How does anyone manage to write about performance? Performance is ephemeral, meaning it emerges in a moment and disappears just as quickly. As an art form, it doesn’t sit politely still to be observed, described and analyzed, like a painting or a novel. Performance participates in the relentless flow of life, and by the time we sit to write about it, it is already a piece of history. Photographs can help but they are static; published plays provide a transcript to be reviewed and quoted but leave out much information about how a performance was executed. Only skilled writing can portray the movement and meaning of a performance for readers who were not there to experience it themselves.
One of the core assumptions of this class is that good writing makes for good thinking and vice versa. As President Obama put it: “writing [is] an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are — the process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions” (Time Magazine, 12/19/12).
In this writing seminar students will examine and practice the fine art of writing about performance in order to both clarify what they believe, see, and care about as audience members, and develop their technique and voice as writers. By rehearsing the clear written expression of their thoughts about what they have viewed, they will necessarily fine-tune their ideas about a given performance, and even fine-tune their ability to view performance in general.
Many of you are studying to be actors and dancers, and if so 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, and placement of modifiers. If we rehearse these details together in a low-stakes way, they should come with less effort when you are in the midst of the “performance” of writing a more formal essay.