However, as we know from the stage practices of product placement marketers, politicians, con-artists, propagandists, and good poker players, it is possible, and, depending on one’s ethics, oftentimes preferable to perform for an audience who is unaware of that a performance is taking place.

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Nov 9, 2022


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This open-book, take-home version of the midterm exam comprises a single three-part essay. The parts, taken together, will offer multiple perspectives on why the artistic performance activity we call “theater” comes into existence as a synthesis of both material and conceptual conditions. The essay should be 2-3 pages in length (no maximum length, so no need to limit your essay if you have more to say), and no formal style sheet, such as MLA, is required so long as all references to course material are cited in a consistent manner.
Keep in mind that while it’s important to give a reasonable response to the question, the very practical purpose of answering the question in the first place is to demonstrate in a straightforward way your grasp of what we’ve studied. This is to say that, even if you happen to have a difficult time answering this particular question, that’s okay. It’s still entirely possible to earn a high grade by demonstrating that you are familiar enough with what we’ve studied that you can enlist the help of some of the many relevant texts and concepts we studied in order to help you think through different aspects of the topic at hand. directly relate to the topic at hand. Demonstrate that you have a good enough grasp of course material that you know what texts and concepts are relevant here, and show how you can discuss them in order to help you think through a difficult question like this, and you can still do extremely well on the essay even if the conclusions you draw about this topic aren’t entirely on-point. In fact, even if you don’t struggle with this topic and even if you could write the essay off the top of your head without referencing course material, you should still reference and discuss as much relevant course material as you can, just because demonstrating your grasp of that material, more than answering this particular question, is the main point of the exam. I chose this topic because it really does touch on nearly everything we’ve studied, which makes it a good vehicle for you to show off your knowledge of a wide range of course material. So, just do your very best with the topic at hand, but if you can manage to demonstrate along the way that you have a good command of some of the many relevant texts and concepts we studied, it will be impossible to do poorly on this exam even if you happen to struggle with some aspect of this particular topic.
What To Write about in the Essay
Early in the semester we read an excerpt from Chaos, Territory, Art, Elizabeth Grosz’s philosophical discussion of the “ontology of art,” in other words, Grosz’s study of conditions under which something we call “art” comes to exist as such. In essence, Grosz discusses what it is that transforms mundane matter into something we uniquely experience as art. In other words, she addresses the conditions that are necessary for art to emerge as such. That is, what conditions must be present to transform, say, a lump of clay or some markings on paper into something we identify, seek out, experience, and value as art? Grosz suggests that the conditions necessary for the emergence of art fall under two key categories, the material and the conceptual, and that both aspects must be involved in artistic activity. Basically, if there were no conceptual aspect, the lump of clay would still be a lump of clay, and the markings on paper might be confused for something with a different purpose, like a doodle, design sketch or advertising image. Without the material aspect, there would be no physical object for us to perceive and experience as an object of art. Nor for that matter would there be an audience, because for Grosz the material conditions necessary for art to emerge include all the material aspects of the event. So, not only the marble of the statue or the body of the performer, but also the structure of the physical space and the biology of the spectator who perceives and experiences all of this.
Elizabeth Grosz’s text discusses how such material and conceptual conditions allow for the creation and experience of art, broadly speaking. Your essay will do something similar except it will discuss more narrowly how an interplay of conceptual and material conditions is necessary for the artistic performance activity of theater to emerge within everyday productive life.
The essay should be divided into three sections, the first discussing the material conditions, the second discussing the conceptual conditions, and the third discussing how both material and conceptual conditions must interact in order for theater to exist at its most basic level. The following descriptions of what kinds of things to consider under each section should be very helpful, along with the midterm exam concept review notes and the lecture notes within the units where the relevant texts were first introduced.
Part One – Material Conditions In the first part of the essay, you will address significant aspects of theater’s diverse material conditions, which include everything from the body of the performer, to the paint on the set, to light, to sound, to the neurobiology of the empathizing spectator.
Part Two – Conceptual Conditions In the second part of the essay, you will address significant aspects of theater’s “conceptual” conditions. These conceptual conditions include, for example, the performer’s conceptual knowledge that she is performing. She is consciously aware that her biological, physical movements are taking place within a context where different rules (concepts) of conduct apply, where disorder, absurdity, violence, transgression, shifting identity, and various other deviations from the normal will neither be punished nor marginalized in the way that they tend to be when they take place outside the aesthetic frame, in everyday productive life. However, as we know from the stage practices of product placement marketers, politicians, con-artists, propagandists, and good poker players, it is possible, and, depending on one’s ethics, oftentimes preferable to perform for an audience who is unaware of that a performance is taking place. And this is where it becomes clear that in order for theater to exist as art and not just a way to manipulate people, the conceptual conditions must include not only the performer’s awareness of performance, but crucially the spectator’s awareness of the performance as well.
Part Three – The Emergence of Theater as Such In the third part of the essay, you will draw from our course material some examples of how material and conceptual conditions converge within the theater. There are many, many ways to discuss this. You could discuss, for example, Wright’s concept of “empathy and aesthetic distance” (also discussed in the textbook), where empathy is seen as a material, physiological response to the perceived action, and aesthetic distance is the conceptual knowledge that one should not react in everyday ways (e.g., saving the dying man on the other side of the room) when observed events take place on the stage. Related to this, you could discuss Schechner’s idea of the way everything transforms within the bounds of performance. Social hierarchy, identity, to systems of value-everything changes just from the simple act of putting a conceptual border around some actions and saying that this is performance and the rules of everyday productive life are suspended for the moment. Obviously, Elizabeth Grosz’s discussion of the ontology of art would be useful here, so long as her broader discussion of art is put in the narrower terms of theater. Additionally, the various definitions of theater we
ld be useful here as well. Essentially, all course material is fair game. So all you need to do is pick three examples as a way to show how the “material conditions” you discussed in part one and the “conceptual


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