BA Music and Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Theatres of Modernity: the Popular and the Avant-Garde

Unit code DRAM20051
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module is a survey of Western popular and avant-garde performance practices of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Students will study theatrical forms and movements such as melodrama, Romanticism, Naturalism, Symbolism, the historical avant-gardes, music hall and variety, suffragette theatre, agit-prop, and epic theatre. Throughout the course, students will examine how theatre and performance practitioners have responded to industrialisation, urbanisation, war, and other facets of modernity, and how those shifting contexts informed the production and reception of theatrical work. Students will consider the complex relationship between popular and experimental practices, exploring theatre and performance as aesthetic forms which manifest in a changing industry. Using a diverse array of source materials -- including plays, performance scores, audio-visual resources, manifestos, and theatre ephemera -- the course enables students to broaden and deepen their understanding of Western theatre history, as well as hone their skills in detailed, rigorous theatrical analysis.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Theatre & Performance 1 - Texts DRAM10001 Pre-Requisite Optional
Theatre & Performance 2 - Concepts DRAM10002 Pre-Requisite Optional


  •          To provide students with an opportunity to examine a broad coverage of Western theatre and performance practice from the nineteenth century to the middle years of the twentieth century, through the analysis of a range of research materials, including dramatic texts, manifestos, critical commentaries, performances and visual resources.
  • To build on and develop students' competencies in independent study, research and critical thinking in the context of a specified coverage of key practitioners and critics in the field of theatre and performance.


Indicative syllabus (representative only – all of the topics listed below may not be covered every year):


Week 1: Melodrama and Popular Spectacle

Week 2: Romanticism in Drama and Dance

Week 3: Naturalism, part one: Zola and Strindberg

Week 4: Naturalism, part two: Chekhov and Stanislavski

Week 5: Symbolism and Poetic Space


Week 7: Popular Practice from Music Hall to Variety

Week 8: Historical Avant-Gardes: An Introduction

Week 9: Historical Avant-Gardes: From Surrealism to Artaud

Week 10: Expressionism in Drama and Dance

Week 11: Political Theatres: Popular and Populist

Week 12: Theatre and Social Action: Brecht

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught via:


-          Lectures

-          Seminars including small group discussions and exercises

-          Theatre trips and screenings as appropriate

-          Designated consultation hours

The course unit will be complemented by a Blackboard site that conforms to minimum requirements including a course handbook, weekly course breakdown, provision of reading material, reading lists. Supplementary material from workshops will be added as appropriate. The blackboard site will be prepared and available to students at least one week prior to the beginning of the first teaching week each semester..

Knowledge and understanding


·        Demonstrate knowledge of a range of materials relating to key theatre/performance practitioners from the 19th Century to the mid-20th Century.

·         Demonstrate familiarity and critical engagement with key theatre and performance practitioners and critics relevant to the era studied.

  •           Demonstrate a robust understanding of key conceptual, historiographical and theoretical approaches to the study of popular, modernist, and avant-garde theatre from the 19th to the mid 20th century.

Intellectual skills

·         Cross-reference and compare different historical contexts and their relation to the formation and development of theatre and performance practice.

·         Develop arguments and analyses coherently through a range of assessment tasks.

  • Apply relevant theoretical frameworks critically to particular case studies.

Practical skills

·         Demonstrate comprehension and analysis of course materials, and a good ability to apply source materials through written assessment

·         Use a range of analytical methods to engage with historical and contemporary sources on theatre, performance and its reception

  • Use opportunities for drafting and rewriting assignments to develop their written academic skills and abilities

Transferable skills and personal qualities

·         Demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively with others about intellectually demanding concepts, topics, materials

·         Demonstrate an ability to draw with accuracy, focus, detail and precision on complex materials in independent and group work

  • Demonstrate an ability to effectively present – through discussion and in writing – complex topics, drawing convincingly on oral, written and visual media as appropriate to the topic

Employability skills

Analytical skills
¿ An enhanced level of critical thinking and problem-solving skills
Group/team working
¿ An ability to work productively as part of a group and independently in learning environments that present complex challenges
Problem solving
¿ An ability to develop detailed, planned and multi-layered approaches to tasks
¿ An enhanced ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to different audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Evidence analysis






3000-3500 words


Draft of evidence analysis





Feedback methods

 Feedback method


Evidence analysis - written


Essay - written


Evidence analysis drafts – whole group written feedback and comments on individual drafts


Consultation on essay plan - oral



Recommended reading

Bratton, Jacky. New Readings in Theatre History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Gale, Maggie B. and John Deeney eds.The Routledge Drama Anthology and Sourcebook: from modernism to contemporary performance. London: Routledge, 2010

Innes, Christopher, Avant-Garde Theatre 1892-1992. London: Routledge, 1993.

--- ed. A Soucebook on Naturalist Theatre. London: Routledge, 2000.

Powell, Kerry, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Styan, J. L. Modern Drama in Theory and Practice: 1 (Realism and Naturalism), 2 (Symbolism, Surrealism and the Absurd) and 3 (Expressionism and Epic Theatre). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Taxidou, Olga. Modernism and Performance: Jarry to Brecht. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Williams, Carolyn, ed. The Cambridge Companion to English Melodrama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 172.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Rachel Clements Unit coordinator

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