Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Performing (Non)Profit, Race, and American Identity in the Nation's Capital: Arena Stage, 1950-2010

    Author:
    Donatella Galella
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Judith Milhous
    Abstract:

    Theatre socially reproduces and contests economic, racial, and national hierarchies. There is a dearth of scholarship on U.S. regional theatre because of middlebrow anxiety and yet, for that very reason, regional theatre demands attention as a fitting example of the site of struggle over different forms of capital. Located in Washington, D.C., Arena Stage is the ideal case study for both the invention of viable non-profit theatre and the negotiation of race and national identity in the United States. Arguably the closest institution the U.S. has to a national theatre, the company was the first regional theatre to send a profitable new play to Broadway and now brands itself as the largest theatre devoted to "American Voices." By capitalizing upon its location in the nation's capital; staging racially liberal dramas; and developing institutional practices that help the institution to accumulate economic, cultural, and symbolic capital, the theatre has thrived for more than sixty years. My dissertation is a critical history of Arena Stage from 1950 to 2010 and consists of three thematic sections that focus on how the company produced non-profit practices, African/Caribbean/American drama, and U.S. identity. While the history chapters provide context and theoretical underpinnings from Pierre Bourdieu's Field of Cultural Production to Michael Omi and Howard Winant's Racial Formation in the United States, the case study chapters perform close readings of Arena Stage's most successful productions that mark turning points: The Great White Hope (1968) inspired a trend toward Broadway transfers with attendant economic and symbolic capital; Raisin (1973), the musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, staged a liberal yet safe black theatre; and the multiracial production of Oklahoma! (2010) opened the company's new theatre center and symbolized a diverse, neoliberal nation. I draw from performance and American studies; sociology and critical race theory; archival materials; and interviews with artists and administrators. I argue that Arena's viability has been largely due to the theatre's progressive politics yet ultimate maintenance of hegemonic structures, namely of class, race, and nation.

  • Without Papers: Legal Identity, Legal Consciousness, and Performance

    Author:
    Gad Guterman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Jean Graham-Jones
    Abstract:

    The undocumented immigrant is a recurring figure in the legal and cultural fields. By examining various stagings of this figure in contemporary US theatre, I analyze the intricate relationship between cultural and legal production and also observe law's capacity to shape identity and practices of belonging. My dissertation relies on developments in legal anthropology and employs concepts of legal identity and legal consciousness to consider theatre's engagement with unauthorized immigration. An explicit focus on law and its material consequences allows me to problematize theatre scholarship's privileging of ethnic/racial categories when approaching the overdetermined issue of identity. Importantly, as I investigate theatre's contribution to the immigration debates, I theorize how performance intersects with legal categorization and, in particular, how performance can counteract the legal nonexistence that characterizes life without papers.

  • Playtime: U.S. Publishers, Playwrights, and Amateur Play Production in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

    Author:
    Roxane Heinze-Bradshaw
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    David Savran
    Abstract:

    The role of the theatrical publisher and licensor has long been ignored and/or underexamined within historical studies of theatre in the United States. In this dissertation, I endeavor to bring new light to the relationship between the publishing and theatrical industries in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a specific eye toward their combined effect on and interaction with the amateur play production market. I argue that the rise of amateur theatrical activity was necessarily tied to the growth and expansion of theatrical publishing, and that this connection greatly influenced the shaping of a new theatrical landscape across the United States, one based on commerce. My investigation is heavily influenced by Pierre Bourdieu's sociological analysis of the role of publisher as cultural middleman, but I also explore the conservative impulses of the burgeoning U.S. middle class, and how those impulses bolstered the unique position of these play publishers, helping to place and maintain companies that masked their economic motives with a message of cultural uplift as cultural arbiters. Throughout the dissertation, I attempt to explicate the role of the amateur theatrical producer, as well as the amateur's relationship to both the playwright and publisher. To this end, I rely heavily on primary resources detailing the decisions and actions of amateur theatrical producers, playwrights, and publishers, including such materials as letters, internal memos, ephemera, contracts and sales information from publishers' archives, as well as case studies of two amateur theatres, the Peoria Players of Peoria, IL, and the Footlight Club of Jamaica Plain, MA.

  • Producing Memories: Staging the Civil War in US Culture, 1867-1908

    Author:
    Bethany Holmstrom
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Judith Milhous
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I examine the competing narratives of Civil War memories on stage, considering how race, ethnicity, gender, class, and history were performed. I argue that the memories audiences consumed via these performances influenced popular mental conceptions and - by extension - participated in the cyclical formation of juridical policy and social practice, ultimately revealing the unstable constructions of citizenship and the instability of the nation itself. I use three broad strains of memories to interrogate the instability and political dynamics in theatrical stagings of War memories, broadly construed. I frame these stagings as "sites of memory," as places where politics and power are invested via production and consumption. The first strain of memories includes plays set during the war itself, including Grand Army of the Republic amateur dramas and commercial melodramas throughout the late nineteenth century. Because of the very structure of melodrama and the commercial demands of increasingly industrialized practices, even the "bloody shirt" rhetoric of the Union veterans morphs into a white reconciliationist vision of memories, excluding women and ethnic and racial Others. The second strain of memories includes African American performances of slavery and emancipation: black minstrelsy, plantation spectacles, and a handful of melodramas that grappled with broader questions of remembering slavery within the black community. These sites provided opportunities for black performers to establish careers, create a community/network, and - at times - celebrate emancipation, but the producers and performers also had to cater to white audience expectations. Ultimately, black-generated sites of memories in practice predominantly adhered to Booker T. Washington's model of progress via professionalization. My analysis then shifts to plays set in the post-war South - with special attention to plays including the Ku Klux Klan - and interrogates the romanticizing of the crumbling and ruined Southern landscape within the broader aims of the Lost Cause movement. The nostalgia and yearning for the "lost" planter class ultimately valorizes the Confederate cause through the workings of melodrama and the spectacle of Southern landscapes. Throughout the analysis of these sites of memories, I am constantly asking how the consumption of these memories might have influenced juridical realities.

  • The Urban Geography of Theatre in a New South City: Memphis, 1890-1920

    Author:
    Stephen Huff
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Judith Milhous
    Abstract:

    This case study of theatres in Memphis during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reads the local history of theatre with and against larger narratives of national theatre history that emphasize the industrialization of U.S. theatre and its geographical centralization in New York City. Key questions include: What roles did the building and establishment of theatres play in the urban geography of period Memphis, and vice versa? And, how did the consolidation of the national theatre industry affect theatres in Memphis? A narrower geographic focus on a mid-sized U.S. city allows for a detailed investigation of several different types of theatres--including legitimate, vaudeville, and African American theatre--and their relationships to and contradictions with the bigger picture of U.S. theatre during the period, which would be more difficult to do with a larger city. It also provides for more thorough descriptions of the social and cultural contexts in which these theatres were created, particularly with regard to class and race. The structure of the argument is guided by Henri Lefebvre's dialectical triad of perceived, conceived, and lived space. After laying out the plan of the dissertation in the first chapter, the second chapter maps out the city of Memphis, locating the places of performance within its urban landscape in order to reveal the spatial networks--or perceived spaces--involved in theatre-going at the time. In developing the stories of the theatres themselves throughout the last three chapters, I have employed two specific, time-bound conceptions of space--"the New South city" and "the Road"--to discuss the establishment of local theatres and national touring circuits. In this way, I have attempted to show the connections and tensions between local and national events and developments. If I have succeeded, the reader will have a better idea of the relationship of theatre and urban space in Memphis during this period as it was directly, palpably lived. This dissertation provides a complex picture of U.S. theatre in microcosm during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries--one that can help to both broaden and challenge larger narratives on the subject.

  • Sensation, Spectacle, and Reform in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Theatre

    Author:
    Amy Hughes
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Marvin Carlson
    Abstract:

    By the second half of the nineteenth century, the rhetoric of sensation had fully permeated U.S. popular culture, surfacing in advertisements, criticism, and other forms of commentary. Its ubiquity suggests that sensation operated as a kind of capital, negotiated and exchanged in actual and metaphorical economies. Simultaneously, individuals and institutions worked to discipline American subjects through the establishment of social conventions and behavioral norms. In this project, I investigate the rapid perpetuation of both sensationalism and normalization during the mid-nineteenth century by exploring the relationship between spectacle and reform. Specifically, I study how "sensation scenes"--climatic moments in melodramas, usually featuring elaborate scenery and special effects--reflected and sometimes challenged ideological positions associated with temperance, abolition, and women's suffrage. Several questions shape my analysis: How were conceptions of race, gender, and class rehearsed and sustained by way of spectacle? Why were reform-minded theatre managers and audiences attracted to sensational aesthetics--or, conversely, why were producers and consumers of melodrama attracted to reform politics? How did the imagery and affect embedded in spectacular displays extend beyond the theatre's walls? To address these questions, in the first chapter I map the dynamics of what I call the spectacular instant: a heightened, palpable moment in performance that captivates the spectator through multiple planes of engagement. I interrogate the manifold meanings of "sensation" itself, involving both the body (corporeal response) and culture (exciting or titillating events). In subsequent chapters, I assess how a particular stage image--the delirium tremens in W. H. Smith's "The Drunkard" (1844), Eliza crossing the ice floes in adaptations of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852), and the victim tied to the railroad tracks in Augustin Daly's "Under the Gaslight" (1867)--worked in tandem with oratorical performance, printed media, and visual and material culture to convey, allay, and even deny stories about the body circulating within diverse publics. Ultimately, I propose that these spectacular instants illuminate the complex ways in which activists leveraged and audiences consumed sensation, and that the visual and visceral mechanisms of spectacle may have been central to the dramaturgy of reform itself.

  • Devouring Metaphors: Neoliberal Consumption in Argentine and Brazilian Theatre

    Author:
    Elisa Legon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Jean Graham-Jones
    Abstract:

    My dissertation studies the points of contact between theatre and neoliberalism, focusing on the consumption of labor power for the production of commodities. By tracing the mechanisms of capital exchange in the production of three late twentieth- and early twenty-first-centuries South American performances, I claim that, within the social field of theatre, the circular systems of cultural production operate by cannibalistically consuming corporeal labor power. To that end, I propose to place in the theatrical field of production questions rooted in conceptual and material matrices of bodies, work, consumption, exploitation, and violence. Argentine Griselda Gambaro's Es necesario entender un poco (It is necessary to understand a little, staged in 1995) reveals the cultural, political, and economic negotiations that operated in Argentina in the construction and articulation of Otherness in support of the Menemist government's neoliberal program. Through the lens of Fernando Coronil's theory of Occidentalism, I explore the incorporation of neoliberalism taking place through a complex of legal, economic, and social institutions and praxis. In my analysis of Argentine playwright, actor, and director José María Muscari's Shangay té verde en 8 escenas (Shangay: green tea and sushi in eight scenes, performed between 2004 and 2006), I posit a series of biological implications of labor exploitation. By reading Marx in terms of biological consumption, I argue that an examination of the modes of ingestion, consumption, devouring, and physiological expenditure of food operating in and around the performance explicates the incorporation of neoliberalism into the bodies of theatre producers and consumers. Finally, I study the representation of cannibalism in Brazilian playwright Newton Moreno's A refeição (The Repast, produced in 2007). In these aberrant actions, the body appears as the material of social struggles. Flesh becomes food in a framework shaped by economies of emotion and empathy. Workers' bodies are at all times fodder for consumption. Thus, in that sense, the play describes more than a metaphor. It illustrates the way cannibalism is the modus operandi of neoliberal economies.

  • A Quest Beyond Enlightenment: Buddhism as Counter-Enlightenment and Modernity's Other Being in the Practices of Antonin Artaud, John Cage, Tatsumi Hijikata, Kazuo Ohno, and Xingjian Gao

    Author:
    YU SHIAN LIN
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    David Savran
    Abstract:

    I use this idea that a single term (Enlightenment) can incorporate contradictory meanings, to argue that counter-enlightenment inspiration is itself the imbedded "other being" of modernity and had already emerged not only in the East but also in the West. In this project, I use examples from the works of Artaud, Cage, Butoh, and Gao, in order to argue that although they originated in different contexts of modernity, West and East, and studied the philosophy of Enlightenment rationalism, all these theatre artists have pursued an Enlightenment "beyond" and realized and practiced insights of oriental religious thinking, similar to or exactly be Buddhist transcendent illumination and Zen enlightenment as the token of redemptive awakening that is cross-genre and trans-cultural. The theories and practices of Artaud, Cage, Butoh, and Gao concerning transcendence are at the same time similar to yet different from each other. The chief similarity among these four cases is that they all endeavor to emancipate the ultimate poetic truth of the genuine theatre or essential aesthetic transcendentality of performance from the confinements of discursive logic, dramatic/literary representation, and explanatory linear narrative. Chapters one and two provide the introduction of two different enlightenment backgrounds and ideas and sketch the historical contexts of diverse hermeneutics converging around the theme of "enlightenment." In chapters three through six, I have discussed that the mystical achievements these theatre artists have presented are re-oriented by Buddhist enlightenment philosophy and aligned with the truth of emptiness. The uniting thread of the theatre of Artaud, Cage, Butoh, and Gao is the manifestation of the true absolute, that is, the appearance of the profound, through their performing the physical phenomena of the spiritual/empty substance with subtlety and intricacy. Through performing the empty essence and ultimate reality, the agendas of Artaud, Cage, Butoh, and Gao reverberate with Buddhist spiritual revelation, because the crux of enlightenment--"on the outside, while within form, separate from form; on the inside, while within emptiness, separate from emptiness"--is perpetuated in their arts of "profane illumination." I conclude in noting that instead of integrating into their experiments oriental thoughts and religious traditions as mere elements or exotic artifice, their theatre shapes a particular form of performance language and a new philosophy/epistemology of performance.

  • Ghosted Towns: Performing Tourism, Place, and Cultural Memory in the United States

    Author:
    Lindsay Livingston
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Marvin Carlson
    Abstract:

    This dissertation explores three distinct memorial sites that are frequented by tourists and that shape cultural memory through performance in the United States of America: Tombstone, Arizona; Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia; and Nauvoo, Illinois. Each of these sites, I contend, is representative of influential narratives of national remembrance; each also, however, is simultaneously evidence of hidden and oppressed narratives that haunt the spaces of and performances featured at the site. Tombstone, Arizona, made famous by mediatized portrayals of the 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral, embodies a hyper-violent romanticization of an individualistic "Wild West," but is shadowed by more communal and less aesthetic types of violence: the genocide and forced removal of American Indian tribes, the wanton eradication of wildlife, and the commodification of landscape and open space at the heart of westward expansion. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, advertised as the United States' "Revolutionary City," is a corporatized town whose curators attempt to create a balance between historical inquiry and patriotic celebration, but often fail to address the influence and distinctiveness of past and present experiences of African American inhabitants and visitors. Finally, Nauvoo, Illinois reproduces a time of religious fervor in the history of an "American" religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon), but the pristine façade of sacred spatial encounters is disrupted by the doctrinal schisms that are revealed through spatialized performances of LDS history. All three of these sites contribute to the formation of a conservative US identity that is based on revisionist national histories that whitewash the past; this study challenges that identity based on an examination of how performance is utilized by curators and historians to "make" memorial spaces that, in turn, affect how historical events are recorded and remembered in the United States. I argue within these pages that memorial places are characterized by their curators' creation and use of "performative space"--space which performs operations of remembrance for visitors--to reinforce particular national narratives of belonging and historical meaning. My analysis of memorial places poses the following questions: How is performance used to produce and circulate national memory? How does embodied experience of historical places affect one's understanding of the past? How are memorial places created, maintained, and marketed through performance? Ultimately, I claim that, by analyzing how these three memorial places are produced and experienced through performance, one can discover history's double, the US past which has been lost, hidden, or occluded in the celebratory narratives that have long shaped what it means to be a US American.

  • Last Gasp: The End of Multimedia Performance, New York 1950-2000

    Author:
    Stephen Luber
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    David Savran
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I examine the historical and cultural meanings of the word multimedia, coined in 1950, and how its evolution throughout the twentieth century has revealed anxieties through theory and performance. I argue that performance is always already multimedia, and thus I claim that when "multimedia" is carved out as an explicit genre, critics and theorists express a pastoral nostalgia, a belief that contemporary life can be separated from media communications and technologies. Multimedia is a genre that results from the cultural and economic production following World War II, in which production shifted from technological development for the military-industrial complex to the domestic sphere in the U.S. The effort to sell media technologies as a part of everyday experience distinguished multimedia as a commodified, exceptional sphere apart from the quotidian. Performance, because of the critical and practical emphasis on its live experience, is a valuable frame by which to understand this complicated history. Works by Robert Whitman, Laurie Anderson, and the Blue Man Group are historical case studies that help to reveal the workings of their respective cultural moments. I read these performances alongside critical theorists such as Marshal McLuhan, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-François Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Peggy Phelan, and Philip Auslander in order to connect ideas produced for the cultural imaginary. Ultimately, I argue that the term multimedia is obsolete, and that this distinction prevents a deeper and more dynamic critical engagement with contemporary performance.