2011 Session: "Theater Among the Other Arts"

June 6 - 17, 2011



In an intense two-week course of study, faculty members and graduate students investigated the ways in which theater and performance use an array of existing art forms - literature, music, visual art - and bring them together in particular ways. Theater is a distinct art form with its own unique history, but it is also intimately intertwined with the other arts and cannot be studied in isolation. This topic also entailed addressing the relation between theater and new media, as well as the ways in which theater adapts material from other art forms.


Lydia Goehr (Columbia University)
Martin Harries (New York University)
Shannon Jackson (University of California, Berkeley)
Toril Moi (Duke University)
Nicholas Ridout (Queen Mary, University of London)
Joseph Roach (Yale University)
Laurence Senelick (Tufts University)
Matthew Wilson Smith (Boston University)


Sarah Balkin
Heidi Bean
Katherine Biers
Justin A. Blum
Julie Buckler
Julie Cassiday
T. Nikki Ceseare
Sasha Colby
Matthew Cornish
Shonni Enelow
Bertie Ferdman
Corey Frost
Jacob Gallgher-Ross
Craig Iturbe
Julia Jarcho
Nicole Jerr
Elizabeth Jochum
Jeffrey Leichman
Steve Luber
Holly Maples
Ljubisa Matic
Christine Mok
Ciara Murphy
John Muse
Mirabelle Ordinaire
Magda Romanska
Ameer Sohrawardy
Ariel Watson
Mimmi Woisnitz
Boris Wolfson


Histories tend to narrate a movement from theater to film: Stage to Screen and Theatre to Cinema are titles of two important studies that treat this problem. But what if we turn these titles around, and think about a process from screen to stage, from cinema to theater? What did film do to theater?

To think this way runs contrary to some standard narratives, but not against history: no form had a more powerful impact on the development of theater in the twentieth century than film. Just as art historians have traced a dialectic between photography and painting – a dialectic involving problems of technological change, of formal constraints, and of shifting media and audiences – so histories of modern theater need to acknowledge the centrality of film in the development of theater. This seminar will trace what such an acknowledgment might look like.

Examples will span the twentieth century. We will, however, pay especially close attention to the decades after World War Two, when film and mass culture, as example and antagonist, were vital to the development of innovative theater.

This course will trace the historical and aesthetic problem of the relationship between theater and film by looking closely at plays and other theater works that respond to the new forms of cinematic entertainment that became dominant in the first part of the twentieth century. We will read works on and for the theater by Antonin Artaud, Samuel Beckett, Peter Handke, Adrienne Kennedy, Federico García Lorca, Gertrude Stein, and others, and theoretical and historical texts by Philip Auslander, Sarah Bay-Cheng, Walter Benjamin, Lisa Gitelman, Hans-Thies Lehmann, Peggy Phelan, Martin Puchner, and Rebecca Schneider.

SEMINAR 2: THE TOTAL WORK OF ART (Matthew Wilson Smith)
The Total Work of Art, or Gesamtkunstwerk, is a genre that aims to synthesize a range of artistic forms into an organic unity, a unity that both models and helps to forge an ideal state. The genre is most frequently associated with the theories and practices of Richard Wagner, but it has exerted tremendous influence on the development of modernism and modern culture generally.

This seminar will examine the history of the Total Work of Art from its roots in German Romanticism through Wagner to the present day. We will especially focus on interrelations between the Total Work of Art, technology, and mass culture, and our readings and viewings will encompass theater, architecture, visual arts, film, multimedia "happenings," and contemporary digital performance. Creations we will consider include Wagner's Festival Theatre at Bayreuth, Walter Gropius' plans for a Totaltheater, Bertolt Brecht's radio-oratorio The Lindbergh Flight, Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, Walt Disney's theme parks, Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and Bill Gates' "home of the future."