FEATURE: Experiential Learning with the Creative Arts

Title of the Course: Theater and Performance Seminar/Workshop

Instructor: Esther Fernández

Department: Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies

Course Number: SPP0 382

Intended Student Audience: Undergraduate students with three or four years of Spanish language instruction. The course is taught in Spanish but serves majors and non-majors.

Courses Description:

This course gives students the opportunity to approach Spanish dramatic literature through a creative and experiential learning process. The theme of the fall 2017 workshop was: Enacting OppressionAll the plays studied deal with this topic from very different perspectives and historical eras (from Lorca’s rural tragedy The House of Bernarda Alba to Juan Mayorga denunciation of the Holocaust in Himmelweg). The first half of the course is devoted to studying the plays from a literary, critical and analytical lens and the second half is dedicated to exploring theater through various aspects of staging, such as dramaturgy, acting, translation, setting, costume and sound design. Students work in groups to organize a series of original scenes from the original plays studied in the first half of the semester and these scenes are then adapted, directed and performed as the final outcome of this seminar.

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  • To understand what are the major periods in the history of Spanish dramatic literature;
  • To gain knowledge of some canonical and non-canonical works of Spanish dramatic literature;
  • To understand how to practice close reading and literary analysis;
  • To develop collaborative and leadership skills
  • To develop creativity in conjunction with the study of literature
  • To get training in basic acting skills and dramaturgy



Experiential Learning

Professor Fernández designed her course on Spanish Peninsular literature with the creative arts and experiential learning as central teaching strategies. In addition to introducing the students to a wide array of Spanish plays from the Early Modern period to the present, students in her course have the opportunity to create an original script as the final outcome of the seminar. The course's experiential component encourages students to approach literary analysis from the perspective of those who write, design, and conceptualize literature and theater. 

The course followed the structure of a symposium developed by scholars (including Professor Fernández ) in the research network Iberian Theater and Performance Network (ITPN). At the center of the most recent biannual symposium was an effort to design a performance specifically tailored to the theme of the conference. The organizing committee created an original script based on a series of scenes from the major dramatic works with the guidance of two professional actors and a dramaturge.

Adapting the ITPN model, Professor Fernández has students work together over the course of the semester to adapt, direct and perform their own play as the final course product.  Students write their own play by pulling together a series of original scenes from the plays studied in the first part of the course. Creating their own play in this manner encourages students to analyze and understand the the nuances of oppression - the course theme - in each play, looking for similarities, differences, and variants. Students are encouraged to engage in a deeper and richer analysis of each play. 

Scaffolding Unstructured Learning

Professor Fernández wants students to have the freedom to be creative in the development of their final play for the course. This requires careful scaffolding of assignments that allow for curiosity and discovery to emerge organically. Professor Fernández organizes student work around several assignments, but leaves plenty of unstructured class time for students to work in groups to develop the play and discuss their contribution to the final product. After the class develops and organizes the scenes for the final play students work in small groups to contribute one element to the performance of the play, such as costume design, the play bill, or staging. At this point in the course Professor Fernández says students are intensely engaged from the very beginning of the process until the end. In a sense they are "creating the class."

One lesson for me has been how when the class seems more unstructured the students really take the lead even more than when I try to guide them closely.
— Professor Fernández

The experiential and collaborative design of the course is a new experience for many humanities students. Early in the semester Professor Fernández prepares students for their central role in the course design and outcome by reminding them that this is not a “traditional” literature class. However, literary analysis and critical thinking are emergent learning outcomes as self-directed learning takes shapes over the semester.



Final Performance

In future iterations of the course Professor Fernández would like to have students perform the play at the end of the semester. Many students enrolled in the course are double majors and she was concerned with the first run through of the course it would be asking to much of them to learn lines and perform publicly. Therefore, she decided that the best thing would be to film a version of a dramatic reading of the play. However, as the end of the semester drew near she found that a public performance would have been a perfect showcase for the the students' commitment, excitement, and hard work. According to Fernández: "This course is so experiential that I believe the students deserve a creative outcome." For future iterations of the course she is hoping to organize a dramatic reading that could be performed publicly for the Rice Community. A' Q & A' session about the play, the class, the project as a whole would take place after the performance.

Grading, Assessment, and Feedback

She found that grading can be a challenge due to the experiential nature of the course. This semester the group of enrolled students was small enough that she was able to monitor each student's leaning and to advise them individually. She was able to make sure everyone was contributing to the group work and to the class. This type of course is better suited to a small class size with students majoring in the course topic. A class taught with this pedagogical approach requires that all students need to be similarly engaged and passionate about the material to ensure a hard working group of students, building trust in each other and creating community

Space and Props

A course with this level of group work and self-directed learning requires an appropriate classroom space.  Many of the course meetings ended up taking place in outside spaces on campus to allow students to experiment and get creative.  A black box theater will also be ideal for some of the sessions. In addition, Professor Fernández plans to explore the resources that the Rice Theater Department could offer in terms of basic props, costumes, space, and guidance of some components of the performance.


 ITPN (Iberian Theater and Performance Network): https://itpn.mla.hcommons.org/

This network was developed to enhance the study of Iberian theater and performance from a trans-historical perspective, bridging Golden Age theater (1580-1700) with contemporary performance, playwriting, and theatrical practices in the plurinational setting of the Iberian Peninsula.


Professor Fernández

Professor Fernández

Esther Fernández
Assistant Professor of Spanish Peninsular Literature & Culture
Email: esther.fernandez@rice.edu

Esther Fernández Rodríguez is the author of Eros en escena: Erotismo en el teatro del Siglo de Oro (Juan de la Cuesta, 2009) and the editor of Don Gil de las calzas verdes (2013) and El perro del hortelano (2011) for Cervantes & Co. Spanish Classics. Additionally, she has co-edited Diálogos en las tablas: Últimas tendencias de la puesta en escena del teatro clásico español (Reichenberger, 2014). Her essays and occasional publications attend to eroticism and the Spanish comedia; visual and material culture; and performance analysis of classical theater’s contemporary adaptations. In her teaching and scholarship she combines Early Modern literature with visual performance analysis. She also teaches classes in contemporary literature with a focus on contemporary social and political issues. Dr. Fernández’s current work includes editing a volume that explores Anglo-Spanish relations vis-a-vis the contentious image of Elizabeth I in Early Modern Spain, as well as a monograph on the ritualized figure of ‘the puppet,’ in ceremonial and theatrical contexts, which served to materialize representations of religious and ‘non-religious’ worlds across pre-modern Iberia.

Posted on May 15, 2018 and filed under Humanities.