Course Syllabus

THTR 3282, Theatre in/and the U.K. with Dr. E. Christin Essin

Email: Elizabeth.c.essin@vanderbilt.eduCell: 520-343-3007

Course Description:

Students will immerse themselves in the thriving performing arts scenes of London and select cities in Scotland. Contemporary theatre in the U.K. is varied and rich, a blend of state-funded, commercial, and independent artistry that provides audiences with a wide range of performance styles and traditions. Students will examine their experiences as spectators alongside a U.K. public for whom theatre-going is central to their experiences as urban residents and national citizens. In addition to attending and analyzing a broad selection of productions, students will tour backstage settings and museum exhibits that provide insight into behind-the-scene practices and historical context for understanding the centrality of theatre in U.K. culture. Finally, students will tour a variety of tourist locations in England and Scotland to analyze the performance techniques used to construct narratives of  national heritage and national identity. Students will also have dedicated time to individually explore each city.

After taking this course, students will be able to:

  • Speak fluently about contemporary theatre in the U.K. as a commercial, experimental, and nationally-funded enterprise.
  • Speak fluently about a performances of nationality in a variety of contexts, both on and off theatrical stages.
  • Understand spectatorship as an active and engaged mode of national and global citizenship.


  • Participation and Discussion (50%)
    • Students’ primary responsibility during this Maymester is an active, engaged participation in the scheduled activities and discussion around course readings, performance experiences, and other group excursions. Students are expected to contribute individually as well as support their peers’ contributions.  Students are also expected to interact with the ENTIRE class cohort and develop supportive relationships outside of their primary friendships.
  • Performance Blogging/Critical Dialogues (3 at 10%, 30% total)
    • In pairs, students will participate in collaborative criticism dialogues after assigned performances, engaging in critical conversations that they will shape into public blog posts for a site. Dialogues may be shaped into a variety formats, including written conversations, audio or video podcasts, and photo essays.
  • Final essay: British Spectatorship (20%)
    • Toward the end of the Maymester, students will compose a 2000-word essay that translates their own experiences with and observations about British performance into a reflection on spectatorship.

Course schedule:

Tuesday, May 7:

12:00-1:00 pm: Class Discussion (London House Hotel breakfast room). Before meeting:

  • Download “Citymapper” and “VisitLondon” to your smart phones.
  • Download the VoiceMap app to your phone, and the free podcast “Walking tour of Theatreland with Sir Ian McKellen.
  • Read Harvie, selections from Staging the U.K. (2005)
    • Focus on distinctions between “state” and “nation,” changing nature or “dynamism” of national identity, democratic empowerment of national identity (particularly as constituted through performance events and practices).

2:00 pm Tour of Covent Garden and the Theatre District

Wednesday, May 8: National Theatre as National History

2:30-3:30 pm Class Discussion (V&A Garden Cafe, courtyard if the sun is out)

  • No prep; share reflections on morning’s activities

7:30 pm Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, Lyletton Theatre (National).

Thursday, May 9: National Theatre as National History II

12:00 pm Class Discussion (London House Hotel breakfast room). Before meeting:

5:00 pm Tour of the National Theatre

7:30 pm Follies by Stephen Sondheim, Olivier Theatre (National).

Friday, May 10: British Treasures: Literature, History, and Tourism

10:00 am British Library, Library Treasures exhibit

11:00 am Class discussion in Library courtyard (if sunny; grab a sandwich from Pret-a-Manger) or around an early lunch at O’Neill’s Pub. Before meeting:

12:00 pm Tower of London

7:30 pm The Half God of Rainfall by Inua Ellams at the Kiln Theatre. 

Saturday, May 11: Stratford-upon Avon and Shakespeare as Tourism

1:30 pm The Provoked Wifeby John VanBrugh at the  Royal Shakespeare Company.

Class discussion, time and location TBA. Before meeting:

7:30 pm Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare at the  Royal Shakespeare Company.

Sunday, May 12: Free Day in London

Monday, May 13: Theatre History as Contemporary Production

12:00-1:00 Class Discussion (London House Hotel breakfast room). Before meeting:

2:00 Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe

5:30 pm Dinner and conversation with scholars and guests Drs. Jen Parker-Starbuck (Royal Holloway) and Joshua Abrams (Royal Central) at TBA in Covent Garden.

7:30 pm Emilia, Vaudeville Theatre. Produced by Shakespeare’s Globe

Tuesday, May 14: High Culture in Glasgow, Scotland

While on train, read:

7:15 pm The Magic Flute by Mozart, Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal Glasgow.

Wednesday, May 15: Urban Culture in Glasgow, Scotland

10:00-11:00 Class discussion (Location TBA). Before meeting:

1:00 pm A Play, a Pie, and a Pint: Jockey Wilson Said by Jane Livingstone, Oran Mór.

Thursday, May 16: Edinburgh, Capital City, and National History

1:00 National Museum of Scotland

3:00 Class discussion, Balcony Cafe on Level 3 (no prep; share observations)

Friday, May 17: Commercializing and Performing Scottish History

10:00-11:30 am Visit Stirling Castle.

1:00-2:30 pm Visit Doune Castle

3:00-4:00 pm Visit Deanston Distillery.

4:00-5:00 pm Class discussion on the ride back to Edinburgh  (no prep; share observations)

Saturday, May 18: Day in Edinburgh, New Scottish Writing

8:00 pm Traverse Young Writers Scratch Night, Traverse Theatre

Sunday, May 19: Inverness on World Whiskey Day, Gateway to the Highlands

Monday, May 20: Scottish History and/as Scottish Theatre

10:00-12:00 am Loch Ness Cruise and Urquhart Castle

12:30 pm Lunch provided back at the Black Isle Brewery pub and Class Discussion. Before meeting:

2:00-5:00 pm Travel to, visit, and return from Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre

7:00 pm The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil by John McGrath, Eden Court.

Tuesday, May 21:  National Theatre as Urban Culture in Dundee

7:30 pm My Right Left Foot by Robert Softley Gale, Scott Gilmour, Claire McKenzie, and Richard Thomas at Dundee Rep.

Wednesday, May 22: Gaming as Performance in Dundee, center of computer gaming

9:00 am Class discussion with breakfast included, location TBA (no prep; share observations)

11:00-1:30 pm V&A DundeeExhibit: “Video Games: Design, Play, Disrupt”

Thursday, May 23: Return to London, Re-visit the National Theatre

7:00 pm Small Island by Helen Edmundson, adapted from the novel by Andrea Levy, National Theatre

Friday, May 24: The Anglican Cathedral as National Stage

10:30 am St. Paul’s Cathedral

12:00 pm Lunch and Class discussion in St. Paul’s Crypt Cafe. Before meeting:

2:30 pm Westminster Abbey

7:30 pm Class by Iseult Golden and David Horan, Bush Theatre.

Saturday, May 25: National Tourism and Popular Culture

11:30 am Depart for Warner Brothers Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter 

2:30 pm Behind the Seams special session

7:45 pm salt. by Salina Thompson at the Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood Theatre upstairs.

Sunday, May 26: Free Day in London

Monday, May 27: From Hampton Court to London’s West End

10:00 Travel to Hampton Court Castle

1:00-2:00 pm Class discussion at the Orangery Café. Before meeting;

7:00 pm The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massino (National Theatre and Neal Street co-production at the Piccadilly Theatre), directed by Sam Mendes.

Tuesday, May 28: London’s West End

7:30 pm Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick, Playhouse Theatre.

Wednesday, May 29: British Imperialism and Global Perspectives

10:30 am Manga マンガ, special exhibit at the British Museum

2:00 pm Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare, performed at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Thursday, May 30: Final day in London

12:00-1:30 Final Class Discussion (London House breakfast room)  (no prep; share observations)

Video posting: We’ve been asked by Vanderbilt Communications to video document our trip for potential used in promotional materials around the new Immersion initiative.  So, consider using video for your blog posts (we will talk more about this in London).  Here are some tips from Amy Wolf, the senior video producer in that office:

  • Hold your phone horizontally; that way it will fill up the video screen.
  • Hold your shot for several seconds without moving around too much; too much movement can be disorienting.
  • Ask each other questions about one of our performances or experiences, or turn the camera to selfie mode to capture your own experience. Some possible questions:
    • Why did you decide to join the Maymester?
    • What are your goals for the trip?
    • What’s been your favorite experience so far?
  • Don’t feel like you have to be a professional; just shoot things that inspire you (they will edit the material). The more the better!
  • Also post photographs; again, the more the better!