Theater as Social Media (THTR 1504)


This course introduces students to the history of theater and performance as paradoxically both a social art (something that brings people together in time and space) and form of media (literally a mediation or divide between people). The course begins with American playwright Anne Washburn’s futuristic play, Mr. Burns, and analyzes contemporary media as forms of cultural performance. From the contemporary moment, the course then traces the effects observed in contemporary theater, dance, and media through diverse global performance histories, noting the ways in which theater and dance have emerged in different cultural contexts and observing the changing emphases on written texts (drama) and performance techniques, including changes in acting, directing, and design. This is an introductory course and does not assume any prior knowledge or experience in either theater or media studies. Students are not required to use social media as part of the course. Students will have the opportunity to create original work as part of the course, as well as analyzing existing material.


  • Understand performance as a medium for cultural history;
  • Analyze media–both historical and contemporary–as forms of performance;
  • Analyze diverse performances and dramatic texts in their social, cultural, and technological contexts;
  • Draw on the history of performance and media as the basis for original work (to include both creatively academic and academically creative material).


Churchill, Caryl. Love and Information. 2014 (available on BB)

Gainor, J. Ellen, Stanton B. Garner Jr, and Martin Puchner. The Norton Anthology of Drama. Shorter Edition. W W Norton & Company Incorporated, 2014. (N)

Kovarik, Bill. Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenberg to the Digital Age. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2015.

Washburn, Anne. Mr. Burns. Oberon Books, 2014.

Zarrilli, Phillip B. et al. Theatre Histories: An Introduction. 2nd edition. Routledge, 2013. Print.

Additional readings are available on Blackboard and noted as (BB) in the Course Outline.


There are two weird things about this class. First, this course is not yet finished. As you can see, each week has different readings assigned, but no topic given. The topics for discussion will be selected by students in collaboration with each other and the professor. Topics with rationale and 2-3 questions for discussion are due by the 5pm on the Sunday before the week’s class.

Second, you do not have to read everything on the syllabus (although you can). Each week students will alternate reading in either theater history or media history. Both groups will be responsible to bring the information to the whole class each week and everyone will read the assigned play.










Jan. 26-28 Introduction: Performance, Theater, and Media  

Simpsons 5.2: “Cape Feare” (in-class)


Feb. 2-4 TBD Mr. Burns

Zarrilli, intro and chp. 1 (pp.3-41) or Kovarik, Intro.

Topic #1
Feb. 9-11 TBD The Importance of Being Earnest (N)

Zarrilli, chp. 5 or Kovarik, chp. 2

Topic #2
Feb. 16-18 TBD A Doll’s House (N)

Zarrilli, chp. 9 or Kovarik, chp. 4

Topic #3
Feb. 23-25 TBD Waiting for Godot (N)

Zarrilli, chp. 8 or Kovarik, chp. 7

Topic #4
Mar. 1-3 TBD Dulcitius (N)

Zarrilli, chp. 2 or Kovarik, chp. 1

Topic #5
Mar. 8-10 Review (3/8) 3/10

Midterm Exam

Mar. 15-24 Spring Break  
Mar. 29-31 Art, Performance, & Digital Technologies Special Session: Luke DuBois

Tues – meet @ Museum;

All read Kovarik, chp. 11

Apr. 5-7 TBD Twelfth Night (N)

Zarrilli, chp. 4 or Kovarik, chp. 9

Topic #6
Apr. 12-14 TBD Woyzeck (N)

All read L. Ginters essay (BB)

Topic #7
Apr. 19-21 TBD Woyzeck, part 2 (N)

All read Kovarik, chp. 10

Topic #8
Apr. 26-28 TBD Love and Information (Churchill)

Zarrilli, chp. 11 or Kovarik, chp. 12

Topic #9
May 3-5 Rituals and Social Groups Oedipus (N)

All read Norton intro materials

May 7 Mr. Burns (in performance) 5/7 Mr. Burns
May 10 Summary and Discussion Mr. Burns (in performance) 5/19 Final Exam


Participation (20%) ongoing

Students are expected to come to class having thoughtfully read the material and prepared for discussion. Asking questions, raising objections, and debating the ideas discussed are all welcome contributions. All opinions are valid, but students are advised to engage in respectful debate that includes listening to a range of opinions and ideas, even and especially those with which one may disagree. This includes posting on the course website, discussion in class, and written assignments (e.g., essays, exams, etc.) This is necessarily a subjective grade that will be updated regularly throughout the semester on Blackboard. If you have any questions about this grade or its criteria, please come and talk to me at your earliest convenience during office hours.

Course Topics (20%) postings due by 5pm on Sunday before

The specific weeks for posting will be assigned on the first day of class. Twice during the semester, students will be required to assign the topic for the week’s class based on the readings. The topic will shape the discussion for that week and guide the rest of the class. The topics must be posted to the course website by 5pm on the Sunday for the following week’s classes. The posting should include the following: 1) a brief topic, such as one would find in the syllabus; 2) a rationale for the main ideas in your choice of topic and a clear connection to the week’s readings (2-3 paragraphs with clear citations or references to the text); 3) 2-3 key questions to focus our class discussion. These questions should be conceptual and not factual.

Midterm Examination (30%) March 10 in class

The midterm exam will be a short essay exam in which students will answer 3 out of 5 possible questions. This exam is both open-note and open-book. The purpose of this exam is to evaluate students’ understanding of the material read thus far and the ability to draw original connections between diverse materials. All students will answer a required question on the analysis of a particular media or performance object not yet covered in the class. The objective will be to apply the techniques of analysis, history, and prior discussion to the new object.

Final Exam (30%) May 19, 9am-12pm

The final exam (also open-note and open-book) will come in two parts. First, students will respond to one or more essay questions that build on the material from the midterm exam. In the second, students will prepare and submit a concept for an original work based on one or more theories and concepts from the semester. Further details for the exam will be presented nearer the exam date.

Student Ushers

Students enrolled in 1000-level courses in Theater and Dance may be asked to serve as ushers for one theater or dance production.  Sign-up occurs when you are asked to respond the the department’s Production manager, Nicole Sirois ( Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about this policy.


All assignments will be graded on a letter scale from A-F according to the following rubric:

A:  Exceptional work that goes above and beyond the requirements of the assignment.  Reflects a depth and range of thinking and analysis that are clearly outstanding and makes an original contribution to knowledge of the subject (i.e., not simply repeating what has been stated elsewhere, but articulating an original argument).  Thorough research (if applicable), concise argumentation with thesis and evidence, and clarity of style (both written and verbal) characterize work in this range. Please note that there is no A+.

B:  Above average completion of the assignment.  This grade reflects solid work in research, argument, and style, but may be marred by slight errors of fact, ambiguities in the argument, or frequent grammatical errors. Work in this range draws largely on existing work (i.e., may not make a wholly original claim or analysis), but demonstrates a solid understanding of material and the ability to draw connections among diverse materials in the course.

C:  Satisfactory completion of the assignment.  This grade represents the minimum effort and understanding required to complete the assignment.  Research is barely adequate, arguments are made, but may not be fully supported, and style is mediocre, perhaps marred by numerous grammatical errors and unclear organization. There is no original thought or analysis evidence and rudimentary understanding of key concepts.

D:  Does not fulfill all of the expectations of the assignment.  Characterized by significant gaps in research, argumentation, and a below-standard writing style, marred by frequent grammatical errors and lack of organization. Work in this category suggests limited understanding of the material and may be the product of a lack of effort and attention to detail.

F:  Does not fulfill any of the expectations of the assignment.  Little or no research or argumentation, no evidence or support for argumentation, and an unacceptable level of writing for college-level work. Lack of comprehension of basic concepts and the inability to articulate essential ideas. This grade may also result from late or missing requirements.

All grades will be entered and calculated as a running total in the Blackboard gradebook. You may access your current grades and weighted total at any time during the semester. If you feel an error has been made, please see me as soon as possible so we may correct the problem.


Being present, attentive, and on time shows respect for yourself, your instructor, and your fellow classmates. With this in mind, please read the following policies closely.

Cell Phone Use

Please turn off your cell phone before you come to class. This does not mean silent, vibrate, or very low. This means that no cell phone should make any kind of noise, hum, vibration, or beep during the class session. Think of this as a liberating cell-free vacation and I will do the same. If there are circumstances that require you to have your phone turned on (i.e., you are on-call pending some potential emergency), please contact me at the beginning of the semester or prior to an individual class for approval.

Laptops in Class

There is strong and compelling evidence to show that taking notes on a laptop provides no benefit to students and may even work against memory retention. (I am happy to provide the relevant studies to you, but feel free to consult Sherry Turkle’s latest research at MIT.) Because the whole point of going to class is to learn, interact, and ostensibly remember what happened, I strongly discourage laptop use in this course. You are expected to take handwritten notes unless you require specific accommodations that require a laptop. Even then, I may suggest that we attempt an alternative before resulting to laptop note-taking. If this is the case, please let me know in the first week of class and we will make appropriate accommodations.


Attendance for every class is mandatory, except in situations of serious emergency verified by documentation (doctor’s note, etc.).  If you know you will be absent for reasons related to religious observation outside those dates recognized by the college or for academic, departmental, athletic requirements, or medical issues, please inform me in writing as soon as possible (e-mail is also acceptable) with verification as appropriate (letters from doctors, coaches, etc.). In the event of an unexpected absence, please contact me via email at your earliest convenience, preferably before class, and do your best to get the material from the class you missed. You are responsible for any material covered during your absence. You are allowed two absences during the semester to allow for situations beyond your control.  Use them wisely.

Each absence over your two allowable absences will lower your final grade by one-third (i.e., 3 absences: B+→B). For the purposes of grading, late attendance three times will equal one absence.

Office Hours

I encourage you to come to office hours at your convenience. Office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-4pm. If you cannot attend at this time, please visit my calendar at to schedule an appointment. If possible, select more than one time that you are available to meet.

Theater Shows

There is one required performance for this course. As noted in the Outline on May 7, 2016 at 3pm, we will travel as a class to see the play Mr. Burns in Boston. Your ticket has already been purchased and transportation will be provided. You may also choose to travel on your own if you prefer. If you cannot attend this performance, please let me know as soon as possible so that we can make arrangements to see an alternate performance.

Website and Blackboard

The website for this course is here: This site functions as a course blog (see “Topics” requirement above.) Additional readings, course information, grade, and other materials will be posted on Blackboard. Please let me know if you have difficulty accessing or using either site.

Student Accommodations

I encourage you to get the support and resources you need to be successful. To this end, I adhere to the Accommodation Policy for Students with Disabilities and will work to provide whatever accommodations are necessary. If you have any diagnosed disability (physical, learning or otherwise) that will make it difficult for you to carry out the course work as outlined, or requires accommodations, please advise me during the first two weeks of the course so we may review possible arrangements for reasonable accommodations. Information provided in this context will be kept confidential in accordance with state and federal law.

Additionally, if you are feeling overwhelmed by any of the course requirements, please contact me as soon as possible.

Academic Dishonesty

All students are expected to abide by the Bowdoin College Honor Code ( If you have any questions about this policy, please let me know.