DAAD Summer Seminar on Performance

Rethinking Performance in Theory and Practice

Proposal for a DAAD Summer Seminar for Faculty and Recent PhDs

University of Chicago

June 19-July 15, 2017

Seminar Director:

David J. Levin, Addie Clark Harding Professor of Germanic Studies, Cinema & Media Studies, and Chair, Committee on Theater and Performance Studies


Recent performance work emanating from Germany – be it in theater, dance, or opera – has had an enormous impact on performance practices in North America.  At the same time, academic work in performance studies emanating from Germany has had an enormous impact in the English speaking world.  In this seminar, we will engage some of the most important contributions in both spheres  – conceptual work by Erika Fischer-Lichte (on the theorization of performance), Hans-Thies Lehmann (on post-dramatic theater and tragedy), and Gabriele Brandstetter (on contemporary dance) as well as a host of recent productions from German stages (e.g., theater work from the Volksbühne Berlin, dance work by the Forsythe Company, performance work from the Hebbel Theater am Ufer, and opera productions from the Stuttgart Opera and the Bayerische Staatsoper).  At the heart of the seminar will be a set of interrelated questions, regarding the place(s) of theory in performance practice, the status of the text in performance, and the role(s) of the spectator.

In addition to our discussions in the seminar room, a substantial component of the seminar’s work will take place in the rehearsal room.  We will attend the rehearsals of a number of ensembles preparing original work in theater, performance, and dance as part of the 2017 Chicago Performance Lab (CPL) which runs concurrently to our seminar at the Logan Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of Chicago.  Over the past few years, the CPL has emerged as an important incubator for new work in Chicago theaters and beyond.  Work developed at CPL has gone on to appear on the stages of Steppenwolf Theatre, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art Performance Series, Lookingglass Theatre, and House Theatre; ensembles in residence have included Manual Cinema, Lucky Plush Productions, The Hypocrites, and Blair Thomas and Company.  Our seminar will attend rehearsals of CPL resident ensembles and then convene to discuss the implications of the creative and interpretive work we have witnessed.  But beyond this process of critical reflection – familiar enough to academics – will be an important and presumably less familiar dialogical component to our work: we will engage in a sustained critical exchange with the production teams (including directors, designers, dramaturgs, and performers) whose work we have observed, probing the intersection of critical and creative engagement.  In the process, seminar participants will gain fluency in the exchange between academics and artists while gaining experience in fostering a meaningful collaboration between theory and practice.

The seminar is conceived on the one hand as providing participants with a platform for present and future scholarly projects, but it is also intended to enhance participants’ pedagogical resources (e.g., integration of performance into the classroom). This stems from a sense that the “performative turn” could be better integrated into German Studies programs in North America. In this sense, our time together will provide participants with a variegated toolkit both for research projects and for curricular innovation.

The seminar is ideally suited to professors and post-doctoral scholars in a range of fields (including Germanic Studies as well as Theater & Performance Studies, Musicology, Film Studies, and Comparative Literature) with an interest in theater & performance studies.  Fluency in German is not required although an interest in academic and creative work emerging from Germany is essential.


Participation is open to faculty members in the Humanities and Social Sciences at colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. Applicants who have received their Ph.D.s within the past two years but do not yet hold faculty appointments are encouraged to apply. Ph.D. candidates are not eligible.

Participants must be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. or Canada.

Stipends and Fees:

Accepted participants are eligible for a DAAD stipend, pending final confirmation of funding. There is a $50 course fee.

Application deadline: March 1, 2017.

Forms and instructions can be found at


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