Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Early 20th Century Experiments in Theatre and Film
Academic Year
Semester 1
Successful completion of Part I (Theatre/Drama or Film/TV/Media Studies)
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 10 x 3 Hour Lectures


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 3,000 word Essay:  Apply a critical reading to the collaboration between any two practitioners studied on the module, comparing and contrasting the experiments.  60%
Semester Assessment 1 x Group Presentation (15-20 minutes), consisting of a scene analysis from a film, play, production or set/costume design; submission of supporting written evidence and bibliography.  40%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 3,000 word Essay (different topic) Apply a critical reading to the collaboration between any two practitioners studied on the module, comparing and contrasting the experiments   60%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x scene analysis (2,000 words): Close analysis of a scene from a film, play, production or of a set and costume design.  40%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Engage critically with the experiments in cinema and theatre during the 1920s and 1930s;

2. Understand how practitioners tried to use art to shape the political awareness of audiences;

3. Assess how theatre and cinema practitioners engaged in the formulation of new theories or methods of acting;

4. Analyze the degree of interaction and overlap between different art forms in destabilizing world views;

5. Assess techniques of fragmentation and define the reasons for experimentation in the arts at the time;

6. Recognize the issues behind different art forms engaging in revising the existing practices of experience and representation of social and political realities.

Brief description

The developments in acting styles, set design, costumes and choreography that developed throughout the 1910s and reached their climax in the 1920s on the one hand characterized the European avant-garde, whilst at the same time shaping frameworks and contexts for artistic experiments for the future. We shall explore the artistic experiments of four key figures in European avant-garde: Bertolt Brecht, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Erwin Piscator, and Sergei Eisenstein. They not only collaborated at various moments throughout their career, but also shaped theatre and film art respectively for most of the 20th century.


  • To understand the relationship between experiments on stage and screen, as well as visual and performing arts at large, in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • To bridge the disciplinary borders between the study of film, theatre, ballet and painting.
  • To analyse the shifts from representation to abstraction, from experience to demonstration, that inform theatre and acting practices to the present day.
  • To develop an understanding for the role of cinema and painting in creating sets, costumes and backdrops for the theatre; and for the performance practices to shape cinema acting styles.


The module will cover key aspects of the work of the individual figures and explore their collaborative practices. Piscator worked in the theatre, travelled to Moscow in the 1930s and made a film there; Brecht’s theories were influential on the Soviet avant-garde, while he also wrote a script for Hollywood; Eisenstein started off working as set designer for Meyerhold, before becoming a filmmaker in his own right. All four artists were passionate about the role of art in shaping through intellectual/rational means the politics of their time and avert the advent of respective totalitarian regimes (Hitler and Stalin). The module will be divided between the two members of staff involved in the lectures and seminar, while some classes will be co-taught.


Week 1: Introduction: European Modernism and the Avantgarde
Week 2: Piscator: theatre practice
Week 3: Piscator as filmmaker: Revolt of the Fishermen (1934)
Week 4: Brecht: Verfremdungseffekte (theatre of the 1920s)
Week 5: Brecht as scriptwriter: Kuhle Wampe (1932); Hangmen Also Die, dir. Fritz Lang (1943)
Week 6: Meyerhold: theatre practice and theory
Week 7: Meyerhold: set design (Eisenstein, Rodchenko, Popova)
Week 8: Eisenstein: Glumov’s Diary and theatre designs
Week 9: Eisenstein: montage and rhythms (Potemkin; Ivan the Terrible)
Week 10: Revision and Group Presentations

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number
Communication Students' written communication skills will be developed (e.g. appropriate language and style, accuracy, precision and ability to be concise). Opportunities will be given, through seminar sessions, for students to develop confidence in using their speaking and listening skills when communicating their ideas.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be able to develop their skills of information location and retrieval. Students will be given opportunities to develop note-taking skills. Students will develop their critical thinking skills. Through small group discussions and seminars students will be given opportunities to develop an awareness of the opinions of others and reconsider initial ideas if necessary.
Information Technology Students will be given the opportunity to develop their authorial and note-taking skills when planning for oral and written assignments. Students will be given opportunities to develop their skills using electronic search and retrieval of sources on the web and on library catalogues. Students will develop their reference skills and their ability to select relevant materials for the task. Blackboard will be the main form of communication and information sharing in this module. Students will have to develop a PowerPoint presentation and prepare clips and screenshots from films.
Personal Development and Career planning Students will be given the opportunity to evaluate current knowledge and skills. Students will be encouraged to take increasing responsibility for managing their own learning. Students will be encouraged to build upon the knowledge gained from lectures and apply this to other areas.
Problem solving Students should be able to identify tensions and debates in the field, and will be encouraged to critically reflect on the process by which academics arrive at particular theoretical interpretations of particular films and historiographies.
Research skills Students will be able to develop their skills of information location and retrieval. Students will be able to develop their textual analytic skills, and to learn to analyze texts in a focused and purposeful manner. Students will be encouraged to evaluate, interpret and reflect upon a variety of sources.
Subject Specific Skills Students will learn how to edit and prepare visuals for presentation purposes.
Team work Students will be encouraged to do their seminar presentations in small groups to encourage teamwork and division of work according to skills.


This module is at CQFW Level 6