Bard College Catalogue 2017-18
Theater and Performance
Gideon Lester (director), Justin Vivian Bond, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Liza Dickinson, Miriam Felton-Dansky, Jack Ferver, Neil Gaiman, Lynn Hawley, Joshua Lubin-Levy, Chiori Miyagawa, Dael Orlandersmith, Jonathan Rosenberg, David Szlasa, Jean Wagner
OverviewThe Theater and Performance Program aims to develop innovative thinkers and artists who use 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.
TThe 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; 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.
For the Senior Project, students choose from one of the following three categories.Participation in the Senior Project Festival: Proposals are considered for a limited number of 25-minute slots in the Senior Project Festival, which is produced at the Fisher Center with budgetary and technical support from the Fisher Center staff. Proposals must include two to four collaborators who are senior Theater and Performance majors and who intend to use the work as their Senior Project. Collaborators may propose a production of an existing play (whole or in excerpt), a new play to be written by one of the collaborators, or a performance created through some other collaborative process. In this third category, the proposal must set out a clear plan for the creative process and give a detailed description of each collaborator’s role in that process. For all of these categories, each collaborator should submit their own proposal, written in consultation with their fellow collaborators and advisers.
The artistic project must be accompanied by a 15- to 20-page paper, in which the student analyzes the project’s artistic goals and accomplishments and situates the project in relation to its theoretical and/or historical contexts. Individual collaborators on a project must each produce their own written component, with clear analysis of the roles they played in the creative process.
Independent theater/performance project: Students may self-produce theater/performance projects in the Old Gym or another space on or off campus. Students forgo technical support from the Fisher Center, but still receive budgetary support. These proposals may represent one Senior Project or the work of multiple collaborators, and the proposed performance should be 25 minutes in length. Each independent project must also be accompanied by a 15- to 20-page paper, in accordance with the guidelines listed above.
Research paper: Students may write 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.
Recent Senior Projects
- “Adaptation as Transmutation: Shakespeare in Orson Welles’s ‘Voodoo’ Macbeth and Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood”
- “Entrapment: An Exploration of Blackness in the Theater World"
- “Everyone’s Their Own Worst Critic or How I Learned Not to Fear the End”
- “Lust Gluttony Greed,” a collaborative project exploring consumption and systems of control
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
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 initially experiment with different forms and then focus on developing a one-act play, with sections of the work in progress presented for class discussion. Participants also read a wide range of dramatic literature, from the 20th century to today. Prerequisite: Theater 107, or a screenwriting or poetry workshop.
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 Facts and Data
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.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Literature and Performance
Theater 220 / Idea 220
cross-listed: american studies, literature
“So you’re the little lady who started the war,” Abraham Lincoln allegedly said to Harriet Beecher Stowe. He was, of course, referring to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a seminal work of 19th-century American literature. This course examines how Stowe’s novel has been adapted for the stage and considers its role, as well as the roles of race and gender, in the creation of an American theater and culture. Also discussed: Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, the Broadway hit Hamilton, George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum, and playwright Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro.
History of East Village Performance
cross-listed: art history, dance, gss
An examination of the work and legacy of performance artists who emerged from New York’s East Village in the 1980s and early 1990s, including Karen Finley, Jack Smith, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Charles Atlas, Ethyl Eichelberger, Klaus Nomi, and Carmelita Tropicana. Also considered are the political, economic, and cultural conditions that gave rise to this artistic movement, which straddled the spheres of theater, performance, visual art, dance, and experimental film and video.
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).
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 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.
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.
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; Ibsen; Jacobean Theater; Japanese Theater; Musical Theater; New Works on Stage; Performance Art in Theory and Practice; Philosophies of Acting; Shakespeare; Solo Performance; Stanislavsky, Brecht, and Grotowski; 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.
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.
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.
Theater, Surveillance, and the Internet Age
cross-listed: experimental humanities
From Twitter-speak and virtual realities to streaming video and globally dispersed performance, the aesthetics and politics of the Internet age have left a deep imprint on contemporary theater. This course explores how artists have used new technologies to upend fundamental assumptions about theater, how live actors and audiences have been placed in conversation with global networks, and how technologies of surveillance have been used to interrogate questions of power and representation. Artists examined include Big Art Group, Annie Dorsen, Gob Squad, Forced Entertainment, and Christoph Schlingensief.
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 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.
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.
Performing Difficult Questions: Race, Sex, and Religion on Campus
cross-listed: human rights, political studies
Offered in conjunction with the Hannah Arendt Center conference “How Do We Talk about Difficult Questions?” The course explores theatrical performance of nondramatic texts—political speeches, poetry, courtroom transcripts—concerning racial, sexual, and religious discrimination and identity; considers the university campus as a safe space for difficult questions; and examines how the presentation of controversial topics may interfere with equality even as it stimulates thinking. The class studies artists working in this tradition, including Anna Deavere Smith, Pieter-Dirk Uys, and Tectonic Theater Project.
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.
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.
Live Art Installation
Working individually and collaboratively, students in this advanced studio course develop projects at the intersection of performance and installation. Participants are encouraged to locate and amplify their singular artistic voices, exploring techniques from live art, text, movement, video, sound, installation, and performance. They also study the work of pioneering artists from across genres, including Jerome Caja, Colette, the Cockettes, Derek Jarman, Cindy Sherman, Nina Simone, Benjamin Smoke, and Elizabeth Swados.
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.