Introduction to Performance Studies

Acting, Being, Doing, Making: Introduction to Performance Studies (2011)

Performance studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines performance in all its expansiveness. From theatre, dance, music, visual art, and other “framed” performances, to an individual’s actions and behaviors in everyday life; from storytelling, folklore, and blogs; to political speeches, rituals, and celebrations, performance studies analyzes “twice-behaved behavior”—that is, repeatable, embodied activities. Performance studies is distinguished by its two-fold focus on theory and practice; by its borrowings from anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies, as well as from theatre history, theory, and practice; and by the global reach of its objects of study and its examples.

This course explores performance studies in theory and in practice. We ask, What is performance? How can we describe, analyze, and interpret performance? Is there a limit to objects that can be analyzed as performance? How do spectators respond to performance events that aren’t housed in conventional theatre architecture? How do people walking by a street performer interpret what they’re seeing and what it means in a larger cultural context? What do theatre and performance in everyday life have in common? How do people “perform” in a media-saturated culture in which interactions aren’t necessarily live or face-to-face? How can we understand performance globally, being attentive to cultural differences and yet identify similarities across cultures and histories?

This course offers a hands-on approach to the field. Students will apply key readings in performance theory to sites that might include theatre, concerts, museums, sporting events, and/or community celebrations, and will observe people’s behaviors in everyday life (for example, in restaurants and on the street) as performance. We will analyze live performance, adapting techniques applied to written texts to space- and time-based events. We will also practice ethnographic methods with which to collect stories to adapt for performance.

[Download the full course syllabus as a PDF document].

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