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Bard College Catalogue 2023-24
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. The title, Theater and Performance, signals the program’s embrace of a wide range of dramatic, theatrical, and performance practices, from live art and interactive installation to classical theater from around the globe. Theater and performance are intrinsically collaborative, and collaboration is at the heart of students’ work in the program, which emphasizes process, cohort-building, and dialogue between theatrical work and the social, cultural, and political contexts in which it is made. Students study and perform in the landmark Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry.
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 leading theater artists. 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.
Areas of StudyTheater and Performance students take courses in context (theater history and analysis), technique (skills building), and creative practice and research (advanced studio courses exploring specific methods of creation). Context courses examine the history of world theater traditions, delve into particular theater practices such as Noh theater, and investigate topics within contemporary practice such as theater in the digital world. Technique courses foster skills in playwriting, directing, acting, voice, and movement. Creative practice and research courses introduce students to specific topics and methods, such as solo performance, theater and gender, and curating performance.
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 Contemporary Performance; Introduction to World Theater Traditions; Theater Making; and two of the following: Introduction to Playwriting: The Theatrical Voice; Introduction to Acting: The Actor and the Moment; and Introduction to Directing. Students participate in the creation and performance of a collaboratively created Moderation project in the context of the Theater Making class.
After Moderation, students are required to take two electives in each of the three areas of study—context, technique, and creative practice and research (for a total of six courses). One of these should be a course designated Junior Performance Lab, and one elective can be substituted with participation in a faculty or guest artist–led production. Students also complete a Senior Project, which may take the form of an original performance, production of an existing play or excerpted play, written play, or research paper.
Senior Projects in Theater and Performance emphasize collaboration and process. Performance projects take the form of a two-semester sequence, in which students spend the fall semester creating a short piece, to be produced in a festival format in the Fisher Center with the collaborative assistance of their senior cohort. In the spring semester, students may elect to create a longer piece to be staged in a second, more fully produced festival; to team up and collaboratively produce a project for the spring festival; or to self-produce elsewhere on campus. Projects produced in the Fisher Center receive technical and production support from Fisher Center staff.
All members of the Theater and Performance senior class participate in the Senior Colloquium, which aims to facilitate dialogue, constructive feedback, and cohort building among the group.
Recent Senior Projects
- “An Artist Now: Inspired by and Adapted from The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun”
- “Thyestes, an Open Rehearsal”
- “When I Grow Up, Everyone Will Love Me: Gender Performance and Liberation”
- “Writing a Play, Creating a World: The Stars Come Out at Night”
FacilitiesThe Fisher Center’s state-of-the-art facilities include studios, workshops, and two theaters, including the flexible LUMA Theater, which seats up to 200.
The descriptions below represent a sampling of courses from the past four years.
Introduction to Playwriting: The Theatrical Voice
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, 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 Contemporary Performance
This introduction to key concepts and ideas in contemporary performance should ideally be taken at the start of a student’s journey through the Theater and Performance curriculum. In addition to viewings, readings, written responses, and practical exercises, the course explores the work of iconic artists from across disciplines—among them, Tania El Khoury, Forced Entertainment, Faustin Linyekula, Yoko Ono, and Anna Deavere Smith—the line between fiction and reality, and the constantly evolving interplay of performance and politics.
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.
Introduction to World Theater Traditions
The theater has always been a a space where ritual practice and artistic practice meet and political and social power can be performed and contested. It has been a site of hierarchical power and resistance; a mode of enforcing racial, gendered, and colonial domination; and an artistic realm where subversion and dissent find form and alternate worlds can be imagined. The course traces these themes through selected traditions, texts, and performance practices created before 1700, including Greek tragedy, classical Sanskrit drama, Japanese Noh theater, Mayan performance traditions, and medieval European drama.
Writing Plays with Ghosts and Demons
CROSS-LISTED: WRITTEN ARTS
Why do all cultures believe in some form of ghosts? Why does society need demons and how does it create them? The class reads and adapts some Japanese ghost stories from the Edo era (1603–1868) and Noh plays (14th century) into short plays. They also write plays that feature ghosts and/or demons of their own creation. Prerequisite: Theater 107 or a previous creative writing workshop in any genre.
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: Creating a Character
In the words of Stella Adler, “It’s not the lines, it’s the life.” How does an actor bring a character to life? How do we read a play to discover what is necessary to support the playwright’s vision? How do we honor our personal truth while creating something more? Students explore in depth two different characters through a practice of script analysis, research, and improvisation in the form of a character study, “silent” physical exploration, and monologue. Prerequisite: Theater 110.
Writing Political Theater
CROSS-LISTED: HUMAN RIGHTS
In recent years, we have been witness to the urgent need to speak up, especially in our art. This course asks students: “What do you believe?” and “How can you infuse those beliefs into your playwriting?” The class reads works from playwrights and theater makers—including Zora Neale Hurston, Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Ayad Akhtar, and Jeremy O. Harris—who have used political discourse to send their message to the world. Students write several short one-acts and one longer play on issues of their political interest. Prerequisite: Theater 107.
Introduction to Directing
Students in the course approach directing with a focus on different kinds of performance material, ranging from texts that have been performed historically to contemporary plays that are in development. Through each of these models the student-director practices structuring a rehearsal process, working with actors, script analysis, dramaturgy, and visual composition. Substantial time outside of class is spent organizing rehearsals. The semester culminates in a mini director fest.
An introduction to the conceptual framework and implementation of design for stage. Through a series of case studies, students explore the design choices of notable productions and discuss the technical apparatus at work. In parallel units, they engage in a rendering practice of scenic and costume designs based on classic and contemporary texts. Projection, sound, and lighting techniques are also introduced. The course culminates in a final project which combines dramaturgical research and rendering techniques. Readings from Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), Miranda July, others.
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.
Power and Performance in the Colonial Atlantic
Theater 236 / History 236
CROSS-LISTED: AMERICAN AND INDIGENOUS STUDIES, EXPERIMENTAL HUMANITIES
DESIGNATED: RETHINKING PLACE COURSE
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 course disrupts assumptions about 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.
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.
This course follows Theater 145 as the second in a sequence 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.
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.
Advanced Acting: Rehearsal and Performance Laboratory
When an audience sits in a theater and watches actors perform, the performances can seem to have arrived fully formed and inevitable. They are, however, the product of a complex journey of close reading, interpretation, research, exploration, and choice making. Students in the course progress from script analysis to the creation of worlds on stage, the exploration of given circumstance and relationships, the rehearsal process, and a public showing at the end of the semester. Prerequisites: Theater 110 and 209.
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.
This 2-credit course introduces various methods of physical expression. Students first investigate and challenge postural and behavioral patterns, releasing areas of unnecessary habitual tension through yoga and therapy ball–based warmups. Then, once the body has been opened, they build kinetic and somatic awareness using aspects of LABAN/Bartenieff fundamentals and Viewpoints. Finally, they hone the character development of objects, animals, and human beings utilizing Stanislavsky’s structured improvisation system, the étude.
Labor Play at Montgomery Place
In this creative research and practice course, students use notions of labor, personal narrative, and principles of locality at Montgomery Place to create new site-specific plays. Montgomery Place, a site where American aristocracy flourished in the 19th century, is fertile ground to excavate theatrical narratives related to the early foundations of American wealth and the labor that built it. Readings include labor-focused plays from Arthur Miller, Dominique Morisseau, Brian Thiel, Caryl Churchill, and Lynn Nottage.
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.
An introduction to solo performance through the review and discussion of pieces by performers such as Spalding Gray, Anna Deavere Smith, John Leguizamo, and Mike Daisey. Through writing and improvised exercises, students also explore their own stories and craft a personalized solo piece. Prerequisite: Theater 110.
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 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.
Female Infernos: Parks, Churchill, Jelinek
DESIGNATED: HSI COURSE
This course examines the works of three groundbreaking and politically engaged contemporary women playwrights: the African-American writer Suzan-Lori Parks, England’s Caryl Churchill, and Austria native Elfriede Jelinek. While each possesses a distinctly singular voice, they have much in common, including their experimental and radical approaches to writing drama. And each, in their own way, challenges contemporary ideas of feminism and prods audiences to think about how they intersect with such concepts as race, class, and capitalism.
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.
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.
(Post)Pandemic Theater: New York and Berlin
CROSS-LISTED: EXPERIMENTAL HUMANITIES
The course asks how contemporary theater has changed, perhaps for good, at a time when audiences could not gather in person. Also explored are questions of institutional shift, including digital performances made during the COVID-19 pandemic and movements for racial justice in the theater world. A semester-long project involves the creation of a digital archive of New York–based pandemic theater, in which students collaborate, via virtual meetings, with a class at Bard College Berlin, which is conducting a parallel investigation into pandemic theater in Berlin.
An in-depth look at how a range of contemporary artists create community-inclusive immersive performances. Students experiment with creating work based on source material from their personal narratives, using tools from postdramatic and cultural theory and methods for applying these creatively in practice. Assignments include object-oriented and task-based compositions, site-specific and dramaturgical exercises, and participation in collaborative creations.
Race, Class, and Gender in Modern Theater: A Public Writing Seminar
From reviews to Playbill essays to social media posts, modern theater calls upon public communication—among audiences, critics, producers, funders, and more. This course builds practical writing skills through the investigation of identity construction in selected 20th-century plays. Using questions of race, class, and gender as conceptual lenses, students imagine themselves as dramaturgs, critics, producers, and art makers, writing and editing collaboratively each week.
CROSS-LISTED: EXPERIMENTAL HUMANITIES
DESIGNATED: OSUN COURSE
What happens when theater goes digital? This Bard network course addresses how theater and performance, as live embodied practices and forms of communal encounter, may have permanently shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and celebrates the new forms of performance that emerged. Students investigate various digital formats—WhatsApp and Instagram performances, VR/AR-experiences, Zoom theater—using case studies from Berlin, Vienna/Budapest, Bogota, London, Johannesburg, and Annandale/New York City.
Haunted Spirits and Disquiet Hearts: The Divine Mysteries of Japanese Noh Theater and Its Journey to the West
CROSS-LISTED: ASIAN STUDIES
The world of Japanese Noh theater is inhabited by souls betrayed and grieving, spirits troubled and impatient, gods, ghosts, and demons—all seeking redemption. It is a distinctive performing art form that conjures the beauty of the past, affirms national pride, and transforms the thrill of the sacred into a sublime, seemingly secular experience. This course covers the history, form, and content of classic Noh Theater as well as modern Western adaptations in the forms of opera, dance, and new plays written in English, all emulating the original canon.
Theater Production and Collaboration Laboratory
Participants engage in a full production process: the selection of a play, preproduction research and design, rehearsals, and a work-in-process presentation. Participants form a company and decide on a single work (with input from the instructor) to rehearse and perform. The course emphasizes the practice of collaboration, embracing theater as a communal artistic practice, and engaging multiple facets of the student artist. Students participate as performers, costume designers, dramaturgs, directors, adapters, scenic designers, sound artists, video makers, stage hands, props makers, etc.
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.