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After Modernism: Avant Garde Performance from the 1940s to the Present Day

  • Module code: DA6009
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: Year 6
  • Credits: 30.00
  • Pre-requisites: Successful completion of level 5 Drama or equivalent
  • Co-requisites: none

Summary

This module is an option for all level 6 Drama students. It builds on students' learning in the core Level 5 module DA5004, Modernism and the Stage and, in reflecting on the breakdown of boundaries between different theatre and performance forms in the late 20th century, draws together learning from a wide range of other modules. Its focus is on avant garde conceptions of performance and how these have altered and developed from the mid twentieth century to the present day. A key concept is that of the movement from 'acting' to 'performance'. The module begins with key influences from late Modernism, such as Brecht's Alienation Effect and the Theatre of the Absurd, then moves on to explore the variety of ways in which late 20th and early 21st century avant garde practice has  responded to and challenged thinking about theatre and performance. Postmodern cultural theory and Hans Thies Lehman's notion of the 'postdramatic', provide the context for studies of a range of performance practices which might include the experimental approaches to textual interpretation of companies such as the Wooster Group, site-specific and autobiographical performance, and live art. The module mixes practice with theory, allowing students to apply the principles underpinning work by significant innovators to their own creative practice.

Aims

This module aims to:

  • extend and develop students' knowledge and understanding of 20th and 21st century  practice in theatre and performance
  • explore and interrogate the concept of the avant garde
  • consider significant innovations in theatre practice in relation to their socio-political, cultural and aesthetic contexts
  • encourage students to apply innovative approaches to their own practice
  • develop students' capacities in research, analysis and criticism

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module students should be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key critical debates concerning the nature of the avant garde in performance from the mid twentieth century to the present day
  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of significant theatrical genres and practices such as Epic Theatre, the Theatre of the Absurd and various forms of Postdramatic Performance
  • analyse playtexts and performance practices in relation to these debates and generic definitions
  • articulate the relationships between critical debates and their socio-political, cultural and aesthetic contexts
  • develop their own critical or creative practice in relation to the principles and arguments studied (Key Skill: Creativity and problem-solving)
  • work effectively in groups to research, prepare and present information and ideas (Key Skill: Interpersonal, Management and Leadership)

Curriculum content

  • Post second world war historical, political and cultural contexts for the Avant Garde
  • Brecht's Epic Theatre
  • The Theatre of the Absurd, for instance plays by Beckett and Ionesco
  • The emergence of 'performance studies' in the 1960s and 70s, with reference to, for instance, the work of Richard Schechner
  • Changing attitudes to performance space and design
  • Postmodern and post-structural theories including, for example, the work of Lyotard, Derrida and Barthes
  • The relation of gender-based and intercultural theory and practice to developments in performance during this period
  • Postmodern approaches to textual practice such as the work of Peter Brook and Elizabeth Lecompte
  • The post-dramatic theory of Hans Thies Lehmann
  • Post-dramatic practice such as that of Heiner Muller, Robert Wilson and Rimini Protokoll
  • The impact of key forms including autobiographical theatre, site-specific performance and digital performance on contemporary performance culture

Teaching and learning strategy

The module is delivered in a two hour class each week. Teaching and learning styles are a mixture of lecture-presentation, seminar discussion and workshop exercises. Lectures and seminars embed knowledge and understanding of relevant contexts and arguments, which is then extended and debated in seminar discussions. Workshops enable students to experiment with ideas in practice, developing their experiential grasp of the principles and approaches under investigation and encouraging their confidence to innovate creatively. Students' capacity to research and present their findings, and to engage articulately in critical debate will be developed through independent and group-based tasks set on a regular basis so that, as the module progresses, they become increasingly responsible for their own learning and can follow their particular interests.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive KIS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching 8 X 1 hour Lecture-presentations 8
Scheduled learning and teaching 8 X 1 hour seminar discussions 8
Scheduled learning and teaching 8 X 2 hour workshops 16
Guided independent study Individual research 100
Guided independent study Group-based research and rehearsal 168
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

The summative assessment has two components: the first is a 20 minute, group based performance essay (50%); for the second, students can choose between an essay or a creative response (50%). Essays are 3000 words, creative responses are 3000 words or equivalent.

The performance essay takes place mid way through the module. It is a group presentation, created in response to a question decided by the students and agreed with the tutor which combines theory and practice. This encourages students to grasp the links between these two elements and enables them to present material in imaginative and performative ways. Groups should be between 3 and 6 students. Each student also submits a short document that details their individual contribution to the group presentation.

Giving students a choice between essay and creative response in the second component allows them flexibility in the way they direct their interest and present their learning. Both essay and creative response should engage critically with debates around performance but where the former might be an in depth study of a playwright or practice, the latter could take the form of a script or performance.

Formative preparation for the performance essay and essay takes the form of research tasks set by the tutor on a regular basis which require students to gather and present information verbally to the group. Formative preparation for the creative response is through work in progress presentations. 

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key critical debates concerning the nature of the Avant Garde in theatre from the mid twentieth century to the present Formatively in research tasks; summatively in performance essay and essay/creative response
Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of significant theatrical genres and practices such as Epic Theatre, the Theatre of the Absurd and various forms of Postdramatic Performance Formatively in research tasks; summatively in performance essay and essay/creative response
Analyse playtexts and performance practices in relation to these debates and generic definitions Formatively in research tasks; summatively in essay/creative response
Articulate the relationships between critical debates and their socio-political, cultural and aesthetic contexts Formatively in research tasks; summatively in performance essay and essay/creative response
Develop their own critical or creative practice in relation to the principles and arguments studied (KS: Creativity and problem-solving) Formatively in research tasks and work in progress presentation; summatively in performance essay and essay/creative response
Work effectively in groups to research, prepare and present information and ideas (KS: Interpersonal, Management and Leadership) Summatively in performance essay

Breakdown of Major Categories of Assessment

Assessment Type Assessment Name Assessment Weighting
PRC Performance essay 50
CWK Essay or creative response 50
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS NOT a requirement that any major assessment category is passed separately in order to achieve an overall pass for the module

Bibliography core texts

Auslander, P. (2005) From Acting to performance: essays in Modernism and Postmodernism. London, Routledge

Lehmann, H-T. (2006) Postdramatic Theatre. London, Routledge

Bibliography recommended reading

Bial, H., and Martin, C. (1999) Brecht Sourcebook. London, Routledge

Birch, A. and Tompkins, J. (eds) (2012) Performing Site Specific Theatre. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

Fuchs, E. (1996) The Death of Character: perspectives on theater after Modernism. Bloomington, Indiana University Press

Gontarski, S.E.(ed) (1993) The Beckett Studies Reader. Gainesville, University Press of Florida

Heddon, D. (2007) Autobiography and Performance. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

Huyssen, A. (1988) After the Great Divide: Modernism, mass culture, postmodernism. Bloomington, Indiana University Press

Innes, C. (1993) Avant Garde Theatre. London: Routledge

Lane, R. (ed)  (2002) Beckett & Philosophy. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

Ley, G. (1999) From Mimesis to Interculturalism: readings of theatrical theory before and after 'Modernism'. Exeter, University of Exeter Press

Pattie, D. (2000) The Complete Critical Guide to Samuel Beckett. London, Routledge 

Pavis, P. (1996) The Intercultural Performance Reader. London, Routledge

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