From left: Corrie, Sabrina, Ariane, Ella, Rose and Xin Ying

Hello everyone, and welcome to the website for TS3240 Theatre Criticism, a Theatre Studies module at the National University of Singapore. By way of introduction, I’m Corrie, the course convener – this was my first time running the module, which has been a cornerstone of the Theatre Studies undergraduate course for many years, and I’m indebted to Associate Professor Robin Loon for his support and mentorship; for allowing me to inherit the course and develop my own pedagogical approaches to it.

When I first wrote the description of this module I knew I wanted to create a space for my students to play, explore, and overcome their insecurities around producing critique. For many of these students, this class marked the first time they were practising performance criticism. I wondered if we could collectively orient ourselves away from criticism as a fault-finding, classist and elitist approximation of taste, and towards a practice of empathy and generosity that is also fierce and unflinching. I also wanted to advocate for more collaborative and creative approaches to criticism, with an emphasis on feminist, queer and postcolonial theory:

This module will support you in developing a critical practice when writing about and responding to performance. We will survey various approaches to performance criticism while taking stock of both its colonial lineage and contemporary practices in Singapore and Southeast Asia. We will pay particular attention to the shifting role of the critic and criticism in an age of opinion, as well as the different vantage points the performance critic can take in the dynamic relationship between writer, practitioner and spectator. This includes looking at feminist practices in criticism, criticism as a political act, embedded criticism and creative criticism. This is also a hands-on module where you will get to develop your voice as a critical writer and researcher in tandem with the seminar’s theoretical underpinnings, and we will attend performances together and look at how we can respond to work with both emotional and intellectual rigour. 

From August to November 2019, the students of this module attended three different performances in Singapore and responded and engaged with them in a variety of ways:

We also had a series of invited speakers who introduced us to a variety of subjects, including Katrina Stuart Santiago who spoke about cultural criticism in the Philippines…

With invited speaker Katrina Stuart Santiago, an arts & culture critic based in Manila.

… as well as embedded writing / documentation processes that have become an integral part of the Singaporean dance company P7:1SMA:

Some of the students with P7:1SMA’s artistic director Norhaizad Adam and documentarian Syarifuddin Sahari.

I’ve learnt so much from my inaugural group of students: they are passionate, committed, generous and sensitive, and I’ve loved reading and engaging with their various critical practices, both in writing and in conversation. I will forever be grateful to these women for helping me to develop the cornerstones of my pedagogy. They suggested creating an online platform that could more permanently (and publicly) house the work they’ve produced this semester. In the menu bar above, you’ll be able to read and experience their responses to the three performances, and follow their journey together as they made sense of performances over a four-month period.

I hope you’ll enjoy their work as much as I have.

– Corrie

During the first seminar of this module, the six of us (seven, including Corrie) sat in a quiet, awkward circle, and shared a little bit about ourselves. We each introduced our own history and background in theatre, the last show we had watched, and our individual encounters with theatre criticism. A sneaky way of asking, “So why did you take up this module?” without being met with blank minds and faces. We each wrote our personal goals for the module, signed our names and surrendered them to Corrie, then moved on to something more hands-on: filling the white board with post-it notes, each one representing a quality we thought a good piece of performance criticism should have. By the end of the class, with the questions, sharing and discussions still floating in our heads, we started to form an understanding of what we thought criticism should be, what our classmates thought criticism should be, and how we might start to form our own responses to performance. 

Fast-forward to 14 weeks later, having conquered theoretical and academic readings ranging from inspiring to incomprehensible; three shows and three very different writing assignments; two meetings with established writers and artists; and one arduous research paper, we sat down again to review the semester. Corrie handed us back our long-forgotten sheets of paper, and we got to reflect on our goals, deciding if we had fulfilled them or not and if our goals remained the same throughout, or if along the way we had decided to go in a different direction. From that discussion, from the pride we felt in each piece of writing produced this semester and the things we learned to be excited by, we put together this blog: to condense and consolidate our work over the last 14 weeks. 

We recognise the importance of criticism to further the post-show discussion and keep the conversation going, and hope that our work may contribute to the ecology of conversations around theatre and performance. What you will read, interact with, are our thoughts, conversations with the shows, each other, Corrie, and with ourselves. We hope you will stay with us, for a moment. 

– Ariane, Ella, Rose, Sabrina and Xin Ying

These are the students of TS3240 Theatre Criticism (Semester 1, academic year 2019-20):

Chia Xin Ying is a Theatre Studies undergraduate in her last semester of studies. She enjoys participating in and discussing performance. Through theatre criticism, she hopes to explore more ways of expressing herself and contribute to conversations on performance.

Sabrina Faisal is a passionate writer, whose distinctive and breezy voice strikes you with the kind of confiding informality that invites you to stay for tea and a chat. She’s currently doing her Honours year as a Communications and New Media student in NUS with a Minor in Theatre. In her free time, she enjoys drawing, reading queer fiction, and reciting the entire Hamilton soundtrack from memory.

Rose Marie Henry is currently a third year student in National University of Singapore (NUS) where she studies Theatre Studies as her academic major. As a theatre studies major, she is constantly interested in learning more about performance theory, criticism and the discourse around it.

Ariane Vanco is currently a year 3 undergraduate English Literature and Theatre Studies student in NUS. Not one for theory, she is often lost in literature seminars and would love to delve more into postcritique and feminist/queer theory. She is more alive outside of school when making coffee and chatting with customers. 

Ella Wee is currently an NUS undergraduate student studying English Literature and Theatre Studies (and hopes to remain a student forever because what is “real” life). She is an aspiring writer and dabbles in aerial arts. Some people say she has no spine and should, idk, be in a horror film. 

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