L363 24462 AMERICAN DRAMA
4:00p-5:15p TR (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.
TOPIC: “Performing Scandal In Twentieth Century American Theatre”
What happens when private or hidden events are thrust into the spotlight---both figuratively and literally? This question will organize our approach to the texts and forms of American drama and performance from the mid-nineteenth century through today. Scandals are public rituals where certain national anxieties are brought to the surface and laid out before an alternately outraged and titillated audience. Relying on innuendo and indirection as much as on a “smoking gun,” scandal links together questions of concealment and exposure, publicity and privacy, proof and gossip, sensationalism and sex, morality and hypocrisy. They are about disgraceful circumstances and outrageous behavior, prompting cover- ups, narrative revision, and competing versions of truth. They make private affairs public, expose immoral behavior, and ruin their reputations. They can also be immensely pleasurable (at least, for those not caught up in their damaging blades). What is the source of this pleasure? What does it mean to be a spectator to scandal? Is watching a scandal unfold more than mere consumerism or voyeurism? Is there a politics to scandal? Is there an aesthetics to scandal? If so, what kind? And finally, what do the scandals of the American stage tell us about the shifting mores and sensibilities of American society over the past 150 years.
In addition to the will-to-tabloid of scandal, we will also approach our material from scandal’s etymological roots. The word scandal comes from the Greek word skan’dalon, which means “stumbling block” or “snare.” Following this, we will frame our inquiry by asking how various plays and performances have “tripped up” their audiences’ expectations (of the theatre, of themselves, of the United States), as well as how these plays have seduced their audiences to think or see the world differently. We will read plays that are about scandals, as well as plays that caused scandals when they were performed. This will allow us to ask important questions about the form of theatre and its relationship to the development of a national public identity and American morality and sensibility. We will trace American theatre and performance in its various forms and stages. We will begin the class with an examination of melodrama and minstrelsy in the nineteenth century. We will then turn to varieties of American realism in the twentieth century. Alongside the realist tradition, we will consider the development of theatrically experimental forms of theatre and performance, including expressionism, absurdism, epic theatre, and performance art. Why do some forms better represent the content of scandals than others? Why do some forms themselves provoke outrage and censorship? We will complement these dramatic texts with theoretical and historical texts that will help us to formulate and pursue these questions.
Class will be a combination of discussion and lecture, and will have a number of formal and informal writing assignments, including a final research paper.