Theatre Essay Ideas

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Survive| Thrive} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

In a keynote speech addressed to the Association of Theatre in Higher Education in 1992, performance studies scholar Richard Schechner (in)famously declared: “Theatre as we have known and practiced it – the staging of written dramas – will be the string quartet of the 21st century”. We are now more than two decades removed from this provocation. What, if anything, has changed about the state of theatre in the twenty-first century? Is theatre dead, as Schechner predicted, or is it still very much alive and breathing?  In the spirit of retiring “Late Show” host David Letterman’s famous “Top Ten” lists, I submit the following reasons why theatre is still important today:

#10 Human Beings
The performance of theatre is a universal cultural phenomenon that exists in every society around the world. Human beings are the only animal species that creates theatre. Understanding theatre helps us understand what it means to be human.

#9 Self-Expression
Theatre teaches us how to express ourselves more effectively. It develops our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others, improving our relationships and improving the world around us.

#8 Self-Knowledge
Theatre teaches us about ourselves. It helps us understand how our minds and the minds of others work. It helps us to see how the environments in which we live affect who we are and who we will become.

#7 History
Theatre is a great way to lean about history. Rather than learning history from reading it in a dusty textbook, theatre makes history come alive right before our eyes. Theatre makes learning about history fun.

#6 The Body
Theatre reminds us that, even in this ever-changing digital age, there is a human body at the center of every digital transaction. Accounting for the body in the design of the future will help us make technology that works for us rather than us working for technology.

#5 Globalization
Theatre helps us understand people from cultures other than our own. We can learn a lot about people from cultures all around the world by studying their performance traditions. In doing so, we can learn to be less ethnocentric, and more accepting of others.

#4 Self-Empowerment
Performance permeates every aspect of our everyday lives. Power relationships are constructed through performances. Understanding how performances unfold around us can help us to recognize and take control of the power dynamics that affect us.

#3 Social Change
Theatre is a cultural space where society examines itself in a mirror. Theatre has long been looked at as a laboratory in which we can study the problems that confront society and attempt to solve those problems.

#2 Education
Theatre is a great way to learn. Going to the theatre teaches us about people, places, and ideas to which we would not otherwise be exposed. Learning in a theatrical setting makes learning fun.

#1 Creativity
Theatre helps us to develop our creativity. As our education system increasingly puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, we cannot forget the importance of art. Let’s put the “STE(A)M” back in “STEM!”

Dr. Kevin Brown is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Missouri, Columbia. He has published in Theatre Journal, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Popular Entertainment Studies, Journal of Religion and Theatre, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Puppetry International, and Kajian Malaysia.

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech


Research Paper Topics

Note: This is a list of possible term paper topics, but you are in no way limited to choosing from among the titles below. Please refer to the links at the end of the list for additional sites that offer possibilities for research.

Actor and player: Richard Burbage and Edward Alleyn

Director and Designer: Kazan and Mielziner's plans for Death of a Salesman

African American Narrative Drama

Bunraku Puppets

Sara Berhardt's Phedre

The Children's Companies of Shakespeare's Day

Max Reinhardt: Director

Picasso's Parade

Blackface: Minstrelsy and negative images of Black Americans

The Roman Ideal: A survey of Renaissance and Baroque Costume

Chinese Opera

Four centuries of Midsummer Night's Dream: Shakespeare, Tieck, Reinhardt, and Peter Brook

Focus on important women in the theatre (e.g. Caroline Neuber, Ellen Franz, Mme. Vestris, Ellen Terry, Eleanora Duse, Sarah Bernhardt, Rachel, Janet Achurch, Stella Adler)

Rangda Barong (or another non-western theatrical ritual)

The Elizabethan shareholder system

How the Chinese acting technique of Mei Lan Fang influenced


Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre "Voodoo" Macbeth

Actresses on the Restoration Stage

New Discoveries about The Rose Theatre

Stanislavski and Strasberg compared

The use of historically accurate costumes on stage

The Master Betty phenomenon

Lope de Vega and The Spanish Golden Age

The staging of Fuente Ovejuna

Immanuel Kant and theatre

Theatrical practices of the Bancrofts at the Prince of Wales Epic Theatre's influence on contemporary staging

The Duke of Saxe Meiningen's contribution to theatre art

Robert Edmond Jones - first professional scenographer in America

Adolphe Appia and stage lighting innovations

Developments in stage lighting from candles to candlepower

The Theatrical Syndicate

Focus on an important actor (e.g. Edwin Booth, Kemble, Kean, Henry Irving, Macready, Edwin Forrest, Olivier, Garrick, Macklin, Betterton)

Arlechino: the most famous Zanni

Picasso and stage design

The Theatre Guild

The Federal Theatre

The Group Theatre

The Irish Players

Eugene O'Neill and the Provincetown Players

Erwin Piscator and projected scenery

David Belasco, Theatrical Producer

Artaud's influence on theatre

Josef Svoboda, master scenographer

The Living Theatre

Richard Foreman and the Ontological/Hysterical Theatre

The Wooster Group

Robert Wilson's CiViL WaRs

The Cinema and Theatre



Performance Art

The Wooster Group

This file was developed for the following class by the following person:

THE 3100 Theatre History -- Fall Semester, 1995 -- University of South Florida, Tampa
Instructor: Dr. Patrick Finelli --
Please send e-mail to 5/8/95

and modified by Eric Trumbull, March 16, 2005 .



PLEASE NOTE:  for all papers you submit for this class (critiques, short papers, extra credit), you MUST include the following information at the top of your paper; include it as part of the text of the paper and not as a header, as this will make it easier for me to mark the document electronically:

Your Name
The Assignment (i.e.: Critique One, Paper Two, etc.)
The semester for which you are registered (i.e.: Fall 2000, Summer 2001, etc.)

This information MUST be included on ALL written assignments.


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