- Broadway Bodies, or Representation on the Great White Way
To many of its fans, Hamilton poses a problem. How can a show that presents so many talented artists of color still represent a white-washed American history? And how should we evaluate the show’s impact when sky-high ticket prices make it accessible primarily to a wealthy (read: white) audience? In its aspirational embrace of a multi-ethnic America and its failure fully to realize that promise itself, Hamilton embodies the paradox of Broadway.
This course examines that paradox since World War II, particularly as it pertains to multiple aspects of identity including race, gender, sexuality, disability, and age. We will examine how shows such as South Pacific, with its famous anti-racist anthem, and M. Butterfly, which explores the intersections of Orientalism, gender, and sexuality, temper their inclusive representations to appeal to a wide commercial audience. Broadway is a particularly fertile ground for exploring these issues because theatrical performances always call attention to the performative nature of subjectivity: you are what you do. As we shall see, though, theatrical performatives, instead of affirming the subjects they represent, threaten to turn those subjects into mere theater.
Our starting assumption is that many Broadway stake-holders genuinely desire broader representation in and for their work, but that the structure of the industry constrains how these shows challenge the status quo. By understanding those constraints, we will be able to critique and, perhaps, change what stories Broadway tells, who sees them, how they are marketed and, of course, “who tells your story.”
- Every Play Ever Written
This course explores the history of dramatic writing and publishing in the US and Europe by studying every play ever written. Of course, we cannot actually study all those plays—that’s the point. When we learn cultural history, we necessarily encounter only a small fragment of all cultural artifacts, whether they be paintings, novels, or plays. What does it mean that we learn cultural history in this piecemeal fashion? That we study drama and yet know nothing, nothing of most dramatic writing? How should we, as people invested in the theater and its history, think about our unfathomable ignorance? And what is the relationship between those plays we do see, act in, or read, and the vastly larger number of plays we will never encounter?
This seminar puts theatrical texts in perspective by focusing on the relationship between the exemplary texts that we anthologize and the forgotten archive of, well, everything else. We will approach this problem by comparing selected exemplary texts to lists of plays and by situating both our examples and our lists within their theatrical contexts. We will worry particularly about the relationship between the examples and the lists, hypothesizing about what we can and cannot truly know about all the plays we have not read.
This course, in short, explores the limits of our knowledge of cultural history. We seek not to answer questions definitively so much as to understand better those things we do not and cannot know about theater. We will learn, in other words, what we can never learn.
- Literary Methods
This course looks at the many questions that arise when we make literature an object of study. What do we do when we read a literary text? Why does it matter who wrote it, with what technology, and within what legal constraints? How does approaching a text with particular assumptions alter its meanings? The course introduces students to broad theoretical questions (e.g. what is an author? what is a text? what are literary canons? how do we compare interpretations?) and interpretive frameworks (e.g. formalist, historicist, feminist, postcolonial, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, etc.). The course empowers students to think about the concept of literature, and about what’s at stake in studying it. The course also introduces students to fundamentals of literary research with both primary and secondary materials in the Harvard Libraries. Sophomore Tutorial
- Staging Shakespeare
Like any other plays, those by William Shakespeare pose serious challenges for actors, directors, designers, and audiences, problems they must solve in performance. Because Shakespeare’s plays have such a long history in the theater, they offer a unique window into ever-evolving performance aesthetics. In staging Shakespeare, artists attempt both to capture what they perceive as Shakespeare’s universal achievements and to amplify his work’s resonance for a contemporary audience. This seminar examines a history of Shakespeare in the English-speaking theater to illuminate how Shakespeare helps to shape theater and how the theater helps to make Shakespeare. We will read a number of Shakespeare’s works, attending not to literary interpretations of the texts, but rather to (a) the problems those texts create in performance and (b) how artists have solved those challenges over the past four centuries. In other words, we will explore prior approaches to staging Shakespeare and what in Shakespeare’s plays makes them particularly difficult—and exciting—to stage. Seminar
- Literary Methods
- Broadway, 1940–Present
Cultural education usually occurs piecemeal: a novel from this period, a poem from that. Cultural works are not, however, truly isolated from each other, but rather appear as artifacts of cultural systems. This course uses cultural works to understand a single cultural system: Broadway since 1940. Comparative analyses of musical and non-musical plays will illuminate how Broadway has changed over the past seventy-five years. We will attend to economic, social, technological, and other transformations in how Broadway makes, markets, and measures its shows. Through our explorations of some of those shows, we will grasp the system’s effects on major dramaturgical strategies including approaches to plot, characterization, and staging. The course thus simultaneously surveys major works of the commercial American theater, narrates a history of Broadway since 1940, and models how to think about the relationship between that history of the Broadway system and the works it produces.
- Contemporary American Plays
This course examines recent scripted theater by American playwrights. Readings focus on work by historically underrepresented writers, including the wave of award-winning plays by Black writers such as Jackie Sibblies Drury, Michael R. Jackson, Aleshea Harris, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Jeremy O. Harris, and others. We will consider the shape of the American theater, its response and resistance to contemporary social and political movements, and the pandemic’s effects on the present and future of American theater. Seminar
- Staging Shakespeare
- Methods in Digital Humanities
This course introduces practical skills in programming for the Digital Humanities (DH) and investigates the theories and debates that continue to define that field. We will focus primarily on DH’s applications to research questions, rather than on pedagogical or archival methods. The course critiques DH’s ideas and practices while also recognizing that the best critiques come from deep knowledge. To that end, our exploration of DH methods will involve considerable work in computer programming (though you need have no prior knowledge of those skills). Our practical work with coding and with pre-fabricated digital tools will teach us what happens to our thinking when we think about the humanities with computers. Conference Course
- Theaters of the Real
Theater, like other arts, often seeks to imitate reality, to present life as it is, to be—for lack of a better word—real. For many reasons, however, reality in the theater is a particularly troubling ideal. First and foremost, what counts as a good representation of reality changes over time. Secondly, realism, the particular style that most contemporary media claim when they are “realistic,” was born in the nineteenth century and was and is a highly contested category. Third, and perhaps most importantly, theater is always in some sense real in ways that most other art forms are not: theater really presents real bodies in real space and real time. This course considers theater and its relationship to what we might call “the real.” Our focus is on how theater has represented reality, particularly since the rise of realism in the 1880s and 1890s. We will insist, first and foremost, that realism is a style with a specific history and a set of evolving, but essential practices that produce its effects. But we will also struggle with the distance between realism and reality, with theater’s phenomenological reality, and with the many non-realist theaters that nonetheless purport to present real life. In short, we aim to understand why and how—in production practices, acting techniques, narrative forms, and more—people attempt to stage the real. Taught at Columbia University
- American Plays and Musicals, 1940–Present
Taught at Columbia University
- American Plays and Musicals, 1940–1960
Recent musical theater scholarship has investigated fruitfully the genre’s musical, economic, and socio-political contexts. Such studies have not, however, reflected sufficiently on the musical’s theatrical context. This lecture course places the mid-century American musical in conversation with contemporaneous non-musical plays. We will develop a methodology for the integrated study of a moment in theatrical time and place: Broadway, during and following World War II. Our hypothesis is that these side-by-side encounters will illuminate the plays’ dramaturgical strategies, including approaches to plot, characterization, and staging.
- Theater, Dance & Media: What It Is & How to Do It
What are theater and dance? What is at stake when a performance is live or recorded? How do performers use space, time, and bodies to make meaning? What is the relationship between a performance and a script? Why do performers and audiences gravitate to live arts? How do economic and political circumstances shape live performances? This sophomore tutorial in Theater, Dance & Media provides students with an intellectual and practical foundation to the concentration by exploring these questions and more. Sophomore Tutorial
- Theatrical Realism
Retitled “Theaters of the Real.”
- Contemporary American Playwrights
This seminar explores work by some of the most popular and significant American dramatists of the past decade. Writers may include Annie Baker, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Sarah Ruhl, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Will Eno. Seminar
- A History of Western Drama
A lecture course surveying the history of Western drama from its origins in Greek tragedy to the present day. By examining all the elements of theater, students explore how and why dramatic styles change over time. This investigation reveals theater’s entanglement with (a) the material and immaterial world, (b) societies and individuals, and (c) the present and the past.
- Digital Humanities: Theory and Method
Retitled “Methods in Digital Humanities” Graduate Seminar
- An English Theatrical Revolution, 1833-1914
Theater in Britain underwent a revolution from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century. As society wrestled with the changes wrought by industrial capitalism and the expansion of democracy, the theater responded with new content, new styles, and new modes of production. This seminar traces English theater’s trajectory from the heyday of melodrama to the establishment of what we still call Modern Drama. We will explore prominent styles from sensation melodrama and the “fallen woman” play to Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas and Oscar Wilde’s drawing room comedies. Along the way, students will investigate Henrik Ibsen’s impact on British theater and the development of a non-profit theater model. The second section of the course looks at the relationship between the new professionalization of the theater world and the new meanings that theater had for its members. Students will understand the scope of English dramatic history in the nineteenth century and learn to think about theater not only as an artistic, but also as a political and an economic activity. Seminar
- American Plays and Musicals, 1940-1960
- Shaw, Beckett, Pinter, Stoppard
This seminar explores the work of four major playwrights from the United Kingdom: Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Tom Stoppard. The quartet overlap and differ in ways that call attention to prominent themes in twentieth-century theater such as language, citizenship, and alienation. All four have impressed the English-language theater with their unique approaches to the stage. We work to understand the style, politics, and means by which each of these authors wrote for the theater. We attend both to what unites and what distinguishes these playwrights. Seminar
- A History of Western Drama