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American Theatre Left and Right: Performance, Culture, and Politics in the 1930s, 50s, and 80s

ENGL 276.401
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3

This semester’s topic focuses on twentieth-century American theatre and performance—both in the mainstream and on the fringes—that defined itself oppositionally to the prevailing culture and political system, and the relation of this performance activity to the dominant culture, the established theatre industry, governmental support, and governmental regulation.  We will look at three temporal snap-shots:  the 1930s (political and agitprop theatre; the Living Newspaper; the funding and defunding of the Federal Theatre Project; new movements in acting techniques and ensemble), the 1950s (theatre, culture, the cold war, and the Marshall plan; McCarthyism and blacklisting; the politics of method acting), and the 1980s (performance art; ethnic, political, and queer performance; Reaganism, the culture wars, and the “NEA Four” defunding controversy).  Finally, we will move forward to a single theatre piece from the 90s—Angels in America—which consciously evokes the politics and aesthetic struggles of earlier decades.

Students enrolling in this course are asked to see Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty in the Studio Theatre of the Annenberg Center, Dec. 6-9.