This 6-credit intensive summer course is focused around the National Arts Festival (NAF) that takes place for ten days in Grahamstown, South Africa. Students will experience the second largest theatre festival in the world (outside Edinburgh in Scotland) and the largest in the southern hemisphere. We will see new plays and cutting edge international performances that we would not be able to encounter anywhere else; meet playwrights, actors, artists and other students interested in performance and theatre; and engage with, and reflect upon, the historic, sociopolitical and creative contexts of the work we see.
The performing arts play a rich, vital role in a country like South Africa, with its fraught history, and its many disparate and interesting citizens—who hail from diverse cultures, languages, and races. The NAF draws artists, performers, and thinkers from across the African continent and would offer students the chance to see and engage with African artists using theatre, film, and dance to perform themselves, articulate their dreams, and question the power structures of their worlds.
Students in this new program would gain hands-on insights into another culture, particularly the potentials and pitfalls of its complex history and miraculous transformation from a racist, oppressive system to a functioning democracy--and the role of the arts in that process. Students would also have the chance to appreciate, interrogate, and analyze the vibrant performing arts scene in contemporary South Africa. The performing arts will offer us a lens through which to examine questions of social justice, race, class and gender politics, history, language, memory, and the arts as not just a mirror to reflect society, but, as Bertolt Brecht suggested, as a hammer with which to shape it…
To immerse students in another culture in order to appreciate cultural diversity and, using the performing arts as a lens, to understand that culture’s history, politics, economics, and society.
To introduce students to the largest, most influential arts festival in the southern hemisphere.
To develop skills in understanding, analyzing, and critiquing contemporary and African performance through a Liberal Arts prism.
To develop an appreciation for different performance styles and genres as well as culturally diverse work.
To inspire creativity and develop new ways of thinking within particular disciplines.
The course is structured in three parts: the first will involve preparatory reading and assignments in the US before we leave, the second will be the actual experience of the festival in South Africa, and the third is a post-festival reflective essay.
PART ONE: Online Moodle course
During the preparatory period, students will enroll in an online Moodle course and will read preparatory materials, essays and plays. Students will submit a 5-page essay that synthesizes the preparatory readings, plays, and films through a focus idea of the student’s choosing.
PART TWO: The Grahamstown Festival Experience
Once in Grahamstown, students attend about 15 theatre productions as a group, engage in post-show discussions, meet with artists, and attend lectures by Prof Lewis and selected guests. Students are also encouraged to follow their own interests and see shows on their own. A minimum of 10 additional performances are required, although students often see many more. During the festival, students will blog about their experiences and respond to direct prompts in short response papers.
PART THREE: Final Reflection Paper
Students will submit a final reflection paper (with visuals if desired) that synthesizes their experience in the course, from preparatory work to on the ground experience in South Africa.
SKILLS & OUTCOMES
At the end of this course, students will have gained
· a hands-on, intimate knowledge of South African culture, history, and the performing arts as well as artists and thinkers in South Africa
· insights into the diverse ways the performing arts function in a specific cultural context
· critical analysis skills in unpacking works of art to better understand their construction & dramaturgy, historical & sociopolitical context, modes of expression, and intentions & reception by audiences
· the ability to reflect thoughtfully and critically in writing and to articulate informed arguments orally about their experiences and the issues raised by the work we see
· experience in another country that offers them new perspectives on the world, their positions within it, and the positions of people outside the US
NOTE: This course satisfies the Integrated Experience (IE) General Education requirement for UMass Theater majors. It also counts as a Contemporary Repertory Dramaturgy Requirement.
The course is offered for both undergraduate (TH494SI) and graduate credit (TH698B).