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					                              BRITISH THEATRE TODAY
                                A London Theatre Tour
Tentative Final Essay Project
Winter Break Program in London 2010
Center for Global Education @ George Mason University
In partial fulfillment of credits for: ENGLISH 202, 302H, 360, 513; and THEATER 497
Program Director: Professor Beth Hoffmann (

Project Description:

The lecture portion of British Theatre Today provides a historical and critical context for the
performances that we will attend as we explore the contemporary British theatre landscape. For
the final essay project, students will have the opportunity to develop a writing project that
explores one of the performances in greater depth.

Students will devise projects that dialogue directly with the work that we will be seeing on stage
during the course, or the performances generated through our engagement with various cultural
landmarks and institutions throughout the city. The priority of such a project must be to make
connections between these experiences and issues in post-war British theatre covered in the

For example, we are scheduled to see a production of …Sisters, an adaptation of The Three
Sisters by Anton Chekhov, at the Gate Theatre. Students might conceive a project in which they
think about how the famous motifs of stasis and motion in the play are translated into a live
theatrical situation that changes during every performance, thereby putting this conceptual
reworking of the play in dialogue either with traditions of literary Chekhov criticism, or with
other directors’ and actors’ approaches to the themes in a more traditional staging. (NB: our
performance schedule for winter 2010 has not been finalized; this example is taken from a
previous iteration of the course) Or, as another example, we will be doing a unit on heritage
sites and the performance of history, the process of making history ―real‖ and embodied in the
present tense. Students could research Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, one of the sites that we will
be visiting, and perform a reading of the way the Globe produces an experience of history for its


Weekly conversations while in session in London to discuss individual projects and provide
updates on progress.

Exercises in London:
   1. Developing research notes while looking at performance
   2. Navigating the British Library orientation tour (if desired)
                                                                                     Winter 2010
                                           Syllabus – British Theatre Today – Final Essay Project
                                                                            Prof. Beth Hoffmann
                                                                                      Page 1 of 5
    3.   Analysis of a scene writing exercise
    4.   Composing a thesis statement
    5.   Paper abstract
    6.   Annotated bibliography (if required)

One 2,500 word argumentative paper (double-spaced, 12-pt Times New Roman font, 1.25‖
margins) plus bibliography (MLA citation style). 2,000 words, with these formatting guidelines,
should come to 9-11 pages. (Please note: this is an approximate word count; parameters will
vary based on the credit sought by individual participants)


Grading guidelines:

This portion of the course is graded solely on the writing exercises and the final paper. Papers
will be graded on the basis of:

    1. Demonstrated insight into the subject matter (Do you know what you’re talking about?)
    2. Coherence and persuasiveness of the argument (Does it all add up to one argument that I
       can buy?)
    3. Depth and breadth of cited source materials (What has she used to support her
    4. Creative use of documentary materials or live experiences (Since we’re talking about live
       performance, how does she make use of sources other than texts?)

Submission guidelines:

I am happy to accept e-mailed copies of the paper, sent to

To get the graded copy of the paper back by the end of the Spring 2010 semester, please provide
me with a self-addressed, stamped envelope with US POSTAGE. Otherwise, participants may
collect the papers from me by appointment on campus at GMU.


I strongly urge you to start exploring the course reader as soon as possible (availability date
TBA) so that you can begin to imagine the kind of subject matter that you’d like to pursue. It’s
the best place to start; it’s full of articles that are overviews of different kinds of practice and the
way they fit into the contemporary British theatre scene.

Before you leave GMU, make sure your laptops are set up with proxy access to the GMU
library’s electronic resources. Many of the newspaper and journal articles that are relevant to
the artists we’ll be looking at are available in full-text versions through GMU’s own databases.
Let me know if you have any questions about this.
                                                                                       Winter 2010
                                             Syllabus – British Theatre Today – Final Essay Project
                                                                              Prof. Beth Hoffmann
                                                                                        Page 2 of 5
You may need/wish to make use of the resources at the British Library in order to complete
your paper, as it will be the only research library that you will be able to obtain access to during
your stay. Go to the library’s website,, to get more details BEFORE YOU GET
TO LONDON. Here are two particularly useful links (concerning how to get a reader pass, or a
library card, and how to prepare for your visit to the library):

As you begin to imagine your research project, here is a list of particularly useful books that you
might want to browse and raid for inspiration or ideas:

   1. British Theatre Since the War, by Dominic Shellard (general history)
   2. Cambridge History of British Theatre, Vol. 3, edited by Baz Kershaw (general history)
   3. Devising Performance, by Deirdre Heddon and Jane Milling (a history of ―devising,‖ or
       collaborative creation, in the UK, US, and Australia. Devising in the UK often stands in
       for ―experimental‖ or ―political‖ work)
   4. Dreams and Deconstructions: Alternative Theatre in Britain, edited by Sandy Craig
       (a catalogue of experimental performance in the 60s and 70s, much of which has
       influenced contemporary experimental work)
   5. Contemporary British Theatre, edited by Theodore Shank (written in the early 90s,
       provides an introduction to ―new,‖ experimental practice that still largely describes the
       landscape today)
   6. Certain Fragments, by Tim Etchells (Etchells is the Artistic Director of Forced
       Entertainment, one of the most important experimental companies currently working in
       Britain. His approach to theatre is very influential and provides a useful starting point for
       investigating the work of other practitioners)
   7. On Directing, edited by Gabriella Giannachi and Mary Luckhurst (a series of statements
       offered by significant directors working in contemporary British theatre)
   8. In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today, by Aleks Sierz (polemical introduction to
       the wave of new playwrights that became prominent in the mid-90s including Sarah
       Kane, Mark Ravenhill, and Anthony Neilson)
   9. The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention, by Baz
       Kershaw (an overview of the politics of the fringe theatre between the sixties and the
       eighties—in other words, he’s interested in ―anti-establishment‖ performance; events that
       take place outside theatres, and outside the big metropolitan centers like London. His
       more recent book, The Radical in Performance, is also frequently read and taught in the
       UK as a theory of contemporary performance politics)
   10. After Brecht: British Epic Theatre, by Janelle Reinelt (a useful introduction to the
       critical concerns of an influential model of post-war political playwriting that still crops
       up in understandings of political theatre)
   11. Staging the UK, by Jen Harvie. (provides a survey of the cultural politics surrounding
       performance practice that engages with questions of gender, race, sexuality, and nation
       amongst contemporary UK festivals, dance, and theatre companies.)
                                                                                       Winter 2010
                                            Syllabus – British Theatre Today – Final Essay Project
                                                                              Prof. Beth Hoffmann
                                                                                         Page 3 of 5
   12. Live: Art and Performance, edited by Adrian Heathfield (a catalogue of new
       performance practitioners that fall under the banner of ―Live Art‖—a set of practices that
       share a history with American performance art, but that in the UK often also include
       much more recognizably theatrical work, such as Forced Entertainment. This strain of
       practice shares a history with fringe theatre.)

Research resources:

Here is a list of research resources in London. Projects do NOT have to have an archival
element to them, but this list is intended to give you a sense of the scope of materials that might
be available, should you be interested in pursuing them within the scope of your desired credit
requirements. Archives will have videos and DVDs of performances from across the spectrum
of British theatre, especially in the last 20 years. If you’re feeling a bit intimidated by the idea of
going to an archive, don’t worry about it—the first thing to do is to figure out what you’re
interested in, and from there I’ll help you figure out what resources you can use to help you write
your paper.

   The British Library
   (Contains every book ever published in the UK, in addition to many non-academic theatre
   magazines, as well as performance and rehearsal videos in the Sound Archive. You must
   have a reader pass to gain access to the British Library—see note above. You cannot remove
   books from the library, so all research must be conducted on site. Photocopies can be
   expensive and they observe copyright laws rigorously. All their catalogues are available to
   search online. Given the breadth of the Library’s collections, most of your projects will
   probably not require any other research resource.)

   The Theatre Museum Archives
   (The Theatre Museum has files on every theatre company in the UK, which include
   performance reviews and in some cases production images. They also have a National Video
   Archive of Performance Recordings. You must have an appointment to visit them, and
   appointments should be made well in advance. This is the next place to try if you can’t find
   information on an artist or company in the British Library. The first step is to look at the
   information available on the website, and then e-mail one of the curators to let them know
   what you’re interested in, and they’ll let you know if the archive has any resources that may
   help you).

                                                                                       Winter 2010
                                             Syllabus – British Theatre Today – Final Essay Project
                                                                              Prof. Beth Hoffmann
                                                                                        Page 4 of 5
The National Theatre Archive
(This archive deals solely with performances at the National Theatre, and has a wealth of
images and video recordings. Again, appointments well in advance are necessary—see
website for more information).

The Live Art Development Agency Study Room
(This is a resource that’s particularly useful if you’re interested—obviously—in live
art/performance art. They have a huge wall of video recordings, as well as some magazines
and other books that you might find useful. Again, you have to make an appointment well in
advance to visit. The British Library Sound Archive also has many video recordings of this
kind of work, so you may want to check there first.)

                                                                                 Winter 2010
                                       Syllabus – British Theatre Today – Final Essay Project
                                                                        Prof. Beth Hoffmann
                                                                                  Page 5 of 5