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SEL3447 : Exposing Ourselves: Privacy, Contemporary Performance and the Public Sphere

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Helen Freshwater
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 40 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


How do theatre and performance help us establish what can be shared in public and what cannot? What role do they play in the maintenance and negotiation of the boundary between public and private realms? How does contemporary performance address the tension inherent in a form which has often involved sharing representations of intimate and highly personal experiences with groups of strangers? How does contemporary performance engage with concerns about data capture, state surveillance and unwanted public exposure?

This module explores these questions and many others as it reflects on theatre's capacity to expose and to conceal. It offers an overview of the way that theatre negotiates the distinctions between private and public realms, and explores how contemporary performance addresses and expresses growing concerns about privacy. It develops skills of performance analysis and provides opportunities to make direct connections between theories of privacy and recent productions of performance, enabling reflection on performance’s role and function in contemporary culture.

The module involves analysis of live and recorded performance as well as scripts, engaging with a number of productions and plays across a range of genres and forms. It places these ‘primary texts’ in dialogue with broader theoretical issues including the definition of privacy and our understanding of the constitution of the public sphere. These theories provide a framework for viewing, reading and analysing a range of contemporary plays and performances that enable us to reflect on the ways in which theatre and performance shape and are shaped by changes in cultural conventions relating to the public presentation of personal and intimate experience. The module is designed to enable creative as well as critical explorations of these issues. Students are given the opportunity to select between critical and creative options for their final assessment submission.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module begins with a survey of relevant theories and concepts including Jürgen Habermas’s conceptualisation of the public sphere. It utilises introductory historical accounts and recent studies of privacy including work by Danielle Citron, David Vincent and Carissa Véliz. It situates analysis of productions by drawing upon publications which engage directly with the relationship between theatre and privacy, including works by Stanton B. Garner, Tracy C. Davis and John E. McGrath.

Primary texts – or, more accurately, the performances being analysed – are subject to change from year to year according to local and national theatre programming. Tickets for in-person performance viewings are purchased and paid for by the School.

Topics likely to be raised include the theatrical codification of intimacy; theatrical conventions and distinctions between private and public behaviours; the way in which theatre architectures and scenography speak to the spatial organisation of public and private realms; and theatre’s contribution to our understanding of the concept of the public sphere in the twenty-first century.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture91:009:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion601:0060:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical12:002:00N/A
Guided Independent StudySkills practice13:003:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops112:0022:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork64:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity91:009:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery11:001:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study701:0070:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The first two thirds of module involve a weekly lecture of one hour and a workshop of two hours.

These two hour workshops will include student-led discussions and presentations; analysis of play scripts; analysis of secondary criticism; practical activities and/ or viewing of recorded extracts of performance where appropriate. This phase of the module will, where possible, involve around six fieldwork sessions - visits to view performances at local theatres and other venues - which will be discussed in lectures and workshops.

Between the lecture and the workshop each week students will participate in a one hour self-directed study group.

Lectures, drop-in tutorials and workshops during the final third of the module will be dedicated to the development and delivery of the final assessment on the module.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Reflective log2A15The reflective log documents participation and engagement, such as contributions to study group presentations and peer review (500 words)
Portfolio2A85EITHER individual performance presentation and commentary OR essay (3,500 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The reflective log will describe students' engagement with and contribution to the module, and may include discussion of their participation in group work; independent identification and sharing of further relevant reading; peer review and/or in class discussion.

The other end of term assessment involves a choice.

Students can either:

1) offer a critically and theoretically informed academic essay which engages the examples of contemporary performance covered on the module


2) present an individual performance presentation which engages with the issues raised on the module and offers a critically informed creative response to the forms of contemporary performance viewed on the module. This performance presentation will be accompanied by a critical reflective commentary that provides an opportunity for students to present the independent research leading to the presentation, to reflect upon their own learning, and indicate how their creative response may be subjected to critical and/or theoretical analysis.

Reading Lists