The Institute in a Nutshell

Dear Colleague,

We are very pleased to introduce you to our NEH Summer Institute for College and University Teachers, to be held in the summer of 2012, entitled “Roman Comedy in Performance” (

The ancient Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terence are key figures in the history of literature and theatre.  They helped lay the foundation for the kind of plot that still dominates much of the world’s comedy, and their plays have delighted and puzzled readers, audiences, and scholars for centuries.  Scholarship in the last thirty years has provided us with a new appreciation of how Plautus’ and Terence’s plays respond to their social milieu, how they were performed in Rome, and how they can be performed today.

Yet at the same time, the Roman comic plays can be disturbing. They take for grant­ed, and even seem to revel in, such dark elements as torture of slaves, forced prosti­tu­tion, and rape.  Our institute will seek answers to a problem that has too often been ig­nored: how can a genre that is so incredibly fun also sometimes be so troubling?  The driving questions that motivate this Institute include:  Would Romans have responded the same way we do to scenes we find funny or disturbing?  What effects would aspects of performance have on how those scenes were received?  What do these ancient plays have to say to our own society?

In seeking to answer these questions, our NEH Institute has two aims:

–            First, we will offer participants the opportunity to interact with ten leading experts in the field of Roman comedy’s performance and social context.

–           Second, participants will learn about Roman comedy through performance: each NEH Summer Scholar will take part in performing scenes from Roman comedy using a variety of approaches and learn at first hand how variations in performance can affect the tone and message of comic scenes.  Through video recordings, which will be made available to the public online and through DVDs, the Institute’s  Scholars will produce both a permanent record of their work and a set of useful tools for research and teaching.

The plan

“Roman Comedy in Performance” will take place on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from June 24th through July 20th, 2012.  NEH Summer Scholars accepted to the Institute will read each of the 27 plays of Plautus and Terence in English translation, along with several chapters of C. W. Marshall’s The Performance and Stagecraft of Roman Comedy, before the Institute begins.  They will also consider in which of several scenes from Roman comedy they might wish to perform.  Throughout the four weeks of the Institute, we will meet each morning from 10-12 and each after­noon from 2-4.  Morning sessions through the first three weeks will be dedicated to dis­cussions led by various leading scholars of Roman comedy.  Selected readings from the most important recent scholarship on Plautus and Terence, as well as theoretical works, will accompany each of the discussions.  C.W. Marshall and Sander Goldberg will dis­cuss ancient Roman performance practice in the first week’s sessions.  After a look at music in Roman comedy led by Timothy Moore, most of the second week will be dedi­cated to the Roman comic plays as social documents, with discussions of Roman co­medy’s women led by Sharon James and of humor, slavery, and ethnicity led by Amy Richlin.  In the third week, after Niall Slater offers a look at Roman comedy’s theatrical self-consciousness, we will turn to issues of modern performance: Mary-Kay Gamel will lead discussions on adaptation and practical and theoretical issues of performance; and Anne Groton, John Starks, and George Fredric Franko will conduct workshops inspired by their own experiences directing performances of Roman comedies.

Meanwhile, NEH Scholars will dedicate afternoon sessions to preparing their own performances of scenes from Plautus and Terence.  Each NEH Scholar will be a member of two performance groups: (1) all participants will work in groups to perform, using a va­riety of ap­proach­es (e.g., with or without masks or music, in Latin or in English, filled with slapstick or subdued, or with various combinations of cross-gendered casting) a lively scene from Plautus’ Pseudolus, in which a pimp, watched by an increasingly in­dig­nant young lover and his slave, makes outrageous threats against his male slaves and slave-prostitutes.  Participants will also work in groups on six selected scenes from Roman comedy that offer varied combinations of spirited action and social significance.  Most of the NEH Institute’s final week will be dedicated to producing video recordings of all the groups’ performances.

The directors

The NEH Institute’s co-directors are Sharon L. James and Timothy J. Moore.  Sharon James, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a leading authority on women in antiquity and on Roman comedy.   She has published articles and a book on prostitutes, rape, and gender in Roman comedy and Latin literature and is completing a book entitled Women in Greek and Roman New Comedy.  Timothy Moore, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at The University of Texas at Austin (after July 1, 2012: John and Penelope Biggs Distinguished Professor of Classics in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis), is the internationally recognized expert on Roman comedy’s music.  His publications include The Theater of Plautus: Playing to the Audience, Music in Roman Comedy, Roman Theatre, and articles on Roman and Japanese comedy, ancient music, and Latin literature.

The two directors tend to approach Roman comedy from divergent but comple­ment­ary perspectives.  Moore is fascinated by the form of Roman comedy, both on the page and in performance.  He likes to think about questions like what monologues do, what the plays sounded like, and where actors might dance.  James is most interested in how the plays both reflect and comment on Roman society: gender relations, the chal­lenges and anxieties of raising children, the ambiguous status of slaves.  We hope for much lively conversation on all these matters during the NEH Institute.  Both James and Moore will be available throughout the weeks of the Institute for scheduled and spontaneous individual meetings with the participating NEH Summer Scholars.


Sander M. Goldberg’s numerous books and articles include Understanding Terence, Constructing Literature in the Roman Republic, and “Plautus on the Palatine,” in which he compelled all who work on Roman comedy to rethink the theaters in which the plays were performed.

C. W. Marshall’s The Stagecraft and Performance of Roman Comedy is the standard guide to how Plautus’ and Terence’s plays were first performed.  He has also been drama­turge, director, producer, and translator for seventeen productions of ancient plays.

Amy Richlin is a leading scholar on Roman sexuality and gender and the social back-ground of Roman comedy.  Her publications include The Garden of Priapus: Sexu­ality and Aggression in Roman Humor, and Rome and the Mysterious Orient: Three Plays by Plautus.

Niall Slater’s Plautus in Performance: The Theatre of the Mind introduced to Roman come-dy a new approach, namely metatheatre, which remains central to scholarship on Plautus and Terence.

Mary-Kay Gamel, one of the nation’s leading producers of ancient drama, has trans­lated, produced and directed numerous productions of Greek and Roman plays.

Anne H. Groton has produced and directed student productions of Roman comedies since 1974 and published numerous works, including articles on ancient comedy.

John H. Starks, Jr. has directed several performances of ancient drama, including Plautus’ Poenulus, for which he produced the educational video Latin Laughs.

George Fredric Franko has directed several student productions of Roman comedies and published many articles on Roman theater.

Resources for performance

Also on hand will be Ted H. M. Gellar-Goad, an accomplished composer who is also an expert in Roman comedy.  He will compose music, to be played by local musicians hired for the NEH Institute, for several of the NEH Summer Scholars’ performances.  Costuming of various types, props, and masks will be available or will be made for the performances in ancient dress (i.e., pallia, cloaks, and other ancient-style garments—but not shoes).  Participants should plan to devise their own costumes for the other performance choices.Rehearsals and performances will take place both in the outdoor Forest Theatre and in the restored historic Gerrard Theater.

Other resources

All NEH Summer Scholars participating in the Institute will receive a stipend of $3,300 (taxable), to be paid in two installments: one half at the beginning of the Institute, the other half during its second half.  Depending on travel and other expenses, this stipend should cover most—but probably not all—anticipated expenses.

As visiting scholars at the University of North Carolina, NEH Summer Scholars will have access to the university library, which has generous hours during the summer—including evenings and weekends—and a superb collection of works on drama, litera­ture, and Roman history.  NEH Scholars will also have access to the much smaller but very convenient Classics Library and the university dining hall (there are also numer­ous other places to eat within easy walking distance).  For a small fee, NEH Summer Scholars and their family members may use the university’s gymnasium and outdoor pool throughout their stay in Chapel Hill.  NEH Summer Scholars are encouraged to bring their own laptops: wireless will be available at no cost throughout the campus, and NEH Summer Scholars will be able to use university printers for a small fee, either at the main library or through arrangement with the Classics Department. 

Chapel Hill is very easy to get around in: most amenities are within walking dis­tance of the university campus, and a free bus service runs throughout the city.  More information on the city often called “The Southern Part of Heaven” can be found at and

Applying to the institute

25 NEH Summer Scholars, including three graduate students, will take part in the Institute.  We seek applications from scholars and teachers with an interest in theater and society, theatrical performance, and/or ancient Rome in any relevant fields, in­clud­ing but not limited to English, Comparative Literature, Classics, Modern Lang­uages, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, Theater and Dance, Musico­logy, and Performance Studies.  Although NEH Summer Scholars who know Latin will be encouraged to perform in the plays’ original language, no knowledge of Latin or theatrical experience is required for participation in the Institute.  For in­forma­tion on eligibility and application details, go to the dedicated page on the Institute’s website ( and to the NEH application page (

The most important part of your application is your essay, which should include your reasons for applying to the NEH Institute, your relevant personal and academic information, your qualifications to make a contribution to the Institute, what you hope to accomplish through participation, and the rela­tion of the Institute to your teaching.

You will also want to make clear your willingness to perform before a camera in scenes from Roman comedy (all participants must sign a waiver allowing their performances to be distributed on the web and in DVDs).

Applications may be sent either in electronic form or via post to:

Timothy Moore
Co-director, NEH Summer Institute, “Roman Comedy in Performance”
The University of Texas at Austin
1University Station
Department of Classics, C3400
Austin, TX 78712-0308

Begin your application by filling out a cover sheet on the NEH web site at your earliest convenience:

Electronic applications must then be received by, and mailed applications post­mark­ed by March 1, 2012.  Applicants will be notified of the status of their applications on Monday April 2nd, 2012.

For more information on this NEH Institute, see the NEH Institute’s web site ( or email either of the co-directors: Sharon James ( or Timothy Moore (

We very much hope that you will consider joining us for an exciting experiment in learning through performance.


Sharon L. James and  Timothy Moore