(Re)Presentation and Unstageable Drama

ENGL 244 | University of Washington


In his recent talk, "Why Live," Herbert Blau, a theorist and theater director responsible for some of the country's first performances of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, asks "what is liveness; what, indeed, is presence?" an especially germane concern in an increasingly digitized and mediated world. "Virtual reality," may seem like a modern concept (or an out-moded early gaming platform) but the theater has always been a version thereof, balked at as long ago as Aristotle for its pretense to real presence. What happens though, when a play can't be performed, was written without performers in mind, or is otherwise intentionally un-stage-able? Does the theater then become one of the mind? But wasn't it always that anyways?

Student Learning Goals

During the quarter, we will learn to feel the forms of genre: how the mechanics of play-making inform or disinvite performance; we will learn the craft of literary exegesis as practiced on slippery productions that involve a whole host of human concern: what is a play to the sound designer?, and how do we talk about that? We will also gain familiarity with the various periods and places from which our texts spring: for Sophocles, a play is a different sort of instrument than it is for August Wilson; but not so different as to be unrecognizable in ambition. Finally, we'll practice registering our responses in written form to drama wherever it plays out, in both live/"real" and impossible theaters.

General Method of Instruction

In this course, we will seek to expand our notions of what constitutes a play, what constitutes "play," and how we can tell the difference through reading a range of playwrights across 2000 years of theatrical history and several languages and continents. What's more, we'll begin to stage our own responses (performances of a kind as well) to these texts in light of the critical traditions that inform them, and to inhabit the various attendant roles, reading from actoral, directorial, and literary-poetic positions.

Expect to attend performances, to stage scenes, to hear and to give research presentations, and to engage your fellows both inside and outside class in a continual dialogue: interpersonal, academic, theoretical, real.

Class Assignments and Grading

The basic indexes on which your mastery of this material will be measured are a series of quizzes, creative projects, short essays, theatrical reviews (of the written sort), and group-research tasks.

Recommended Preparation

See all the plays you can between now and then. This is a good city; they abound. Especially recommended are productions by New Century Theater, Book-it Reperatory Theatre, Washington Ensemble Theater, The Balagan, and anything you find on campus.