BA Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Performing America

Course unit fact file
Unit code DRAM20221
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


In this module students will examine work by a range of U.S. American playwrights and theatre-makers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Students will conduct in-depth analysis of some of the "classics" of the American dramatic canon, even as they investigate the contested nature of that canon. Students will also engage with more recent plays that invoke or challenge those earlier works or explore related concerns in shifting contexts. The course will provide a strong sense of the formal experimentation that is still apparent in the American theatre, as dramatists seek new ways to address some of the most pressing social and political questions facing their nation (and often, by extension, the world). Students will consider the inherent dysfunction, even violence in the construction of American cultural identity, and how different groups are relegated to the position of the marginal, the Other, and the "un-American."


  • To introduce students to the works of a range of U.S. American playwrights, and to provide them with strategies for analysing these works in their theatrical, social, and historical contexts.
  • To develop critical understanding of a set of key theatrical, cultural and philosophical debates (and the relationships between these debates).
  • To develop a critical framework for thinking about the construction of national dramatic canons.
  • To explore how the performing arts engage with issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and national and cultural identity.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate familiarity with and understanding of a range of plays by 20th and 21st century U.S. dramatists.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the major theatrical, social, cultural and political contexts affecting the production and reception of these works.
  • Confidently discuss the relationship between dramatic works, the formation of a canon, and the construction of national and cultural identity.

Intellectual skills

  • Develop sophisticated and coherent arguments and articulate these in both written and spoken work, as demonstrated through a range of assessments.
  • Demonstrate facility for rigorous analyses of both dramatic texts and performances that link form, content, and context.
  • Responsibly compare and contrast works from different historical moments.
  • Contribute to seminars and express themselves effectively.

Practical skills

  • Work efficiently as a key member of a small group engaged in research, practical work, and presentation
  • Demonstrate advanced skills of independent research and self-directed learning.
  • Communicate research material both verbally and in writing.
  • Use creative work and techniques to explore and convey critical ideas.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Demonstrate an advanced ability to self-manage learning – to ask questions independently, identify relevant research material, take initiative, make decisions, and develop independent and sustained responses to complex problems
  • Demonstrate an advanced ability to develop sustained arguments and present these effectively in written and oral form

Employability skills

Group/team working
Working productively as part of a group and independently in learning environments that present complex and unpredictable challenges
Advanced ability to exercise initiative and personal responsibility
Problem solving
Advanced critical thinking, problem-solving and planning skills
Ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to difference audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics

Assessment methods

Group practical research presentation 40%
Essay 60%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Group presentation -- written


Essay -- written


Consultation -- oral



Recommended reading

Christopher Bigsby, Twenty-First-Century American Playwrights. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Jill Dolan, The Feminist Spectator as Critic. Second edition. University of Michigan Press, 2012.

Harry J. Elam, Jr. and David Krasner, eds. African American Performance and Theater History: A Critical Reader. Oxford University Press, 2001.

La Donna Forsgren. In Search of Our Warrior Mothers: Women Dramatists of the Black Arts Movement. Northwestern University Press, 2018.

David Krasner, ed. A Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Blackwell Press, 2007.

Heather Nathans and Jeffrey Richards, eds. The Oxford Handbook of American Drama. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Harvey Young, ed. The Cambridge Companion to African American Theatre. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

David Savran. A Queer Sort of Materialism: Recontextualizing American Theatre. University of Michigan Press, 2003.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Calder Unit coordinator

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