CHIN 275
Acting Out: Performativity, Production, and Politics in East Asian Theatres Spring 2025
Division I Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed THEA 271 / COMP 271 / ASIA 275 / AAS 275

Class Details

“Asian Theaters,” for those in the West, can conjure up a variety of exotic impressions: spectacle and cacophony, mysterious masks and acrobatic bodies, exquisite styles and strangely confusing conventions. Although Asian theaters have been studied systematically in the West for at least a century, the West has never truly left its “othering” look at them. Yet, what is “different” for the West is bedrock for Asian cultures. Theatre, one of the most important and dynamic forms of cultural production and communication, has actively involved all strata of Asian societies for a millennium. How to explain theatre’s continued presence and relevance for Asian nations? What do the traditions of Kun, Kabuki, and P’ansori reveal about the cultures and communities in which they were created? This course seeks to understand from the Asian perspective, rather than “exoticize” and “other,” musical and dance theatres from China, Japan, and Korea. Examining the evolving presentations of signature dramas dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, we will act out Asian theatres in the following ways: (1) by reading the original plays in translation in tandem with their contemporary and intercultural reproductions, we will explore how Asian theatres fare in the era of globalization within and beyond national borders; (2) by revealing the “technologies” of writing, reading, acting, and staging these plays in different cultural milieus, we will consider what kinds of language and rhetoric, forms of music and movement, as well as visual components are deployed to convey evolving messages; (3) by considering key performances held outside of the proscenium stage, we will gain exposure to alternative theatrical spaces in Asian and diasporic communities that reform performing conventions, reconfigure staging environments, and renegotiate cultural values. In this manner, we will together gain an appreciation for the aesthetic devices, thematic concerns, and production politics of East Asian theatres and their global reproductions. Class materials include drama, production videos, and invited zoom sessions with Asian theatre practitioners and directors who live in the U.S. and other diasporic communities. All materials are in English. No language prerequisite. Funded by the Global Initiatives Venture Fund, this course includes an all-expense-paid travel component, a cultural and academic exchange project titled “Redefining Amateurism: Experientail Learning with Student Theatre in Contemporary China,” which will bring up to eight Williams students to Nanjing, China during the Spring Break (3/23-4/3/2025). Students will participate in workshops with playwrights and theater-makers in contemporary China and engage in black-box theater productions with students from Nanjing University and Shanghai Theatre Academy. This travel component is OPTIONAL for students taking this course. However, students enrolled in this class will receive priority consideration to be included in the free travel project. Selection criteria include active participation, excellent performance in the course, etc.
The Class: Format: seminar; Funded by the Global Initiatives Venture Fund, this course includes an all-expense-paid travel component, which will bring up to eight Williams students to Nanjing, China during the Spring Break (3/23-4/3/2025). This travel component is OPTIONAL for students taking this course. However, students enrolled in this class will receive priority consideration to be included in the free travel project. Selection criteria include active participation, excellent performance in the course, etc.
Limit: 20
Expected: 15
Class#: 3785
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation will be based on 1) ACTIVE in-class discussion; 2) three small projects (papers and audio/video essays); 3) a take-home midterm; and 4) Poster presentation based on students' final projects.
Prerequisites: None; open to all. No knowledge of Asian languages required, though students with advanced Asian language proficiency are encouraged to work with primary sources if they wish.
Enrollment Preferences: Current or prospective majors in the Department of Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; Theatre majors; Comp Lit majors; Concentrators in Asian Studies or Asian American Studies.
Distributions: Division I Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
CHIN 275 Division I THEA 271 Division I COMP 271 Division I ASIA 275 Division I AAS 275 Division II
DPE Notes: This course examines the power dynamics of spectacle and cacophony and how theatre provided a cultural space that engaged all strata of East Asian societies, thereby masking class and ethnic divisions within these nation-states, while also presenting a distinct image of "China," "Japan," and "Korea" to be consumed in the West. Students will learn ways in which "traditional" theatre productions affirm or subvert Western biases against Asians.
Attributes: AAS Non-Core Electives
GBST East Asian Studies

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