(This is where you can read about some of the exercises and in-class discussions we have during our winter term preparations at Western. We are learning to read theatre from various perspectives, in preparation for being critical, engaged, and compassionate audience members when we fly abroad!)
Erin Hurley’s Theatre & Feeling, alongside The Shipment by Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company
Today, we’re going to concentrate in particular on two claims that Hurley makes early in the book, on pages 8 and 9. Here, she introduces some key terms that will be meaningful to our discussion.
- she cites Nicholas Ridout, who argues that theatre “is an affect machine” (8): it cannot help but make us feel, whether it’s trying, or trying and failing, or not trying at all
- she goes on to say that theatre performs a particularly heightened kind of “feeling-labour” (or “feeling-work”) (9), and that this work is tied in part to its intersubjective nature. That is: at the theatre we pay to watch a group of people working at feeling, so that we can feel too. The things we feel do work in, for, and among us as spectators. This work can be for pleasure, or for “profit”, or BOTH.
In order to think through what Hurley means, and how this “feeling-labour” at the theatre works, we are going to spend a lot of time thinking about our own feelings as spectators.
How do YOU feel at the theatre?
Remember when I went to South Carolina, and you went to see A Chorus Line presented by Theatre Western? I hear a lot of you just LOVED it! …
(Remember what Hurley says, in the opening pages of the book, about theatre and LOVE?)
Pick ONE moment from A Chorus Line that you remember because, well, it really, really moved you. Describe in detail how you felt while watching it.
Bonus: can you distinguish between the “affects” (pp 13-14) you experienced, and the “emotions” (pp 18-19) you felt?
Please write for TWO minutes!
Feeling, pleasure, and profit
In the middle of Theatre & Feeling Hurley distinguishes between “pleasure” and “profit” as two ways in which theatre’s social power has been theorized since antiquity.
That is: either it offers you a lesson, or it just entertains you.
Between pages 58-68, she nuances this division, and complicates its implied hierarchy between body (thinking, moralizing, benefiting) and body (just enjoying).
In short: she helps us to understand that theatre rarely does just one of these things. FEELING is never divorced from theatre’s profit-motive; on the contrary, it’s one of the ways theatre does its most important social work.
We’re now going to introduce The Shipment into our discussion, to help us understand some more complex ways feeling can do work at the theatre.
We’re going to watch (depending on available time) 2-3 short scenes from The Shipment. We will do the following exercise for each scene we watch.
Pair up in twos or threes.
As we watch, make note of how your body is reacting.
Try to link your reactions to details you see on-screen: actors’ actions, setting, music, audience reactions, etc. (But focus FIRST on your bodily reactions, and SECOND on what you think might be prompting them.)
When we finish, you’ll take 5 minutes as a team to compare reactions (affective responses), and to try to assign emotions to those reactions. Think about these questions:
How do you feel watching this scene?
What kind of “work” do you think that feeling might be doing? (And: for whom?)
Pre-departure workshop #2: getting ready to experience something completely different…
In today’s session, Melissa Ostrowski will take us through some questions and exercises to get us ready to experience a cultural climate different from our own. While London is an English-speaking city in a G-8 nation, it is not at all the same as our little London – it’s not even the same as Toronto. We’ll place some emphasis on encountering different cultures in London – for example, we’re staying in Tower Hamlets, a borough with an enormous South Asian (specifically Bangladeshi) immigrant population, and very significant levels of poverty – and we’ll talk about moving around safely in a very big, very crowded, very fast-paced city.
Some resources for today:
1. Melissa’s ppt (pre-departure-workshop-2)
2. Photos to help us think about our destination!
Joe Kelleher’s Theatre & Politics, alongside Carrie Cracknell’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (2012)
Let’s start with the performance today!
We’ll watch the first nine minutes of the show – from the opening preset through to Torvald’s exit. Keep your eyes open for small details that jump out at you in connection with this question:
- What about this scene strikes you as potentially “political”?
Now, let’s bring Kelleher into the picture…
Below are a handful of statements from the book that jumped out at me, as I was reading, as especially key or important to Kelleher’s overall argument. You might have others! And that’s fine too!
Select ONE of these statements and write about it for TWO minutes. If you can, connect the statement specifically to the scene of A Doll’s House we watched a few minutes ago. If you can’t, just work on processing what you think the statement means.
- “Collini defines politics as ‘the important, the inescapable, and difficult attempt to determine relations of power in a given space’” (p 3)
- “They [political concerns] incolve questions of who – or what – does or does not ‘count’ as a member or owner or worker or citizen” (p 5)
- “This political-ready quality of theatre includes its liveness and sociality, the simple fact that it happens now and that it gathers people, who may well be strangers to each other, around issues of disagreement but also of common concern” (p 10)
- “What has happened here in the theatre … is that something has been shown, something has been said, has been brought into appearance, which might not otherwise be shown or spoken of.” (p 26)
- “… theatre can often ‘work’ – theatrically and politically – at those points where its political messages appear to break down” (p 42)
Unreliability and unpredictability and breakdown… as strengths?
Take a look at page 24 of Theatre and Politics, the paragraph beginning after the provocative question:
- What does it [theatre] do to a person politically?
Let’s read the paragraph out loud. Who’s game?
- What do you think Kelleher means in this paragraph? Any initial thoughts and guesses?
Now, let’s test his theory a bit. To do so, we’ll watch my absolute favourite part of A Doll’s House – the extraordinary fight Torvald and Nora have after Krogstad returns Nora’s bond.
When we’re done, reflect for ONE minute.
- How did this scene make you feel? How did you react?
- What did it do to you?
Helen Freshwater’s Theatre & Audience, alongside Shakespeare’s Globe’s 2009 As You Like It (2 February 2017)
“Audiencing” at Shakespeare’s Globe
To begin, we’ll look at each section of Freshwater’s book in order to get at the “hot issues” around audiences that she discusses.
You’ll work in teams of three. Each team will look at one section of text.
Your job: to identify ONE or TWO statements your section that, for you, sums up the key ideas Freshwater is communicating in this section.
I call this exercise “the most important claim in the text”.
Note that you need NOT put your chosen statements/claims into your own words, though you SHOULD discuss them to make sure you all have a shared understanding of what you think it means.
You have up to 20 minutes for this work. At the end of 20 minutes I’ll ask you to share your statement(s) with the class, and a few brief words about why you chose them.
Team “Models + Frames”: pages 11-27
Team “Audiences + Reviewers”: pages 27-38
Team “Attitudes”: pages 38-55
Team “Participants”: pages 55-76
Now, we’ll watch one (or two, time depending) excerpts from the production.
Which would we like?
[41:00 – 45:00; introduction of Jacques]
[1:21 – 1:27; intermission antics with Touchstone + Jacques + Audrey]
[1:39:40 – 1:47 (or so); Jacques + Roz + Orlando + the chase!]
Your job: to watch for the audience! Think about
- how the production is attempting to engage (or not) its live viewers;
- how those viewers are reacting
When we finish watching, talk with your team-mates for a few minutes about this question:
- How does the section of text you explored help you to think about the audience for this production, and about the production’s relationship to its spectators?
Jen Harvie’s Theatre & The City (19 January 2017)
On pages 8-9, Harvie briefly describes three different approaches to reading theatre and performance in the city.
She elaborates these in the following pages of her book:
- Cultural materialism (pages 24-45)
- Performative analysis (pages 45-66)
- Hybrid approaches (performative materialism, and materialist performativity) (pages 66-78)
We’re going to work together to figure out what these different analytical strategies look like. Then, in the last part of class, we’re going to practice using them – with the help of some retro urban pop-culture.
Let’s put together three “tables” around the room.
Group yourselves up. (Don’t worry – you’ll be moving around, so it’s not crucial which group you’re with to start.)
Nominate one person to be the “anchor” at each table.
Now, each table gets assigned one of the critical approaches in Harvie’s book. WRITE YOURS DOWN IN BIG, BOLD LETTERS ON THE CRAFT PAPER PROVIDED!
For FIVE MINUTES, work together at your (first) table to get preliminary information about your critical strategy on the craft paper.
- What are the main features of the strategy?
- How does it assist Harvie with her social justice-oriented goals?
Then, ROTATE: the anchor remains; everyone else goes to another table.
You’re at a new table now, but the same task applies. FIVE MORE MINUTES!
Finally, we will do one last rotation. Again, the anchor remains at each table, and the same task applies. FIVE FINAL MINUTES.
Then, we debrief. what’s on your craft paper at your final table?
*If you are an anchor: your job is to help orient the new people at your table, quickly. How far did the last group get? What remains to be done?
*If you are NOT an anchor: your job is to be flexible. You NEED to have your own copy of the book handy!
The next step: applying Harvie’s frameworks to a real, live example
Stay in your final table groups!
We’re going to watch the “parade” scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Watch the scene through the lens of your final table’s analytical strategy. Make some notes as you watch.
When the scene ends, talk with your table-mates.
- Using the framework in front of you as an analytical lens, what key comments on the scene would you offer?