Thurs. Sept. 7:  Opening Class
Why do humans (and others) "perform"? What are theatres? And how do/should/can we limit the terrain of the "theatrical" in relationship to something that might be termed "reality"? Is "theatre theory" a redundancy? The English word “theory” comes from the Greek “theoria,” meaning contemplation, speculation, or sight. It is related to the word “theatron,” or place for viewing – the theater. Theater and theory are kin. Is this the case around the world? What happens to theatre over time? What can we know of prehistoric practices, let alone ancient or medieval. What of performance remains? And, is theatre itself a time machine? We will ask the essential question: Why learn about theatre history and historical theatricality? And what do dance, music, visual art and architecture have to do with what we will be studying this semester?

Section 1: Orienting Questions to "Prehistory" and "Origins"
Tues. Sept. 12: What is Performance?
Suzan-Lori Parks, The America Play and other selections
Also, an article from American Theatre magazine
Thurs. Sept. 14: Performance in/as Culture: The Cockfight
Clifford Geertz, selection from The Interpretation of Cultures
John Emigh, selection from The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies
Tues. Sept. 19: Counter-Mimicry, or Performance Across Cultures 
 Wole Soyinka, Death and the King’s Horseman
Thurs. Sept. 21:  Global Differences? Global Samenesses?  What is at stake in some efforts to find universals of performance and what might be some problems with such a search?
Eugenio Barba, Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology, selections
A play of Noh Theatre, Japan:  Dojoji
Scenes from Kalidasa's Sanskrit drama, Sakuntala

Thurs. Sept. 26: Prehistory, Performance, and “Origin Rituals”
The Herzog film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a forgotten 1959 theatre textbook, 
a brief selection from Martin Bernal Black Athena
Richard Schechner, selection from Performance Theory
Tues. Sept. 26:   Masks and Ancestors – Possession vs. Representation
Selection from John Emigh Masked Performance
Materials on spirit possession globally
In class conversation about the modern Western “tourist gaze” and other problems with colonial legacies of primitivism
Thurs, Sept, 28: Pre-Conquest Indigenous Traditions

Selection from Diana Taylor The Archive and the Repertoire

Section 2: The Ancient Mediterranean

Tues. Oct. 3:  Ancient Mediterranean Africa
Ronald J. Leprohon, "Ritual Drama in Ancient Egypt."
 The Triumph of Horus
Thurs. Oct. 5:  More on Egypt and  Influence
Guest lecture: Kenneth Molloy
Inge Nielsen, Cultic Theatre and Ritual Drama: Interchange Between East and West in Antiquity, selection
Tues. Oct. 10:   The Theatre of Dionysus
Euripides, The Bakkhai
David Wiles, Greek Theater Performance, chapters 1 and 2.
(Be sure to note the assignment )  
Thurs. Oct. 12: Greek Comedy
Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 
Wiles, chapters 3 and 4, and Sue-Ellen Case on "Classic Drag"
Tues. Oct. 17: Plato and Aristotle on Mimesis
Plato, The Republic: Books 7 and 10.
Aristotle,  The Poetics of Aristotle
Wiles, chapter 5.
Thurs. Oct. 19:  Multiple Medeas
Euripides Medea
Seneca Medea 
Tues. Oct. 24:  Roman Empire 
A. M. Nagler, Sourcebook in Theatrical History
Odai Johnson, "Unspeakable Histories: Terror, Spectacle, and Genocidal Memory"
Plautus, The Captives

THurs, Oct. 26: MIDTERM EXAM
Here is the study sheet.  

Section 3: Asia and Africa
Thurs. Nov. 2:    The Sanskrit Theatre of Ancient India
Bharat-Muni, selections from the Natyasatra
Barbara Stoler Miller, Theater of Memory
Kalidasa, Sakuntala
Thurs. Nov. 9: Traditional Theatre of Kerala
Reread Natyasastra from the last class.
Suresh Awasthi, “The Temple as Theatre”
Phillip B. Zarrilli, Kathakali: Dance-Drama
Thurs. Nov. 9: Traditional Theatre of Kerala
Reread Natyasastra from the last class.
Suresh Awasthi, “The Temple as Theatre”
Phillip B. Zarrilli, Kathakali: Dance-Drama
Tues. Nov. 14 Theatrical Legacies of Pre-Colonial Africa 1
Margaret Thompson Drewal, Yoruba Ritual
Wole Soyinka, "The Fourth Stage"
Thomas DeFranz and Anita Gonzalez, Introduction to Black Perfromance Theory

Thurs. Nov. 16: Theatrical Legacies of Pre-Colonial Africa 2
 David Kerr, African Popular Theatre,
Guenther, Trickers and Trancers

Section 4: Medieval Europe and the "New" World 

Tues. Nov. 21:  Holy Roman Empire
Saint Augustine and Tertullian
Quem Quertis and Hrosvit 
John Spaulding Gatton, "There Must Be Blood" 
Andrew Sofer, The Stage Life of Props 

Tues. Nov. 28: Carnival, Mumming, Farce 
The Farce of the Fart
A Christmas Mumming, The Play of St. George
Mikail Bahktin, "On Popular Festive Forms"in Rabelais and His World

Final paper option proposal due. 
Thurs. Nov. 30: Corpus Christi and the Inka
Carolyn Dean, Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ
Moltolina, History of the Indians of New Spain
Grads: Leo Cabranes Grant, "From Scenarios to Networks"
Tues. Dec. 5: Old World New World "Visions"
Shakespeare, The Tempest and Black Elk Speaks
Grads, "This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine"
December 12:  Final Exam, 10:30 in 007 Lyman Hall.

Study Sheet is here


Course Objectives and Requirements


1. Why do humans (and others) "perform"? This class is designed to introduce students to performance theory and basic performance studies texts as a way to approach both the challenges of charting performance history and the comparison of performance forms across culture. The first third of the class is devoted to introductory performance theory as a platform for the historical inquiry that follows.

2. To stimulate rigorous questions about the functions of performance in the generation, propagation, and/or negotiations of culture(s). Theatre, dance, ritual, and play are all considered.

3. To introduce students to various global performance forms in historical context, and apply performance theory in engagement with historical material.

4. To encourage students to work to identify the social assumptions informing as well as generated by various theatrical practices (such as the stage/house divide, practices of duration, ritual aspects, levels of codification, levels of improvisation, etc.).

5. To explore pre-historical, ancient, and medieval performance practices while considering the limits of these temporal categories globally.

6. To interrogate traditional historiographical reliance on written forms or archival remains over embodied practices.


This course will be based on lecture and in-class discussion of the material we read and, in some cases, view. Due to the broad amount of cultural and historical material covered by this survey, it is essential that students attend all classes and complete all readings.  YOU MUST BRING THE READINGS IN PAPER FORM TO CLASS. You can share printed material, but a paper copy must be in every other student's hand during class. If you choose a partner at the beginning of the term you can plan accordingly.  No computers or cell phones can be used during class. I also strongly recommend reading from print and taking reading notes by pen or pencil. For some of my reasoning toward this decision, read this Washington Post article from April 2014.  Other studies have shown that note taking on a computer during a lecture is not as effective and handwritten notes. Coming to class without readings will result in a mark of absent after two times.

Undergraduate students:

Exams and general requirements: There are two exams and an in-class group performance for this class (though if you prefer a final paper to a final exam see the option in the next paragraph). Reading responses are also required. It is unlikely that I will administer pop quizzes, but it is possible if discussion lags and reading preparedness seems duller than usual.  The midterm and final are both short essay form. The midterm will be on November 8 in class.  The final will be after the reading period on December 13 during the class hour in Lyman 007.

For those who prefer to write a final paper and go into depth on one topic there is a final paper option instead of the final exam. See the parameters for that paper here. Note that a proposal for that option is due beforehand, Nov. 29. 

Performance project: This is a group-based class presentation of research as performance. The performance part of the presentation should take no more than 10 minutes.  Your group will have time to then discuss research and take questions from the class. The best possible format would be a performance followed by a structured discussion based on questions that you pose. Either way, I expect careful research on the period/style as well as  theoretical clarity in a piece that is creatively presented and well thought out. The whole group of you should arrange to meet with the Professor or the T.A. a couple of weeks beforehand so that we can talk about the presentation and plan accordingly. Office hours or staying after-class for a brief discussion can work for this.  See the Group Performance link for more on the pedagogical intention of this project.

Attendance and reading reports: You will be required to write a reading response of a reading response, roughly 150-250 words in length (about half to one page), for each class, posted to the Canvas class site.  Please respond to the questions posted for each day on the syllablog.  While attendance only forms 20% of the grade, having more than two (2) absences over the course of the semester will adversely affect your grade. More than 4 absences may constitute failure. Only illnesses, religious holidays and family emergencies constitute excused absences. Please see me immediately if you are having problems with attending or doing the work for the course. Consistent tardiness may be counted as absences in some cases. Please act accordingly.

NOTE:  I discourage theatre arts and performance studies concentrators from taking this course S/NC. Please note that S/NC students must have at least 70% attendance and turn in 70% of the response papers, in addition to full completion of the other class requirements, to pass the class. Students who do not meet these requirements will fail to receive credit for the class.

Extra credit, non-required paper: For undergrads, if you would like to write a paper on any topic pertaining to this class that will allow you to do further research and present it to the professor, feel free to email me with the paper and I will consider it for extra credit. This paper should be no more than five pages and can be due  by 5pm on December 15 and must be emailed to

Grading for Undergraduates:
Performance Projects: 20%
Attendance/reading reports: 20% (if a student is perennially tardy, or misses more than 6 readers reports, this percentage will increase)
Midterm: 30%
Final exam: 30%
The extra credit paper can bring your grade up 1/2 a mark if it receives a B or higher.  So, a B would become a B+, a B+ would become an A-.

Books can be bought at the bookstore (see link to book order). But all books are also on reserve at the Rock (in 2016 the reserve books may not be ready until mid September). All other reserves are available as PDFs or links on OCRA. Some PDFs are on the Canvas site. If you can't find it at OCRA, check Canvas. And remember: you must have a paper copy in class,  or share with only 1 other person.

Graduate Students:

Complete all required and recommended reading for each class. No reading response papers required. Full participation in discussion, with sensitivity to the general level of the class. That is, graduate students should enable undergraduates (and thus assist the professor) in the arc of class discussion.

Graduate students will give one in-class oral presentation during the semester, to be worked out with the Professor. In addition, class on November 24 will be run by the TA and the graduate students, more on this in person.  

Graduate students will write a 15-20 page research paper due December 15 and emailed to me. Please provide me with an abstract and preliminary bibliography for this paper by Nov. 1. I would also like to have you pass in an annotated bibliography of at least 5 additional performance theory texts or collections (you may pass in up to 10) and a "performance theory" bibliography of 30-40 books that you craft over the semester. We can discuss this further. For the first few weeks there will be prompts for "graduate students" on the syllabus pages, but after that I will assume that your bibliography building and reading is independently underway. Meet with me during office hours (or by appt) at some point in the semester to discuss the annotated text selection. The annotations should be up to 1 page in length (no more), requiring at least five pages in total. The annotations and bibliography are due by December 10.

Attendance/Participation 20%
Expanded annotated reading bibliography in Performance Theory 20%               
Research Paper: 60% 

Academic Code for ALL STUDENTS:

Below is a statement on Brown’s Academic Code. Please feel free to ask many any questions about the code or proper citation for your research projects. I will not tolerate academic dishonesty.

Norms regarding the quality and originality of academic work are often much more stringent and demanding in college than they are in high school. All Brown students are responsible for understanding and following Brown's academic code, which is described below.

Academic achievement is ordinarily evaluated on the basis of work that a student produces independently. Students who submit academic work that uses others' ideas, words, research, or images without proper attribution and documentation are in violation of the academic code. Infringement of the academic code entails penalties ranging from reprimand to suspension, dismissal, or expulsion from the University.

Brown students are expected to tell the truth. Misrepresentations of facts, significant omissions, or falsifications in any connection with the academic process (including change of course permits, the academic transcript, or applications for graduate training or employment) violate the code, and students are penalized accordingly. This policy also applies to Brown alums, insofar as it relates to Brown transcripts and other records of work at Brown.

Misunderstanding the code is not an excuse for dishonest work. Students who are unsure about any point of Brown's academic code should consult their courses instructors or an academic dean, who will be happy to explain the policy.

STATEMENT REGARDING COMFORT LEVELS WITH MATERIAL THAT MAY BE GRAPHIC OR OTHERWISE EXPLICIT IN TERMS OF GENDER, RACE, CLASS, TRAUMA, RELIGION, EATING HABITS, VIOLENCE, SEX, AND OTHER CATEGORIES:  All of the material in this class may be difficult for someone – difficulty is, in fact, part of what we will explore. There is, historically, a lot of violence in theatre -- even in comedies. There are rape scenes in theatre, beheadings, bestiality, everyone is almost always transgender (or trans-person) in many places and many times and we will engage with this material in a forthright manner. In the medieval period, for example, there is a very large amount of blood split in the name of Christ, and anti-semitism on the part of early Christians. And the Roman empire has a long arm – arguably reaching us here where we sit today – so we will not always discuss attitudes, practices, worldviews as of a distant past. This material clearly could "trigger" emotional responses. Theatre is often about the triggering of emotional responses, and you may find yourself in the theatre.  There is brutal slavery in the ancient world, both pagan and Christian. There are open attitudes to sexuality in many parts of the world that we discuss, including "two spirits" in Native America, etc. Please see the Professor in advance, or at any time, regarding questions or concerns.


Book Order

Book Order
Highly Recommended to Purchase:
Note: The bookstore will list as required, but all books are also available at the Rock.

Aristotle. The Poetics of Aristotle. Translation and Commentary by Stephen Halliwell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. ISBN 0807817635 - $25.00

Barba, Eugenio and Nicola Savarese. A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology: The Secret Art of the Performer. New York: Routledge, 1991. ISBN: 0415053080 - $86.95

Corrigan, Robert. Classical tragedy, Greek and Roman: 8 plays. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1990.
ISBN 1557830460, 9781557830463 - $18.99

Dean, Carolyn. Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ : Corpus Christi In Colonial Cuzco, Peru. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 1999. - $24.95

Drewal, Margaret

Gassner, John. Medieval and Tudor Drama. New York: Applause Books, 2000. ISBN-10: 0936839848 - $17.99

Henderson, Jeffrey. Three Plays by Aristophanes : Staging Women. New York: Routledge, 1996. ISBN: 0415907446 - $44.95

Miller, Barbara Stoller. The Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. ISBN: 023105839X - $45.00

Parks, Suzan-Lori. The America Play, and Other Works. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995. - $15.95

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Signet. ISBN: 0451527127 - $4.95

Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King's Horseman. W. W. Norton, 2002. ISBN: 0393977617 - $20.70

Wiles, David. Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge, 2000. ISBN: 0521648572. - $49.99

Recommended to Purchase:

Geertz, Clifford

2000 The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.

Enders, Jody

2002 Theatre of Cruelty. Cornell University Press, 2002. ISBN: 080148783

Zarrilli, Phillip

Kathakali Dance-Drama. New York: Routledge, 1999. ISBN: 041519282X