You can have two completely different experiences studying theater — one in the classroom, where you can read and study literary analysis, and the other at a performance, where all these other aspects of a play are opened up.

Logan Connors

While most of us turn to science and social science to understand emotion, Professor Logan Connors, French & Francophone studies, turns also to the experience of theater.

"There was a very theatrical society in pre-revolutionary France — everything from carnivals to state-sponsored performances made theater the only place where different social classes could be in the same building," says Connors, who studies 17th- and 18th-century French theater as well as early-modern European literature and aesthetics. "Even churches were segregated, so the theater became an interesting place to study different aspects of society performed not only on stage, but also within the audience."

Connors' first book explores how the agency theater audiences exhibited was a preview for common political behaviors during the French Revolution, and his second book focuses on theater and patriotism. "I work with ideas around how theater engages with actual human beings," he says. "Beyond literature, theater performances of the time were specific cultural events that had important political stakes. The events themselves engaged audiences with social issues and were a way of reading the culture of pre-revolutionary France."

His current work traces two different histories: that of emotion and texts about emotion, and that of dramatic theories and texts about the theater. "There's a traditional history of emotion that runs through philosophical and scientific texts," says Connors. "I'm trying to establish a theatrical history of emotions to show how writings about the theater were as important to understanding emotion as scientific ones are today. At the time, scientific and artistic discourse overlapped and intertwined much more. I'm going back to provide a more humanistic and artistic history of emotion."

The book starts with the idea of contagion — the spread of ideas or emotions between people — that religious critics of theater viewed with suspicion. "While they were critical of theater, they were writing very complex treatises on acting and on spectator reaction," explains Connors. "The reflection inside these treatises is very modern in that they don't limit theater to a bunch of characters or a happy or sad ending. They view it as a holistic experience — about the event as much as the literature — much like theater professionals do today."

Recently, while directing Bucknell en France, Connors had the chance to share what he studies with his students, who he says loved the experience. They saw plays and did a behind-the-scenes tour of the Comédie-Française, the famous state theater, learning about everything from what happens backstage to government funding for theater.

"You can have two completely different experiences studying theater — one in the classroom, where you can read and study literary analysis; and the other at a performance, where all these other aspects of a play get opened up through gesture, facial expression, movement and costuming — things that if you only read the play, you'll never pick up on. Students appreciate that because they've read the play, saw the play and realized new layers from both experiences."

Updated Sept. 30, 2016

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