Directing: Bodies in Space and Time (Williams College, Fall 2018)
This is a laboratory in which we will investigate the holistic art of directing live performance. The director is both a creator and interpreter. Students will sharpen their visual, spatial, sonic, and kinesthetic sensibilities while developing a clear, cogent directorial voice. We will learn by doing. Assignments will involve hands-on directing projects presented in class for collective critique. Through these weekly assignments, directors will devise and discover strategies for collaboration and vocabularies of action and intention.
Ways of Knowing: Music, Movement, Memory (Williams College, Fall 2017)
This interdisciplinary seminar proceeds from the premise that the body knows. Ongoing colonial modernity is rooted in a racialized hierarchy: the “civilized” life of the mind vs. the “primitive” instincts of the flesh. According to this binary, the body is marked as irrational, sinful, outside of the archive. The body cannot know because the happenings of the body are ephemeral: unlike documents, they don’t last. In this course, we will subject this logic to close scrutiny. As performance scholar Diana Taylor asks, “Whose memories, traditions, and claims to history disappear if performance practices lack the staying power to transmit vital knowledge?” In this course, we look to music, movement, and other repertoires as ways of knowing, remembering, and world-making. How does embodied knowledge travel across time and space? How have performance practices served as modes of what Ashinaabe cultural theorist Gerald Vizenor calls “survivance” (survival + resistance) for indigenous, nomadic, queer, and colored communities. Case studies include: the Middle Passage and the syncretic birth of the Blues in the Americas; nomadism, the nation-state, and the migration of Romani music; and the evolution of queer ball culture. Students will engage with a variety of texts (verbal, sonic, visual, kinesthetic) and respond to them critically not only through writing and discussion, but also through their own performance practices.
Queer Drama (Williams College, Spring 2019)
This seminar course is a deep dive into the richly dissonant dialogue between queer lives and live performance. How have queer artists shaped and reshaped the field of theatre and performance over time? How has drama, in turn, shaped the landscape of queer life? What inventions and innovations might we attribute to the evolution of “queer”? We will look to the work of artists such as Tennessee Williams, Tarell McCraney, Taylor Mac, Reza Abdoh, Sharon Bridgforth, Virginia Grise, and many others as we seek to map the messy topography of queer performance.
Devised Performance: The Art of Embodied Inquiry (Williams College, Spring 2018)
This studio course offers students hands-on experience in devising new performance work as an ensemble. Looking to the work of practitioners and collectives like Jerzy Grotowski, El Teatro Campesino, Tectonic Theater Project, Pina Bausch, Belarus Free Theatre, Nrityagram, and SITI Company, we will challenge ourselves to really probe what live performance is capable of. How might we think of performance as a research methodology? As a lifestyle? As a form of political action? This class will function as a laboratory, forming its own unique structure for developing and realizing a live performance. The course provides an opportunity to navigate the complex dynamics present in collaborative creation. Guest classes with practitioners will offer a fuller range of skills for the student ensemble to utilize during the devising process. Work-in-progress presentations spaced regularly throughout the semester will allow the ensemble to receive feedback from small, invited audiences, as well as the opportunity to apply that critique to an ongoing creative process. At the end of the semester the accumulated work will have a public presentation in a workshop format.
Writing in the Margins: Race, Performance, Playgiarism (Williams College, Fall 2018)
There is no such thing as an original play. So says playwright Chuck Mee. Someone else, certainly, said it before him. What does it mean to own a story? This seminar/studio course proceeds from a historical understanding that writing and performance are, and have always been, practices of plagiarism. We begin by looking at how bodies, thoughts, and words come to be understood as ownable property in the modern era, and how that process of commodification is inextricably tied to colonialism and the production of race. How do performance and bodily practices trouble our ideas about individual ownership? We look to writers and other artists of color who have plundered “classic” texts and radically reclaimed the colonial canon. We will read intertextual works by Suzan-Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, Salman Rushdie, Cherrie Moraga, and others. Taking these artists as inspiration, students will choose a text as source material and write in the margins of that text to create new, re-visioned work.
Writing for Performance (Williams College, Spring 2018)
This studio/seminar course is designed for students with some experience in creative writing and/or performance interested in a deep dive into the art of playwriting. What is a play? What distinguishes writing for performance from writing that is meant to be read? How do we craft a blueprint for a live event? In our rapidly evolving digital world, what sorts of stories and phenomena still ask to be experienced live? How are contemporary theater and performance makers pushing the boundaries of what “writing” means and what constitutes “liveness”? We will read works by Sharon Bridgforth, Sarah Ruhl, Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Tony Kushner, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah DeLappe, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edward Albee, August Wilson, Chuck Mee, María Irene Fornés, Young Jean Lee, Stew, and Lightning Rod Special, who have deepened and widened the possibilities of the form. We will also write, beginning with exercises in character, dialogue, action, and world-building, and working toward a longer final project. Students will be expected to present their own work and respond to each other’s work regularly. At the end of the term, we will present excerpts of our one-act length works as part of an open studio experience.
Rigor Mortis: A Poetry Workshop (Williams College, Spring 2018)
Rigor is a word we use to prove something is serious—worthy of attention. As queer and colored bodies, we are asked to prove our worth in myriad ways. We are asked to prove our work is rigorous. The etymology of “rigor” is stiffness. After death, our joints and our muscles stiffen. The title of this workshop is stolen from a subheading in José Muñoz’ essay “Ephemera as Evidence”, in which “queer acts” push back against the burden of proof that stiffens our living bodies. How might poetry help us look to death as evidence of our ephemerality? In this workshop, we will practice poetic logic as another kind of evidence—one that is both rigorous and ghostly.
Chican@ Theater: Other(ed) Bodies in the Act (Co-taught with Cherríe Moraga, Stanford University, Spring 2016)
This is a one of a kind acting course designed for those students who may never have “darkened the doorway” of a theater or a theater class, but have always felt themselves called to ‘act’ or ‘act out’ in their own bodies, grounded in their own cultural landscape. The class is also open to students with acting experience, and for whom the sense of “acting in translation” applies. In this course, the Chicano and Chicana experience serves as the cultural axis upon which the embodied theory and practice of people of color and queer performance spins. Taking up the indigenous mandate that the body is a site of collective knowing and of action, this class trains actors to work collaboratively, from and through their bodies. Working in tandem with Guest Director, Misha Chowdhury, the class will provide an intensive approach in the practice of performance – both through ensemble work, as well as through monologue and scene dialogue study. Over the course of the quarter, we will work and train as a theater company, honing our abilities to act and react, while generating and shaping material toward an ensemble-devised production. Readings will accompany the actor’s journey regarding the philosophy and origins of Chican@ Teatro (and related approaches), as we map out together its political past, aesthetic origins and its 21st century promise. But, mostly ‘homework’ will take place in the home-body. Students can expect to put in minimally another three to six hours of time in and out of the theater learning to ‘act’ (out).