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Theatre as Witness [DRAM 476]

DRAM 476/3.0 Theatre as Witness

Winter 2022

Staying in the Trouble: Theatre as Witness

Instructor: Professor Julie Salverson

Email: salversn@queensu.ca

The course will explore how to think about what is at stake for theatre artists as translators of stories of public violence. Over the course of the term students will engage with critical questions and investigate the nature of bearing witness. The class will develop a vocabulary for mutual challenge and evaluation: how do we talk honestly from and about our different perspectives, life experiences, and thinking? 

The course is about stories and their power to bear witness. It is also about who we are as listeners and passers on of stories in a climate of urgency. It is about events of violence; risky stories that challenge artists and educators ethically, aesthetically, socially and personally. We will consider theatre as a medium that is capable of both story-telling and story-making. Theatre may tell the stories of places, times, and people, realistically or metaphorically. It may, also, make stories by inspiring social change, inciting riots, or simply perpetuating the status quo.  

Questions for the class include: 

  1. How do we, together, name ‘the trouble’ we are in: globally, locally, personally? How are we differently implicated by these ‘troubles’? 
  2. Who am I and what is my heritage (not only blood heritage, but teachers, inspirations…)? What resources can I bring to the table in troubled times? 
  3. Do we live in a tragic culture? What does this mean?
  4. What forms of theatre and representation do we consider okay when it comes to performing testimony or remembering violent histories? What is the role of the comedic or the absurd in intervening in a melancholic tragic telling of events? 
  5. What is it to be a witness, and how is performing history an ethical practice? How is the aesthetic and content of a performance an ethical issue? 
  6. Is there such a thing as ‘goodness’? What is it? Where is it? 
  7. Can we, to quote Jill Dolan, “Find hope at the theatre”? Can theatre help us live? 
  8. What is social or community goodness? How can we witness it?