Bard College Catalogue 2016-17
Theater and Performance
Gideon Lester (director), Brooke Berman, Justin Vivian Bond, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Miriam Felton-Dansky, Jack Ferver, Neil Gaiman, Lynn Hawley, Lindsey Liberatore, Chiori Miyagawa, Jonathan Rosenberg, Ally Sheedy, Geoff Sobelle, Naomi Thornton, Jean Wagner
OverviewThe Theater and Performance Program aims to develop innovative thinkers and artists who use great theatrical ideas from the past and present to imagine and instigate the theater of the future. Theater and performance are intrinsically collaborative art forms, and collaboration and devised theater making are at the heart of Bard’s program. Students study and perform in the landmark Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry. The program is run in close partnership with Live Arts Bard (LAB), the College’s professional residency and commissioning program for the performing arts. LAB introduces students to a wide range of professional artists through courses, workshops, master classes, performances, open rehearsals, and opportunities for collaboration.
The Theater and Performance Program trains well-rounded theater makers who study the history, theory, and contemporary practice of theater and performance; hone their technical abilities as writers, performers, and directors; and create their own productions and performances under the mentorship of master artists and teachers. Students are encouraged to explore the intersection of theater and performance with dance, music, the visual arts, film, and literature, as well as with the sciences and humanities. They work side by side with a faculty of leading professional theater and performance artists; in addition, a wide range of visiting artists from this country and abroad bring a global perspective of cutting-edge theater and performance to the Bard campus.
Areas of StudyTheater and Performance offers courses in context, technique, and creative practice and research. Students who major in the program are expected to take classes in all three areas of study. Context courses include the history of theater and performance, contemporary practice, theories of theater and performance, dramatic literature, and world theater. Technique courses include skills-based classes in playwriting, directing, acting, voice, movement, dramatic structure, performance, and composition. Creative practice and research comprises productions, performance laboratories, master classes, and specialized workshops.
The program’s curriculum emphasizes courses in context and technique, ensuring that a strong foundation is built in the first two years of study. The following courses are required before Moderation: Theater 107, Introduction to Playwriting: The Theatrical Voice; Theater 110, Introduction to Acting: The Actor and the Moment; Theater 145, Introduction to Theater and Performance: Revolutions in Time and Space; Theater 146, Introduction to Theater History: Great Theaters of the World; and Theater 244, Introduction to Theater Making. Students also participate in the creation and performance of a group-devised Moderation project.
After Moderation, students are required to take two courses from a menu of options in each of the three areas of study—context, technique, and creative practice and research (for a total of six courses)—and complete a Senior Project.
Senior ProjectFor the Senior Project, students choose from one of the following three categories:
Research paper: a 50- to 60-page paper on a significant aspect of theater and/or performance, theater or performance history or theory, dramatic literature, or contemporary or historical practice.
Devised project: an original work of theater developed or performed by one to three students, and a 20-page paper detailing the project’s context and artistic goals.
Specialized project: a detailed investigation of one of the major areas of theatrical practice through a performance component, for example, writing a play, directing a play, or performing a major role in a Theater and Performance Program production; and a 20-page paper detailing the project’s context and artistic goals.
Recent Senior Projects
- “Holy Thieves"
- “’m Scared of the Colors (or At Least We Tried)," a collaborative theater project
- “Just Another Block,” a solo performance piece on the U.S. incarceration system
- “LoveRage,” a multimedia, multidisciplinary mash-up of music, dance, narration, and theatrics
FacilitiesThe Theater and Performance Program is located in Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. The Center’s state-of-the-art facilities include studios, workshops, and two theaters, including the flexible LUMA Theater, which seats up to 200.
CoursesProgram courses emphasize the truly inclusive nature of theater, which encompasses performance, literature, design, history, artistic community, and intellectual rigor. Students are expected to acquire a solid familiarity with dramatic literature and to develop the ability to research the historical context and dramaturgy of a play and to write about it.
The descriptions below represent a sampling of courses from the past four years.
Acting for Nonmajors
This course introduces scene preparation and beginning scene technique, with an emphasis on relaxation, breathing, and concentration. The new actor learns to make choices and implement them using sense memory and to integrate this work with the text. Group and individual exercises and improvisations. Texts include poems, monologues, stories, and scenes.
Introduction to Playwriting: The Theatrical Voice
Through writing exercises based on dreams, visual images, poetry, social issues, found text, and music, students are encouraged to find their unique language, style, and vision. The class learns elements of playwriting through writing a one-act play and through reading assignments and class discussions. Additionally, a group project explores the nature of collaborative work.
Introduction to Acting: The Actor and the Moment
This course analyzes how an actor brings truth to the smallest unit of performance. The richness of the moment is created by the imaginative, physical, psychological, intellectual, and emotional qualities that the actor brings to it. Students explore ways to gain access to richly layered authenticity through games, improvisations, individual creations, and exercises in given circumstances.
Movement for Actors
Basic training is provided in movement, analysis, rhythm, development of technique, and confidence in space.
The Body on Stage: Movement for the Performer
Theater 130 / Dance 130
See Dance 130 for a full course description.
Introduction to Theater and Performance: Revolutions in Time and Space
Class discussions are based on primary and secondary texts and modes of performance from 2,500 years of theater, starting with Aristotle and the Greek tragic playwrights and approaching the cutting edge of contemporary practice. Students investigate how great artists from across the centuries have controlled the experience of theatrical time and space, and explore such topics as the representation of reality on stage, the relationship between performance and audience, and the constantly evolving interplay of theater and democracy.
Introduction to Theater History: Great Theaters of the World
How did premodern models of theater change as successive societies revised, rejected, and appropriated the forms that had gone before? This course begins with the communal festivals of ancient Greece and culminates in the philosophical upheavals of the Enlightenment. Paying close attention to connections between drama, stagecraft, and modes of spectatorship, the course considers how the theater has shored up political power and how the stage has served as a scale model for the known world.
This course introduces students to fundamental practical and theoretical concepts in directing. The art and craft of the director involves the close analysis of texts, the conceptualizing of a production, the translation of the text into the language of the stage, and work with collaborators, including actors and designers. The class also examines the work and writings of seminal directors.
Students develop a one-act play, with sections of the work-in-progress presented in class for discussion. Students grow as playwrights through exposure to diverse dramatic literature and by undertaking a short adaptation of a class play or short story. Prerequisite: Theater 107.
This course, for students who have taken one semester of Introduction to Acting, moves from a games-oriented curriculum into work with theatrical texts and the processes of scene study.
Writing Plays Using Nonfiction Sources
cross-listed: written arts
Students are encouraged to find inspiration in facts and theatricalize them rather than adapting already fictional materials such as novels and period plays. They read works by journalist Susan Faludi, psychologist Thomas Joiner, and astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, and write several short plays using the books as resources. Students choose their own nonfiction inspiration to write the final one-act play. Prerequisite: one creative writing workshop.
Basic Vocal Technique
This course is designed to develop an awareness of the importance of physical relaxation, breath capacity and control, and resonance. Also emphasized is clarity of articulation and the use of vocal range and inflection. Intended for moderated and prospective theater majors.
Power and Performance in the Colonial Atlantic
Theater 236 / History 236
Societies in different historical periods have habitually used performance to stage, reinforce and reimagine the scope of political and colonial power. The history of the theater, therefore, is inextricably connected with the history of how societies have performed conquest, colonialism, and cultural patrimony. This interdisciplinary course disrupts habitual assumptions about both the disciplines of theater and history. Students read baroque plays, study their historical contexts, and experiment with staging scenes, in order to uncover the links between imagined and actual Atlantic expansion and the impact of colonialism (1492–1825).
This survey of modern European and American drama examines questions of realism and symbolism; the writing and staging of revolution and social history; and subjectivity, illusion, and antitheatricality. Texts by Büchner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Stein, Wilder, Williams, Genet, Brecht, and Beckett.
Performance Composition: Movement and Text
A creative practice course in which students develop original movement- and text-based performances, using a series of exercises to locate and deepen self-expression. The semester begins with stretch and placement techniques and core work to develop a neutral and ready body, followed by a sequence of impulse-based improvisation techniques that enable students to find authentic movement and push past their physical limitations. The second half focuses on writing exercises designed to free the creative voice.
Acting and Authenticity
This text- and studio-based seminar explores the realist idea of “acting” alongside philosophical, psychological, and scientific notions of authenticity and falsehood, presence, mimesis, identity, and empathy. What does it mean to turn into someone else? How total is the transformation? What are the implications for our understanding of the individual? Various texts are considered, from the acting primers of Stanislavski and Strasberg to works of literary criticism, natural science, cognitive psychology, and philosophy of mind. Acting exercises and other projects examine what “realism” means in the 21st century.
Voice and Text
An introduction to the fundamentals of voice work and text analysis. Students develop their vocal apparatus by applying several techniques (Fitzmaurice Voicework, Linklater, and yoga) to access greater range and vocal character, rid the body of tension, and free the authentic voice. Students are also taught to approach text by seeking out dynamic phrasing, operative words, and arc, creating a profound connection between body, breath, voice, and language.
Introduction to Theater Making
This course follows Introduction to Theater and Performance: Revolutions in Time and Space as the second in a sequence of courses exploring the intellectual and creative methods of making theater. All students take turns working collaboratively as performers, directors, writers, dramaturgs, and designers. The work created in this class is presented at the end of the semester and serves as the Moderation project for students intending to major in the program.
Playwriting Voyage: Writing Plays while Time-Traveling around the World
This workshop explores the journeys of two 19th-century journalists who raced around the world in opposite directions, changing the face of U.S. journalism in the process. Students write several short plays following either Nellie Bly’s route (eastward starting by steamboat) or Elizabeth Bisland’s (westward starting by railway), setting each scene in any time period between 1889 and the present. Through this project, students encounter how world cultures were presented by the most popular media of the time—newspapers—and how this contest influenced later generations of writers.
This seminar looks at the dynamics, mechanics, and fundamental building blocks of drama, as well as how analysis of a play’s structure can be revelatory for theater artists and scholars. The class investigates models of dramatic structure from Aristotle through Shakespeare, neoclassicism, modernism, and contemporary experimental and “postdramatic” theater. Also considered are practical methods for putting structural discoveries to use in rehearsal and production.
This advanced workshop introduces the rudiments of Commedia Dell’Arte, a classic theatrical form based on 16th-century Italian street theater. Fast-paced, highly physical lazzi (comedic “bits”) are rooted in the class struggles between servants (the zanni) and their masters (the vecchi). The archetypes have present-day counterparts, but by living fully in the characters—their passions, appetites, and idiocy—we find a humanity that transcends the form’s history. Students are expected to bring a full-throttle physicality, high level of play, and brave sense of presence/humanity.
This course gives performers tools to find the truthful physical expression of their characters. Students first slough off habitual behavior through a warm-up using aspects of Graham, Alexander, and release techniques; once the body has been strengthened, improvisation exercises are used to build kinetic awareness and hone intuitive prowess. Finally, the class explores scene work in order to find a character through movement and to remain present at each moment of a performance.
Black American Playwrights
cross-listed: american studies
A seminar exploring the work of contemporary black/African American playwrights who have helped to advance dramatic literature in the 21st century but have sometimes been marginalized by mainstream theater. The class considers works by Adrienne Kennedy, Kia Corthron, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Marcus Gardley, Christina Anderson, and Daniel Alexander Jones, along with the social and political context of their plays, their creative influences, dramaturgical strategies, and critical reception. Students also develop proposals for production of one of the plays.
Students write a full-length play during the semester, with sections of the work-in-progress presented in class for discussions. Students focus on developing characters and themes that are sustained through a full-length play. They also read contemporary and current dramatic literature and make a field trip to see a production. Prerequisites: Theater 107 or any other playwriting workshop and permission of the professor.
This is a studio acting class in which students explore scenes from challenging plays of varied styles. Extensive rehearsal time outside of class is required. Prerequisite: Theater 110 and 209, or permission of the instructor.
Advanced Scene Study
Advanced individual exercises, scenes, and monologues—drawn from all dramatic literature. Prerequisite: Theater 110 or permission of the instructor.
Survey of Drama
Survey of Drama courses, which study the major styles and periods in drama from a literary, stylistic, and performance perspective, are at the center of the Theater and Performance Program. They are practical courses, applying text to scene work.
Recent Survey of Drama courses have included American Melodrama, Minstrelsy, and Vaudeville; Beckett; Birth of Tragedy and the Death of Tragedy; Black Comedy; Büchner and Strindberg; Chekhov and His Predecessors; Dangerous Theater; Dissent and Its Performance; Euripides and Nietzsche; Feminist Theater; French Neoclassicism; German Theater; The Greeks; Grotesque in Theater; Jacobean Theater; Japanese Theater; Musical Theater; New Works on Stage; Performance Art in Theory and Practice; Philosophies of Acting; The Director and the Text; Solo Performance; Stanislavsky, Brecht, and Grotowski; Shakespeare; Tennessee Williams; Theater of the Absurd; and Yiddish Theater.
20th-Century Avant-Garde Performance
cross-listed: art history, experimental humanities, literature
“Set fire to the library shelves!” wrote the Italian futurists in their manifesto of 1909. With their revolutionary politics, audience provocations, and enthusiastic embrace of the new, the futurists inaugurated a century of avant-garde performance. This course investigates that century, tracing the European and American theatrical avant-gardes from 1909 to 1995, including movements and artists such as expressionism, surrealism, and Dada; John Cage, Allan Kaprow, and Happenings; utopian collectives of the 1960s; and Peter Handke, Heiner Müller, and Reza Abdoh.
Socially Engaged Theater Making
cross-listed: anthropology, human rights
The class explores the work and methodologies of artists who use interviews and staged conversations as the basis for their performances, including Lola Arias, Ralph Lemon, and Pablo Helguera. Readings also include theorists such as Gregory Snyder, Shannon Jackson, and Jodi Rios. Assignments include practice interviews with peers as well as dialogue with members of communities beyond Bard. Questions explored include: Where do we locate ethics and responsibilities when engaging communities in the making of our work? What can we learn from speaking the words of a stranger?
Dramaturgy in Action
Dramaturgy, the study of how plays are built, provides an invaluable toolkit for theater artists of every kind. In this studio course, students learn techniques for the detailed analysis of a play’s mechanics, then put their discoveries to practical use through staging exercises. Dramatic architecture is explored at the macro and micro level, examining beats, scenes, acts, and entire plays. The course mines texts from several genres and periods, and looks at staging solutions from major contemporary directors.
Brecht and His Legacy
cross-listed: experimental humanities, german studies, literature
Few modern theater artists have been as pathbreaking in their own time—or as influential for future generations—as German playwright, poet, director, and theorist Bertolt Brecht. After a survey of Brecht’s plays, the class takes stock of his influence on dramatic literature from postwar Germany to Brazil, South Africa, and the New York avant-garde, locating Brechtian aesthetics in arenas such as feminist and queer performance texts, documentary and political drama, postcolonial drama, and contemporary critiques of capitalism.
cross-listed: studio arts
This studio course is primarily intended for advanced students in Theater and Performance and Studio Arts, though it is open to all. Working collaboratively or individually, students develop performance material based on specific iconographic characters, such as artists, historical figures, movie stars, or fairy-tale or mythic figures. By identifying, isolating, amplifying, and reconfiguring their essential characteristics, the class aims to give these icons unanticipated performance life through a unified combination of visuals, text, movement, video, and sound.
Devised Theater Lab
Through practical exercises, including improvisations, games, and ensemble techniques, students learn how to generate ideas and research, and shape, organize, and create new works for the stage. The course also examines how several contemporary artists and ensembles generate new works. Assignments include experiential essays, a research paper, and active participation in collaborative creations.
Contemporary Practice in Theater and Performance
Students explore the work of directors, writers, ensembles, performers, and designers whose practice is advancing the field. The syllabus is informed by the current season in New York City, and research is augmented by several field trips to theaters, museums, and festivals, as well as meetings with leading artists visiting Bard. Discussions and readings stress the cross-disciplinary nature of theater and performance, and incorporate perspectives from visual arts, architecture, dance, music, philosophy, and technology.
Contemporary Performance and Theater by Women
The course begins with an investigation into the roots of feminist theater and then explores contemporary practices through the lens of gender and performance theories. Writers and performers studied include Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Kennedy, María Irene Fornés, Suzan-Lori Parks, Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, Lisa Kron, Karen Finley, Ann Liv Young, and Marina Abramovic.
cross-listed: art history, literature
In the 1960s, a landmark decade for U.S. culture and society, playwrights, directors, and performance artists were mapping out a radically new artistic landscape. The course examines artists such as Carolee Schneemann 59’, Valerie Solanas, Amiri Baraka, Charles Ludlam, and Jack Smith; and movements, including early off-off-Broadway, the Black Arts movement, and Judson Dance. Study concludes with reenactments of 1960s iconic performances as a means of understanding the significance that this decade holds in the American imagination.
The course offers a historic overview of puppetry forms from many cultures, a study of their engagement with social issues, and techniques for making puppet theater that is relevant today. Assigned materials introduce, among others, Aragouz, the 12th-century Egyptian hand puppet that ridiculed the invading tyrant Mamluk; Punch, the puppet that mocked British Renaissance authorities and continues today; and Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater. The semester culminates with a group performance inspired by the Sicilian marionette tradition.
Latino Theater and Performance
cross-listed: art history, lais
An exploration of the specific aesthetic strategies Latino theater and performance artists have found most useful when wrestling with issues such as immigration, territoriality, exile, human rights, and hybridity. The course culminates with a student-driven creative project that seeks a productive relationship between form and content.
Writing the Fantastic
cross-listed: written arts
This advanced workshop explores the history of the fantastic and approaches to fantasy fiction. Readings include works by Lord Dunsany, Marguerite Yourcenar, Rudyard Kipling, Shirley Jackson, Gene Wolfe, and R. A. Lafferty. Students write new fiction in response to the readings and complete a longer work of fantasy fiction by the end of the semester.
Part technique and part composition, the course researches the poetry of “things.” Students learn a form called “table-top theater,” where, through object manipulation, ordinary items transform to create new theatrical spaces. They also work with theatrical moments of dramatic texts (Chekhov, Shakespeare, Beckett), exploring how objects reveal hidden elements of a given character.
cross-listed: experimental humanities, written arts
Students explore the history and practice of adapting Shakespeare’s plays into a variety of genres and styles. The class considers what makes for a successful adaptation, addressing the constraints, norms, and cultural connotations of each medium. Using A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the primary text, the course examines Shakespeare’s dramatic strategies (juxtaposition, comic tropes and conventions, extremity, fantasy) and existing adaptations.
Briefly America’s most terrifying movie, now an inexhaustible source of camp, reference, and technique, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is a vital allegory of America in the 1970s and an allegory of American acting itself—its techniques, reputation, promises of self-transformation, and demonic commercial drive. This advanced workshop in devising and adaptation performs (literally) an examination of the significance and meaning of The Exorcist, created over the semester using historical research, conversations, attempts at restaging, religious rites, death-metal growls, and head turns of 180 degrees or more.
Theater and performance artists interested in upending heteronormative constructions of gender have long used an array of performance strategies such as camp, cross dressing, cabaret, disidentification, and radical reimaginings of both private and public sex acts. After close study of critical readings grounded in feminism, postcolonialism, and queer studies, the class explores how the texts illuminate and complicate the work of artists such as Justin Vivian Bond, Split Britches, Taylor Mac, Nao Bustamante, and Charles Ludlam.
Junior/Senior Colloquium: The Zócalo
The Zócalo, the biweekly colloquium for the Theater and Performance Program, is a forum where students and faculty share news and ideas of relevance to the field, and meet visiting artists and other guests. Students present work-in-progress performances and receive structured feedback from faculty and peers. For students entering the College in or after fall 2015 only: moderated students in Theater and Performance must enroll in the course pass/fail for both semesters of their junior and senior years. Students who have not moderated in the program are also welcome.