Professional Writing for Performance

Course Description

Isadora Duncan, the famous early modern dancer of the early 20th century, once said of her work, “If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.”  She made an excellent case for the importance of experiencing her art over any sort of description in words.  Following in her model, many contemporary performing artists remain reluctant to write or even talk about what they do, preferring to let their work “speak for itself.”

Unfortunately the real world has bad news for purists in Duncan’s model:  the practical side of the performing arts does not favor mute artists. Directors, choreographers, dancers, actors and theater owners, to advance their work and build an audience, have to find ways to communicate their aspirations and intentions in words — beyond whatever text might be part of their performance. In order to secure the money to make their work, they need to put together grant proposals in which they argue effectively, using evidence, why they should receive a share of limited funds.  They need to write a biographical statements and/or mission statements to include with that grant proposal. They also may need to write program notes to contextualize a piece of theater or dance for an audience that does not share all their background knowledge.  And they usually need to write a shorter biographical statement for inclusion in the program.  All these forms of writing help the performing arts world function for artists, and the better-executed the writing is, the easier it is for an artist to get the funding and attention they need.  Good professional writing doesn’t substitute for the art itself, but it does quite a lot to support it.

In this course we will look carefully at examples of all these forms.  The class will culminate with each student researching and writing a complete grant package, including biographical and/or mission statements, and the all-important project statement where the argument for funding should be persuasively made.  Along the way we will also create shorter biographical statements and notes for inclusion in programs. We will peer-review drafts in class to clarify how our writing reaches (or doesn’t reach) our intended audience, and we will practice the fine art of rewriting to refine our ideas.

As you are studying to be actors and dancers, you understand the value of regular exercises in the details of technique.  In the same spirit of the dancer practicing tendus or the actor breaking down and repeating a tricky bit of Shakespearean verse, we will take some of our class time to break down and rehearse small details of writing technique, such as correct use of punctuation, parallel structure, active verbs, and placement of modifiers.   If we rehearse these together in a low-stakes way, they should come with less effort when you are in the midst of the “performance” of writing.

Course Documents

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