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THTRFLM 2CP3 Culture And Performance

Academic Year: Fall 2015

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Melanie Bennett



Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: 1:00-2:20

Course Objectives:

Culture and Performance examines particular contemporary performances and strategies that have cultural, political, and social implications that either undermine dominant ideology and artistic norms or reinforce them. We will draw extensively on artists' practices and events that are experimental, address issues of nationhood and social justice, and focus on making meanings or critiques about culture through performance. Practitioners will be investigated for what strategies (conceptual, aesthetic, physical, political, and/or technical) they use to draw attention to or problematize contemporary Western culture.

As a course rooted in a Performance Studies paradigm, the term “performance” is a concept, practice, and discipline broadened beyond the artistic realm. Although, the bulk of the course will focus mainly on various approaches to performance art, we will also assess the performance of politicians and celebrities. In light of the Canadian Federal Election, we will analyze performance strategies in the political arena, paying close attention to how political parties cast certain candidates and craft their performance persona, script their message, and stage their appearances. We will also look at what happens when political performers perform outside their role in ways that reveal the artifice of their “characterization.” Students will be expected to familiarize themselves with the election through various mediums (debates, party advertisements, interviews, journalistic articles, etc). As well, we will be looking at how contemporary celebrities have evolved and/or regressed ideas of feminism and gender performance.

Assigned readings and in-class discussions will provide a theoretical framework in which to contextualize the practitioners and performances we explore, as well as offer models for how they might be studied. These readings and in-class discussions will provide students with basic “tools” for scrutinizing the elements that performance practitioners deploy in order to offer potential theories, meanings, interpretations, and questions about culture. These “tools” will not only offer methods for interpretation and writing about the practitioners studied in class, but will also be useful in considering a variety of other performances.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

THTR & FLM 2CP3 courseware pack and online sources

Method of Assessment:

Attendance and Participation: 20%

Canadian Election Performance Analysis: 10% (Due in class Week 7, Thurs. Oct. 22)

In-class Test: 25% (Held in class Week 8, Thurs. Oct. 29) 

Essay: 30% (Due in class Week 11, Thurs Nov. 19)

Manifesto: 15% (Due last day of class Dec. 3)


Attendance and Participation (20%):

Students are required to attend classes regularly and participate in class discussions and exercises, which will be worth 20% of the final grade. The expectations include: regular attendance, viewing and reading the assigned materials, contributing to class discussions and exercises, respectful listening, and engaging with others’ comments to further our understandings of the materials and thematics. Attendance will be taken each week on a sign-in sheet circulated towards the end of class. Repeated absences will affect your attendance grade and your chances of success in this course. In-class discussions and group work will take place following film screenings. Students are encouraged to participate in order to clarify ideas and to become comfortable in developing points of view. This course includes provocative experimental cultural work. It is important for the classroom to be a space of openness to the material studied and one of mutual respect regarding different points of view.

Canadian Election Performance Analysis (10%) Due Week 7, Thurs. Oct. 22

During the weeks leading up to election day on October 19, we will use the first 15 minutes of each class to analyze a current political performance and its effectiveness. Students need to pay particular attention to the election “action” in order to participate in these discussions and prepare them for the 500-word Canadian Election Performance Analysis assignment. Students will be asked to choose one political candidate to evaluate the strategies used to perform the role of their party. Use of assigned readings (eg. Goffman, Butler, Carlson, etc.), along with class discussion notes, and outside sources can be applied for support material. More details will be given in class.

In-Class Test (25%) Week 8, Thurs. Oct. 29:

The test is to be written in class, and it is 60 minutes long. It consists of questions that involve interpretation and understanding about lectures, readings, and screened performances. The format of these questions could include short answer, matching, multiple choice, and/or best answer. Further details will be noted in class, prior to the test.

Essay (30%) Due Week 11, Thurs. Nov. 19:

Length: 5 pages.

Avoid writing more or less than the required length.

Write a critical discussion/analysis about one of the performance art works we view or discuss in this class by addressing the meanings about culture that the performance opens up and provokes. You can select a performance work that we have viewed to date, but you are also welcome to choose a performance from the weeks ahead. You may choose the focus of your critical analysis, but you need to demonstrate a thoughtful engagement with the performance by discussing it in relation to course ideas/issues/problematics. Your weekly notes on the performances and readings can provide a basis for your paper.

Focus on two components:

1) Demonstrate a thoughtful engagement with the performance: discuss what meanings you think are significant. Consider what strategies the artist employs to address issues about culture and how they mobilize those strategies. (You do not need to discuss everything the artist attempts. Choose what you find most significant.) Draw connections between issues and thematics raised in class and how you understand the performance.

 2) To inform your analysis, you are also asked to draw upon one (1) course reading. You may work with any reading from the courseware pack. The purpose of this component is to encourage you to work with the ideas and arguments in your chosen reading such that they inform your critical analysis. When integrating a quotation or idea, ensure that it makes sense in relation to your analysis.

This essay is relatively short, so I strongly advise you to focus on a particular meaning about culture in the performance work. You cannot address everything there is to say about the work. Be selective and keep to the point. Review your paper to edit out tangential and/or irrelevant material. In your introduction, clearly explain what element of the performance work you are going to address and your intended line of argument so that you can focus and structure your essay.

With respect to documentation, I do not have a particular requirement. That is, you may use Chicago, MLA, or APA, etc.: Use whichever style guide is most familiar to you and that enables you to focus on the substance of your paper. Nevertheless, your paper needs to be consistent with regard to the citation and reference practices, and you need to acknowledge all sources. Make sure that you provide a reference notation according to scholarly citation practices whenever you use an author’s idea, whether you use that idea by directly quoting or by paraphrasing. When paraphrasing, you must re-write the author’s idea in completely different language. Please see the following website for information on how to avoid plagiarism:

This paper is neither a summary of the performance work nor a description of why you “like” or “dislike” it. The essay is a scholarly paper with an argument that provides a sustained critical discussion of the performance work in relation to course ideas. 

Pay careful attention to the clarity and expression of your ideas and to those components that can benefit or disadvantage your analysis, such as a sustained argument, overall flow and organization, sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation. Rigorous proofreading and editing is an important component in producing a strong paper.

If you would like individual help on improving writing skills, please contact the Student Success Centre, which offers Writing Support Services through Peer Mentor and Writing Assistant appointments and the Writing Process Workshop. The Centre is located in Gilmour Hall 110.

For assistance with academic writing, you can also book an appointment with a Peer Helper at The Writing Clinic in the Mills Learning Commons.


-Your paper should be 5 pages double-spaced (approximately 1500 words). Avoid writing a paper shorter or longer than the required length.

-Be sure to indicate your name, course name and number, and the title of your paper.

-Number the pages.

-Use 12pt Times New Roman font.

-Use regular margins (no more or less than 1 inch).

-A reference list, with both the performance work and the reading(s), must be included. It is to be placed at the end of the paper and titled “References.” The reference list includes only those secondary sources cited in the paper and not materials you may have read to develop your thinking.

Criteria for grading:

-Development of insightful understandings about the performance. (This aspect includes considerations such as the following: Do you work with ideas introduced in the course? Is the paper introduced clearly, i.e. are the focus and approach evident? Is the paper focused throughout, i.e. are all parts of the essay relevant? Are the ideas/arguments focused, well developed/elaborated, and avoid generalization? Are the arguments well stated and expressed? Is the critical analysis thoughtful, insightful, and/or imaginative?)

-Incorporation of course materials (scholarly literature). (This aspect includes considerations such as the following: Are the sources well chosen in relation to your arguments? Are they properly cited? Is it evident that the course materials have been read and understood in your use of them? Do you engage with the ideas in the readings to inform and develop your arguments?)

-Organization and grammar (This aspect includes considerations such as the following: Correct length of paper; paragraph construction; sentence construction; transition of ideas; word choice; punctuation; spelling; typos, etc.)

Plagiarism: Please see the commentary above under “Academic Dishonesty Statement” and note the following website for information on how to avoid plagiarism:

Consultation: If you have questions about the assessment of your essay and you would like to discuss how to do better in future writing projects, you may consult with me (or the teaching assistant) after the essay has been returned to you.

Manifesto (15%) Due Week 13 Dec. 3 Last day of class!

Many of the artists studied in class experiment with the manifesto form as a performative way of writing about their work or a particular issue (eg. Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s tongue and cheek proclamation on the US border security). This last assignment is an opportunity for you to be creative and produce a one-page manifesto or video on the value of performance art to provoke cultural reflection, its political activist potential, and value in society. More details will be provided in class.


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Students are expected to hand in all assignments on time. Extensions or other accommodations will be determined by the instructor and will only be considered if supported by appropriate documentation. Please note that late penalties will not be waived except in exceptional circumstances and on an individual basis. In accordance with University regulations, documentation is required for circumstances of health or emergency. Computer or printer problems, conflicting due dates, and a busy schedule are not considered suitable reasons for extensions.


-I will accept assignments via email ( or in hardcopy in class.

-A paper is considered late if it is not submitted by the deadline.

-Papers should NOT be handed into the School of the Arts office.

-Late assignments will be penalized 3% per day or part day, seven days a week to a maximum of one week, in order to be fair to those students who submit their work according to the set deadlines. After one week, late assignments will not be accepted, as a grade of zero will be assigned.

In-Class Test: If you miss the test, it cannot be made up without official documentation for your absence.

**Please refer to the protocols regarding “Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work” (See for details)

If you use the McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF) on-line, self-reporting tool for minor medical situations lasting up to 5 days, you may request relief for missed academic work worth less than 30% of the final grade. You may submit a maximum of one Academic Work Missed request per term. *Contact me immediately after completing the form. Please note that grade percentages cannot be transferred onto one of the other course requirements.

If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office (Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation.

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar “Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work”. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015.

**In all cases, it is YOUR responsibility to follow up with the instructor immediately to see if an extension or other accommodation will be granted, and what form it will take. There are NO automatic extensions or accommodations.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Week 1: Thurs Sept 10.  Course Introduction

Introduction to course, course objectives, and reviewing syllabus

Week 2: Thurs. Sept. 17 – Introduction to Performance Studies, Performance Art, and Critical Ideology


Goffman, Erving. “Introduction” and “Chapter I – Performances.” The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. (1956) Pg. 1-46.

(available online:

ONLINE “What is Performance Studies?”

Madison, D Soyini and Judith Hamera. “Performance Studies at the Intersections.” The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies. (2005). Pg. xi-xxv.

Carlson, Marvin. (1996). What is Performance? In Michael Huxley & Noel Witts (Eds.), The Twentieth Century Performance Reader  (2nd ed.) (pp. 146-153). London: Routledge.

Stiles, Kristene. (1996). “Performance Art.” In Kristen Stiles and Peter Selz (Eds.), Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings (pp. 679-694). Berkeley: University of California Press.

(available online:

Film Screening: The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

In-class: Discussion/lecture

Week 3: Thurs. Sept. 24 – Mis-Performing Gender and Performativity


ONLINE Judith Butler: Your Behaviour Creates Your Gender

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal. Vol. 50, No. 4. (Dec. 1988). Pg. 519-531.

Salih, Sara. “On Judith Butler and Performativity.” Sexualities and Communications in Everyday Life: A Reader. Eds. K. Lovaas and M.M. Jenkins. (2007). Pg. 55-67.

Halberstam, Judith. “The Queer Art of Failure.” The Queer Art of Failure. (2011). Pg. 87-121.

Film Screening: The Codes of Gender: Performance and Identity in Popular Culture

In-class: Film screening and discussion/lecture

Week 4: Thurs. Oct. 1 – Queering Canadian Iconography

About Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan:


Francis, Margot. “The Lesbian National Parks and Services: Reading Sex, Race and the Nation in Artistic Performance.” Canadian Woman Studies. Vol. 20, Issue 2. (2000). Pg. 131-136.

Lebel, Sabine. “Camping Out With the Lesbian National Parks and Services.” Canadian Woman Studies. Vol. 24, Issue 2.3. (2005). Pg. 182-185.

Dempsey, Shawna and Lorri Millan. “Lesbian Park Rangers photos.” Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art. Eds. John O’Brian and Peter White. (2007).

Dempsey, Shawna and Lorri Millan. “Lesbian National Parks and Services.” Performance Research. Vol. 16, Issue 2. (2011). Pg. 14-15.

Wray, B.J. “The Elephant, the Mouse and the Lesbian National Park Rangers.” In a Queer Country: Gay and Lesbian Studies in the Canadian Context. Ed. Terry Goldie.  (2001) Pg. 160-174.

Film Screening: Lesbian National Park Rangers and My Prairie Home

In-class: Film screenings and discussion/lecture

Week 5: Thurs. Oct. 8 – Unraveling the Myth of the “Disappearing Savage Indian”

About Kent Monkman: (interview)


ONLINE “Q&A: Kent Monkman.” CBC Interview. No Date provided.

ONLINE Whyte, Murray. “Kent Monkman: Revisionist History, Spiked Heels and All.” The Toronto Star. (Februrary 20, 2015).

ONLINE Mason Journal “Kent Monkman: Sexuality of Miss Chief.” (March 26, 2012).

Munoz, Jose Esteban. “Introduction.” Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. (1999). Pg. 1-34.

Film Screenings: Reel Injun, These Are My People, Group of Seven Inches

Monkman, Kent. (2010). Dance to Miss Chief. Canada. 4:50 min.

Monkman, Kent. (2013). Miss Chief: Justice of the Peace. Canada. 31 min.

In-class: Film screenings and discussion/lecture

Week 6: Thurs. Oct. 15 – No classes because of midterm recess

Week 7: Thurs. Oct. 22 – Site-Specific Performance and Unsettling Landscape

About Andy Houston:


Wilke, Fiona. “Kinds of Place at Bore Place: Site-Specific Performance and the Rules of Spatial Behaviour.” New Theatre Quarterly. Vol. 18, Issue 3 (2002). Pg. 243-260.

Turner, Cathy. “Palimpsest or Potential Space? Finding a Vocabulary for Site-Specific Performance.” New Theatre Quarterly. (2004). Pg. 373-390.

Smith, Phil. “Turning Tourists into Performers: Revaluing agency, action and space in sites of heritage tourism.” Performance Research. Vol. 18, Issue 2 (2013). Pg. 102-113.

In-class: Site-specific guest artist Andrew Houston to give talk and workshop

Canadian Election Performance Analysis due!

Week 8: Thurs. Oct. 29 – Midterm TEST

Week 9: Thurs. Nov. 5 – Performing Diaspora and Revising History in Canadiana

About Camille Turner and her alter-ego Miss Canadiana:


Part 1 – Miss Canadiana persona

ONLINE Cheetham, Mark. “Alienated Cosmopolitism.” Walrus. (May 2007).

Johnson, E. Patrick. “Black Performance Studies: Genealogies, Politics, Futures.” The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies. Ed. D. Soyini Madison and Judith Hamera. (2006). Pg. 446-463.

Turner, Camille. “Hometown Queen.” KATALOG-GEMINI. Issue 7 – Summer/Fall 2012, pg. 23.

Miller, Earl. “Camille Turner: Hometown Queen.” HA&L. Issue 8.

Part 2 – Revisionist history interventions

ONLINE Taylor, Diana. “Acts of Transfer” The Archive and the Repertoire.

ONLINE “History of Slavery at Windsor Heritage Home Being Examined.” CBC News. (Oct 24, 2013).

Turner, Camille. “Miss Canadiana Confronts the Mythologies of Nationhood and the im/possibility of African diasporic memory in Toronto.” Caribbean INTRANSIT. Vol. 1, Issue 2, March 2012. Pg. 52-60.

Film Screenings: YouTube videos of Miss Canadiana

In-class: Screening of Miss Canadiana videos and discussion/lecture

Week 10: Thurs. Nov. 12 – Blurring Borders: Reimagining the “Other”

About La Pocha Nostra:


ONLINE Gomez-Pena, Guillermo. “In Defense of Performance Art.”

ONLINE Gomez-Pena, Guillermo. “Performing Against the Backdrop of the Mainstream Bizarre.”

ONLINE Gomez-Pena, Guillermo. “On the Other Side of the Mexican Mirror.”

ONLINE “Conversation with Lisa Wolford.”

Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. (2000). “La Migrant Life.” In G. Gomez-Pena. Dangerous Border Crossings: The Artist Talks Back (pp. 7-15). London: Routledge.

Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. (2000). “Ethno-cyborgs and Genetically Engineered Mexicans.” In G. Gómez-Peña, Dangerous Border Crossings: The Artist Talks Back (pp. 45-57). London: Routledge.

Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. (2000). “The Dangers of Being a Biracial Kid.” In G. Gómez-Peña, Dangerous Border Crossings: The Artist Talks Back (pp. 243-246). London: Routledge.

Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. (2011). “A Proposal for ‘the worst public artwork’ contest – part 1.” Performance Research. 16(2). Pg. 7.

Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. (2011). “A Proposal for ‘the worst public artwork’ contest – part 2.” Performance Research. 16(2). Pg. 186.

Film Screenings: Couple in a Cage

ONLINE Academia

ONLINE Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s TedX

In-class: Discussion and La Pocha Nostra exercises

Week 11: Thurs. Nov. 19 – Performance and Politics of the Everyday

About The Yes Men:


Owen, Louise. “’Identity Correction’: The Yes Men and Acts of Discursive ‘leverage.’” Performance Research. Vol. 16, Issue 2 (2011). Pg. 28-36.

Tapper, Janne. “Pervasive Games: Representations of Existential In-Between-ness.” Themes in Theatre: Collective Approaches to Theatre and Performance. Vol. 8 (2014). Pg. 143-160.

Film Screening: The Yes Men Fix the World

In-Class: Film screening and discussion/lecture

Essay due!

Week 12: Thurs. Nov. 26 – Walking as Quiet Activism

About Wrights and Sites:


Debord, Guy. “Theory of the Derive.” Pg. 1-5.

Wrights and Sites. “A Manifesto for a New Walking Culture: ‘Dealing with the City’.” Performance Research. Vol. 11, Issue 2. (2010). Pg. 115-122.

Wilke, Fiona. “Site-Specific Performance and the Mobility Turn.” Contemporary Theatre Review. Vol. 22, Issue 2. (2012). Pg. 203-212.

In-class: Discussion/lecture and walking exercises

Week 13: Thurs. Dec. 3 – Wrap-up and Review

In-class: Presentation of Manifestos and goodbyes.

Manifesto Due!