AAS 275
Acting Out: Performativity, Production, and Politics in East Asian Theatres Spring 2024
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed ASIA 275 / COMP 271 / THEA 271 / CHIN 275
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

“Asian Theatres,” 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 theatres 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, Noh, and Talchum 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.
The Class: Format: seminar; We will have a field trip after Spring Break to the Harvard-Yenching Library to examine their collection of 1989 Tian'anmen Student Protest materials
Limit: 20
Expected: 15
Class#: 3342
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation will be based on 1) ACTIVE in-class discussion; 2) three short papers (3 pages each); 3) a take-home midterm; and 4) participation in a final in-class theatre production.
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 II Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ASIA 275 Division II COMP 271 Division I THEA 271 Division I CHIN 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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