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Performance and Text






School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies

TH208 Performance and Text


Module Convenor: Dr Nicolas Whybrow


Autumn and Spring Terms: one 4-hour session per week, Thu 2.30-6.30pm, Humanities Studio.



This module looks at the relationship between live performance and written text, but also entertains the notion that ‘text’ can be taken to refer to the way the various dimensions of performance space – which may not necessarily be located in a designated theatre – are articulated, whether that be through movement, image, sound, lighting, objects, the body or whatever. Hence, ‘text’ may not incorporate the written or spoken word at all. Through a series of practical workshops and related seminars, live performance and video viewings, and occasional workshops with artists, the module will explore various innovative approaches to the production and use of text in contemporary performance. It locates and examines these different uses of text in relation to recent theories of performance and relevant perspectives in critical theory.

Traditional approaches to theatre invariably see the written text as the primary element in theatrical production, and performance as the means by which this text is realised. Many contemporary theatre practitioners have sought to distance themselves from this approach and have attempted to untie performance from its dependent and illustrative relationship to text. Here, the act of performance itself is seen as an autonomous and vital element in the theatrical experience. Cutting across various contemporary theatrical genres, this course will look at the different strategies that practitioners have taken in response to this move.

This module proceeds under ‘laboratory’ circumstances. Alongside seminars, essay writing and workshops or extended projects run by professional practitioners, students are involved in sustained and intensive practical group work focusing on, and experimenting with, the dynamics of live performance. Practitioners typically studied may include Samuel Beckett, John Cage, Forced Entertainment, Peter Handke, Ian Breakwell, Gob Squad, Tim Crouch, Adrian Howells, Lone Twin, The Wooster Group, Pina Bausch, DV8, Franko B, Orlan, Stan’s Cafe, Goat Island and Cupola Bobber.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the module you will have:

  • Investigated an important critical and aesthetic shift in contemporary western performance practice, and articulated this understanding through discussion, debate and critical written response.
  • Developed the practical skills necessary to explore the implications of such a shift in a creative workshop context, and to present the outcomes in a piece of creative practice.
  • Worked individually and in a range of group configurations to develop individual initiative and to explore the dynamics of group collaboration in critical analysis, problem solving and performance production.
  • Engaged in an intensive devising and rehearsal process, learning to balance the creative and personal demands of performance-making with the practicalities of time and resource management.

One essay (3000 words) – 25%

Deadline: Friday 16 December 2011

(questions issued Week 5, Autumn Term)

Practical Assessment – 25% individual contribution, Autumn Term

Practical exam – 50% group + individual performance, Spring Term

Sample Bibliography:

Auslander, Philip (1997) From Acting to Performance: essays in modernism and postmodernism, London : Routledge.

Bailes, Sara Jane (2011) Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure: Forced Entertainment, Goat Island, Elevator Repair Service, London and New York : Routledge.

Beckett, Samuel (1984) Collected Shorter Plays, London : Faber.

Brown, Andrew, Mole Wetherell and Reckless Sleepers (2007) Trial: a Study of the Devising Process in Reckless Sleepers’ ‘Schrödinger’s Box’, Plymouth : University of Plymouth .

Callens, Johan (ed) (2004) The Wooster Group and its Traditions, Bern : Peter Lang.

Carlson, Marvin (1996) Performance: an Introduction, London : Routledge.

Childs, Nicky and Jenny Walwin (eds) (1998) A Split Second of Paradise: live art, installation and performance, London : Rivers Oram Press.

Climenhaga, Royd (2008) Pina Bausch, Londodn and New York : Routledge

Counsell, Colin and Laurie Wolf (eds) (2001) Performance Analysis: an introductory coursebook, London : Routledge.

Etchells, Tim (1999) Certain Fragments, London : Routledge.

Fernandes, Ciane (2002) Pina Bausch and the Wuppertal Dance Theatre, Bern : Peter Lang.

Handke, Peter (1997) Plays: 1, London : Methuen .

Heathfield, Adrian (2004) Live: Art and Performance, London : Tate Publishing.

Heddon, Dee and Adrian Howells (2011) ‘From Talking to Silence: a Confessional Journey’, PAJ, 33(1), pp.1-12.

Helmer, Judith and Florian Malzacher (eds) (2004), ‘Not Even a Game Anymore’: The Theatre of Forced Entertainment, Berlin : Alexander Verlag.

Huxley, Mike and Noel Witts (eds) (2002) The 20th Century Performance Reader, London : Routledge.

Kaye, Nick (1994) Postmodernism and Performance, London : Macmillan

Kaye, Nick (2000) Site-specific art: performance, place and documentation, London : Routledge.

Lehmann, Hans-Thies (2006) Postdramatic Theatre, London and New York : Routledge.

Lonsdale, Janet (2004) ‘Ancestral and Authorial Voices in Lloyd Newson DV8’s Strange Fish’, New Theatre Quarterly, 20.2 (May), pp.117-126.

Quick, Andrew (ed) (2007) The Wooster Group Work Book, London and New York : Routledge.

Savran, David (1988) Breaking the Rules: the Wooster Group, New York : Theatre Communicatons Group.

Wright, Elizabeth (1989) Postmodern Brecht: a Re-presentation, London and New York : Routledge.