Catching up

Yes, yes, yes, I’ve been rather remiss in my posting. It may or may not surprise you to read that this PhD program is totally overwhelming. Nary ten minutes prior to this writing, reader(s), I was so preoccupied with the number of pages I needed to read, paper topics to be determined, language exams to be taken, etc, that I pulled out my METRO CARD to unlock my DOOR. This kind of thing now happens all the time. All. The. Time.

(Ok, It has happened always, but now it’s exponentially worse.)

I’ve also been vainly hoping that I could come up with something theatre-related-but-not-school-related to discuss here, but for the moment at least that seems impossible, so I figured it was time to bite the bullet.

So what’s new, you ask? Well:

  1. You may recall my syllabi assignment (make a survey course in theatre history). Ultimately, I reconciled myself to the fact that a truly satisfying solution to the how much global theatre one covers vs. how much of the narrative of western theatre history gets told could not be arrived at. So I split the difference. I tried to include enough of a range of material so as to facilitate a cross cultural approach and introduce students to global practice, but also maintain enough focus and detail as allow students to at least consider some periods with an eye towards causality and evolution of tradition. This meant that the syllabus was alternately organized by movement, location or theme. It also meant that it apologetically skewed west. I thought some other folks had some really interesting approaches. Some classmates decided just to do the west and make very clear that that was all that was being attempted. Another gave up any chronological or local focus and instead pulled an assortment of significant texts to be discussed thematically and cross-culturally. And another had the idea to teach theatre history through the lens of theatre architecture. This latter concept sounded particularly intriguing to me. I’m sure it would run up against the same geographic issues, but I thought it was exciting to consider introducing students to theatre through the locale in which theatre was made and presented.
  2. My favorite class right now is Contextual and Intertextual Studies in Theatre taught by Marvin Carlson (I posted about his book, The Haunted Stage a few months ago). It’s a dream. Last week he selected several Antigones for us to read (Sophocles, Anouilh, Brecht, Sanchez, Bemba) and we discussed how each playwright refashioned the story in such a way as to reflect their specific concerns and cultures: from the dilemma of morality and human agency of Sophocles, to the danger and existential inevitability of compliance in Anouilh’s Vichy France, to the need for resistance in the totalitarian dictatorships of Sanchez’s Latin America, to the complex negotiation of national and cultural identity in a society shaped by indigenous and colonial populations in Bemba’s Africa. This assignment really emphasized just how much can be gleaned about a culture’s concerns from the way a story is structured and told and proved you really can learn a great deal about a society from its theatre. This week we’re reading plays about the Spanish Conquest and considering what they reveal about attitudes towards national histories and imperialism. You’re jealous, admit it.
  3. Today I had great fun being part of a classmate’s project: the latest experiment from the Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure (as part of the BEAT festival). It was a giant (70 performers) performance art (maybe?) piece in the Brooklyn Museum, in which we took folks on an alternative tour of the museum. The goal was to defamiliarize the museum going experience and engage the audience in a different relationship with the space. My particular track was to take folks on a tour of the museum (as opposed to the art in the museum), so I showed them fire extinguishers, lighting fixtures, air conditioning units, doors, electrical outlets, etc and forced them to tell me how they interpreted these objects and how they made them feel. I’m not sure what it would have been like from the audience’s perspective as I only got a limited glimpse of the types of performances happening (marriage ceremonies to art in elevators, ballet dancing, quilt making, bizarro audio tours etc), but it was a rather delightful way to spend a Saturday. And being a performer in this wacky event certainly changed my relationship to the space.

That’s enough for now. Sorry this has been such a disjointed hodgepodge. Wanted to catch up a bit. But next week is apparently a week of opera. I am seeing Anna Nicole at BAM, as well as Kentridge’s production of The Nose (which promises to be bizarre), so hopefully I won’t be reduced to boring you with my schoolwork. Though chime in if you have any ideas for paper topics…

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