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During the summer of 2012, Sharon L. James co-directed the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance with Tim Moore, PhD ’86. With the help of visiting faculty consultants, Profs. James and Moore lead 25 participants through the rough and tumble world of Roman Comedy. Together they created multiple performance versions of scenes from Plautus and Terence by experimenting with staging, actors, translation, choreography, and more. By doing so, they crafted an excellent series of videos that relates the ancient plays to our modern society.

Erin Moodie, associate professor of Classical Studies at DePauw University, participated in the institute, and shares how doing so has shaped her teaching and research.


Erin Moodie

I applied for the NEH Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance because I wanted a better understanding of the potential effects of comic performances on the Roman audience(s). I was relatively familiar with the genre and context of Plautine and Terentian comedy, but since I hadn’t had extensive performance experience, I felt I needed to see and perform the scenes myself in order to be able to write about them more effectively.

I learned a great deal from the Institute’s experts, but also from my fellow participants, who were much more experienced performers and directors than I was. Things that were very helpful included the introductory improv session with C. W. Marshall, how to work with masks with Angela Horchem, a strong focus on rhythm and meter from Tim Moore, and, more generally, how we imagine the relationship between actors and audience–especially during monologues–and whether that changes from genre to genre. I also bring up Mary-Kay Gamel’s multiple definitions of authenticity during most of my language and civilization courses when we discuss translation. More generally, my Eunuchus group and Pseudolus B group were so fantastically inventive that I’d love to work with them again! Luckily Mike Lippmann and I got to collaborate on a presentation about masks at the Classical Association of the Middle West and South’s annual meeting this year.

“The NEH Summer Institute was an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience–like the geekiest summer camp and most fun summer school I could imagine, all rolled into one.”

Despite my background in the genre, there were several details of Greek and Roman daily life that I learned for the first time  that were helpful for my commentary project on Plautus’ Poenulus (the Roman comedy that requires perhaps the most historical contextualization in order to be fully understood). (The infamis status of pimps is the first thing that springs to mind.) I also feel much better prepared to discuss the actor/audience relationship in the revision of my dissertation, or at least I know the proper people to ask about any issues that arise!

Finally, I learned about the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research (a two-week program held at Harvard during the summer) from Chris Woodworth, another NEH participant, and was accepted for the 2013 session. Since this year’s theme is ‘World Theater,’ I’m looking forward to learning more about various theatrical forms (and actor/audience interaction) beyond the ancient Mediterranean! Overall, the NEH Summer Institute was an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience–like the geekiest summer camp and most fun summer school I could imagine, all rolled into one. I’d apply for another performance-based Summer Institute in a heartbeat!