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Bard College Catalogue 2021-22
Theater and Performance
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, dramatic structure, and world theater. Technique courses include skills-based classes in playwriting, directing, acting, voice, movement, 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: Introduction to Playwriting; Introduction to Acting: The Actor and the Moment; Introduction to Theater and Performance; Introduction to Theater History; and 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 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.
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, Clowning, Collaboration: An Evening at the Kit Kat Klub”
- “Ala Ala! The Self-Love Play: The Creation of a Theatre for the Dreamers”
- “this is the knot in my stomach”
- “Toy Box and Combat: My Relationship to Boundaries and the Stage"
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.
Introduction to Playwriting
CROSS-LISTED: WRITTEN ARTS
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.
Introduction to Theater and Performance
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 evolving interplay of theater and democracy.
Introduction to Theater History
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.
CROSS-LISTED: WRITTEN ARTS
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.
Intermediate Acting: Scene Study
Students discover their unique process as an actor through rehearsal and performance of scenes primarily from modern and contemporary American theater. The course also explores the different ways an actor approaches—and mines—a text; effective rehearsal methods; and how to ask questions about character, develop circumstances, and tell a story through action. Prerequisite: Theater 110.
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.
An introduction to the development and implementation of design techniques for the stage. Through a series of case studies, students explore the history and semiotics of scenic, lighting, and new media design, and watch production recordings from Ralph Lemon, Julie Taymor, Big Art Group, Robert Wilson, and others. In parallel practical units, the class studies the basics of scenic design, from rigging and carpentry to rendering, lighting, and projections.
Basic Vocal Technique
Students in the course, intended for moderated and prospective theater majors, develop an awareness of the importance of physical relaxation, breath capacity and control, resonance, and placement. There is also an emphasis on clarity of articulation and the use of vocal range and inflection.
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.
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.
Chance in Performance
The notion of chance has been used to describe a wide range of artistic practices, including the ready-made, collage, participatory work, and indeterminacy in composition and/or performance. This course covers the major historical, theoretical, and practical issues surrounding the use of chance in artistic production. Students explore distinct and overlapping movements in which chance has figured, beginning with Dada and Duchamp, and including Cage/Cunningham, Fluxus artists, Nature Theater of Oklahoma, and Eve Sussman.
Black Experience in American Theater
CROSS-LISTED: AFRICANA STUDIES, LITERATURE
An overview of the history and dramatic literature of Black American theater, focusing on the ways Black playwrights have told their stories and woven them into the soul of American culture. Readings include the 20th-century plays of Zora Neale Hurston, August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Anna Deavere Smith, as well as works by more contemporary writers, such as Dominique Morisseau, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Mfoniso Udofia. The course culminates with dramaturgical proposals for the plays read, with students collaborating as producers, directors, dramaturgs, and designers.
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.
Advanced Acting: Clown
In each performer there is a clown. It exists on the other end of the tether that begins with generosity, honesty, vulnerability, and desire to be up on the stage and give to the audience what you value. The clown cannot be crafted but must be discovered. This course uses a pedagogy developed by Jacques Lecoq in his Paris school that helps the performer become more physically alive, grandly expressive, and ferociously honest on the stage. Prerequisite: Theater 110.
The Politics of Interactive Performance
CROSS-LISTED: AFRICANA STUDIES, HUMAN RIGHTS
What is the difference between creating art with communities and creating art about communities? Does a socially engaged artist necessarily produce socially engaged art? This seminar explores the political potential of contemporary interactive and socially engaged performance. Students read and present in class on the subjects of participatory art, relational aesthetics, social practice, and interactivity, studying the work of artists and collectives such as Hiwa K, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Center for Political Beauty, and Rirkrit Tiravanija, among others.
Physical Theater: Dance of the Banal
What is the ballet of the barbecue? The tango of typing? A minuet of the mundane? This course explores movement stemming from the ordinary. Playing with a Lecoq-based movement analysis, aspects of clown, burlesque physical comedy, and the absurd, the class creates dances inspired from the quiet corners of our domestic spheres and otherwise undiscovered dance studios called “the bedroom.” No dance experience necessary. Prerequisite: Theater 110.
Making Theater Out of Trash
This course approaches theatrical creation through the plastic arts: how does the material world open new spaces of response, new bodies, new worlds, new narratives? From keen observation (how does a plastic bag move?) and precise movement analysis (how does the reflective body respond to the natural world?), students learn the fundamentals of corporeal mime to mix with rudimentary puppetry and mask making, and a movement vocabulary largely inspired by the work of Jacques Lecoq.
Arendt in Dark Times
CROSS-LISTED: HUMAN RIGHTS, POLITICAL STUDIES
DESIGNATED: MIGRATION INITIATIVE
This interdisciplinary studio course investigates the writings and philosophy of Hannah Arendt on and around the questions of refugees, racism, and nation-states, and uses them as the basis for the creation of collaborative performance-based projects. Using Arendt’s archives and philosophy, alongside related texts, the class seeks to understand the current dark times through the lens of the refugee crisis. Students are divided into cross-disciplinary groups and create original performances using her texts.
Going Viral: Performance, Media, and Contagion from Modernism to the Present
CROSS-LISTED: EXPERIMENTAL HUMANITIES
In the current era of pandemic, “the virus” is also a profound and frightening force in the cultural imagination. For theater and performance artists, this is nothing new: contagion, virus, and the viral have long functioned as subject matter, metaphor, and method of disseminating work to audiences. This course investigates the viral as it mattered to modern and contemporary artists, from the French modernist Antonin Artaud to Orson Welles and his 1939 “War of the Worlds” broadcast and the 1970s collective General Idea.
How can we use the tools of theater to interrogate the way we perform gender—our own and other people’s? This creative practice course explores and challenges normative notions of gender. Through improvisation and performance exercises, students examine overt and covert societal rules surrounding the gender binary.
CROSS-LISTED: FILM AND ELECTRONIC ARTS
As 2020 clearly taught us, multimedia theater is uniquely positioned to bridge the in-person and digital experiences of live performance. Students consider basic theories and practices of making multimedia performances as they create performances that are theatrical, yet grounded in technology as their “stage.” They develop skills in dramaturgical analysis; apply traditional theater, film, and performance making skills to both online and real-life (as possible) productions; and explore analytical and creative processes that cross perceived boundaries of what is “live.”
Theater of Freedom and Defiance
CROSS-LISTED: HUMAN RIGHTS
DESIGNATED: HSI COURSE
Theater and politics have been intertwined since their origins. In fact, in ancient Greece, theater attendance was a civic responsibility. In contemporary cultures theater may serve many functions: as entertainment, as cultural touchstone, and as intellectual and civic education. This course examines the relationship between theater as art, as civic duty, and as a form of protest. Artists investigated include Euripides, Brecht, the Freedom Theatre (Palestine), Fugard, the Belarus Free Theatre, Bread and Puppet Theater, and theory and criticism by Marx, Boal, Fuchs, others. Coursework also includes theatrical investigations of the material.
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.
Advanced Acting: Challenging Contemporary Text
Concentrating on dramatic writing generated in the last five years, with particular focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) and female playwrights, students tell the story of a scene, create character, and explore how these connect through the lens of their unique identity. The course also explores the similarities and differences between acting for the theater and acting for film. Prerequisite: Theater 209.
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.
Adaptation: Deconstructing/Reconstructing Shakespeare
Students work together to mount a production of one of Shakespeare’s plays. They first explore the text as actors, directors, and dramaturgs in order to “unearth” an hour-long cutting of the script. The second half of the course is an accelerated rehearsal focusing on “telling the story” clearly and dynamically through the lens of the modern world. Prerequisite: an introductory and an intermediate course in any area of theater making.
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.
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.
Advanced Acting: Rehearsal Technique
Students in this studio class explore techniques tailored to specific acting opportunities. How does preparing an audition monologue differ from rehearsing a scene for audition purposes? How does the style of a play dictate the choices made in approaching rehearsal? Students prepare material from a wide variety of theatrical texts to rehearse with the instructor and perform in scheduled showings.
South African Theater
CROSS-LISTED: AFRICANA STUDIES, HUMAN RIGHTS
The theater of contemporary South Africa is inextricably linked to its history and politics. This course divides that history into two periods: the years of apartheid from the election of the National Party government in 1948 to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990; and the postapartheid years. Theater makers studied include Athol Fugard, Mbongeni Ngema, Percy Mtwa, Barney Simon, Pieter-Dirk Uys, John Kani, Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom, Zakes Mda, Aubrey Sekhabi, Lara Foot, Yaël Farber, and William Kentridge.
Activating Public Space through Pageant Puppetry
A parade, a festival, a happening, though momentary, can shape our perception of a shared space and alter how we see ourselves as part of a community. This course explores how artists can animate public space through performance, imprinting a neutral site with lasting narratives, memories, and microhistories. In addition to exploring hands-on techniques for creating an art parade in a public space, a major focus of the class is the conceptualization, design, construction, and staging of a community-based procession.
This workshop investigates the collaborative relationship between the playwright and the director within the process of developing new works for the stage. Playwrights and directors are paired up to develop new works generated by the writer. Through this experience, students explore the rules of engagement between writer and director; the collaborative nature—and limits—of the process; and how decisions get made and who gets to make them. Prerequisite: either Theater 107 or 203.
Performing Resistance / Resistance as Performance
This advanced course interrogates the theory and practice of resistance in body-based performance. Working from the proposal that artists need to be versed in social and political as well as aesthetic skills, the class explores performance as a practice that blurs the lines between art, life, and politics, and studies the history of participation, dialogue, and direct action as expressed in performance. Through a series of exercises, students also investigate practices of resistance, including public intervention, lecture performances, food-based projects, reenactments, and the use of archives.
Race, Class, and Gender in Modern and Contemporary Theater
CROSS-LISTED: GSS, LITERATURE
In 1858, the Black American abolitionist William Wells Brown wrote a revolutionary play condemning the institution of enslavement and breaking 19th-century dramatic form wide open. Called The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom, this partially autobiographical work—so far ahead of its time that it did not receive a full stage production until the 1970s—serves as a point of origin for the class, which critically considers and reimagines the modern canon. Artists studied include Ibsen, Soyinka, Gambaro, Cesaire, and Majumdar.
Father Figures: Performing the Family Archive
Students in this advanced course explore ways to make performances based on family archives, both through studying the work of other artists and creating their own artistic projects. Topics include the place of parents and extended families in modern society and their role in the construction and deconstruction of patriarchy, heteronormativity and queerness, gender and sexuality. Texts from disciplines including sociology, psychology, literature, art history, and performance studies, and from writers Audre Lorde, Jaime Sabines, Carl Jung, and Sylvia Plath.
Students explore the limits of their practices through time, space, site, repetition, and gesture. How do we prepare our bodies physically, mentally, and spiritually to engage in durational works? Artists studied include Tehching Hsieh, Regina José Galindo, Chantal Akerman, Ernesto Pujol, and Marina Abramovic.
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.