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Unit information: Popular Performance in 2020/21

Unit name Popular Performance
Unit code THTR20018
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Krebs
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Theatre
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit explores the history, development and legacy of popular performance. At once synonymous with a ‘low brow’ entertainment of the masses and often pitted against ‘legitimate theatre,’ the diverse range of popular performance media and venues offer an insightful reflection of social concerns through a celebration of the culture and spectacle of the moment. By exploring these less academically considered and less familiar performances, this unit allows students to explore new perspectives on performance in relation to social and political change and development in the ‘Arts’, and provides a fascinating and varied way of understanding performance history. Depending on staff research interests and expertise, forms studied might include cabaret, music hall, revue, musical theatre, theme parks, stand-up comedy and contemporary popular music and students will have the opportunity to pursue research into other popular performances of interest in their final essay. Students will be prompted to consider the relationship between popular performance and a range of issues, such as: commercialism, industrialisation, urbanisation, authenticity, race, gender and sexuality. The unit will take an international perspective, looking at venues and performances in a range of locations, which might include London, Paris, Berlin, Zurich and New York.

The unit aims:

1. To explore critically a range of less considered and less familiar performance practices.

2. To develop appropriate critical and theoretical approaches to the chosen practices.

3. To encourage critical understandings of the socio-cultural contexts of a range of performance practices.

4. To engage in research-based investigation of appropriate primary and secondary material.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of a range of popular performance forms.
  2. articulate an understanding of the changing social and historical conditions that inform and produce popular forms of performance.
  3. evaluate critical responses to popular performances and consider these in the context of wider understandings of popular culture.
  4. locate, explore and critically evaluate primary and secondary material to create and sustain a cogent academic argument in presentation and essay formats at a level appropriate to level I.
  5. demonstrate ability to work collaboratively on a research project and on the presentation of this research in an appropriate academic format

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous webinars, narrated powerpoints, on-line discussion boards and self-directed reading.

Assessment Details

(1) 2500-word essay (60%)

(2) Individual 5-7 minute digital presentation (40%)

Reading and References

Appigenesi, Lisa, Cabaret (London, 1975)

Harris, Geraldine (1989) ‘But is it Art? Female Performers in the Café-Concert’, New Theatre Quarterly, 334-47

Henderson, J.A. (1971) The First Avant-Garde 1887-1894: Sources of the Modern French Theatre. London: Harrap

Oberthur, Mariel (1984) Cafes and Cabarets of Montmartre. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M Smith

Segal, Harold, B. (1987) Turn-of-the-Century Cabaret. New York: Columbia University Press

Current, Richard Nelson and Marcia Ewing Current, Loie Fuller: Goddess of Light (Austin, Texas, 1997)