Theater Studies curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinarity

Students interested in taking Theater Studies classes this year will have a number of opportunities to venture beyond the world of drama.

Of the 17 Theater Studies courses that were not offered within the program last year, 8 focus heavily on areas outside of the dramatic arts and 11 are cross-listed with other departments. According to OCI, out of 58 Theater Studies courses offered last year, only 10 dealt heavily with areas outside of theater. Professors interviewed explained that the high number of interdisciplinary courses available to Theater Studies students this year is a testament to the dramatic arts’ connection to a wide variety of subjects. All four faculty members said they hope that the multidisciplinary nature of their classes will attract students with many different interests. Justin Sider GRD ’15, who is teaching a class titled “Poetics of Performance” this semester, said he will require all students in his course to perform a poetry recitation in front of their classmates, noting that he expects that students from nonperformance backgrounds will be “pushed out of their comfort zones” through such exercises.

“Performance studies in itself is interdisciplinary in that you can’t fix it into a single department or a single way of talking about it,” Sider said. “That’s really the appeal of these courses.”

Theater Studies lecturer Jessica Berson said that over the past couple of years, she has observed an increase in Theater Studies courses that span multiple subject areas, adding that the Dance Studies curriculum in particular has expanded the range of topics it covers. Berson noted that her seminar, named “Dance, Commerce and Capital,” will involve substantial readings about culture theory and economics, in addition to exploring different styles of dance.

Several faculty members from other departments at Yale have decided to examine the effect of theater on their respective areas of expertise by offering cross-listed courses. English professor Katie Trumpener, who teaches a class titled “British Cinema,” said that while theater and film are different industries, her course will explore the relationship between the two disciplines. The British have always thought of their film culture as second-rate but their theater traditions have historically been strong, so it is difficult to ignore theater’s influence, she explained.

Assistant professor of comparative literature Ayesha Ramachandran GRD ’05 PHD ’08, who teaches “Maps and Western Literary Imagination”— a class that has been taught once before but has never been cross-listed under Theater Studies — said that even cartography used to be closely associated with theater. She added that countries such as Portugal were once home to famous explorers and cartographers, whose professions were oftentimes depicted and thought of as performances. Books of maps used to be called “Theaters of the World,” Ramachandran noted.

Berson and Ramachandran also emphasized the timeliness of several themes in their classes. Berson said one important goal of her class is to challenge the notion of dance as an art form that is immune to modern consumerism. With shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” she added, it becomes important to explore the economic side of dance.

“In some ways, dance is just like any other commodity,” Berson said.

The 2014–15 Yale Blue Book currently lists 39 courses under the Theater Studies program.

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