Our faculty pilot new courses in preparation for adding them into the permanent curriculum. We also hire guest professionals to teach courses from their areas of expertise. Recent new and topics courses have included:
Dance and the Brain: The Neuroaesthetics of Neuroentrainment
Dance makes use of processes of entrainment of both emotional valence and temporal information into movement. The embodiment of these concepts arguably makes dance the most complex form of motor responses the nervous system processes. This seminar-based course pursues an innovative curriculum of providing crosscutting training in a variety of forms of dance, exploration of relevant neuroscientific literature and discussion, and examination of dance theory (and to an extent, music theory) in a context of student-centered activities. Students will employ first hand experience in dance work (at their own level of expertise) relevant to deeper understanding of the nervous system, and examine leveraging greater understanding of the nervous system to optimize practice and physical performance in dance and other athletic activities.
Physical Approaches offers intensive training in the creation of theatre that is born from action. Work will focus on the observation, re-creation and transportation of daily life and the physical dynamics and techniques to create a theatre that is at once playful, emotional, and creative. Course work will include an examination of the natural world and all its movements, our relationship with space an time, the neutral and larval masks and the life of objects. We will use improvisation, games and exercises to develop physical and creative skills with which to create original work and delve into the exciting and energy charged process of making theatre as a group. The goal of this class is to encourage curiosity, exploration and the development of new theatrical skills.
Hip Hop Performance
This course addresses three questions: What is hip hop culture, what is hip hop performance, and can we stage such a performance here at Macalester? In line with these questions, the course is divided into three sections. From the beginning of the semester until fall break, we will read and discuss critical examinations of hip hop cultural. In this section, we will learn about leading figures and events in the development of hip hop and also talk its sexism, homophobia and consumerism. From the end of fall break to the beginning of Thanks giving break, we will talk about the theory and practice of hip hop performance, including one person shows, theatrical performances, and various hybrid forms (such as the hip-opera).This section of the course will include a series of workshops with local and national hip hop artists on graffiti writing, spoken word, hip hop dance, and dj’ing/producing, during which we will construct a hip hop performance. After Thanks giving break, we will rehearse for a performance to be staged for the campus community on December 13.
In addition to participating in the workshops and the performance, you will be required to write a midterm, which will then become the first part of your final paper, which will be on some aspect of the hip hop scene in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Your midterm will be based on a common set of readings and interviews, and will be an essay on the development of the local hip hop scene, e.g., its relation to gang culture, etc. The final paper will include this midterm as background, but will also look in depth at a person or event that has been important in the local hip hop scene. The final paper must include original research (e.g., interviews with hip hop personalities, or information from local news sources and/or other print or visual archives)
Burning the Curtain: Queer Performance in America
As performance scholar Robin Berenstein noted recently in her book Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater, homosexuality has been integral to the development of American theatre – and theatre, in turn, has helped shape homosexual identity. Recognizing that theatre isn’t created in a vacuum, it is possible to look at a performance as an example of how sexuality is being understood at different moments in time. This class explores the relationship between sexuality and performance over the course of 120 years of American history by examining play texts, performance reviews, essays and other documentary evidence – and sites ranging from major Broadway theatres, to bars, bathhouse, dance halls, living rooms and military bases.
‘Your Broadway & Mine’: Staging the Nation in the American Musical
“Broadway is a state of mind, a comedy, a tragedy, a smile and a frown…. Broadway doesn’t care who likes it. It asks nobody to its party. It bars no man because of his past, and greets no man because of his future. It is the street of the present…. To omit Broadway is a calamity, to survive Broadway is an achievement…. Broadway is the light that never grows dim, the fire that never burns low – the heart that always palpitates.”
– Walter Winchell, “Your Broadway and Mine”
The Daily Mirror, March 31, 1928
For nearly 150 years, the American musical has been one of this country’s most popular performance genre’s both at home and abroad. From minstrelsy and vaudeville revues to Rent and Avenue Q, from Bert Williams and Fanny Brice to Nathan Lane and Audra McDonald, the musical has both imagined and reflected American national identities. These representations – sometimes highly problematic – have enormous consequences as they continue to circulate through revivals, local theatre productions, and film adaptations.
The musical has also been a forum where the social issues of the day are given voice, sometimes using the guise of popular entertainment as a strategy of subversion. This course surveys the rich history of musical theatre in America in all its complexities using scripts, archival materials, critical essays, audio recordings and film.
Performing History: Interpreting the James J. Hill House
For over a century, museums and historical sites have used live performance as a method of interpretation to engage, educate, and entertain the public. Sometimes called “living history,” this kind of performance has been called a “simulation of life during another time” (Anderson), “a form of theatre in which participants use performance to create a world, tell a story, entertain, and teach lessons” (Magelssen), and “a history that does work in the world and influences the course of history” (Becker).
In recent years, more and more museums have turned to performance as a way of telling their particular story – nationally at places like Colonial Williamsburg and Plimouth Plantation, or locally at places like Historic Fort Snelling and the James J. Hill House.
In this course, we will be working directly with the James J. Hill House and Minnesota Historical Society to develop an interpretative program that will be presented by the class participants at the end of the term. Just down the street from the Macalester campus, the Hill mansion housed the great railroad barron and his family at the turn of the last century. As the “Downton Abbey” of Saint Paul, the large family lived comfortably upstairs entertaining the highest members of society including the President of the United States, while their team of servants downstairs – cooks, gardeners, maids, housekeepers, etc. – worked to keep the estate running.
Students will immerse themselves in the history, culture, and politics of turn-of-the-century Saint Paul, grappling with contemporary issues of gender, class, race and sexuality. Through
class discussions, guest historians, site visits and archival research, students will construct ‘characters’ they will then perform to interpret an aspect of the life and times of this historic house. While the work of this class is located within a particular historic time period and physical site, the skills developed will be useful to any student interested in history, performance, museum studies, American studies, and civic engagement.