Researching Performing Arts topics, from acting to dance to comedy to opera

Performing artsFor undergraduates studying the history of the performing arts, Questia offers a treasure trove of reference books, journals and articles that dive into all aspects of music, dance, acting, opera and comedy. Tracing the roots of performing arts takes one back thousands of years, covering both West and Eastern hemispheres. For the ancient Greeks, renowned playwrights Sophocles (496-406 B.C.) and Menander, (341/42– ca. 290 BC) ushered in the idea of dramatic and comedic theater. The Chinese performing arts date back to 1000 B.C. with singing and dancing being performed at the Chinese court as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 B.C.)

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire in (476 A.D.), The Dark Ages saw a precipitous decline in Western performing arts. It was not until the Renaissance when plays, dance, and live music were rekindled, prompting the first opera in 1597, Dafne, composed by Italian poet, Ottavio Rinuccini. Landmarks of 18th century classical European opera include Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. At the turn of the 19th century, some of the most famous opera ever composed came of age under composer, Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi. Some of his most famous works, La Traviatta and Aida remain opera staples to this day.

The 19th century saw an explosion of organized performance art, in particular, ballet. It would culminate with the arrival of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes from 1909 to 1929. Diaghilev’s emphasis on collaboration saw composers, designers, musicians, and choreographers collaborate on an unprecedented level. Thomas Edison’s inventions of the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope in the late 19th century would pave the way for the Hollywood movie industry by the 1930’s. Film forever altered the landscape of performance art as it became easier to mass-produce to a larger audience and ushered in the movie actor as an entertainment icon.  Performance art would also find itself influenced by the Futurists; these were Italian artists who sought to discard the art of the past and embrace the new technology of the 20th century, in particular, the automobile for its speed and power.

By the 1970’s, performance art saw its embodiment in such activities as body art, guerilla theater, conceptual art, and/or “happenings.” Famous American performance artists include Laurie Anderson and her use of elaborate media spectacles and Blue Man Group, a performance ensemble made up of a trio of humanoid characters called Blue Men.

For the performing arts, the only constant is change. According to Ben Cameron, Program Director, Arts, at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, how can today’s consumer justify paying $100 for a symphony, ballet, or opera ticket when h/she is so comfortable downloading entertainment off of the Internet 24 hours a day for as low as 99 cents a song or for free?

The Internet has forced a realignment of culture and communications. For Cameron, we live in a world defined not by consumption but by participation. Today’s performing artists, for the first time in history, have the ability to control their own means of artistic distribution thanks to YouTube, Facebook and other social networking platforms. This democratization has enabled anyone to take on the moniker of “professional hybrid artist,” according to Cameron, making nearly anyone an author, dancer, writer, or singer.

Questia is openings its doors this month, making available a list of performing arts articles that delve into all aspects of this fascinating form of human expression. If you are knee-deep into your research, please take some time and explore Questia’s rich archive.


Book title: Acting (Re)considered:  A Theoretical and Practical Guide. Edition: 2nd. Contributors: Phillip B. Zarrilli – Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2002.

Contributor Phillip B. Zarrilli put together this collection of essays that were prompted by the desire on the part of many actors to know one just one but many paradigms and approaches to acting; to answer questions about acting and process, including information on principles, techniques, and approaches to acting drawn from both Western and non-Western sources.


Book title: The Science & Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning. Contributors: Richard Parncutt – Editor, Gary E. McPherson – Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2002.

How well do music psychologists, music educators, and practicing musicians communicate with one another? In this book, contributing authors attempt to bridge the interdisciplinary gaps that currently separate music psychologists, music educators, and practicing musicians by developing new approaches to teaching, learning, and making music that are informed and inspired by the results of recent research in music psychology, music education, and acoustics.


Book title: Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, and Modern Dance. Contributors: Mindy Aloff – Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2006.

This is a book of stories about dancing from all over the globe. Author/contributor Mindy Aloff put together a diverse collection for the casual reader but choosing examples that might be unexpected and less focused on the more famous dance anecdotes of the past century.


Book title: The Birth of Opera. Contributors: F. W. Sternfeld – Author. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1995.

The spirit of opera was born out of Renaissance humanism, and author F.W. Sternfeld takes his youthful passion for opera to review its origins and building blocks. The book sketches the main themes behind the Orpheus myth, in particular, Ovid Metamorphoses and Heroides, and chronicles the employment of repetition and echo.


Book title: Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America. Contributors: Bambi Haggins – Author. Publisher: Rutgers University Press. Place of publication: New Brunswick, NJ. Publication year: 2007.

Black comedy, in its literal and literary construction, has always overtly and covertly explored the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of African American communities. Black comedy is tied inextricably to the African-American condition according to author Bambi Haggins. Haggins examines black comedic social discourse through influential performers such as Richard Pryor, and illuminates the place of African Americans in mainstream American comedy.

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