John Muse

John Muse
Assistant Professor
  • Department of English
  • Committee on Theater and Performance Studies
Rosenwald 415D
(773) 702-2196

My research and teaching focus on modern and contemporary theater, modernist literature, and performance. I’m particularly interested in work that tests theater’s perceived limits or that explores the imagined boundaries among theater and other arts: plays that resemble visual art, poems or novels in dramatic form, metatheater, and digital or otherwise virtual theater.

My first book, Microdramas: Crucibles for Theater and Time, contends that plays shorter than twenty minutes provide laboratories in which time and of theater are isolated and revealed in their oddity and complexity. Focusing on artists for whom brevity became both a structural principle and a tool to investigate theater itself (August Strindberg, Maurice Maeterlinck, F. T. Marinetti, Samuel Beckett, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Caryl Churchill), the book explores four episodes in the history of very short theater, all characterized by the self-conscious embrace of brevity. The story moves from the birth of the modernist microdrama in French little theaters in the 1880s, to the explicit worship of speed in Italian Futurist synthetic theater, to Samuel Beckett’s often-misunderstood short plays, and finally to a range of contemporary playwrights whose long compilations of shorts offer a new take on momentary theater. Subjecting short plays to extended scrutiny upends assumptions about brief or minimal art, and about theatrical experience. The book shows that short performances often demand greater attention from audiences than plays that unfold more predictably. Microdramas put pressure on preconceptions about which aspects of theater might be fundamental and about what might qualify as an event. In the process, they suggest answers to crucial questions about time, spectatorship, and significance.

Related teaching interests include media studies, performance studies, digital performance, Renaissance drama, and global theater history.


2017-2018 Courses: Spring 2018, Theatre About Theatre (undergraduate), Virtual Theatres (graduate)

Graduate: Short Attention Span Fictions; Beckett and Media; Staging Modernism; History and Theory of Drama I

Undergraduate: Theater About Theater; Impossible Theaters; Beckett—Page, Stage, Screen; History and Theory of Drama I; Media Aesthetics: Text

Selected Publications

  • “Virtual Theater, Virtual Spectatorship: On Jonathan Ball’s Clockfire,” Theater 48.1 (Forthcoming 2017)
  • "Performance and the Pace of Empathy," Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 26.2 (Spring 2012).
  • "140 Characters in Search of a Theater: Twitter Plays," Theater 42.2 (Summer 2012).
  • "Flash Mobs and the Diffusion of Audience." Theater 40.3 (Summer 2010).
"Dimensions of the Moment: Modernist Shorts." Modern Drama 53.1 (Spring 2010).
  • "Eons in an Instant: The Paradoxes of Suzan-Lori Parks's 365 Days / 365 Plays." The Journal of American Drama and Theatre 22.1 (Winter 2010).
  • "The Craft of Naiyer Masud." Annual of Urdu Studies 21 (2006): 2-22.


Ph.D., Yale University, 2010. Teaching at Chicago since 2010.

Muybridge: Animal Locomotion Eadweard Muybridge. Animal Locomotion, Plate 163, detail.