Professors Leslie Hill and Helen Paris lead students on a curious and provocative exploration of 21st-century obsessions

Stanford Department of Theater & Performance Studies (TAPS) open its 2013-14 performance season with British playwright Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, a production featuring dance, song and projection. TAPS performance-making professors Leslie Hill and Helen Paris direct.

Attempts presents 17 scenarios for the theater, shocking and hilarious by turn, on a roller coaster of 21st-century obsessions. From pornography and ethnic violence, to terrorism and unprotected sex, its strange array of nameless characters attempts to invent the perfect story to encapsulate our time.

Attempts opens on Pigott stage Nov. 7 and runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm until Nov. 16. Tickets are $5-$15, on sale now at

Attempts on Her Life is the final product of a quarter-long intensive, “TAPS 122P: Undergraduate Performance Project,” a popular program that introduces undergraduates to TAPS’s unique approach to theater and performance-making: a method that unifies scholarship and art, making academic study inextricable from the practice of performing.  Founded in 2009 by TAPS artist-in-residence Amy Freed and then PhD student Ciara Murphy, TAPS 122P previously produced sold-out productions of the canonical works The Crucible, Major Barbara and Our Country’s Good.

Professors Hill and Paris, members of the Stanford TAPS faculty for three years, head this year’s incarnation of the project. As co-founders of the London-based theater company “curious,” they have produced and performed in critically acclaimed original works around the world. Paris says, “We called our company curious because we as artists are curious about the world that we live in. A lot of the performances or films or installations that we make often start with a question – a curiosity we have. And I think that that sense of curiosity feeds into our teaching work and our work as professors.”

Hill and Paris were drawn to teach this particular play in 122P because of the room it allows students to make their own artistic decisions. Hill explains, “In all the different scenarios, Crimp gives the actors, directors, and designers [only] dialogue – there’s nothing but dialogue – so all the choices that you see about the set, costumes, characters, and locations are decided by the company. It’s a great piece to work on collaboratively.

Paris says, “I love that the students are working so hard and being so bold and open to taking on all these different ways of finding out what a piece of theater is – through the dramaturgy, through theoretical analysis, through lots of research – and through being artists, being creative, being devisers, and being performers.”

Paris finds additional teaching value in the contemporary relevance of Crimp’s work: “Even though it was written in 1997, it has a really interesting read in a contemporary context. We’re looking at identity, consumerism, global capitalism, representations of war, representations of women – a lot of key issues that affect us in our everyday lives.”

Beyond the classroom, Hill and Paris believe Attempts on Her Life audiences will also find the production educational and engaging. Hill says, “Crimp sees himself as a satirist rather than a moralist. The play doesn’t tell you what to think, but it presents complex issues. One thing I hope audiences take away is really great conversations.”

Crimp is also well regarded for challenging audiences to redefine their expectations of what constitutes a play. Paris elaborates, “We have so many expectations about what a night at the theater could be or should be, and I think a play that doesn’t allow us to follow a narrative, or a linear structure, or one character’s arc, alights us with curiosity about something different – a different form, a different way of working on and experiencing a piece of theater.”

Attempts on Her Life features set design by Erik Flatmo; costume design by Connie Strayer; projection design by Leslie Hill; sound design by Michael St. Clair; and lighting design by Dan Wadleigh. Attempts is stage managed by TAPS senior David Raymond.



WHAT: Attempts on Her Life, a production featuring dance and music,

WHO: Written by Martin Crimp; Directed by Leslie Hill and Helen Paris

SPONSORS: Stanford Department of Theater & Performance Studies (TAPS)

WHEN: November 7-9 and 14-16, 2013 at 8pm

WHERE: Pigott Theater in Memorial Auditorium

ADMISSION: $5 for students; $10 for seniors (55+); $10 for Stanford faculty/staff; $15 general admission. Tickets at