I realized I haven’t really taken a moment to talk about my classes and coursework this semester. To start with, here are the course descriptions for the classes I’m taking …
THEA 70100 – Theatre Research and Bibliography (Professor Pamela Sheingorn): This introduction to doctoral theatre studies prepares entering students for original research and scholarly writing. We will study general research methodology, approaches to historiography, and ways of reading. . We will work through the stages of the research process, from developing an original idea or question to locating primary materials to setting parameters for the research project. Examples and strategies will be drawn from a broad a range of geographical and historical material. This course also provides an overview of the profession. There will be a particular focus on the preparation and writing of research papers, conference papers, and papers for publication. During the semester I will assign a number of exercises designed to achieve the goals set out above; by the end of the semester each student will have completed a research paper. In addition, there will be a final examination. Texts include Wayne C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research and W. B. Worthen with Peter Holland, eds., Theorizing Practice: Redefining Theatre History.
THEA 80200 – Seminar in a Dramatic Genre: Critical Perspectives on the American Musical Theatre (Professor David Savran): This course provides an overview of the history of the most seductive of theatrical genres, the American musical, from Showboat (1927) to the works of Stephen Sondheim, with critical analyses of text, music, and mise en scPne. New scholarship‚??on taste, the sociology of culture, orientalism, critical race theory, gender roles, and queer spectatorship‚??will be emphasized. The class will focus both on the development of the genre (especially between 1927 and 1959) and on individual musicals that have provided the subject matter for a growing body of provocative, critical analyses. These musicals include Showboat, Strike Up the Band, Babes in Arms, Pal Joey, Lady in the Dark, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, West Side Story, Gypsy, Follies, and Sunday in the Park with George. Scholarship on musical theatre has long been anecdotal and woefully superficial. Even some of the most prominent writers on the subject are guilty of recycling sweeping and misleading clich√?s. But a new generation of scholars is emerging that is questioning the clich√?s and transforming the field, including D.A. Miller, Andrea Most, Stacy Wolf, Gerald Mast, Lauren Berlant, Jeffrey Melnick, and Stephen Banfield. We will frame our examination of this criticism with the work of theorists who have analyzed the history and sociology of popular and/or mass-cultural forms, including Theodor Adorno, Lawrence Levine, and Paul DiMaggio. We will pay special attention to the musical‚??s relationship to other genres and media (including so-called straight theatre, opera, minstrelsy, vaudeville, jazz, musical modernism, and cinema), its role in consolidating American identities, its seemingly magical power to thrill and enrapture, and its status as a lightening rod for fears and anxieties swirling around cultural legitimation in the U.S.
THEA 81500 – Seminar in Film Studies: Spectacular Realities: Immersion and Interactivity in Film & Related Arts (Professor Alison Griffiths): This course offers an interdisciplinary investigation of diverse forms of spectacular image-making, from Medieval cathedrals to contemporary Imax films. A fundamental premise of the course is that a fascination with hyper-illusionist and immersive ways of seeing the world have long pre-dated their contemporary incarnations in digital and electronic media. There has been a persistent fascination with large-scale representations that present the possibility of immersion, interactivity, and in some instances, three-dimensional encounters with the world (including the eighteenth-century circular panorama and its various spin-offs), and audiences have long enjoyed the perceptual play between real and unreal endemic to these spectacular representations. This course offers a genealogical study of these spectacular realities, drawing upon theories of visuality and cultural history to enable students to make intellectual connections between old and new media. For example, a unit on Medieval cathedrals and tapestries will explore the theoretical ramifications of the “revered gaze”; we will consider the spectatorial and iconographical correspondences across representations of Christ‚??s Passion from the Middle Ages, late nineteenth century panoramas, and contemporary Hollywood cinema. In addition, by identifying some of the enduring features of panoramas, Imax films and 360 degree Internet technologies, students will gain a more sophisticated understanding of how these phenomena have been promoted for their respective audiences, including the strikingly similar rhetorical claims made about each form. Working from the premise that there may be little essentially “new” about “new media,” especially with regards to the discursive construction of the experience on offer, students will be encouraged to explore associations across historical periods and disciplinary boundaries, to think creatively about ways in which new media reinvent old phenomena and phantasmatic desires. Students will explore a rich range of visual and reading materials, of special interest to students interested in film and new media, pre-cinema, Art History, Theatre, and English. Organized both conceptually and chronologically, the course begins with a theoretical overview of critical approaches to theories of spectacle, visuality, and immersion, considering the works of Walter Benjamin, Rudolf Arnheim, Guy Debord, David Freedberg, Oliver Grau, Barbara Maria Stafford, Hal Foster, Chris Jenks, Lisa Cartwright, Tom Gunning, Anne Freedberg, Vanessa Schwartz, and Paul Virilio. The course will involve in a process of accretion, first examining pre-twentieth century spectacle-making, including gothic cathedrals, medieval tapestries, frescoes, dioramas, panoramas (both circular and moving), waxworks, planetariums, and natural history dioramas, before looking more closely at the relationship between moving images and exhibition contexts, such as the world‚??s fair, museum of natural history, amusement park, and the Internet. In addition to slides, screenings include Film Before Film, a selection of early cinema (pre-1907) nonfiction subjects from the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection, in particular reenactments and panoramas, The World on Display (on the 1904 St Louis exposition) and The World of Tomorrow (on the 1939 New York World‚??s Fair), To Fly, Across the Sea of Time, Everest, The Matrix, Minority Report, and The Reality Trip. Students will also undertake several fieldtrips: to the American Museum of Natural History‚??s planetarium show Passport to the Universe, Sonic Vision, a digitally animated alternative music show, and the newly refurbished hi-tech Hall of Ocean Life; to the Sony Imax Theater; and to a retail/commercial environment of their choice where moving images, interactive exhibits, and immersive sound-scapes define the experience. Students will write two short critical response papers to assigned readings, a mid-term assignment organized around one of the field-trips, and a fifteen page research paper devised in close consultation with the professor.