Global Problems in Performed Literature
Course Tutor: Dr Ernest Schonfield
Global Problems in Performed Literature is a module based on group
performance and written work that obliges and encourages students to reflect
jointly on the ethical themes and aesthetic aspects of performed literature.
The literature, chosen by the students from the language and culture that they
are studying, will treat a unifying global problem (specific theme chosen by
students in conjunction with the instructor, see list of possible topics below),
but may encompass any genre (for example poetry, prose, drama,
documentary genres, film, historical accounts). Students must work with
materials that are available in English, which will not only make their texts-in
performance available to non-speakers of the original language of the text, but
also invite reflection on the problems inherent in working with translated texts.
The performance aspect is not intended to limit the material to drama, but to
encourage students to think through both the aesthetic and ethical issues
raised in the texts to a degree that allows them to advance their own
representation of the ‘global problem’ through performance. Participants
cannot function as passive recipients and memorizers of professorial
wisdoms, but must become producers of social meaning through an aesthetic
medium. What is usually ‘the end’ (that is, the passive understanding of a
problem or problems that is then expressed in the exam) is, in this context,
the means that enables performance, leading to a more active consideration
and understanding of the main issue.
Each group (3 students per group) will choose up to three texts on a given
theme, engage in a joint analysis of these texts, and perform these texts for
the other groups. Students will be asked to reflect, in writing, on their choice of
texts, the problems inherent in using texts in translation, the goals of their own
performance, and the performances of other groups (see Assessment below).
Starting with read-throughs and improvisation exercises, this course is
designed to develop students' skills and self-awareness as performers.
Students will be guided through the process of developing their own 20
minute performance pieces. Gradually, theoretical perspectives will be
introduced in order to enable students to reflect critically upon their own
Course teaching will include (but will certainly not be limited to) texts by the
following authors (photocopied excerpts to be provided):
Bertolt Brecht, Man Equals Man, He Said Yes/He Said No
Jean Genet, The Maids, The Balcony
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Joe Orton, Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot
Heiner Müller, Hamletmachine
Sarah Kane, Blasted, Cleansed
Performance theories to be discussed will include:
Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski, Augusto Boal, Judith Butler
(photocopies to be provided).
• To encourage joint reflection among students on various levels
(encompassing the textual, contextual, and performative) and on various
issues (encompassing the aesthetic and the ethical). Since they will
necessarily have to work with texts in English translation and are charged to
perform these texts, this reflection will also have to include the question of
representation: what was lost in translation, and what was, inevitably, lost in
• To encourage and enable students to produce meaning, to advance
their own interpretation on ethical issues through an aesthetic medium.
• To encourage and enable students to reflect on their choice of
academic discipline and the relevance of what they are studying (languages,
cultures, Arts and Humanities in general) in a global context.
• To enable students to act as experts in their interaction with other
students, both in the representation of their discipline and by contributing
individual talents (from poetry declamation to film-making).
• To inform other students and learn from other students how the same
theme is treated in different cultural contexts; to afford students the
opportunity to explore key issues from an unfamiliar perspective.
• To make students’ area of expertise, at least in small measure,
available to the larger UCL community through their performance and joint
• To encourage in students critical and creative thinking, an active
understanding of global problems, the willingness to think of themselves as a
global citizens, and the ambition not only to reflect upon, but ultimately to
shape their environment.
Possible themes for students to choose might be (but are certainly not limited
The Self and the Other
Representations of Violence and War
Memory and Memory Culture
Nation and Globalisation
Race, Ethnicity and Religion
The module will be taught on Thursdays 4pm-6pm over the course of 10
weeks in Term I:
Weeks 1- 7: instructor-led performance workshops and improvisation
sessions; discussions on methodology; selection of texts; rehearsals.
Week 8: 20 minute-performances to be held at 16-18 Gordon Square
(audience by invitation only)
Week 9- 10: Responses to performances, in presentations and in writing.
There will also be one further mandatory introductory session in Term I (date
to be agreed in Week 1).
Student Away Day:
Joint reflection on issues transcending one’s own field, but also one’s own
background and experience, is a central aspect of this module. For this
reason, the group leader will hold an Away Day in Week 4 of Term I for all
participants in the module in order to give students a space and some time
outside of UCL in which they engage in this kind of broad and
transdisciplinary thinking, at a venue to be determined. The Away Day will
conclude with an evening theatre visit. Date of the Away is to be established
in agreement with students in the first week of Term I.
Students will be assessed on
1. An essay (2,500 words) justifying their text choices and commenting on the
translation and issues of cultural specificity: why students chose these texts
as examples of the culture they are studying to present to students of other
cultures, and to what extent, if at all, they consider these texts ‘representative’
(group assessment, 25% of final mark).
2. The performance itself (20 minutes per group, group assessment, 25% of
final mark). Performances will be videotaped to enable re-viewing by
instructor, examiners and students (for their written response, see point 4).
3. A presentation (30 minutes per group) outlining the groups’ goals of their
own performance. Each group should comment on its approach to
performance/methodology, aesthetic and ethical questions (the difference
between page and stage: to what extent the texts had to be modified in
performance, and how this affected the global problems discussed in the
original texts). (Group assessment, 25% of final mark).
4. A response to one performance by another group (2,500 words). This
essay must discuss a performance of texts outside the discipline of the
essay’s author, and should consider both aesthetic and ethical questions
(individual assessment, 25% of final mark).
The variety of assessment formats (a jointly authored essay, an individually
authored essay, a group performance and a group presentation) gives each
student an opportunity to excel. The mixture of group assessment and
individual assessment is also indicative of the goals of the module, which is to
ensure joint discussion as well as individual reflection.