2015 Session: "What Gets Performed? The Life of the Dramatic Repertoire"

June 1-12, 2015



The 2015 summer session is devoted to a broad range of topics including canon formation, anthologies, and the rise and fall of dramatic literature traditions as well as the role of dramaturgy, new play development, and the changing function of theater as an institution crucial to the life of the dramatic repertoire. Which plays and canons are exemplary and which, eccentric? How do global canons emerge and function? What role does the institution of theater play in the shaping of the dramatic repertoire? And how do newer theatrical institutions such as galleries and museums influence what gets performed? Finally, we hope to explore the future of the dramatic repertoire and its relation to the changing landscape of theater pedagogy outside and inside of the university. The latter topic is an especially urgent one here at Harvard University, where a new program in theater, dance, and media is being developed with an anticipated opening date of fall 2015, but we expect that all of these questions will be relevant across the field.


Minou Arjomand (Boston University)
Robin Bernstein (Harvard University)
Debra Caplan (Baruch College, CUNY)
Claire Conceison (Duke University and MIT)
Sharon Marcus (Columbia University)
Derek Miller (Harvard University)
Heather Nathans (Tufts University)
Carrie Preston (Boston University)
Martin Puchner (Harvard University)
Marc Robinson (Yale University)
Magda Romanska (Emerson College)
Matthew Smith (Stanford University)
Andrew Sofer (Boston College)
Diana Taylor (New York University)



Lydia Abel
Anna Aizman
Ginny Anderson
Maitri Baruah
Ysabel Clare
Elizabeth Craft
Karen M. Dabney
Diana Daly
Fabrizio Deriu
Matt DiCintio
Catriona Davidson Fallow
Clare Foster
Katrina Foster
Andrew Friedman
Ernesto Fundora
Melissa Funke
Helen Gush
Areum Jeong
Yuan Li
Nehanda Loiseau
Joanna Mansbridge
Matthew McMahan
Kee-Yoon Nahm
Isabel Pinto
Kevin Riordan
Alexander Schwan
Elizabeth Tavares
Sebastian Trainor
Caroline Wake
Susanna Weygandt



The seminar asks this question by examining the formation of dramatic canons and the institutions that support them, including repertory theaters, publishing houses, universities, and anthologies. While playwrights from Shakespeare to Shaw have depended on close relations with specific theater companies, others, such as Ibsen, managed to forge careers by relying on publishers and other alternative institutions.

With the rise of a reading public for plays, literary prizes and the establishment of theater departments in universities, new sources of play production and canonization developed, feeding into school and university syllabi and the anthologies that cater to them.

The seminar focuses on the following core case studies, which will be supplemented by the interest and expertise of participants:

I. Theaters
We examine the history of the American Repertory Theater and its changing relation to the dramatic repertoire and new play production. An analysis of this institution (with guest appearances of A.R.T. representatives) will form a lens through which to look at other repertory theaters and their role in creating and shaping canons and publics.

II. Playwrights
By looking at the careers of dramatists from Henrik Ibsen and Bertolt Brecht to Eugene O'Neill and Caryl Churchill, we examine their relation to theater companies and buildings, publishers, and other support structures such as covert and overt state support and institutions such as the BBC. We will also ask what happens when playwrights are cut off from these support structures through voluntary or involuntary exile.

III. Universities
Using as an example the current development of a program in theater, dance, and media at Harvard, we examine the role of higher education in the production of plays and the formation of canons. How will universities shape the dramatic repertoire in the future? And how will they (or should they) relate to other institutions involved in the shaping of the dramatic repertoire?

IV. Anthologies
An analysis of the first two editions of the Norton Anthology of Drama and behind-the-scenes insight into the conditions of its production, ranging from market research and user-questionnaires to permission costs, conflicting imperatives, and solutions to other practical and theoretical dilemmas. We'll compare the Norton to other anthologies and to online platforms. This discussion will be supplemented with readings from the canon wars and theories of canonization and its discontents.

SEMINAR 2: WHAT, WHERE, WHEN (Carrie Preston)
And of course who and why? This seminar starts from the position that what gets performed is sometimes less interesting than (or more interesting because of) where and when it gets performed. We will focus on performance pieces that are reinterpreted in different places at different times in ways that push against national, temporal, generic, gendered, and technological bounds, among others. We will subject these works to a longitudinal study that might offer new understandings of canon formation but also make us wonder at what point a particular piece is stretched into something new.

What gets performed where and when by whom and why? Long before they became the key to getting a journalistic story, the “Five W’s” were features of ancient rhetoric’s theory of circumstances. They continue as the subject of worksheets for language learners, both young native speakers and those learning a second language, with questions such as: ________________ wrote the play What Where?

(circle one: Who, What, Where, When, Why)

Samuel Beckett first wrote What Where in 1983 in French as Quoi Où and then translated it for its original production in New York. Beckett was not satisfied with the play until he adapted it for German television as Was Wo. He then remediated those TV techniques for later stage productions. These revisions are interesting in the context of Beckett’s refusal to allow other directors to revise his plays, as was famously evident when JoAnne Akalaitis set Endgame in an abandoned subway station at American Repertory Theater in 1984. He had been much less troubled by revisions in the 1976 multiracial production at The Space in Cape Town. What would he have thought of Joel T. Cotter putting Nag and Nell in TV screens rather than ashbins for the 1996 version at Santa Ana’s Alternative Repertory Theatre?

Other performance works that lend themselves to a transhistorical, transnational study include the Ballets Russes’s Le Sacre du Printemps with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. The piece has inspired over two hundred other works since its riotous 1913 debut in Paris. The title, often abbreviated as Le Sacre, seems to follow Stravinsky’s score rather than Nijinsky’s choreography, which encourages the myth that the music caused the audience to riot in Paris (a myth the composer encouraged). Although the 1987 Joffrey Ballet revival by Millicent Hodson controversially claimed to recover Nijinsky’s movement, the other two hundred-some productions have used Stravinsky’s modernist music to inspire new stage action, including puppet movement and interactive computer generated 3D stereoscopic dance.

We will examine these works along with Dion Boucicault’s melodrama The Octoroon (1859), Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879), W. B. Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well (1916), Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920), Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan (1943), Jean Genet’s The Blacks (1958), Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive (1997), and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues phenomenon. We will also consider what doesn’t get performed and why, focusing on the gendered and racialized theatrical canon, transnational performance theory, adaptation studies, and the elitism of theater cultures.