“Performance as Research and Pedagogy: Revising the Procedures of the National Endowment for the Humanities”
Mid-America Theatre Conference
Upcoming, March 2014
Here's the abstract:
Performance as Research and Pedagogy:
Revising the Procedures of the National Endowment for the Humanities
Each summer, the National Endowment for the Humanities offers a series of programs designed for scholars to engage in collaborative, intensive research and study of “ideas central to undergraduate teaching in the humanities.” The 2012 summer institute, “Roman Comedy in Performance,” attracted scholars from a range of fields, including classics, literature, religious studies, modern languages, acting, directing, and theatre history. It was considered an unconventional experiment among NEH officials not only for its interdisciplinary nature, but also because it combined more traditional academic techniques (e,g, close readings, seminar discussions, etc.) with mandates for performance: to be a fellow at this institute, each scholar, regardless of his/her field, would have to act. Setting aside the more usual means of scholarly articulation such as the publishable paper, this institute culminated with professionally filmed performances of scenes from the works of Plautus and Terence, each featuring scholars as actors.
This paper will iterate the methodologies of the Roman comedy institute, particularly those predicated on a scholarship of “doing” via embodied knowledge-experiences of performance; relate the findings of the institute, particularly if humor could—or should—be found in these plays; and from a first-person point-of-view demonstrate that our success as humanities students and instructors would not have been possible if we had not utilized performance as a tool of research, scholarship and potential practical pedagogy.
 “NEH Programs for School and College Educators” (Washington: National Endowment for the Humanities, 2012).
 Although Roman comedic formulas inspired much of the comedy we have today, from stock characters to common scenarios, acting in these plays is difficult. Most include storylines of rape, slavery, and violence which seem more disturbing than comical, particularly to 21st century sensibilities. Debate also remains over whether or not these plays were funny in their own time. Teaching them is difficult, and public performances of Roman comedies are rare.