Welcome to theater-historiography.org!

This is your space to exchange resources for research and pedagogy. Borrow generously from the tools in Faculty Club, then share some of your own. Tell us about what you’re reading in Ex Libris. And watch the Discussion areas for special commentaries and field reports from the trenches.

Theater-Historiography.org is saying goodbye

by and on July 8th, 2024

Greetings, Friends,

Nearly fourteen years ago, we launched theater-historiography.org as a site for your critical interventions into theatre and performance historiography–an online and community-driven continuation of the work in the co-edited collection after which the site was named. The idea came from LeAnn Fields, our wonderful editor at the University of Michigan Press. Through conversations with LeAnn and the team there, the site was also built as a space for breaking news, rich discussion, classroom resources, and the latest on publications in our field.

Since its launch in January of 2011, theater-historiography.org has showcased the work of over seventy contributors. In its heyday, the site featured new content monthly, enjoyed robust traffic, and was regularly a one-stop shop for colleagues planning courses or looking for a way to amp up a lesson plan. We are grateful to the many contributors who shared their thoughts, provocations, and teaching materials, vividly demonstrating that theatre historiography is, when all is said and done, a collaborative project.

Alas, the time has come to retire the website. The older generation WordPress sites are phased out and will no longer be supported by the University of Michigan Press and Libraries, who have generously hosted the content this long.  Theater-historiography.org will be taken down at the end of the 2024 calendar year, and the content will not be archived.

The good news is that the scholarly conversation continues in ways our website never imagined, through new online resources as well as podcasts and social media interfaces that saw a relative explosion in development and popularity in only a few short years after theater-historiography.org debuted. We encourage you to keep engaging in these ways.

And do take a moment to browse through the site to revisit exciting and sometimes provocative conversations, and maybe find a classroom activity or reading that is as relevant as ever!

All best wishes,

Henry and Scott



Interactive Architectural History of NYC Theaters Offered in The City Performs

by on May 6th, 2021

The City Performs: An Architectural History of NYC Theaters contains city block locations, resource links, images, and brief descriptions of over 400 historical and contemporary performance spaces in the five boroughs of NYC, from the colonial period to the present. A brief historical narrative runs alongside the interactive maps. The OER (Open Educational Resource) is pitched for use in undergraduate classrooms; theatergoers, theater makers, and historians of every ilk may also be interested. Please share and use openly (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License). In its current form, the survey of historical structures is nearly comprehensive. Information is added (and amended) on an ongoing basis. Email cswift@citytech.cuny.edu with suggestions for changes and additions.

Research for the project began in 2018. However, the genesis of the The City Performs was over a decade ago in Marvin Carlson’s History of Scene Design course at the Graduate Center, CUNY. This is where my interest in theater architecture and material culture was ignited. In my own teaching I continue to use images from the immense collection Marvin generously shared with his students. Thank you, Marvin!

Support for The City Performs was provided by the National Endowment of the Humanities and a City Tech Emerging Undergraduate Scholars grant (contributions by Diego Atauchi, Solangie Falla Crespo, and Freddie Ruiz).


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Forget your story. Think about your plot.

by on February 19th, 2020

My recent research and writing on the poet Jay Wright has challenged me to go back to the Ancient Greeks a lot lately. Phrases like this one show up and send me on wild journeys through the classical texts: μὲν βάσις ὰγλαἴας ὰρχά.

I was starting to do so much work with Ancient Greek that I decided to purchase a subscription to the Loeb Classics Online Library, and to encourage my use of this amazing resource I started a blog series called “Classical Bellyflop.” The name comes from the feeling of leaping or diving into the classical texts curated in that library. Since my knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin is pretty basic, however, any dive would scarcely resemble something pretty; not even a cannonball or a jack-knife would serve as an adequate comparison. No, when I dive into Ancient Greece I most certainly bellyflop. The text-water slaps me with as much force as my dive carries with it. The discoveries I make in the text are usually eye-opening and sometimes startling, similar to the surprisingly painful sensation of breaking the water’s surface.

I ended the last post (on repetition) with a consideration of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the repetition that undergirds that telling, a repetition that is desired, actively tended, and yet also potentially upsetting. This entry you are reading here continues with this line of thought by questioning the ubiquitous use of the word “story” in the realm of social media. So many sites have a section for “your story.” The word shows up in so many places that its history has been evacuated. What does ”story” mean here?

The least generous reading of “story” in this context leads to an equation with marketing. When we update our story, we are marketing ourselves as products in the social marketplace. We market ourselves because we want someone to notice us, to listen to us, to engage with us. That desire is understandable and often sincere, but, at least on social media, it is necessarily bound up within “the society of the spectacle.” Fungibility overwrites intimacy. Our story is a transaction.

A more generous reading acknowledges that many of us—though certainly not all—are aware of the superficial dimension to this story telling, but we do it anyway. We tell “our story” because we want to feature highlights in the grand narrative that is our life. Still, though, a type of blindness persists here, one that becomes sensible through a question: are we in the story or are we making it? It often seems as though we would like to play out our lives as characters in a story that is written by some unseen author. Why? Simply put, it would be easier this way. It would be easier to play a predefined part, to enact a subject position or identity that is already created and in search of an operator or conductor. If we act in this way, however, if we accede to the fiction that we’re all stars in our own movies, then we forget the craft of making, the art of not simply telling a story but selecting one of infinite plots through which that story might unfold. If we think we’re only in the movie, then the ποίησις (poiesis) of life is by default ceded to another entity.

I’d like to suggest that, instead of blindly following the seductive marketing of the “story,” we focus more on the art of making. Furthermore, I would like to argue that we can do this by shifting our attention from our “story” to our “plot.” As I have said in almost every theatre class I have ever taught, plot and story are not the same thing. The story is like the wide-angle view of the events and characters that comprise any tale. The plot, by contrast, is the on-the-ground route that moves audience members and spectators through the story as it’s told. The ability to tell the same story by means of a different plot is what allows artists and entertainers to revisit the same stories from the past continually without losing the interest of contemporary audiences. For example, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is a re-plotting of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The story is (generally, we are encouraged to think,) the same, but the telling is Kurosawa’s own. The route he plots through Macbeth is linked to his particular philosophy of cinema and his cultural milieux. We can’t discuss Throne of Blood without talking about Macbeth, but the story is not the most important part of Kurosawa’s cinematic event. The way he plots the story is a key reason why his film is so gripping and unforgettable.

To get to plot, though, it helps to go through “story,” which, for the Ancient Greeks, appeared primarily in two words: λόγος and μῦθος. The first, logos, was a foundational word within Ancient Greek culture. It meant “speech” and “reason.” To speak Greek was to move toward Reason. In the sense I’m referencing it here, however, the speech of logos is particularly a story or a telling of some event. The second word, mythos, which we also rely upon frequently in contemporary English (as “myth”), was a particular kind of story. It did not, as we tend to think today, denote a fictional story, but, rather, a founding story. The myth was an originating event, a happening that was so significant that it required constant revisiting (repetition) through the act of telling (i.e., rhapsodizing). The one who tells such a story is both a rhapsode and a mythologer.

There is no denying that story, as both logos and mythos, was important to the Greeks. Homeric Epics, for example, were myths that compelled constant retelling. When theatre rose to prominence and began to exert such a powerful role in (Athenian) cultural production, however, plot unseated story. At least, that’s what Aristotle leads us to think in his Poetics where, as Gerald Else tells it, he outlines the most important aspects of the art of making (and, in particular, the art of making tragedies). Of all the important aspects, plot is the most important. Reflecting on this today, it seems like this is the case because the telling of the story (myth) is what affected the course of ethical action in contemporary society, and, as such, a poor telling could literally pollute the city. A good telling was, by contrast, akin to the perfect path paved across a treacherous mountain pass. It guided the walker through the dangerous terrain to the other side of the mountain.

This word, however, “plot,” was not strictly equal with contemporary understandings of that word. Aristotle’s word was σύστασις (sustasis or systasis). When we look that word up in Ancient Greek dictionaries, we find that its definition as “plot of a drama” was far from primary. Its other definitions and usages included:

  • bringing together, introduction, recommendation
  • communication between a man and a god
  • protection
  • standing together, close combat, conflict
  • meeting, accumulation, e.g. of humours
  • knot of men assembled
  • political union
  • friendship or alliance
  • composition, structure, constitution of a person or a thing
  • coming into existence, formation

Looking at the list, it is possible to see how it comes to relate to the elements of a story’s structure, but this takes some work. To plot a story, we can deduce, is to bring together its most important elements so as to make visible the story’s lesson for the spectator. This, in fact, was theatre’s reason for existence. Theatre, the seeing place, the site where foundational lessons were plotted for use in the contemporary polis.

When we search for σύστασις in the Loeb Classical Library, we find again that the topic of literature is by no means the primary home for the word. In Aristotle’s other works, for instance, we find the following:

  • Parva Naturalia. On Respiration: refers to “the constitution of the animal” and the “constitution of the organ,” meaning the way the working parts of an animal or vital organ are put together
  • Meterologica: he speaks of the “formation” of a halo around the sun or moon; the “composition” of fiery, meteoric phenomena; the “collection” of vapor that forms morning dew; the “consistency” of a cloud.
  • Generation of Animals: a reference to the substance “constituting” menstrual fluid; the “generation” of plants; the “composition” of the human body; etc.
  • On the Heavens: the “coming together” of the parts of a human or of the world

As these examples suggest, the word that becomes “plot” in the Poetics surfaces in other works given over more to what we would call today the physical sciences. Likewise, it shows up in a similar usage in Galen’s On the Constitution of the Art of Medicine, Theophrastus’ On Odours, Plutarch’s consideration of the face that appears on the surface of the moon, and many other works. Is it at all strange, then, that Aristotle uses the word in ΠΕΡΙ ΠΟΙΗΤΙΚΗΣ, On Poetics, his discussion of the art of making tragedies? That he not only uses the word systasis but that he identifies it as the most important element of this art?

No, not when we consider how Aristotle’s disposition allowed him to look upon the art of making tragedy with the same eyes as he looked at the composition of animals. Aristotle was, after all, a man for whom the interplay of parts and whole, genus and species, was of the utmost importance. His concern with the “coming together of parts” so as to tell a story, therefore, makes sense. Likewise, his other keyword “catharsis” frequently carried the medical sense of “purging,” which was transferred to the work of tragedy: tragedy purged society of its pity and fear. Systasis and catharsis show how theatre, medicine, physics, and philosophy were all intertwined in Ancient Greece.

In my consideration here, the emphasis placed on “plot” by Aristotle deserves our attention because it shifts our thinking from the emphasis on “what” is being told to “how” it is being told. It also drags us out of the story and places us in a perspective from which we can view the making of the story. Both of these shifts are crucially important because they help us remember that we are makers. If we fall into the story and forget about the outside (i.e., the other people and animals and plants and objects and things that make the world), then we become players in someone else’s plot.

The “what” of a theatrical piece is the material, the “how” is the totality of decisions made by the artistic team to help an audience grapple with the material of a given show. In terms of our “stories,” the biography we write with our daily living, we tend to place a lot of importance on the “what,” on the material aspects of our life. On social media, many stories seek to show this material in a good light to anyone who wants to look. But the “how” of our story, the way we compose ourselves over time, is something much harder to showcase. This “how” isn’t visible in a snapshot or even a string of images over a short span of time. Speaking philosophically, the grand “How” comes together in its full form only once the story is over, that is, only once our life has been lived.

So what do we do about this? How do we shift from story to plot? The answer lies in ποίησις, the making, the construction of the story. We cause a disturbance in the society of the spectacle when we reveal how stories are made. This is the shift from History (the story of the past) to historiographies (the writings of these stories). Emphasize the way you make yourself. Show how you put your pieces together. Doing this forces us outside of the stories we tend to tell ourselves (repeatedly) about ourselves and challenges us to put things together differently.


Will Daddario is the author of Baroque, Venice, Theatre, Philosophy. His current scholarly project is a book-length study of Jay Wright’s poetry, philosophy, and dramatic literature, co-authored with Matthew Goulish. In the realm of academia, he is currently most active as a member of the Performance Philosophy network (performancephilosophy.org) where he co-edits the Performance Philosophy journal and the Book Series.

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Undocumentedness: Theater, Experimental Performance, and New Media – An ATHE Resource Guide

by on April 15th, 2018

Photo: Los Illegals by Michael John Garcés (2007)

The Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) recently invited me to build an online resource guide that centers on how Theater, Performance and Experimental Media intersect with undocumentedness in the US. I’m glad to say that the ATHE site is now up an running. Link here:


I hope the guide proves useful to educators and students in various performance mediums who wish to craft any part of their curriculum around this extremely important issue. As I’m sure many of you already know, the US’s current relationship with its undocumented population is one that is extremely charged.

Photo: Maria TV by Rodrigo Valenzuela (2014)

On the guide you will find information regarding books, articles, videos, interviews, websites, and plays that intersect with this issue. The guide also includes a number of exercises that might be useful as in-class activities related to the material.

If interested, feel free to give it a look when you can. I also highly encourage you to send the link out to other interested individuals and/or institutions. The idea being that the wider dissemination the site can get, the better.

Photo: Undocu-Graduation 2016 by the WA DREAM Coalition (Seattle)

The project is also conceived as on-going. So if you know of any any pertinent resources that you feel could be added to the guide, feel free to email me.

Many Thanks,

Christopher Goodson


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A Raisin in the Classroom

by on December 10th, 2017

Why is Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark play, A Raisin in the Sun, not found in the major drama anthologies many universities use for survey classes? Its absence is problematic, given its important place in drama history and literature, which is why we must make an extra effort to get the play into our students’ hands and into classroom learning.

There are so many ways to teach Raisin on the college level. Clearly, the approach you take depends on the learning goals for the department, the class, and the students you are teaching. Are they theatre majors or non-majors? Did they read Raisin in high school and is this, therefore, an opportunity to go deeper into content and context? Is this a US drama survey class and/or a class focusing on race? Is this a script analysis or a theatre history class?

I’ve taught A Raisin in the Sun in two different contexts. In my intro class focusing on staging race and racism, the students had not read Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog (1938) or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949). Therefore, our class discussion focused on the repeated tropes we had identified throughout the semester: across genres and historical periods, playwrights emphasize language and the body to mark racial specificity. In addition, Ta-Nehisi Cotes’s “The Case for Reparations” had recently been published, and therefore the topic of systemic racism and economic justice was particularly topical.

In my Modern US Drama class, students brought much more background about US history and performance context to Hansberry’s text. They had read about the Negro Little Theatre movement, the Federal Theatre Project, and were assigned Big White Fogand Death of a Salesman. Therefore, our discussion of Raisin focused on real estate, the nuclear family, masculinity, the agency of female characters, and commercial versus non-commercial theatre.

I’ve listed several assignment ideas/prompts for teaching Raisin.

  1. Analyze the ways in which Hansberry’s drama does or does not fit W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1926 call for “a real Negro theatre” to be “about us,” “by us,” “for us,” and “near us.” Would you categorize Raisin as a “propaganda play” in Du Bois’s definition or a “folk play” in Alain Locke’s definition?
  2. Compare and contrast with Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog (1938).
    1. What do these continuities and differences tell us about pre-WWII and post-WWII racial politics in the United States?
    2. How do Ward and Hansberry use time as a dramatic tool for staging changes in Black American domestic life?
    3. What is the significance of Chicago as a geographical location in both plays?
    4. How is the Great Migration staged through geography and character?
    5. Why include the third generation? What is at stake having children on stage?
    6. How is Africa taken up in each play and how does that impact the dramatic action? How does it connect to international postcolonial movements? Assign p.903 of “To Be(come) Young, Gay, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry’s Existentialist Routes to Anticolonialism” by Cheryl Higashida and discuss why the FBI would file a report focusing on Asagai’s character.
    7. How did the different performance contexts of the Chicago Federal Theatre Project’s Negro Unit and, two decades later, a commercial production on Broadway, impact reception?
  3. If you have taught Harlem Renaissance drama and the works of Langston Hughes, start with his poem “Harlem.”
  4. Compare and contrast with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), emphasizing staging the domestic space and heterosexual marriage. This can be done, for instance, by comparing Miller and Hansberry’s very precise stage directions. I also like comparing the famous “eggs” exchange between Ruth and Walter in Act I, scene 1 of Raisin with Linda and Willy’s breakfast discussion at the top of Act II.
  5. Assign the original New York Times review of A Raisin in the Sun  (raisin-original-review-full-page) for an analysis of content and the impact of visual culture (the review is literally marginalized in a thin column on the edge of the page). The theatre section’s lead story is “Four Examples of The Orient’s Inscrutable Influence on Broadway,” which offers the opportunity to discuss how racism manifests in a variety of ways in theatre.
  6. Trace Raisin‘s production history by using the Internet Broadway Database. This teaches students the production history and how to use an important research tool. It also provides the opportunity to discuss the lineage of performers who have played Lena, Ruth, and Walter Lee Younger. What has Raisin meant to the career opportunities of major African American performers?
  7. Explain restrictive covenant and provide the details of the historic court case Hansberry v. Lee. Have students research an article on a historic or contemporary example of housing discrimination and bring the printed article into class. Accumulate the data presented (location, type of discrimination, who the victims were) on the board or in a Google Doc. How far has the United States come or not come from what Hansberry depicted in 1959?
  8. Discuss Hansberry’s queer politics regarding her membership in the Daughters of Bilitis and writing in Ladder. Assign “Lorraine Hansberry’s Gay Politics” by Kai Wright and adapt this high school lesson plan “Lorraine Hansberry: LGBT Politics and Civil Rights” to your class learning goals. The lesson plan identifies this essential question for students: “What is the relationship between the civil rights movement, women’s rights, and gay rights activism?”
  9. Listen to Hansberry’s June 15, 1964 speech “The Black Revolution and the White Backlash,” given at a town hall meeting in New York City. What does Hansberry say about the limits of the existing legal structures for combatting injustice? How can we relate this observation to #BlackLivesMatter and current social justice activism?
  10. Screen excerpts from the PBS Learning Media page, “A Raisin in the Sun Revisited.” The brief Mike Wallace interview provides a clear example of the racism and sexism Hansberry faced and seems to impact students and spur productive discussion.

This post was originally published on https://catherineyoung.net/