21M.621 | Spring 2008 | Undergraduate

Theater and Cultural Diversity in the U.S.


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 2 hours / session

General Course Description

This course explores contemporary American theatrical expression as it may be organized around issues of gender and cultural identity. This exploration will include the analysis of performances, scripts, and video documentation, as well as the invention of original documents of theatrical expression. Class lectures and discussions will analyze samples of Native American, Chicano, African American, and Asian American theater, taking into consideration the historical and political context for the creation of these works. Performance exercises will help students identify theatrical forms and techniques used by these theaters, and how these techniques contribute to the overall goals of specific theatrical expressions.

Readings and Materials

Core Text

Castillo, Ana. Psst… I Have Something To Tell You, Mi Amour. Preface by Sister Dianna Ortiz. San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780916727208.

Uno, Roberta, and Kathy A. Perkins, eds. Contemporary Plays by Women of Color. New York, NY: Routledge, 1996. ISBN: 9780415113779.

Other readings are provided in the readings section.

Class Requirements

  1. Approximately 25 pages of reading and 1 hour of viewing weekly. Participation in class discussions will account for 10% of the final grade.
  2. We will attend at least two performances of theater. Each student will write a short response paper, of 2-3 pages length, on the topics of the performance. Response papers will account for 10% of the final grade (5% each).
  3. Participation as run crew or performer on one performance project on campus as approved by the instructor. Successful participation will account for 10% of the final grade.
  4. Three performance projects on the topics described below. The performance projects account for 45% of the final grade (15% each).
  5. A final group creative project, that draws on themes of the semester. The final assignment will account for 25% of the final grade.

Participation in class discussions 10%
Two response papers (5% each) 10%
Participation as run crew or performer on one performance project 10%
Three performance projects (15% each) 45%
Final group creative project 25%

Required Performances on Campus

subUrbia (21M.873 IAP ‘08)

Written by Eric Bogosian directed by David R. Gammons 
presented by MIT Dramashop

The play is set in a fictional suburban town, Burnfield, and is the story of several people trying to figure out their lives, while being visited by their sole successful friend. The story develops throughout the play revealing subtle flaws and noble traits in all of the characters.

Tongue, Smell, Color

Brenda Dixon Gottschild and Helmut Gottschild

Helmut and Brenda Dixon Gottschild achieve a rare success in “Tongue” - a work that is highly provocative, profoundly personal, and very, very smart. It is an improbable success in that it weaves together dance, music, poetry, readings from academic texts, enactments of searing personal catharsis, and a unique physical vocabulary created by the scholar/artists. That it is a success explodes from the stage in every autobiographical truth the performers utter. Without flinching, they confess the racialized points of attraction and desire which initially divide them, but ultimately bound them together. At times they inflect the autobiographical narrative with fragments of Brenda’s groundbreaking scholarship in Africanist performance practice or Helmut’s deeply-felt dance. The result is a huge advance in critical scholarship and performance, of vital importance to anyone interested in cultural studies, performance studies, dance, or the nagging persistence of “race” in the way couples view the world.

In the Heart of America

Written by Naomi Wallace, directed by Michael Ouellette 
presented by MIT Dramashop

Set during the first Gulf War, In The Heart Of America tells the story of a young Arab-American woman, Saboura, on a mission to find out what happened to her army enlisted brother Remzi. Her journey finds her crossing paths with many people who have been deeply affected by the horrors of war, including Remzi’s best friend, Private Craver Perry. Although written in 1994, In The Heart Of America resonates with the current situation in Iraq, and the effects of war on family and friends.


The course will be divided into six major units. Most contain sessions with various visiting artists, as detailed below. More information about each guest artist can be found here: (PDF)


Unit I: Introduction and overview

What is culture? And how do we identify culture and performance in American theater? A sharing of family traditions and the creation of “stereotypical” history of immigration to the United States. This unit will provide students with a general overview of basic concepts such as theater, movement, culture, diversity, and composition.

Ses #1: Guest Artist Workshop, Melissa Blanco-Borelli  

Unit II: African American theatrical traditions

What are African American traditions of theater? How do music and dance figure in the construction of African American experience on stage? How is the “dancing black body” represented on stages?

Ses #4, #6, #8: Guest Lectures, Brenda Dixon Gottschild Performance project 1 due in Ses #9 – autobiography without words

Unit III: Latino/a and Chicano theatrical traditions part I

What sorts of Chicano and Latino/a American theatrical traditions have emerged in the past century? A focus on the plays of Miguel Piñero.

Ses #10: Visiting Artist, Rafael Sanchez from Design Studio for Social Intervention Performance project 2 due in Ses #13 – spoken word poetry exercise

Unit IV: Asian American theatrical traditions

How can theater express Asian American cultural heritage? What sorts of stories do Asian diaspora playwrights chose to tell? A consideration of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly.

Ses #14: Visiting Artists, Kit Yan and Melissa Li Performance project 3 due in Ses #17 – gender and secrecy

Unit V: Latina/Chicana theatrical traditions part 2

Visiting Artist Ana Castillo will come work with us on her play.

Visiting Artist Workshop, Ana Castillo  

Unit VI: Reaching beyond diversity

How can we reach beyond the rubric of diversity to explore particular histories and theatrical methodologies?

24-25 Final group projects   Final group projects due in Ses #24 and #25

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2008
Learning Resource Types
Projects with Examples
Written Assignments