre) art and society

3.     Understand how various literary and social theories can be applied to theatre art, and be able to use key terms in post-colonial and queer theory.

4.     Analyze performance, not only in a traditional theatrical context, but in broader cultural contexts

We will first look at various models for the relationship between art and society, reading material from the Ancient Greeks, contemporary US policy, Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal, and performance studies. Then we will turn to two discrete political theatre traditions in two different societies: 1) pre- and post-apartheid plays in South Africa, and 2) AIDS plays in the US. We will look at historical factors, apply specific theoretical frameworks, read plays, and look at performance conventions for each. As a short conclusion to the course, we will look at the war in Iraq and look at recent theatrical and cultural performances around it.


Required texts at Sundance Books:

Bertolt Brecht. The Threepenny Opera. Grove Press. ISBN 080215039X

Athol Fugard. Master Harold and the Boys. ISBN 0140481877

Larry Kramer. The Normal Heart and Destiny of Me. ISBN 0802136923

Therese Jones, ed. Sharing the Delirium: Second Generation AIDS Plays and Performances.         Heineman. ISBN 0435086332

Tony Kushner. Angels in America Part I. ISBN 1559362316

Peter Morris. Guardians. Oberon. ISBN 1840026421 (release date Sept 1, 2006)

Paul Rudnick. The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. ISBN 1585670529


Required Articles on electronic reserve: http://eres.geneseo.edu password: honors

The majority of the reading for the semester is available this way.


Required Performance:

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by Paul Rudnick. Sept 28-30, 8 pm, Black Box theatre. Tickets $5. bbo@geneseo.edu or x5833.


Course Requirements:

1)    Three position papers 6 pages each; one for each of the first three units. In each position paper you should review the readings; identify what you see as strengths and weaknesses of each; identify the authors’ biases, underlying assumptions, and historical/theoretical approaches; and construct your own argument about the performance genre, it’s history and theory. You will be graded upon how thoroughly you understand the readings and how well you define your own ideas in reaction to the readings. 45%, or 15% each

2)    Lead a class discussion. You will select a day and topic in consultation with me. The reading for the day you select must be over ten pages, and you can’t pick the second day on a play or topic. You should plan to take the class through 1) the author’s major arguments, 2) the author’s position (bias, historical/theoretical approach, underlying assumptions) and 3) connections between the reading and other class readings, historical events, and/or parallel topics. Turn in your notes and prepared questions at the end of the class. 10%

3)    Group presentations on web sites. There will be two web assignments; one on US theatre today and how political theatres fit into overall US theatre and one to introduce each of the three case studies. I will divide you into three groups. Each group member should take a different web site, and the group should communicate online about its findings to present a coherent view based on everyone’s work. 10%, or 5% each

4)    Term paper. A topic and three additional sources, beyond class readings, is due M 11/8.  An outline of your argument or a complete rough draft is due by F 12/3; you are encouraged to turn it in earlier. The final essay, with an abstract, is due at the final examination, Tuesday 12/21 at 8 am. Select one of the two genres covered, research further some area that interested you, and apply a specific historiographic or theoretical approach to your material. Or, you can see me to select another area related to political theatre. Your essay should argue an original thesis. It should be approximately 12 pages in length, and you should summarize it in a brief, one-paragraph abstract, placed after the title page and before the essay. You will also distribute the abstract to the class and present it at the final exam. Students are strongly urged to submit final papers to the Undergraduate Humanities Symposium or other departmental essay competitions. 25%

5)    Participation. You should be present and prepared for each class. A great deal of what you can learn in this class you learn from one another, but this will not work if you do not attend and do assigned readings before we are scheduled to discuss them. 10%


Computation of final grades

            Four position papers:                          45%, 15% each

            Lead class discussion:                         10%

            Group presentations on web sites       10%, 5% each

            Term paper:                                         30%

            Participation in class:                           10%



UNIT I. Theatre and Politics; modes of “political theatre”

T 8/29              Course Introduction;

                        Aristotle and Theatre (handout excerpt from Poetics)

R 8/31             Read: Plato’s Republic, Book X (Ereserve), finish Poetics handout

T 9/5                Read: Plato’s Laws (Ereserve)

                        Overview of theatre in US today; 1st group web presentation

R 9/7               Political theatre in US and US support of the Arts:

                        2nd and 3rd group web presentations

                        Web sites for everyone: National Endowment for the Arts: http://www.nea.gov                    New York State Council or the Arts: http://www.nysca.org/

                        Alternate Roots: http://www.alternateroots.org/

                        Read: Tony Kushner’s speech at ArtNow (handout) 

1998 Supreme Court case on NEA and free speech: Read (handout) of ACLU press release from http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/intro.html

Optional trip to Stratford Festival; Sat-Sun Sept. 9-10; one price for two plays, talk back            with actors, housing, breakfast, and tour of theatre.

T 9/12              Read: The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht        

R 9/14             Read: “Shouldn’t We Abolish Aesthetics?”, “Epic Theatre and its Difficulties”

and “Literarization of the theatre: Notes to Threepenny Opera”  by Bertolt Brecht; (Ereserve). Finish The Threepenny Opera; movie

T 9/19              Skim Chs. 1-2 of Legislative Theatre by Augusto Boal, (Ereserve)

Read: “Invisible Theatre: Reflections on an Overlooked Form” by Martin Maria Kohtes, (Ereserve)

R 9/21             “Boal and the Shifting Sands: The Un-Political Master Swimmer” by David

Davis and Carmel O'Sullivan; (Ereserve)

T 9/26              Catherine Bell “Performance and other Analogies”, Judith Butler                              “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” (Ereserve)

Required production: SOTA presents The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by Paul Rudnick, directed by Renee Hartz. Thurs-Sat, 9/28-9/30, 8 PM. Black Box Theatre. Tickets $5, call box office at 245-5833 or bbo.geneseo.edu.


UNIT II. Theatrical Responses to the US AIDS Crisis

R 9/28             Position paper for Unit I due in class

                        Group presentations 1st group

History of Gay Activism; Stonewall to present

http://www.aegis.com/ In a frames browser, select “reference” then “historical timeline” for a history of AIDS (near the bottom of a long list, which you may also browse)

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/index-am.html on history of Gay and Lesbianism in the US. Try “chapter 21.” Just browse; this is mostly links.

T 10/3              Read Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told; class discussion and                   presentation by Geneseo director and cast

R 10/5             Read: The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer    

T 10/10            FALL BREAK – No Classes

R 10/12           Read: pp. 3-14, 245-59  from Crimp’s AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism (Ereserve); finish Normal Heart

T 10/17            Read: Angels in America Part I by Tony Kushner

R 10/19           Read: “Kramer vs. Kushner” Interview  (Ereserve). Finish Angels, movie

Optional show: SOTA presents Kaleidoscope. Fri 10/20, 8 pm. Wadsworth Auditorium,


Optional show: VegSOUP presents TBA, Thurs-Sat 10/19-21, 8 pm. Black box theatre. Tickets $5. Call Brodie Box Orfice x5833 or bbo.geneseo.edu.

Thurs-Sat 10/20-22, Black Box Theatre. Tickets $2. student. Call x5833 to reserve.

T 10/24            Read: “It's My Party and I'll Die If I Want To!: Gay Men, AIDS, and the

                        Circulation of Camp in U.S. Theatre” by David Roman; “AIDS, Angels,                              Activism, and Sex in the Nineties” by Patrick Pacheco (Ereserve); and                                     Introduction in Sharing the Delirium

R 10/26           Read: AIDS, The Musical in Sharing the Delirium

T 10/31            Read: My Queer Body by Tim Miller in Sharing the Delirium          


UNIT III.  Anti-Apartheid Theatre in South Africa

Optional show: SOTA and MTC present Urinetown by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman.                        Alice Austin Theatre. Wed 11/1-Sun 11/5, 8 pm, Sun at 2 pm. Tickets $5.                                   Students, at the Union (x5873) or Brodie (x5833) box office or                                            bbo.geneseo.edu.

R 11/2             Position paper for Unit II due in class

2nd Group Presentations: History of South Africa, Apartheid, theatre in South       Africa


                        Skim: “Post-Colonial Drama” by Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins (Eres)

T 11/7              Read: Master Harold and the Boys by Athold Fugard

R 11/9             Read: “Some Problems of a Playwright from South Africa” by Athol Fugard

(Ereserve); finish Master Harold, movie

Topic and 3 sources for final essay due in class

T 11/14            Read: Sizwe Bansi is Dead by Fugard, Kani, Ntshona (Ereserve); and “No Way                  Out: Sizwe Bansi is Dead and the Dilemma of Political Drama in South                                Africa” by Andre Brink; Eres

R 11/16           Read: “Enactments of Power: The Politics of Performance Space” by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Ereserve); finish Sizwe Bansi, movie

Optional show: Musical Theatre Club revue. Thurs-Sat 11/16-18, 8 pm. Alice Austin

Theatre, free.

T 11/21            Read: History of student uprising on which Sarafina is based:


Movie: Sarafina

R 11/23           THANKSGIVING BREAK –No Classes

T 11/28            Finish Sarafina

                        Read: So What’s New by Fatima Dike (Ereserve)


UNIT IV. Conclusion – Performances of the Iraq/Gulf Wars

R 11/30           Position Paper for Unit III due in class

                        3rd Group Web Presentations: fact, fiction and performance in the Iraq war                       and contemporary media coverage

                        Read: Neal Gabler “Life the Movie”

                        Cindy Sheehan’s protest “performances” as covered by news media (google                        this)

                        Read/view: Stephen Colbert’s performance of news:                                                  http://dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/4/30/1441/59811 

Recommended show: GENseng presents Kimchee and Chitlins by Elizabeth Wong. 7 pm                   Thurs   11/30, 4 pm Fri 12/1, 2 pm Sat 12/2, Black Box Theatre. Tickets $6.,                      call Brodie box office at x5833 or bbo.geneseo.edu.

F 12/1              Final date to turn in outline or complete rough draft

T 12/5              Tim Robbins’ Embedded – film in class

R 12/7             Read: Peter Morris’ Guardians

Optional show: SOTA presents the fall Dance Concert. Fri-Sun 12/8-10, 8 pm, Sun at 2

pm. Tickets $6., call Brodie box office at x5833 or bbo.geneseo.edu.

M 12/11          Final Essay due in my mailbox by 5 pm


Final Examination: Thursday 12/14, 12-3 pm. Lunch and presentation of final essay abstracts.

Honors 301, Fall 2006

Web Assignment Number 1


Group 1: Overview of theatre in the US

Due Tuesday 9/5

            www.playbill.com -- Broadway today

            www.tcg.org -- organization for non-profits, both in NYC and regional theatres

            regional theatres in your areas ie Syracuse Stage

            Semi-professional theatres in regions ie. Downstairs Cabaret

            Summer stock, educational theatres, community theatres


Group 2: Political theatres from the 60’s that are still performing

Due Thursday 9/7

            Bread and Puppet www.breadandpuppet.org/

            Living Theatre www.livingtheatre.org/

            San Francisco Mime Troupe www.sfmt.org/

            El Teatro Campesino www.elteatrocampesino.com/

            Negro Ensemble Company www.negroensemblecompany.org/

            Spiderwoman staff.lib.muohio.edu/nawpa/spdrwmnarchv.html

            Pan Asian Rep www.panasianrep.org/


Group 3: Contemporary Groups, founded 1985 and on

Due Thursday 9/7

            LAPD – LA Poverty Department lapovertydept.org/

            Cornerstone Theatre www.cornerstonetheater.org/

            About Face Theatre www.aboutfacetheatre.com/

            Tectonic Theatre Project www.tectonictheaterproject.org/Home.html

            V-Day; Vagina Monologues www.vday.org/main.html

            365 Days 365 Plays www.publictheater.org/365/

            Find more, especially small grassroots companies, on Alternate Roots Site: www.alternateroots.org/


Each group should divide up web sites and discuss them online. Make a coherent presentation of about 20 minutes’ length as a group that includes everyone’s work and represents the range of what you found. Everyone in the group should do something for the presentation. Remember that you are not critiquing web design but looking for content.