THEATRE ON THE EDGE
Dr. Meiling Cheng
THTR 499/63160R/4 Units/2010 Mon/Wed 12-1:50pm; KAP 138
Office: MacClintock, Rm. 2nd Fl E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel. (213) 740-1496 Office Hrs: Fri. 10-noon. By Appointment Only.
This course explores the art of theatre at the edge of possibilities. The curriculum proceeds through
a series of interrelated themes to examine how the time-based art of theatre intersects with other art
forms and surpasses its preexisting boundaries. Highlighting the concept of the edge as a margin, an
ecotone, and a membrane, our inquiry investigates various ways in which the edge fosters
performing artists' iconoclastic ventures and sustains their constant struggles to evolve beyond the
limit of imagination. The course teaches you to critique and create theatre on the edge.
M 8/23 Introduction. Theatricality. Edge. Margin. Limit. Avant-Garde. Ecotone.
View: YouTube: Societas Raffaello Sanzio: The Cryonic Chants. [3:54]
Matthew Barney, The Order from Cremaster. [7:39]; Cremaster Cycle
Lady Gaga, Bad Romance. [5:08]
W 8/25 Conceptual Wellsprings of the American Avant-Garde.
Read: Kirby, "Avant-Garde Theatre" in M. Kirby, A Formalist Theatre (1987).*
Aaronson, "Theories and Foundations" in A. Aronson, American Avant-Garde
Theatre: A History (2000).*
M 8/30 Theatre as a Laboratory for Pataphysics and Metaphysics: Alfred Jarry and Antonin
Read: Jarry, King Ubu Roi and Artaud, Jet of Blood in M. Benedikt and G.
Wellwarth, Modern French Theatre-The Avant-Garde, Dada, and Surrealism: An
Anthology of Plays (1964).*
View: YouTube: Jean Christophe Averty, Ubu Roi, 1965 [1:36]
Ubu roi, by Théâtre du Garage, Ginebra (1991) [1:18]
Ubu Rey--Brittany aerialist performance (2008) [1:12]
Ubú Rey, by Teatro Gayumba, Rep. Dominicana [2:37]
Ubû Rey, by Estudio Diana [2.01]
Ignite's Jet of Blood (2005), by Ignite at Theatreworks, shown at Adelaide Fringe
W 9/1 Theatre as the Site of Synthetic Dynamism: Italian Futurism.
Read: Marinetti, Settimelli, and Corra, "The Futurist Synthetic Theatre";
Corra and Settimelli, Negative Act/Atto Negativo;
Corra and Settimelli, Old Age/Passatismo;
Corradini and Corra, Alternation of Character/Alternazione di Carattere;
Francesco Cangiullo, There Is No Dog/Non c'è un Cane: Synthesis of Night;
Francesco Cangiullo, Vowel Refrains/Stornelli Vocali: Verses of Life--Music of Death;
Francesco Cangiullo, Lights!/Luce! in M. Kirby and V. N. Kirby, eds. Futurist
View: YouTube: Zang Tumb Tumb-Tribute to Marinetti [2:57]
O Futurismo [2:09]
M 9/6 Labor Day, University Holiday
W 9/8 S/EP#1: Pataphysicians, Cruel Auteurs, and Futurists.
M 9/13 Performance of Antiart: Dada, Visual Decomposition, and Cognitive Drift.
Read: Tzara, "Dada Manifesto" in M. Gordon, ed. Dada Performance (1987).*
Tzara, The Gas Heart in Modern French Theatre.*
View: YouTube: The ABC's of Dada (1-3). [c. 30 min.]
W 9/15 Theatre as Concepts in Action: Duchamp's Readymades; Performative Framing;
Found Objects and Personas.
Read: Duchamp, "The Richard Mutt Case (1917)"; "Apropos of 'Readymades"
(1961)" in K. Stiles and M. Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art (c.
View: YouTube: Marcel Duchamp--In His Own Words (Part 1-3) [30 mins.]
M 9/20 Theatre as Architectonic Transfiguration: The Bauhaus: Design-made; Craft-
formed; Technological Art.
Read: Schlemmer, "Man and Art Figure" in W. Gropius and A. Wensinger, eds.,
The Theatre of the Bauhaus (1996).*
View: YouTube: Triadic Ballet (1927) [2:11];
schlemmer 2 [1:04]
Balé Tríadico-Performance 2 [4:58]
W 9/22 S/EP#2: Dada; Duchamp; the Bauhaus.
M 9/27 Play as Verbal Geography: Gertrude Stein.
Read: Stein, "Plays," in G. Stein, Last Operas and Plays (1995).*
Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts.*
W 9/29 Play as Mythic Recuperation:
M 10/4 Play as Entropic Memories: Samuel Beckett.
Read: Beckett, Breath and Not I in S. Beckett, The Collected Shorter Plays of
Samuel Beckett (1984).*
W 10/6 Play as Unearthing Amnesia: Suzan-Lori Parks.
Read: Parks, The America Play in S-L. Parks, The America Play and Other Works
M 10/11 S/EP#3: Extreme Playing; Stein; Beckett; Parks.
DUE: The First Set of Ongoing Commentaries (5 selective entries).
W 10/13 Midterm Review: Summing-up, Catching-up Day.
M 10/18 Theatre as Living Collages of Silences and Sounds.
Read: Cage, "Experimental Music." (1958) [USC e-resource, email for pdf]
View: YouTube: John Cage 1/7-7/7, selections from "Four American Composers"
series, dir. by Peter Greenaway [c. 70 min.]
DUE: Midterm Project.
W 10/20 Theatre as Quotidian Thought Experiments: Fluxus.
Read: Armstrong, "Fluxus and the Museum" in In the Spirit of Fluxus.*
View: YouTube: Yoko Ono, Paik, Vostell, . . Fluxus-Happening-Artists, 1990 [6:23]
Alison Knowles-Newspaper Music (extract) [1:16]
Drip Music- George Brecht (Fluxus) [1:58]
Nam June Paik "Piano" [0:30]
Fluxus East - Flux Concert by Ben Patterson [1:36]
Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik "The Originale" [9:51]
Homage to George Brecht #2 [1:11]
M 10/25 Theatre as Multimedia Cloning: Laurie Anderson.
Read: Gordon, "Laurie Anderson: Performance Artist," TDR 24.2 (June 1980): 51-
Anderson, "Americans on the Move: Parts 1 & 2," TDR 24.2 (June 1980): 54-64.*
Cheng, Performance Review, "The Nerve Bible by Laurie Anderson," Theatre
Journal 47.3 (Oct. 1995): 409-411.*
View: YouTube: Laurie Anderson "Head" [0:29]
Laurie Anderson on Art and War [7.23]
Laurie Anderson's Homeland [3:29]
Laurie Anderson--Zero and One [6:17]
Laurie Anderson/Only an Expert/Maybe If I Fall [8:39]
W 10/27 S/EP#4: Experimental Music: Cage; Fluxus; Anderson.
M 11/1 Theatre of Perception, Emotion, and Experience: Meredith Monk.
Read: Monk, et. al., "Art as Spiritual Practice," PAJ: A Journal of Performance
and Art 24.3 (Sept. 2002): 18-34.*
View: YouTube: Meredith Monk-1/8 to 8/8 [c. 55 min.]
Meredith Monk-Book of Days (1988) [3:12]
Cave Song [4:40]
Meredith Monk-Churchyard Entertainment [6:24]
W 11/3 Dance into Theatre into Dance: Pina Bausch
Read: Hoghe and Tree, "The Theatre of Pina Bausch," in TDR 24.1 (March 1980):
Jennings, "Obituary: Pina Bausch," The Guardian (1 July 2009). [e-resource pdf]
View: YouTube: Post-Modern Dance History [8:39]
La Sacre Du Printemps by Pina Bausch Wuppertal Dance T [7:24]
Pina Bausch Walzer [2:13]
Pina Bausch 1977 Die Sieben Todsünden et Café Muller [4:30]
M 11/8 Theatre as Interactive Pop Happenings: Blue Man Group.
Read: Kaprow, "Untitled Guidelines for Happenings (1965)," in Theories and
Documents of Contemporary Art.*
Nestruck, "Blue Man Scoop: Founding Members Reveal How It All Began,"
National Post (Canada) (June 8, 2005) [USC e-resource pdf]
View: YouTube: megamix [5:21]
Blue Man Group CapNCrunch paint drum and paper [4:13]
Blue Man Group-Subway Video [2:35]
Blue Man Group on Global Warming [1:49]
Blue Man Group-Drumbone (Last Call Vegas) [3:27]
W 11/10 S/EP#5: Experimental Music and Dance Theatre.
M 11/15 Theatre as the Edge between Being and Artifice: Tadeusz Kantor.
Read: Klossowicz, "Tadeusz Kantor's Journey," TDR 30.3 (Autumn 1986): 98-
View: YouTube: Tadeusz Kantor, Avant-Garde Theater [8:53]
Tadeusz Kantor-Umarla klasa (1976) [3:11]
Tadeusz Kantor-Umarla klasa fr 1 [3:26]
Tadeusz Kantor- Umarla klasa fr 2 [2:55]
Tadeusz Kantor- Umarla klasa fr 6 [2:43]
W 11/17 Theatre as Imagistic Gestalt: Robert Wilson.
Read: "Robert Wilson on Movement"; "1. Have You Been Here Before 2. No This
Is the First Time: An Evening with Robert Wilson." Pdf download from Wilson's
Cheng, Performance Reviews, "The Space That Is Filled with Time by Robert
Wilson," in Theatre Journal 47.4 (Dec. 1995): 547-48.*
View: YouTube: Robert Wilson 1, 2, 3 [c. 26 min.]
I LA GALICO-Bob Wilson-Teatrodegli Arcimboldi [1:43]
L'Opera da Tre Soldi: Robert Wilson's Jewel at Spoleto 51 [4.06]
M 11/22 S/EP#6: Visual Theatre: Kantor; Wilson.
W 11/24 Performance as Energetic Transmutation: Marina Abramovi´c (& Ulay).
Read: Kaplan, "Deeper and Deeper: Interview with Marina Abramovic," Art
Journal 58.2 (Summer 1999): 6-19.*
View: YouTube: Relation in Time [2:27]
Expansion in Space [6:17]
Marina Abramovic-How We in Balkans Kill Rats [1:54]
Tate Shots NYC: Marina Abramovic [4:10]
M 11/29 Performance as Postcolonial Pastiche and Techno Trauma: Guillermo Gomez-Pena
and La Pocha Nostra.
Read: Goméz-Peña, "The Virtual Barrio@the Other Frontier (or The Chicano
Interneta)," in Electronic Media and Technoculture (2000) [USC e-resource pdf]
View: YouTube: La Pocha Nostra [3:06]
Mapa Corpo [5:59]
Museum of Fetishized Identities- "Australian Identity" [0:55]
Museum of Fetishized Identities-"Guillermo Gómez-Peña" [1:30]
Museum of Fetishized Identities "Robo Warrior" [1:22]
W 12/1 Performance as Sensorial Extremity: Carolee Schneemann; Hannah Wilke; Yayoi
Kusama; Chris Burden; Vito Acconci; Tehching Hsieh; Stelarc; Orlan; Ron Athey;
Franko B; osseus labyrint; Sun Yuan and Peng Yu.
Research and View: Bring your findings to share day.
DUE: The Second Set of Ongoing Commentaries (5 selective entries).
M 12/10 Presentation of Final Projects (On Final Exam Scheduled Date: 11-1PM)
DUE: The Final Project.
I. I have placed all the texts marked with * on reserve at Leavey or through the Ares electronic
2. All the texts marked as [USC e-resource pdf] may be accessed via Blackboard.
3. Since almost all of the required texts are available via the USC reserve system, I did not make a
Course Reader, nor order any book through the USC Bookstore. But I encourage you to bring your
laptop or your copies of the texts to class, so we may discuss the required texts in class.
4. Please be sure to complete the reading of selected written texts for each class before we meet. Most
of the visual texts will be reviewed in class. If you have time, you are encouraged to view these visual
texts, especially those accessible via YouTube, in advance.
Explanations of Grading System and Written Assignments
The evaluation of your course performance will include your attendance, your eagerness to be
involved in the class activities, and the quality of your efforts and written works. You will fail the
class if you only turn in the written assignments without fulfilling other requirements.
There will be three types of written assignments and two presentation/performance assignments.
You will be graded for the level of your understanding, for the ingenuity of your plan, for the
coherence of your organization, for the soundness of your argument, for your ability to support the
analysis and interpretation with specific examples from the plays, the performance and visual texts,
and for the skills with which you manage to synthesize different ideas from lecture, research and
discussion. Originality as well as diligence will be rewarded.
(1) The written assignments should be typed and double-spaced. The margins of your papers should
be kept at 1 inch; the size of your letters should not exceed 12-point font.
(2) According to the School of Theatre policy, no late paper will be accepted, unless permission is
granted prior to the due date.
(3) Close Reading: Your are strongly urged to read the text required for each class before the
lecture, so that you may contribute sensibly to class discussions. Please bring your copy of the
relevant text to each class. Be prepared that the Professor may call on you to read selected scenes
and passages in class. Your willingness to serve as a volunteer reader will count favorably toward
your Participation grade.
I. Participation: 15%
The participation grade is not guaranteed by mere attendance. It's evaluated in two parts.
• The first part is a reward/discipline section for class behavior and attendance records.
You will earn up to 5% points for this section if you behave as a responsible citizen of the class. If
you disrupt the class order, you will lose 10 points with every written warning from the Professor.
In general, you lose 7 points with every unexcused absence and 2 points with an excused absence.
• The second part of the participation grade is decided by your intellectual engagement.
You may earn up to 10% by your active participation in class discussion and in-class projects.
Your efforts to engage in the on-going process of learning and thinking in class will be valued as
much as the quality of your participation. Courage, discipline, determination, thoughtfulness, and
the adventurous spirit will speak well for you in this class.
II. Ongoing Comments: 25% (10% for the first set; 15% for the second set)
Due: October 11; December 1, 2010.
For each class, you are required to bring in one critical commentary in response to the readings. When
there is more than one reading assignment, you may choose to focus on a particular text or do a
summary of your responses to all the texts required for that class. You are to collect these
topics/comments in a typewritten format and turn them in when they are due (twice during the
These comments may be simple but provocative questions, a series of ideas, illustrated by drawings
and images, or thesis paragraphs. The most important criterion is that the comment is engaging and
imaginative and that it may provoke deeper questioning of the issues under investigation.
III. The Oral Presentation/Solo Performance: 15%
Due: The scheduled date.
You are required to do one solo project and one collaborative project for the semester. Preferably,
your individual and collaborative projects will cover two different topics. You are allowed to do
more than one presentation to increase your participation grade.
There are six oral presentation/collaborative project slots for the whole semester. You should
sign-up in advance for the particular slot and the kind of project (solo or collaborative) that you
are going to do. If you want to change your plan, you must do so at least a week in advance.
Consult the Professor for the signing sheet.
Both types of presentations are considered performances. Your individual presentation should last
about ten minutes. It can be either academic or creative, or both. It's your choice to design the
format and direction of your presentation. You can perform as a commentator, a theatre student,
or a dramatic character, etc., in your solo work. You will receive an individual grade for this
IV. The Ensemble Performance/Collaborative Project: 15%
Due: The scheduled date.
You are required to participate in one collaborative performance. The performance duration
depends on the number of members--theoretically every member gets 5 minutes, but the
performance may be shorter. The maximum duration for an ensemble project is 15 minutes.
The members for your ensemble should range between two to three people. Consult the Professor
if you feel the urge to stage a musical that would include the whole class!
Your whole ensemble will receive a group grade for this project.
V. The Midterm Project: 15% (5-7 pages)
Due: October 18, 2010.
You are to choose an artist/artist group and explore how the artist/group engages with the
potentials of the theatrical medium. Your project may be a think piece, an analytical paper, or a
creative response. Consult the Professor if you wish to work on a visual medium for your project.
VI. Final Project: 15% (8-10 pages)
Due: December 10, 2010.
This assignment aims to train your research ability. Thus, you have to draw at least two outside
critical or journalistic sources, in addition to references from the original text. You lose "5 points"
for every missing source. A minimum of 6 pages is required for the paper. You lose "5 points" for
each page less than the minimum requirement.
The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is recommended for the editorial format. Be
sure to document your sources properly.
Option 1--Critical Paper:
The critical paper will analyze in depth one of the figures (e.g., an artist, a group, a theorist, a
play, a performance, or a visual text) that we study during the semester. You may choose to do
more than one play/performance/visual texts. Choose a subject that interests you the most,
focus on a particular thesis, and develop your own interpretation based on a close reading of
the text and an examination of other critical sources. You have to carefully document your
sources and present a synthesis of your discoveries. The objective of the paper is to
demonstrate your analytical insight, your skill at formulating an argument, and your ability to
incorporate examples from the play with critical research.
Option 2--Dramaturgical Newsletter:
The dramaturgical newsletter will deal with one of plays/performance texts that we study
during the semester. It will introduce the artist/dramatist's life and works, offer a detailed
analysis of the particular text that you recommend for a new production, explain the reasons
for your recommendation, survey at least two past productions, and describe your own
particular version of production. The purpose of the newsletter is to inform your reader about
the artist and the play/performance text, to clarify your individual approach to the
play/performance text, and to persuade your reader that the production is worth seeing.
All assignments will be graded on a percentage (100 points) scale system. The grades will then be
calculated into a final point total, which will be converted into a final letter grade.
A+: 100-97; A: 96-94; A-: 93-90; B+: 89-87; B: 86-84; B-: 83-80;
C+: 79-77; C: 76-74; C-: 73-70; D+: 69-67; D: 66-64; D-: 63-60;
F: Below 60.
School of Theatre Grading Criteria
• Letter grades and marks are defined as follows:
A work of excellent quality
B work of good quality
C work of fair quality for undergraduate credit
C- failing grade for graduate credit
D- work of minimum passing quality for undergraduate credit
Procedures and Agreement:
I. How to schedule an individual conference.
If you want to have an appointment with me, talk to me after class, or email me at
<email@example.com>. The best way to contact me is via email.
II. How to arrange for academic accommodation.
Students requesting academic accommodation based on a disability are required to register
with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for
approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP when adequate documentation is filed.
Please be sure the letter is delivered to the Professor as early in the semester as possible. DSP
is located at the USC Center for Academic Support,
http://sait.usc.edu/academicsupport/centerprograms/dsp/home_index.html; the office's phone
number is (213) 740-0776; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
III. How to receive early notification of grades at the end of the term.
You may email the professor to get your grade. For the sake of confidentiality, no grade
postcard will be sent, nor any grade sheet posted.
IV. How to have an absence excused.
Bring in a written letter, documenting the date and the reasons for your absence. If you need to
miss more than three consecutive classes, you need to supply a letter from a guardian or
partner that contains a telephone number so that the Professor may contact your guardian
when necessary. Note: a telephone message won't be sufficient to have your absence excused.
V. Cheating or Plagiarism.
Dishonesty in any form harms the individual, other students, and the School of Theatre.
Therefore, USC policies on academic integrity will be enforced in this course. Papers suspected of
containing plagiarized material (the unacknowledged or inappropriate use of another's ideas,
wording, or images) will be verified for authenticity through turn-it-in.com, an Internet service
subscribed by USC. I expect you to familiarize yourself with the academic integrity guidelines
found in the current "SCampus" www.usc.edu/dept/publicatiohns/scampus.
VI. About the Syllabus:
The syllabus is subject to change based on the availability of visual materials.