In this seminar, students use a variety of texts to examine the ways we perform ourselves in daily life at the intersections of gender, race, and class. We will also look at the ways artists and writers construct performances that convey these social and political aspects of identity. We will draw our texts from a variety of sources: philosophy, psychology, theater, dance, fiction, poetry, and film. Students will write frequently, participate in occasional projects and peer-review groups, and have opportunities to revise their work. Our final project will provide an opportunity for groups to create a short performance around themes and ideas generated by the class.
Associate Professor and Director of the Dance Program
“Whether as individuals or as members of society, we all deal with difficult issues of class, race, gender, and other social markers. In ‘Performance and Self,’ we put all of these issues on the table and encourage our students to deal with them in constructive, productive ways. They are not only engaging viscerally with these issues—they are also engaging intellectually with works of literature, art, music, film, and dance.
“Our students learn to apply a critical lens to these works and to find their deeper meanings, which help us understand who we are as human beings in this world.
“As a dancer and scholar, this seminar is important to me because the Western cultural tradition has emphasized the mind as the only means to understand and communicate knowledge. While this is a valid and productive model, there are other ways of communicating and understanding knowledge, including bodied practices, such as creating art or performance.”
Linda Caruso Haviland, founder of Bryn Mawr College’s Dance Program, teaches technique, theory, composition, and performance. She has performed in New York City and in Philadelphia, principally with ZEROMOVING CO., and continues to perform her own work and that of independent choreographers. She has co-directed three projects designed to preserve the work of significant Philadelphia dance artists through reconstructions, video documentation, and oral histories. Linda earned an Ed.D. at Temple University, and joined the College in 1978. She received the College’s Rosalyn R. Schwartz Teaching Award in 1996.
“I chose ‘Performance and Self’ because I was interested in learning about how performance affects various audiences and communities. We watched a social experiment from 1993 called ‘The Couple in the Cage’ by Coco Fusco, in which she and a partner posed as caged ‘savages’ on display to make a social commentary on colonialism. What drew me to this performance was the question, ‘How do you distinguish when someone is performing or not?’
“We also studied quintessential academic texts, like gender and queer theorist Judith Butler, which gave us a foundation of the major players. The readings were challenging, and I appreciated how Professor Hemmeter ‘walked us’ through them and helped us understand them.
“I also had a rude awakening in my seminar in terms of my writing! Professor Hemmeter was the first person to be really honest about it—she told me I had great ideas, but also needed structure to communicate them. It was challenging, but I learned how to become a better writer.”
“I think this seminar was ‘meant to be’ because it has had such a profound effect on my intellectual development at Bryn Mawr. For my senior thesis, I am comparing ‘The Couple in the Cage’ with current performances in New York City, with works that focus on issues of social oppression, and particularly, how these performances are received by audiences and which audiences.”
LILY MENGESHA ’10
Senior Lecturer in English and
Director of Writing Support Services
“In ‘Performance and Self,’ we ask students to explore the themes of identity and performance through art, music, literature, and dance, and to think about what it means for them to ‘perform’ as members of a particular sex, family, ethnic group, race, and class. For example, by watching M. Butterfly, a film about a French diplomat who falls in love with a Chinese opera singer—a man masquerading as a woman—we can explore many layers of performance, including ethnicity and gender magnified through drama and music.
“Our students learn to experience a different kind of pleasure at watching performance—the pleasure that comes not only through enjoying and appreciating it, but also through thinking critically about it. We also ask them to experience learning through writing—to move from writing primarily as a way to represent what they have learned to writing in a creative, analytic, and inquiring way.
“My interest in American drama is in how the American identity is shaped on the stage through dramatic performance. I am also interested in self-reflectivity in art—for example, in dramatic literature that reflects on its own practices. One of the great things about this seminar is that it has given me the opportunity to explore this idea of self-consciousness in dance, in film, and in art, as well as in literature.
Gail Hemmeter teaches writing-intensive courses, including the English Department’s Senior Thesis preparatory course. Her research interests range from small-college writing programs to modern American drama. She teaches a course on 20th-century drama and has begun work on a collection of essays about small-college writing programs. Gail holds a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University and joined the College in 1997.