Performance as Research:

Theatre, Power and Possibility: Performing Risky Stories

Drama 400, Fall/Winter 2015/16

Tuesday 8:30 – 11:20 (Winter, also Friday 8:30-11:20)

Theology 102/Rotunda

Instructor: Dr. J. Salverson

Office: Theology 108.

Office Hours: Tuesday 12-1pm and by appointment

Phone: 533-6000 Ex. 77485 Email: salversn@.queensu.ca

“It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there”

William Carlos Williams, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”.

“Art cannot change the world, but it can contribute to changing the consciousness and drives of the men and women who could change the world.” Herbert Marcuse

“Devising a play is a bit like building your own house: in my experience, people who’ve built their own homes have a different attitude to making alterations and changing things around a bit than those of us who’ve never touched a trowel, let alone built a wall, or put a roof on. Habits picked up over the years of making plays from nothing encourage me to see a text as a blueprint rather than a facsimile of the final thing. I’m not happy just to view the accommodation and imagine its potential, I want to knock it about a bit, look at the foundations and worry about the wiring. Of course you can’t do this unless you have ownership, but theatre-making is the most collaborative of all the arts. In a really good production, the entire creative team has ownership. If you want to play anything credibly, you must own it in its entirety. If you don’t feel that it’s yours, you’ll soon start to feel phoney and lose confidence or just get bored with it. You can’t fake play. You’re either really enjoying yourself in a game that’s delicate, unpredictable, and compelling to play, or you’re not. Whether you’re in high drama or the wildest physical comedy imaginable, if it doesn’t feel alive and absorbing to you while you’re playing it – how do you think it’s going to look to us?” John Wright

Director Peter Brook writes that the theatre audience is a third eye whose presence must always be felt as a positive challenge, an accomplice to the action, “a constant participant through it’s awakened presence” (1993:18). The challenge Brook poses to those of us who make theatre is to consider all of our actions public, communal and witnessed. Implicit in his statements about the audience is the need for us as artists to be awakened. To become a witness is to be exposed, vulnerable, to have something at stake. This course will explore how to think about what is at stake for theatre artists as translators of stories of public violence. We will examine how issues of performance relate to discussions in the fields of history, sociology, critical theory and education.

The overall purpose of the course is to learn how to devise and produce work in ways that will serve the student after leaving Queen’s.

Over the course of the year students will engage with critical questions and texts and investigate the nature of play. The class will devise and workshop short theatrical pieces and perform a collaborative 400 Fringe Theatre Event (Week Nine of Term Two). The class will develop a vocabulary for mutual challenge and evaluation: how do we talk honestly about our work?.

The central questions for the class are:

  1. Do we live in a “tragic” culture? What does this mean?
  2. What forms of theatre and representation do we consider “ok” when it comes to performing testimony or remembering violent histories? What is the role of the comedic or the absurd in intervening in a melancholic tragic telling of events?
  3. How is performing history an ethical practice? How is the aesthetic and content of a performance an ethical issue?
  4. How can we, to quote Jill Dolan, “Find hope at the theatre”?
  5. What is the theatre’s role in making memory?
  6. How do we talk to each other honestly about the theatre we make and attend?
  7. What does it mean to think?
  8. How do we learn again to play?

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