New York University
Program in Dramatic Literature
(Spring 2018, Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016)

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Course Description:

“How does performance (re)frame the environment in which it takes place? How does the city (re)frame the performances that take place within it? And how does theater as a specifically urban form intersect with the broader theatricality of urban life?”

— Stanton B. Garner Jr.

This course focuses on the dynamic relationships between theater, performance, and the city of New York. We will enhance our understanding of theater and performance by exploring critical approaches to thinking about both in relation to the city. Moreover, we will consider what we can learn about the city by studying its varied performances – addressing how the city itself is constituted through different kinds of performances (even our own), and how performance serves as a mode of understanding urban processes. Our conversations in this course will center on weekly visits to a wide array of performances, as well as theoretical, historical, and contextual readings that accompany each visit. The course is divided into four units. Unit #1, “Cultural Materialism as Method,” will help us to understand how the material conditions of performance – spaces, architectures, institutional structures, economics, working conditions, etc. – bear upon the theater’s social and political effects (or lack thereof) within an urban landscape. Unit #2, “City and Performativity: Performing Identity,” concentrates on how the identities of the city’s many inhabitants are constituted and refashioned by the ways we engage, move through, participate in life, perform in the city in various ways. In Unit #3, “Developing New Work,” we will take a break from our “regularly scheduled programming” and make use of our weekly performance visits as inspiration to develop our own original performance pieces devised in groups. Finally, in Unit #4, “Performing Community (or Not?) in the Boroughs,” we head into the “outer” borough of Brooklyn to witness and participate in performances that question the relationship between theater and community. By focusing on both the material conditions of performance as well as the performative practices of living, working, studying in New York, this course will help us to better understand the complex and exciting imbrications of art and society, of theater and civic life.