02.164DH Performance: Design, Dramaturgy, and Interpretation

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This introductory course explores the ways we make meaning in theatre, performance and everyday life, including the domains of technology and design. We will consider closely how ‘sign-systems’ – spatial design, lighting, sound, multimedia, movement, objects and other production elements – guide the process of meaning-making and shape any performance’s dramaturgy. Importantly, this process is also embodied. This course ultimately brings semiotic methods of analysis (interpreting signs and symbols) into dialogue with phenomenological perspectives (being aware of embodied experience). These tools and skills enable one to understand how meaning is created, communicated, and felt in both art and life. We will explore how they can be used in myriad design and technology contexts within and outside of the theatre: engineering user interfaces, human-machine interactions, gaming dramaturgies, robotics, AR/VR experiences, and more.

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognise and illustrate how the dramaturgical concerns of composition, structure, staging and audiencing are also fundamental design concerns that can be applied within and outside of the theatre
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of key terms and concepts of semiotics and phenomenology as analytical tools to interpret a performance production’s design and dramaturgy
  3. Assess a theatrical production through detailed analysis and argumentation about what, and how, this performance can communicate to an audience

Measurable Outcomes

  1. In a short essay assignment due mid-term, students have to describe the dramaturgical elements of a performance outside of the theatre (e.g. a sporting event, an exhibition, a wedding ceremony) and evaluate how it communicates meaning to and affects the audience
  2. Students work in a group to workshop a simple 5 to 10-minute performance of their own and present their findings of the process and product in relation to the concepts of semiotics and phenomenology
  3. For their final essay, students will attend a live theatrical production (digital or local) and utilise their observations of the production’s design elements and dramaturgy to formulate an interpretation and analysis of the performance’s meaning. They will do this through the framework of semiotics and phenomenology.

Course Requirements

Assessment Percentage
WEC – Class participation 15
WEC – Mid-term short essay 20
WEC – Group performance and presentation 25
WEC – Final Essay 40

Course Outline

Week 1: Introduction to performance and dramaturgy

Week 2: Semiotics 101: considering theatre and performance as ‘systems of signs’

Week 3: Semiotics continued: towards socio-semiotics

Week 4: Phenomenology 101: performance as felt experience

Week 5: Phenomenology continued: the dramaturgy of bodies and movement

Week 6: Theatrical production from page to stage

Week 7: Recess

Week 8: Spatial relationships in performance design

Week 9: Technology in the theatre

Week 10: Storytelling and narrative segmentation

Week 11: Group performances and presentations

Week 12: Digital theatre workshop

Week 13: Roundup and workshopping final essays


Cheng Nien Yuan