Course Name: "Performing" Life: Seeing the Self and Others as Role-Players in Reality
Instructor: Tim Soulis
“‘Performing’ Life: Seeing the Self and Others as Role-Players in Reality” explores the idea that each of us “performs” our life, playing roles in the personal, social, and cultural worlds around us. The theatrical metaphor of role-playing is appropriate, but our performances extend far beyond the theatrical stage. For example, “performing” occurs in the:
• ritual celebrations of a culture;
• relational interactions of society;
• constructions of an identifiable personality;
• victory dances at a sporting event;
• rhetoric of a political leader;
• selling of a business product;
• strategic arguments of a lawyer in a courtroom;
• postings on Facebook and YouTube.
What is common to these “performances” is that each provides an opportunity to exhibit “rehearsed behavior”, an action by the “performer” that follows a pattern, or “script.” Moreover, the performance is observed by another, even if that “other” is actually only the performer. Such self-conscious, rehearsed behavior is a primary part of contemporary life, an era characterized as “postmodern”, or one in which the world is viewed as de-centralized, fluidly unfocused, and highly fragmented into non-sequential patterns; in such a world, we are continually re-inventing our performances as we adapt to an ever-changing environment. We are all “performing life,” shaping the subtext of everyday existence by playing traditional or newly-defined roles, improvising our lines before an “audience” of one or many, all in the effort to control the chaos of uncertainty that is life.
During this FYRS course, we will look at our postmodern world, the performances it contains, and the idea that, as Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage.” As part of our research, we will adopt many roles ourselves, becoming anthropologists examining cultural expressions in such events as holiday traditions and weddings celebrations; sociologists studying relational interactions during, for example, first dates and job interviews; psychologists discerning meaning in verbal and visual messages, such as the jokes we tell and the clothes we wear; and artists communicating aspects of the life around us through traditional plays and unscripted happenings. In essence, “‘Performing’ Life: Seeing the Self and Others as Role-Players in Reality” will study human existence—through readings, experiments, and direct observation of others and ourselves—as a life-shaping, and potentially life-changing, “performance.”