2013 Session: "World Theater"

June 3-13, 2013

Mellon School 2013
Mellon School 2013



Christopher Balme (Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich)
Jennifer Buckley (University of Iowa)
Elin Diamond (Rutgers University)
Aparna Dharwadker (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Jon McKenzie (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Carrie J. Preston (Boston University)
Martin Puchner (Harvard University)
Tore Rem (University of Oslo)
David Savran (CUNY Graduate Center)
Andrew Sofer (Boston College)



Samuel Adams
Jane Barnette
Marissa Béjar
Andrew Bennett
Walter Byongsok Chon
Tarryn Li-Min Chun
Gibson Cima
Emma Cox
Joanna Dee Das
Emine Fisek
Jason Fitzgerald
Juliet Guzzetta
Laura MacDonald
Ann M. Mazur
Shayoni Mitra
Erin Moodie
Ramona Mosse
Radmila Nastić
Takiyah Nur Amin
Marie Pecorari
Stella Kao
Margaret F. Savilonis
Daniel Smith
Anna Street
Brian Valencia
Olga Zhulina



The course asks how cultural products, especially dramatic literature, theater and film have captured the spirit of capitalism-fuelling its fantasies, contemplating its effects, and chronicling its crises. More than just an economic system, capitalism created new habits of life and mind as well as new values, forged and distilled by new forms of art. The course approaches capitalism as a world-system and therefore proposes the cultural analysis of capitalism as a method for world theater, including case studies such as Miller's Salesman in Beijing and more generally the global implications of American theatrical culture. Core readings by O'Neill, Treadwell, Rand, Miller, and Mamet and background readings by Smith, Marx, Taylor, Weber, and Schumpeter will be complemented by presentations from participants to explore the global dimensions of the culture of capitalism.


Performance studies has embraced what might be called a “global perspective” since the foundational work of Richard Schechner and Victor Turner, among others, in the 1970’s. Their productive discussions of ritual, intercultural performance, and world theaters have influenced transnational approaches in other fields, including modernist studies - that discipline encompassing both the height and decline of many European empires. Critics often characterize the early twentieth-century fascination with the so-called “primitive” arts of colonized peoples as examples of imperialist exoticism and cultural appropriation. Art objects, like the African masks at Paris’s Trocadero Museum that famously inspired Picasso’s Cubism, were often literally spoils of empire. The theater artists who looked to foreign theatrical traditions, including the ancient noh theater of Japan, are also charged with cultural appropriation, mis-translation, and misrepresentation. Schechner took up similar accusations inTDR with his 2007 Forum: “Is Performance Studies Imperialist?”

This seminar will use the world tours of noh during the past century as a case study for exploring perspectives and problems in world theater. Noh is commonly billed as the oldest extant theatrical form, based on claims that only slight variations have been introduced since the fifteenth century. International interest in noh grew with the so-called “opening” of Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912), and the ancient dance-drama became one of modernism’s primary exotic fascinations. Canonical artists including W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Bertolt Brecht, Paul Claudel, Robinson Jeffers, Benjamin Britten, and Samuel Beckett adapted noh texts and performance styles to confront the aesthetic and political challenges of their periods. Their experimental, hybrid adaptations helped them engage some of the most horrific phenomena of the twentieth century, including imperialism, fascism, and war. These works took world tours with stops in Japan that influenced the traditional noh theater. Yet, the noh-inspired works are also relatively understudied, and critics who do consider them frequently reveal their embarrassment as they trace inaccuracies and misunderstandings.  

How might we set aside our pieties and more productively grapple with the exoticism and appropriations that characterized transnational modernism and continue to haunt contemporary intercultural performance? In addition to appropriation, are models of collaboration, encounter, generic exchange, or translation helpful? We will examine performances with attention to the transnational collaborations that pass foreign theater forms to Euro-American artists. Critical rubrics will be drawn from readings in translation, performance, and postcolonial theory as well as subaltern and gender studies.