Sydney F Lewis
Examination of a specific topic in order to provide a deeper understanding of a particular aspect of the study of performance. Topics may include transnationalism and performance; eco-performance, community performance; African and Asian theatre. Topics and approaches may vary with instructor.
Course Description: Burlesque and Feminism
From its British and American inception in the late 19th century, Burlesque has been a politically-engaged art form. During the early years of the art form, burlesque (which means to ridicule), used comedy and music to parody established socio-political injunctions. Whether through overt political satire, gender-bending performance, risque music, raunchy humor, or women baring their skin, in the words of burlesque author Robert G. Allen, burlesque "playfully called attention to the entire question of 'place' of women in American society through the very sight of a female body not covered by the accepted costume of bourgeois respectability." Many regard 1860-1960s as the original period of skin-baring burlesque, and refer to the 1990s reemergence of burlesque-style stripping as 'neo-burlesque.' These two performance movements, burlesque and neo-burlesque, have only recently begun to be objects of academic inquiry.
This course will consist of two interrelated tracks. The first half of the course will focus on burlesque history, detailing the art form's inceptions, changes, and eventual demise, as well as its 1990s re-appropriation. In this, we will explore how historically and currently the art form constructs and reconstructs gendered and racialized bodies. We will interrogate ways that burlesque both subverts and re-establishes prevailing bodily (understood as gendered, racialized, sexualized, and aestheticized) norms. We will also grapple with the complex relationship between burlesque and "feminist" practices thinking about if, when, where, and how "power" can be exercised in the art form. The second half of the course will consist of a "hands-on" engagement with burlesque practices, culminating in a possible performance for individuals in the class who choose to perform. This engagement does not require nudity. The purpose of this engagement is to facilitate a personal discovery of the burlesque's possibilities through an intimate exploration of performing gender, sexuality, personas, and our bodies.
All genders, ages, sexual orientations, races, body sizes and body types are welcomed and honored in this course.
Student learning goals
Understand the prevalent history of American burlesque and explore the political, social, and individual ramifications of that history and its omissions.
Explore historical and contemporary burlesque and its relationship to personal and political power
Explore the viability of contemporary burlesque for promoting feminist ideologies and/or social justice.
General method of instruction
I utilize a classroom-as-community approach to learning which entails large and small-group discussion. These discussions may involve sharing of personal narratives in the service of critical interrogations. Often, rather than leading to firm conclusions, discussion will incite more questions and further inquiry. In addition, this class has a performance component that, while not necessarily public, entails readiness for all of us to experiment and to support each other in our vulnerabilities and victories. Lectures, with the exception of some initial historical overview, will be a rare occurrence and inquiry is largely based upon student interests and general course goals.
The only recommended preparation is willingness: willingness to be vulnerable, to stretch your limits of comfort, and to engage with topics which are sexual in nature. You should also be comfortable viewing nudity.
Class assignments and grading
Participation, which is integral to learning, analysis, experimentation, and inquiry, will comprise a significant part of your grade. Participation includes partaking in in-class discussions and in performance-related tasks. Again, nudity is not required. You will also be graded on your reading/activity responses, a midterm exam/project, and your final project.