Basics of Performance Making

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1EL9184

Course coordinator and team:  Benil Biswas/Deepan Sivaraman

  1. Does the course connect to, build on or overlap with any other courses offered in AUD? It is connected to some other elective courses offered by SCCE such as Introduction to Cultural and Creative Expressions.This course will also potentially orient student towards pursuing a Masters in courses like Performance Studies offered by SCCE.
  2. Specific requirements on the part of students who can be admitted to this course: No prior knowledge is required. It is also open for students of all other disciplines.
  3. No. of students to be admitted (with justification if lower than usual cohort size is proposed): Up to 12 students, given the intense nature of the course, with performance workshop, performance viewing at multiple venues.
  4. Course scheduling: (summer/winter course; semester-long course;half-semester course; workshop mode; seminar mode; any other – please specify) Monsoon semester, lecture, workshop and discussion mode, Semester-long Course.
  5. Proposed date of launch: Monsoon Semester 2019
  6. How does the course link with the vision of AUD and the specific programme(s) where it is being offered? The course aims to destabilize the traditional hierarchies of theatre and encourage the students to work together in creative processes. It also engages students in practice as a mode of learning and knowledge creation
  7. Course Details:

1. Summary:The idea of this course is to introduce undergraduate students to the basic concepts of performance making in the contemporary milieu. The students will be made to go through a semester long process at the end of which they will come up with one or more short performance pieces. The process will emphasize the hybrid quality of theatre where various elements like objects, sound, text, actor’s body come together in a designated space and time. The course is conceptually built around three basic frameworks that will underlie all the workshop and seminar sessions – Meaning Making, Non Hierarchy and Learning though Practice. These three concepts will be constitutive of the process that the students will go through the entire semester which will be structured around three basic elements of any Theatre Performance namely, Text, Body and Space.

All performances are geared towards meaning. The various elements of theatre from the actor to the light design to the soundscape etc of a performance piece are mediums through which the audience can make meaning of what they are watching. A lot of times, the process of making involves decisions about what meaning one wants to be conveyed. This is fundamental to understanding a performance piece. At the same time, one needs to realize that while there is meaning to be derived from the text that an actor delivers onstage, but that isn’t the only medium of meaning. In a theatrical production, the space in where the performance is taking place, or the soundscape of the performance along with the costumes that the actor is wearing, all of these elements produce affects.

Traditionally, when it comes to theatre, the script is very often privileged as the starting point for the process of making theatre. However, since the onset of the 20th century in Europe this tradition has been challenged by many avant-garde artists. Since the 1980s in India too, we have seen the emergence of a new language of theatre based on collaboration not just between the director and the playwright but between directors, musicians, visual artists, writers, actors etc. This hybrid nature of theatre requires a specific set of collaborative skills where all the various aspects of theatre are brought together in a non hierarchical structure.

The process will pit the students to try and engage with this variety of perspectives that are brought together. Theatre, throughout its history has always been considered to be a space of learning. Also it must be said that the learning through our experiences is not the same register as theoretical learning, but the practice of theatre with its emphasis on research and its dealings with materials is a rich tapestry of knowledge to gain from.Through these sessions, one will be challenged to look at practice as a mode of knowledge creation and learning.

2. Objectives: The aim of the course is to introduce the students to contemporary modes of theatre making where they will go through the experience of structuring short performances and executing them.The course will take the students through three modules dealing with Text, Body and Space.

The students will consider what writing for theatre encapsulates, and how the process of writing itself may be decentralized in the process of performance making. It’ll challenge traditional notions of art making by introducing them to the new discourses in performing arts. The course will try and engage the students to try out improvisations with gestures and text to orient them towards an understanding of play making process wherein the body of the performer becomes a prime driver of meaning. Along with text and body, the course will also deal with the question of spatiality of a performance. The students will engage with space as a fundamental concern of performance making and how a difference of spaces can give different meanings to a performance. While the modules will be followed through on week by week basis, the interdependence of the three elements of Text, Body and Space will mean that from the very first week, the students will be engaged in the interaction between the three in the workshops.

The students will be encouraged to collaborate with their peers in these practical explorations and performances. The course will strive to create a critical appreciation for performing arts by taking the students through a process where they will be creatively engaged in making a piece of performance themselves.

3. Learning Outcome: At the end of the course, the students will have a basic understanding of the tools that is required to craft a performance. The course will also equip the students with a conceptual grasp of performance making in the contemporary times.

Moreover, the semester long process will orient the students towards a more critical understanding of performances as well as rituals around them. At the same time, it will create an appreciation for ‘practice’ as a mode of knowledge creation and transmission.

4. Overall structure: This course structure is predominantly workshop mode where students will write and execute short performances. Class room lectures, video screenings of theatre performances, student-led discussions will aid the learning process by providing a framework for the students to help them to critically reflect on their own work. Since this course includes performance practice the structure and the requirements of this course will be different from existing theoretical courses. Besides the typical four hours lecture sessions in alternative weeks students will have to spend several hours to take part of the performance making process. The extra hours students will spend will be deducted from class room lectures and it will be considered as normal teaching hours.

5. Contents (brief note on each module; indicative reading list with core and supplementary readings)

Schedule/ Tentative Course Outline: Lectures along with reading material

Week 1



  1. Hamilton, James R., “Theatrical Performance is an Independent Form of Art”in The Art of Theatre, 2007: 23-40
  2. Leach, Robert, “Drama and Society” in Theatre Studies – The Basics, 2008: 80-91

The introductory classes will frame the course and the process to follow with emphasis on the basic elements constitutive of theatre. It’ll also present a few ideas on theatre and why it matters in society.

Assignment: To observe any performance around in their surrounding and write a description of the event.

Week 2

Workshop: Making a Performance

After the introductions, in these two classes students will be made to go through a short process of theatre making. Students will be divided into groups and they will have to come up with a short 2 to 3 minute performance based on any story or experience or memory etc. This will be more of an impromptu, makeshift performance in order to see what questions and solutions the students come up with.

Week 3, 4 and 5

Workshop: Text and Gesture


Brecht, Bertold. “Alienation Affect in Chinese Theatre” in Brecht on Theatre(ed. Willett, John): 91-99 (1978)

Suggested Reading:

Hodge, Alison. Actor Training, Routledge (2010)

The previous workshop will be followed by reflections on each other’s performances. This will be followed by discussions on some basic forms of text like monologues, dialogues, soliloquies etc. Taking off from the previous workshop, the students will be asked to rework their previous pieces and they will be made to work on the relationship between the text and their bodies and how meaning is conveyed through this relationship.

Performance viewing:

  1. Snippets of Kudiyattam and Cirque du Soleil.
  2. Snippet from Kathakali-King lear directed by Annette Leday and David McRuvie
  3. Snippet from Romeo and Juliet in Kathak by Saraswati Sen.

Week 6

Seminar: A Dramaturgical Perspective on Performance


  • Barba, E.,“The Nature of Dramaturgy: Describing Actions at Work” inNew Theatre Quarterly. 1 (1): 75–78. (1985)
  • Peter Eckersall, Paul Monaghan, Melanie Beddie, The Dramaturgies Project, RealTime issue 70: 25- 32(2005)

It will introduce the idea of dramaturgy as a structuring of a performance piece. It’ll also shed some light on contemporary performance practices and the role of ‘text’ therein.

Assignment: Are actors writers as well and if so how do they write?

Week 7 and 8

Workshop: Spaces and Narratives


  • Howard,Pamela, “Space” and “Text” inWhat is Scenography?(2002):1-16, 17-34
  • The workshop will explore the relationship between space and text. The students will be first asked locate a space where they would like to present their previous work with modifications. These classes willalso introduce to students a brief history of theatre architecture and how it has moved outside of the European Proscenium spaces.

Week 9, 10 and 11

Workshop: Space and Co-Presence


  • Fischer-Likhte, Erica. “Shared bodies, shared spaces: the bodily co-presence ofactors and spectators” in The Transformative Power of Performance (2008): 38-74
  • Carrying on from the previous workshop, these three weeks will expose the students to ideas like site specificity, found spaces and promenade performances etc, in order to explore the relationship between spaces and performance. In the workshop, students will be asked to first locate a space and then respond to that space. This could be a 2-3 minutes short performance or an installation. The relationship between the ‘spectator’ and ‘performance’ will also be introduced as a critical intervention of spatiality of performance.

Performance Viewing:

  • Snippets from Peter Brook’s Marat Sade.
  • Snippets from Deepan Sivaraman’s Khasakinte Itihasam and other works.

Week 12, 13, 14

Final student led performances based on a piece of text or film. Students will adapt it to a performance in a specific space.

Possible texts: Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, RK Narayan, Paul Zachariaand films of Mani Kaul or Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

Week 15

Reflections and Concluding remarks--


Suggested Readings:

  • Artaud, Antonin, Theatre and Its Double, Grove Press, 1958
  • Brook, Peter, The Empty Space , Penguin, 1968
  • Carlson, Marvin. Performance: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge, 2003.
  • Drain, Richard (editor), Twentieth Century Theatre: A Sourcebook of Radical Thinking Routledge, 1995.
  • Edgar, David. How Plays Work. London: Nick Hern Book, 2009.
  • Fischer-Likhte, Erika, The transformative Power of Performance, Routledge, 2008
  • Fortier, Mark. Theory/Theatre: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Heddon, Deidre and Milling, Jane, Devising Performance: a critical history Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • Radosavljevic, Duska (Editor), The Contemporary Ensemble: Interviews with Theatre-Makers, Routledge, 2013.


Instructional design

  • The course will be composed mostly of practical workshops and a few class room seminars to frame their practice
  • Special needs (facilities, requirements in terms of software, studio, lab, clinic, library, classroom/others instructional space; any other – please specify)
  • Audio-visual classroom and a studio space
  • Expertise in AUD faculty or outside : DeepanSivaraman& Prof. AnuradhaKapur
  • Linkages with external agencies (e.g., with field-based organizations, hospital; any others) None

Assessment structure (modes and frequency of assessments)

Students will be assessed for their overall understanding of the course and their contribution towards performances, classroom discussions and knowledge sharing. Attending weekly classes and workshops are vital and any absence may affect the grades.

  • Attendance (20%)
  • Home Assignments (15%)
  • Short Classroom Performances (20%)
  • End Term Performances(25%)
  • End Term Reflective Paper (20%)