English and drama

Approaches to Contemporary Performance

Module code: Q3107
Level 5
30 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Workshop, Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

This module will introduce you to a range of approaches that have developed in contemporary performance practice since the post-war period and considers some of the issues and challenges these new approaches raise. In particular, we will pay attention to the opportunities afforded by theatre and theatricality in an increasingly uncertain world where destabilization has become a motif and way of life, and where intermediality and cross-disciplinarity have become habitual in the approach to making/performing theatre. We will consider how this is reflected in a range of approaches to performance. Through readings and discussion focused on a number of groups and artists who will be used as case studies, we will investigate the ways theatre performance has responded to and accommodated (or else resisted) certain cultural, social, ideological and artistic shifts.

Throughout the term, you will engage with issues that arise in contemporary stagecraft on a practical and theoretical level. Seminars and workshops will be informed by a range of contexts and theoretical positions, and we will compare and contrast the working practices and productions of specific internationally acclaimed groups and artists from the late 70s to the present day, from the US, Britain and Europe.

Your understanding of contemporary performance will develop through a combination of reading, researching and attending performances. You will discuss and workshop a range of issues, methods and approaches relevant to the module. Topics will include new strategies in composition and devising; the treatment of character (acting, non-acting, performing); "decentering" and development of the non-linear or "multiplicity" plot; the role of the spectator/audience; task and process; durational vs. fictional time; collaborative methodologies; the use of "off-stage" and low-fi aesthetic strategies.

Your continued participation and punctuality is key to the success of the module (especially since the module relies on group work) and you will be expected to rehearse and prepare (readings for discussion, seminar and performance presentations) outside of class time. The module culminates in a group presentation in which short pieces that have been collectively devised will be performed. These draw upon strategies, methods, ideas and materials covered by the module. This will take place in week 10 in order to allow ample time for you to work on your essay for this module, due in week 12.

Module learning outcomes

  • To demonstrate an understanding of developments in contemporary performance through practice and research.
  • To apply an enhanced critical vocabulary to the discussion of shifts in contemporary history, culture and politics and how these have affected performance.
  • To demonstrate an ability to articulate, analyse and apply material studied together through both theory and practice.