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ENGL 4540 and THEA 4950: Performance Studies
Spring 2017

Dr. Paula R. Backscheider
9082 Haley Center
(334) 844-9091

Performance Studies

Performance Studies is a relatively new field in literary and theatre studies that recognizes the expanding meanings and locations of performance. Familiar performances are plays, operas, circuses, and stand-up comedians, but we now recognize that, in addition to the performing arts, self-conscious stagings of identities, behaviors, roles, gender, and occupations are all around us. This course will survey some major methods in the field including event structure, cast analysis, social drama, gender interpretation, and performance history and recovery.

Rather than a long paper and rigorous exams, this course has a number of short summaries, notes, or papers and brief oral remarks and performances that will often be partly prepared in class.

Homework is due at the beginning of class. No late work will be accepted without prior arrangements.

The third edition of The Performance Studies Reader is on reserve. I encourage you to use it for more readings in topics in which you are interested and also to browse it, because Performance Studies is now a large field.

Required Texts:

Joseph Roach, It (9780472069361)

Broadview Text Anthology (9781554591746)

Erich Segal, Love Story (0380017601)



12: Introduction.

17: from the Performance Studies Reader, ed. Henry Bial: "What is Performance Studies?" 5-6 (2nd edition). From third edition: Henry Bial and Sara Brady, eds. "What is Performance?" 59; Marvin Carlson, "What is Performance?" 72-76; Shannon Jackson, "Professing Performance," 15-24.

19: Frederick Reynolds, The Dramatist: Or, Stop Him Who Can!

Reaccentuation and Reception

24: *Thomas Otway, Venice Preserved debate. Assignment 1: Notes to be handed in.

26: Debate and discussion continued.

31: Continued; "Venice Preserved: Toward Popular Culture"

Casting and Interpretation


2: +"Introduction" to It by Joseph Roach. *John Gay, Beggar's Opera, Act 1

7: *John Gay, Beggar's Opera, complete and with Assignment 2: performances

9: "Clothes" and "Accessories" from Roach's It

14: *George Etherege, The Man of Mode, Act 1; Marvin Carlson, "The Performance of Culture: Anthropological and Ethnographic Approaches" from Carlson, Performance: A Critical Introduction, 13-33.

Theatre as an Agent of Change

16: *Man of Mode, Acts 2 and 3. Assignment 2: Performances

21: Tom King,"'There's a difference in men': The Fop and the Politics of Pleasure" from King: The Gendering of Men, 1600-1750: The English Phallus, vol. 1: 228-55.

23: Mid-term Exam. Assignment 3: Oral report and 6-8 page paper due on person you are nominating for an "It" person. These will largely constitute the mid-term; there may be a short in-class part of the exam.

Intertheatricality and Event Structure

28: Jacky Bratton, "Reading the Intertheatrical," excerpt, from Women, Theatre and Performance, ed. Maggie Gale and Viv Gardner, 7-24; Laura Engel, "Sarah Siddons's Diva Celebrity" from Fashioning Celebrity, 26-58.


2: Marvin Carlson, "Theatre Audiences and the Reading of Performance" from Interpreting the Theatrical Past, 82-98.

7: Drowsy Chaperone and intertheatricality.

9: Event Structure nominations. Assignment 4: oral and written.

Spring Break

Performance and Everyday Life

21: John Fiske, "Cultural Studies and the Culture of Everyday Life" from Cultural Studies, 154-73; +Erich Segal, Love Story, 1-96, with Assignment 2: performances.

23: Love Story complete.

28: Wesley Morris, "Leading Role [Performing Presidential]," New York Times Magazine (5/22/16), 15-17; Erving Goffman, "Performances: Belief in the Part One is Playing," 61-65.

30: Group work day.


4: Performances of performances in everyday life. Assignment 5.

6: Performances Continued. Social drama; Jack Santino, "Performative Commemoratives, the Personal, and the Public: Spontaneous Shrines, emergent ritual," 129-37; Clifford Geertz, "Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought," 66-68.

Social Drama and Writing Performance-based History

11: Daniel O'Quinn, "Scarcity and Surplus: Teaching Inchbald's Every One Has His Fault," from Teaching British Women Playwrights of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century, 398-408. Assignment 6: Social drama group presentations.

13: Social drama group presentations, continued. *Elizabeth Inchbald, Every One Has His Fault, Act 1.

18: Assignment 7: Paper Due. Writing theatre history. Upon request, you can hand in this paper any time before April 28.

20: Inchbald, Every One Has His Fault, complete. Assignment 2: Performances.

25: Jacky Bratton, "Bartlemy" from New Readings in Theatre History, 142-50; Claire Sponsler, "Writing the Unwritten: Morris Dance and Theatre History" from Representing the Past, 84-113.

27: Standup comedy. George Pate, "Whose Joke Is It Anyway? Originality and Theft in the World of Standup Comedy," Theatre Journal (2016): 55-71.

Final Exam: 5 May, 4-6:30

*Indicates the reading is in the Broadview anthology.

+Indicates a book to purchase.

All other readings are on Canvas.

Assignments and Points

You will receive a participation grade at the end of the course. It can raise or lower your grade by one category. If, for instance, you have a B+ and receive "+" as your participation grade, you would receive an A-.

Rather than a long paper and traditional exams, this course has a number of short summaries, notes, or papers and brief oral remarks and performances that will often be partly prepared in class.

Assignment 1. January 24: Venice Preserved debate. Oral and written notes. See assignment hand-out for details. 6 points.

Assignment 2. Four to six small groups of varying sizes will do scenes from plays with the goal of illustrating important concepts in Performance Studies. Details for each will be worked out in class. Each student will participate in one performance. 4 points.

  • February 7: Beggars Opera performances; 2 groups.
  • February 16: Man of Mode performances; 2 groups.
  • March 21: Love Story performances.
  • April 20: Every Man Has His Fault performances.
  • Assignment 3. February 23: Nomination of a person who fits the theory of an "It" person. Oral and written. You must select someone who died before you were born. You may not select anyone featured in Joe Roach's book (such as Princess Diana). Your oral presentation should be different from your written paper. In the two-minute presentation you should make the best case you can that your person has "It." You want your person voted in the top five by your classmates. In your 6-8 page paper, you should use the theory in Roach's book and this course heavily and explicitly to show how the person you selected is the epitome of the concept. These will largely constitute the mid-term; there may be a short in-class part of the exam. 15 points.

    Assignment 4. March 9: Event structure nominations; oral and 1-2 page written explanation. 10 points.

    Assignment 5. April 4: Performances of everyday life. Performance and 3-6 page paper. Consider the performances similar to that between Harriet and Young Bellair in Act III of The Man of Mode as your model and perform a scene from our culture. You will write a 3-6 page paper (1) describing the observations and experiences that led you to identify your chosen performance and (2) explaining what this performative behavior does in the culture. 10 points.

    Assignment 6. April 11: Social drama group presentations. Oral. 4 points.

    Assignment 7. April 18: Writing Theatre History Paper. 12-15 page paper. See assignment hand-out for details. Select a character from any of the plays we have read in class. Research the person who played that part in its first production. How did that impact the interpretation of the play? What other concepts in Performance Studies, such as event structure, are particularly relevant? Upon request, you can hand in this paper any time before April 28. 30 points.

    Final Exam. May 5: 4-6:30. 25 points.