BA Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Theatres of Modernity

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


This module is a survey of Western performance practices from the late nineteenth century to the present. The module investigates key developments in Western theatre and performance of the modern and contemporary periods, with the understanding that the 'Western' as a category is itself subject to fluctuation, migration, and critique. Students will study theatrical forms and movements such as melodrama and music hall, Naturalism, Symbolism, the historical avant-gardes, political theatre, late modern and postmodern theatre, intercultural theatre, and performance art. Throughout the course, students will examine how theatre and performance practitioners have responded to their historical, political, and cultural contexts, 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.


  • To provide students with an opportunity to examine a broad coverage of Western theatre and performance practice from the nineteenth century to the early 21st 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.

Teaching and learning methods

The lectures for this course unit will be delivered online.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate knowledge of a range of materials relating to key theatre/performance practitioners from the 19th century to the early 21st 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 modern and contemporary theatre and performance.

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
  • Develop written analysis and presentation skills 

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

Group presentation 30%
Essay 70%


Feedback methods

 Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Presentation - written


Essay - written


Consultation on presentation and essay plan – oral and written



Recommended reading

Fuchs, Elinor. The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism. Indiana University Press, 1996.

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

Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. Thames and Hudson, 2011.

Harding, James, ed. Not the Other Avant-Garde: The Transnational Foundations of Avant-Garde Performance. University of Michigan Press, 2006.

McIvor, Charlotte and Jason King, eds. Interculturalism and Performance Now: New Directions? Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

Powell, Kerry, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre. 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 University Press, 1981.

Uno, Roberta and Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns, eds. The Color of Theater: Race, Ethnicity, and Contemporary Performance. Bloomsbury, 2002.


Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen Scott-Bottoms Unit coordinator
Rachel Clements Unit coordinator
David Calder Unit coordinator

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