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 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).



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 ( where he co-edits the Performance Philosophy journal and the Book Series.


I teach a unit on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire that makes use of a variety of adaptations and modalities of the play, and that challenges students’ assumptions about the text with each successive lesson. Key learning objectives include identifying key themes within the play, analyzing characters across different portrayals, and comparing the textual with the visual. The brief descriptions below could be adapted into a variety of classroom activities, including pair-and-share, small group discussions, mind-mapping, student presentations, and so forth. I have incorporated several approaches with these topics.

I assign the play as part of a unit on Modernism, and the students first approach the written text within the context of course themes. For the purpose of this post, I will discuss how I teach the play within a course organized around “borders and margins.” For example, we discuss the way Blanche is marginalized by those around her as a result of her worsening mental illness and, ultimately, her trauma from being raped. We discuss the “borders” of gender and sexuality that are, by turns, both rigidly enforced and blurred.

After our analysis of the play text, we turn to the 1951 film, starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. These discussions afford students the opportunity to see how the film incorporates elements of both Expressionism and Realism while illuminating the themes of marginalization. Additionally, I direct students to observe any differences between the play and the film, which typically sparks a robust conversation about the film’s radically different conclusion between Stanley and Stella.

The third text brought to bear on this unit is the episode “A Streetcar Named Marge” from The Simpsons. This episode centers on a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire (“Oh! Streetcar!”) which the town of Springfield’s community theater puts on, and in which Marge Simpsons stars. The episode finds emotional resonance in the parallels between Homer Simpson and Stanley Kowalski, and from Marge’s increasing marginalization in her own home. The episode also finds great humor in the adaptation of the play, with memorable songs and jokes about bowling. After a screening of this episode, I ask the students why they were laughing—what’s funny about this episode? I realize this seems to be an obvious question, and one that might engender flip responses ranging from “I don’t know” to “I actually didn’t think it was funny.” However, this question usually results in deep analysis on the part of the students to understand both the play itself and the nature of humor and parody.

Finally, after the students have unpacked these various versions of the play, I present them with one final text: a painting by Thomas Hart Benton called Poker Night. Benton saw the original Broadway production of Streetcar and painted Poker Night as a tribute to the cast and production. It centers Blanche, as portrayed by Jessica Tandy, as she admires herself in a hand held mirror. Stella is seen in shadow behind Blanche, and the poker playing men are at the kitchen table. Mitch is staring, captivated by Blanche, while Stanley looks incredulously at Mitch.

I like to have the students first perform a basic visual analysis of the painting: what do you see? how is it lit? where is your eye drawn? etc. They discuss whether this painting seems to match the emotion of the poker night sequence, and if the characters are portrayed in way that matches up with previous analyses.

After discussing the painting on its own merits, I provide them with further context for the painting, which comes from letters exchanged between Williams and Tandy. Williams loved it so much that he wanted to recreate it as a photograph, to which the cast members agreed, except for Tandy. She refused because she disliked what she saw as Benton’s one-sided portrayal of Blanche. Williams assured Tandy she wouldn’t have to be photographed in such a sheer gown, but Tandy said that missed the point. She felt the painting portrayed Blanche as a victim—as solely the object of Stanley’s focus, and in her view, Blanche was too complex to be reduced to an object. (She also worried such a photo would lead playgoers to think the play was only about sex.) To his credit, Williams accepted Tandy’s reasoning, and canceled plans for the photo.

Students find this story interesting, because it offers them new ways to consider Blanche and how she relates to the rest of the characters. Students often point out that the one “error” the painting makes is that it puts Blanche squarely in the light, something the character takes great pains to avoid. Students also debate the portrayal of Stella in the painting; while she is at times overwhelmed by Blanche’s presence, should she really be seen as a cowering figure, behind her sister?

Bringing all these versions of A Streetcar Named Desire together affords students multiple opportunities to see how a dramatic text can be adapted, revised, reinvisioned, and even parodied. The benefit of a multimodal approach is that students who may be potentially disinterested in the play text itself will have several other chances to engage with the text in a way that might seem more interesting to them.

In closing, allow me to leave you with the advice of Blanche du Bois in “Oh! Streetcar!”: “A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met!”


“A Streetcar Named Marge.” The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season, written by Jeff Martin, directed by Rich Moore, Fox, 1992.

A Streetcar Named Desire. Directed by Elia Kazan, performances by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, Warner Brothers, 1951.

Benton, Thomas Hart. Poker Night, 1948, tempera and oil on linen, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.

Devlin, Albert and Nancy Tischler, Editors. Selected Letters: Volume II, 1945-1957. New Directions, 2007.


Louis Wolheim as Robert Smith, “Yank.” Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL

This is an account of one lesson plan’s pivot from slide presentation to real time research.

I wanted to make a slide show of production stills from the 1922 production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape. I imagined the students being brought into the creative decisions made by the Provincetown Players as we looked at the New York Public Library’s digital collection of slides together. We would analyze set design and lighting choices, as well as the gesture and physicality of the actors. It would be a great way to show students what the NYPL’s massive digitization project has made available.

Louis Wolheim as Robert Smith, “Yank.” Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL.

Then I stopped myself. If I showed students the production stills in an assembled slide show, it would continue to obscure the process of using digital tools to find archival materials. Wouldn’t it be better if students located the images themselves?

They already had their laptops in class since we read the freely available script from We spent a good portion of class discussing the episodic structure, the specificity of O’Neill’s stage directions, his use of language to mark ethnicity and class, and the staging of white working-class masculinity in contrast to Mildred’s white-dress wealth.

Then we discussed production options and the dilemma of the gorilla. How would they stage Scene VIII at the zoo? Is the gorilla meant to be a mirror or a contrast to Yank? Therefore, should the two figures be close in size or quite different? What are the aesthetic and political risks in staging the gorilla? Students identified a variety of problems with using a gorilla suit, including it becoming humorous and disrupting the pathos of Yank’s existential alienation. “Too literal / realistic” was another problem.

Finally, I asked students to get in pairs and google “NYPL Digital Collections.” They quickly chose the most obvious search phrase, the title of the play, and were amazed to see 21 actual production stills, like precious messages from the Provincetown Players from 94 years ago. In pairs, students clicked through the images, selected their favorite, and then did a low-stakes  freewrite about the image: what they saw, what they liked about it, and what it told them about the original production. We then discussed several teams’ responses while looking at their chosen image projected on the screen at the front of the classroom.

Louis Wolheim as Yank. Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL.

This exercise brought the material to life, energized the classroom with visual culture and production discussions, and fostered community building among students who collaborated to analyze the production stills. Crucial to my learning goals, it introduced the process of digital research to students in a low-stakes atmosphere.

This post was originally published on


As a means of encouraging those interested in Arthur Miller studies, the Arthur Miller Society decided to provide a database of all the dissertations that have been written on Miller’s work since the very first in 1949 through to the current day (mostly taken from WorldCat, with some additions from other bibliographic sources). The plan is to update this each year to keep it current. This includes BA Honors, MA and PhD. both in English and other languages. Browsing through the list offers an excellent sense of what has been well-covered, suggests interesting directions only minimally considered that might be worth further pursuit, and provides a useful springboard to new ideas informed by what has already been tried or accomplished. As you will see, these dissertations cover a lot more territory than existing print critical publications on Miller.  This database can be found on the society website:

Our hope is to generate more conference papers and publications on the playwright to ensure that this seminal American playwright is fully considered in terms of what he offered the public through his varied writings, which go far beyond just Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, great though those two works might be. Aside from more than two-dozen other plays, many of them excellent and covering a diversity of styles, he published a fair amount of fiction and non-fiction, too. The society has its own journal, published through Penn State–Arthur Miller Journal—that publishes critical essays, notes, book and production reviews and welcomes submissions from scholars at all levels (including undergraduates if worthwhile), and submits panels to a variety of conferences on a regular basis. Details about the Journal, CFP, other Miller events, teaching guides, links, as well as a wealth of other Miller related material is all available for free on the Miller Society website, which is regularly updated and maintained. We also recently set up a Miller Society Facebook page to be able to get out the word about calls for papers, upcoming productions and recent Miller related publications at:


Religion and theater, religious studies and performance studies–these practices and fields share multiple, sometimes contentious, points of connection. From a content perspective, at least within theater studies, research on the relationship between religion and theater has often focused either on the possibility that plays evolved from liturgical practices or on the phenomenon of antitheatrical sentiment. Methodologically, performance studies inherits to an important degree its impetus to study off-stage role-playing, seeing, and self-representation from the interest in ritual that animated the collaborations between Victor Turner and Richard Schechner. Yet, despite the importance of religion as player in theater history and ritual theory as a resource within performance studies, scholarship on religious performance has occupied a relatively marginal position in the field. As Lance Gharavi argues in his excellent introduction to Religion, Theatre, and Performance: Acts of Faith (2012), the lack of readings and courses related to religion in the standard curriculum offered by graduate programs in theater and performance studies attests to this marginal status (5). The last decade, however, and especially the years between 2012-2014, have witnessed an exciting renewal of scholarly attention to the intersections between religion and performance, with edited collections by Gharavi and by Claire Maria Chambers, Simon W. du Toit, Joshua Edelman (2012), an Ecumenica special issue on “Critical Terms in Religion, Spirituality, and Performance” (2014), and monographs by Edmund Lingan (2014), John Fletcher, (2013) and Jill Stevenson (2013).

The current issue of Performance Matters builds on this momentum by gathering articles, essays, creative works, and field notes on the theme “Performing Religion.” Its contributors to the Articles section offer a medieval theory of religious emotion, a history of the immersive game “Romans and Christians” in Protestant youth camps, an analysis of the liturgical practices of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, and a study of Ignatius of Loyola’s influence on early modern French hagiographic drama. The Forum Section gathers reflection pieces on religion and theater as “folk categories,” on Trump’s evangelicals, on Jonathan Goodluck’s piety, and on the recuperation of religion in art history. Finally, the Materials Section features a video and script of Angela Latham’s original autoethnographic play Jesus Camp Queen, along with an artist reflection and reviews, followed by excerpts from Richard Schechner’s field notes on the Ramlila of Ramnagar.

We invite you to take a look!

Performance Matters
Vol 3, No 1 (2017): Special Issue: Performing Religion
Table of Contents

Editorial Notes
Introduction: Performing Religion (1-6)
Joy Palacios

Sacred Feeling: A Dramaturgy of Religious Emotion (7-18)
Donnalee Dox and Amber Dunai

Romans and Christians: Bearing Witness and Performing Persecution in Bible Camp Simulations (19-38)
Scott Magelssen and Ariaga Mucek

“I Name Myself in Power”: The Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the Performance of Relational Authority (39-61)
Claire Maria Chambers

Awakening Imagination: Glimpses of Ignatian Spirituality in Seventeeth-Century French Hagiographic Theatre (62-87)
Ana Fonseca Conboy

Blaspheming Against Ourselves: Folk Categories in Religion and Theatre (88-93)
Lance Gharavi

Deep Stories of the Demonized: Empathy and Trump Evangelicals (94-102)
John Fletcher

Goodluck the Performer (103-111)
Ebenezer Obadare

Recuperating Religion in Art History:  Contemporary Art History, Performance, and Christian Jankowski’s The Holy Artwork (112-115)
Karen Gonzalez Rice

Jesus Camp Queen (116-131)
Angela J Latham

Fundamental Femininity in Performance: An Artist’s Reflection on “Jesus Camp Queen” (132-137)
Angela J Latham

Performing Fugue: Desire, Denial, and Death in Jesus Camp Queen (138-142)
Patrick Santoro

Jesus Camp Queen and the Performance of (Fundamentalist Christian) Gender (143-146)
Julie Ingersoll

Encountering the Ramlila of Ramnagar: From Fieldnotes in 1978 and 2013 (147-156)
Richard Schechner



Dear colleagues:

The current issue of Theatre/Practice is now live! It features the following:

and a special section of graphic notes:

Take a look and please consider submitting your work for the 2018 issue!




In summer and fall 2016, ASTR’s sub-committee on conference accessibility drafted a best practices document. The best practices document passed through the committee on conferences, and was distributed to plenary panel respondents, working group conveners, and conference attendees. It can be found here:

The committee’s work was informed by a number of resources, in particular those available through The Society for Disability Studies at the University of Buffalo and The DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Program at the University of Washington.

As the sub-committee drafted the best practices document, we noted and/or reflected on key aspects of the process:

  • How can conferences—conceptualized broadly to include planners, long time and new organization members, all attendees, and all support/organizational teams—incorporate accessibility, especially “accessibility” conceptualized nimbly and robustly?
  • How is a best practices document a starting point for systemic, supported, long-term commitments to accessibility? What are the immediate goals, the aspirations, and the cultural shifts to foster?
  • How do venue logistics– in cities, hotels, and performance spaces—support accessibility? How can such considerations be prioritized within the exigencies of conference planning?

In the best practices document, the sub-committee addresses different physical abilities, pronoun usage, as well as multiple formats for discussion and presentation in both working sessions and plenary presentations. We also, following the Society for Disability Studies (SDS), invite ASTR to “think about issues of privilege and injustice and to reflect on the inclusions and exclusions” in preparing presentations and organizing conference sessions.[1]

The best practices document is intended to be responsive to more input, from ASTR members and through inter-organizational collaboration. ATHE, for example, has a robust membership contingent working explicitly with differing abilities and accessibility.

Simultaneously, the sub-committee on conference accessibility asks, how might we, as an organization, use our conference to challenge the boundaries of inclusivity. How can we, as a conference and an organization, invite increasingly astute conversation and responsive actions?

For example, what are our needs and desires, as individuals and as an organization? How might the ASTR website be consistently utilized as a repository through which conference attendees might access materials in advance of the conference? What are the considerations around recording plenary sessions and making them available to attendees who may need or wish to revisit material? What are our goals for or aspirations towards sign language interpretation? Simultaneous translation?

Where, and in what formats, can we continue these conversations and this work?

[1] “Accessible presentations.”


My first reference to Hamilton in the classroom occurred in Fall 2015. I had recently seen the CBS Sunday Morning piece on the musical and viewed it as an opportunity to discuss casting in my Introduction to Theatre course.[1] Since then, I have incorporated Hamilton into the classroom to varying degrees and in various ways to engage students in a variety of topics.[2] I offer here a description of ways I have integrated Hamilton into my curriculum, and reflect on the effectiveness of such incorporation.

For context, I think it important to share a bit about the campus community at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), and the theatre studies courses I teach there, including Introduction to Theatre, Theatre History, and Honors Program Seminars. Majors and non-majors comprise all of my classes, with non-majors usually filling 75-80% of the seats. Typically, I have around fifty students in both my Intro and Theatre History courses, as they each fulfill a general education requirement on campus. One of the challenges I face, then, is teaching to multiple levels of engagement, interest, and experience. It’s not uncommon for me to teach an upper-level subtopics course to juniors and seniors, some of whom are majors and many of whom have never read a play. Furthermore, Cal Poly’s student population is overwhelmingly white: 56% of the students identify as white, with Hispanic/Latinx students making up the second largest population at 16%. African-American, Native American, and Pacific Islander students each make up less than 1% of the student population. Ergo, the lessons about storytelling and representation that Hamilton can provide and the discussions it can initiate are both valuable and crucial.[3]

One reason I have found Hamilton effective is because both my majors and non-majors quickly engage with the show. While few students have actually seen it, most are at least nominally familiar with the musical at this point. Generally, once I introduce Hamilton  to students (often with the CBS Sunday Morning piece), they are hooked. This interest has afforded me opportunities to use the show to explain various performance topics, create group assignments based on the production, and even build an entire seminar around it.

In terms of using Hamilton to explore particular topics, I have found it most effective in discussing casting and historiography. In Intro, I show interviews and clips from Hamilton in order to introduce discussion of different views on and approaches to casting, including “blind” casting, cross-casting, color-conscious casting, and coalitional casting. I also have students read various responses to the casting choices in Hamilton, including reactions to the controversy that emerged last spring when a casting notice for the touring company called for non-white actors.[4] Using Hamilton in these discussions opens up considerations of a multitude of issues surrounding casting including representation, opportunity, authorial intent, and storytelling. Through small group discussion (which typically leads to a conversation by the entire class), students wrestle with approaches and reactions to casting, and begin to realize the complexities involved. I have found that Hamilton raises awareness of not only the complexities, but also the stakes involved in casting. I often share a quote from Okieriete Onaadowan, who played Hercules Mulligan/James Madison:  He doesn’t want to do “another show about a messed up black kid,” and instead, in Hamilton, is “a black man playing a wise, smart, distinguished future president.”[5]

With regard to historiography, I have found that Hamilton helps students understand (at least basically) looking at the past through a historiographic lens. Notably, the songs “History Has Its Eyes on You,” and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?,” in addition to the repeated motif of legacy in the show, encourage students to think about the construction and dissemination of (hi)stories. Ron Chernow, who wrote the biography upon which the musical is based, has noted the “historiographical rigor” of the show.[6] After completing a project on Hamilton for Theatre History II last spring, one student explained during her presentation that she had a discovery about historiography while working on the assignment.[7] She explained that she is from the American South and that she did not recollect discussing Alexander Hamilton in history classes during her upbringing. She claimed that she asked her mother, who is a teacher and owns several textbooks from the student’s youth to search for Hamilton in the textbooks, only for the search to come up empty. The student suggested that Hamilton’s absence from her textbooks may be related to the unfavorable view of Hamilton in the South. She then told her fellow students that it’s important to pay attention to how a historian’s own embedded biases and background may inform the historical narratives she/he creates.[8]

During the aforementioned Theatre History II course, I developed a group project in which a group of six students analyzed Hamilton.[9] I listed the following as expectations for the students:

  • Listen to the Hamilton
  • Read the libretto/book included with the soundtrack.
  • Conduct individual and group research on the musical.
  • Analyze 3 songs within the production.
  • Respond to discourse surrounding the musical.
  • Present findings/discoveries/thoughts to class.

I provided a set of questions and prompts to help guide their research and analysis. In addition to background information on the show and its creation, the assignment required students to find images, video clips, and sound clips from the show. Students analyzed a total of three songs from the show; they had to include “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who tells Your Story?” as one of their songs. The students also responded to four articles about the show, two of which were positive reactions and two of which included critique of the musical. Finally, I asked students to reflect upon notions of historicization and how the musical uses the past to comment on our world today.   I explained to the group that it was important that the students meet as a group and discuss their research and analysis (rather than exchanging ideas solely through a Google Doc). To conclude the project, the group presented their research and discoveries with the class.

Though group presentations can consume a lot of precious class time, I found that the value of this group’s presentation was worth it. The students’ enthusiasm for the topic and the “a-ha moments” they experienced while completing the assignment was palpable. One group member shared that he had bought Chernow’s biography and was already halfway through reading it, even though he was not required to do so. Not only did the group’s classmates ask follow-up questions, but many also inquired about the show at my office hours after the presentation. Several group members later recommended that I continue to assign the project to the entire class, rather than just one group.

The level of engagement demonstrated by the students in Theatre History II inspired me to create opportunities for deeper exploration into Hamilton for students. The possibility for a more in-depth engagement arose this past fall when I taught an Honors Seminar. The class met weekly for 50-minutes, and was developed as a supplement to Intro to Theatre. Fourteen students comprised the seminar, with twelve also enrolled in my section of Intro that quarter, and two enrolled in another instructor’s section of the course. The purpose of the seminar was to provide deeper exploration into the concepts taught in Intro to Theatre. The format of the weekly meetings was primarily discussion-based. Though I was unsure of the sustainability of Hamilton as the sole case study for the seminar, I proceeded to shape the 10-week course around the musical.

For required texts, I assigned the musical soundtrack, as well as the book, Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I hesitated to require the book, but found it to be a valuable supplement to not only the seminar, but to the textbook I had assigned in my Intro class.[10] Relatively inexpensive at $35, Hamilton: The Revolution chronicles the development of the musical from inception to opening night on Broadway. McCarter relies heavily on interviews with those involved in the show’s creation and fills the text’s pages with behind-the-scenes photographs, costume and set renderings, scanned pages from Miranda’s notebooks, and production images. The book also features the lyrics to each song, with footnotes by Miranda revealing inspirations, anecdotes, and other informative commentary on the show’s libretto.

In preparation for each week’s meeting, students read several chapters from the book and contributed to an online discussion board by identifying a “Quotable Lyric.” This quotable lyric need not be the students’ “favorite” lyric, rather one that particularly struck them. Students also explained why they chose that lyric. During the first few weeks, the online board served as a repository for favorite lyrics, but later became a trove of connections that students made between the seminar and the concurrent Intro class, as well as between Miranda’s oft-poignant wordplay and the issues emerging in the political landscape that dominated the months leading up to the election.

Initially, rather than assigning the book chapters in chronological order, I tried to lay out the assigned readings in such a way to reflect what we were covering in Intro that week. For instance, I asked students to jump to Chapter XIV, “On Paul Tazewell and the Fashion of the Revolution” the same week we covered costume design in Intro to Theatre. A couple weeks in, however, I shifted the reading schedule so that the students read the book in chronological order. Because the book tracks the creation of the musical through its run at The Public to the Broadway premiere, I felt it was more important for students to trace the stages of development many shows undergo. Luckily, the students were able to recall the concepts we discussed in Intro weeks later in the seminar. In many ways, I believe that encountering the concepts at different intervals during the quarter helped to reinforce the ideas for the students. For instance, when we finally read Chapter XIV, students applied considerations of material, line, and metaphor they had encountered earlier in the quarter in Intro to Theatre.

Most of my students remarked in their student evaluations that they enjoyed reading Hamilton: The Revolution and appreciated that it lined up well with the material covered in Intro. An accessible read, the book offers valuable insights to the show and theatre. It initiated conversations on wide-ranging performance topics such as copyrights, understudies, finances, choreography, space, and sound mixing and design. Students also pointed out that the book, through Miranda’s input, provided studies in music history and genre. This led to a scavenger hunt assignment, through which students looked up the musical theatre, rap, and hip-hop influences Miranda cites in his footnotes.[11] The scavenger hunt also sent students on a search for examples of Alexander Hamilton’s writing. I designed this assignment to set the groundwork for their next project; a group presentation to my section of Intro to Theatre.

The Honors Seminar group presented some of their reflections and discoveries to the Intro class during the musical theatre unit. To do so, they divided into groups of 3-4 and each group covered a particular facet of Hamilton. I left it up to the students to decide what topics to include (this provided a great opportunity for students to practice the type of selection process that we as teachers, historians, scholars, and artists continually face). They decided to focus on background, choreography, musical references, design, casting, and historiography.[12] As was the case in Theatre History II, the group’s investment in the delivery of their work piqued their classmates’ interest.

Concerned that the seminar students had become a bit too effusive in their obsession with Hamilton, at the end of the quarter I assigned them two readings that offer some critique of Hamilton: James McMaster’s “Why Hamilton is Not the Revolution You Think It Is” and Stacey Wolf’s response to the show on The Feminist Spectator.[13] Both of these responses allowed the class to take a step back and discuss the merit in McMaster’s and Wolf’s points, as well as the importance in being able to critically reflect upon even the things we love, rather than blindly adoring them.

From verbal feedback and quantitative evaluation data I have received from seminar students, it seems using Hamilton as the sole case study for the course worked well. Other honors students have inquired as to when I will be teaching the “Hamilton class” again. I am not sure what future curricular “revolutions” Hamilton will inspire in my classrooms. In my experience, however, Hamilton provides a theatrical example that is exciting, entertaining, and engaging to students, both majors and non-majors.

Click here for Deconstructing Hamilton Guidelines and Hamilton Scavenger Hunt prompt.

[1] Since fall 2015, I have shown the CBS Sunday Morning report in several classes. I have found that it is a great introduction to the musical for students who are not familiar with the show. (

[2] Obviously, I do not shape and wield words with the same talent that Lin-Manuel Miranda possesses, but one of the elements that students enjoy discussing is the wordplay used by Miranda. My play with variation/various/variety here is a nod to Miranda’s exploration of words and language in Hamilton. I have found that students (especially English majors) enjoy analyzing this aspect of the show, and often, in their responses, began to experiment with their own use of language.

[3] This is not to suggest that these discussions are any less valuable and crucial at institutions with more diversity.

[4] Here are a few of many responses (I find these especially useful):;;

[5] Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, Hamilton: The Revolution (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016) 149.

[6] Miranda and McCarter 125.

[7] I will explain the nature of the project later in this piece.

[8] Admittedly, this was a bittersweet moment for me; sweet because I was excited this student was able to articulate this to her peers and bitter because Hamilton was able initiate the comprehension I had been trying to achieve all quarter.

[9] Please see Assignment Guidelines for more details.

[10] I currently assign Mira Felner’s Think Theatre in my Introduction to Theatre classes.

[11] Please see Scavenger Hunt. The newly-release Hamilton Mixtape can provide further investigation of Miranda’s musical influences and ideas not found in the show, including “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” recorded by immigrants and children of immigrants. Miranda also includes “Cabinet Battle #3” on Mixtape, an example of a track that was cut during the process of shaping the show. In the book, Miranda expresses his difficulty in letting go of this battle about slavery, which provides a valuable lesson to students about the editing process and selecting the components that make it to the final (hi)story.

[12] I promise I did not insist on that last topic. (Though I was glad they chose to include it.)





CTR 168 (Fall 2016) Theatre Criticism is now available at CTR Online and Project MUSE

It has been 27 years since CTR devoted an issue to the subject of critical practice in Canada. In the meantime, the field of theatre criticism has undergone considerable transformation, in large part due to the global erosion of print media and the unbridled growth of the Internet. This shift has had many consequences, from shrinking space devoted to arts coverage in mainstream media outlets, to the proliferation and diversification of critical voices online, to a widespread questioning of the role and relevance of expertise in critical discourse. CTR 168 Theatre Criticism, edited by Karen Fricker and Michelle MacArthur, takes stock of Canadian theatre criticism and charts the relationship of theatre studies to theatre criticism at this vital juncture.

Assembling an exciting array of voices from across the country, CTR 168 instigates lively and urgent debate on the uncertain future of theatre criticism. Artists speak back to their critics and outline their critical utopias, educators reflect on the importance and practice of teaching theatre criticism, and several contributors explore how innovative modes of criticism—from blogging, to anti-racist praxis, to interactive film screenings—might challenge the authority of traditional pundits and tastemakers and disperse their power to the masses.

In I Really, Really Mean Something: Ten Micro-Plays about Theatre, the featured script specially commissioned for this issue, Rosamund Small offers some criticisms of the Canadian theatre industry while exposing the different forms criticism can take. Small’s satirical and incisive script reflects a broader shift in the relationship between art and criticism, the boundaries of which are being increasingly blurred by a new generation using online platforms to create conversation and collaboration among different stakeholders—practitioners, reviewers, scholars, audiences, and those who straddle multiple categories.

The online slideshow illustrates this shift as well. Featuring excerpts from theFacebook Relay Interview, a project initiated by artist Erin Brubacher that connected 344 participants to discuss issues of equity and diversity in Canadian theatre, the CTR 168 slideshow demonstrates how social media can be used to generate dialogue, build community, and challenge traditional hierarchies structuring critical discourse.

Click here to view the full table of contents.