Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • Commemorations and Protest in the Zócalo: A History of Performance in Mexico's Central Square from the Colonial Era to the Present

    Author:
    Ana Martinez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Jean Graham-Jones
    Abstract:

    The Zócalo, Mexico City's main square and the largest in Latin America, has been the material, symbolic, and official center of the country since the foundation of Tenochtitlán in 1325. It also continues to be Mexico's predominant public site of performance. More than that, the Zócalo is an architectural palimpsest: the material remains of past buildings are visible in its built environment. Throughout history, official performances in the Zócalo have theatricalized and legitimized governments and their domination over territory. Inversely, social and indigenous groups have used the Zócalo to stage performances contesting the official ideology. The dual purpose of this dissertation is to examine the Zócalo as Mexico's central site of performance and to unmask the official discourse regarding Mexico's natives. Using an interdisciplinary approach, I study the Zócalo as a site of performance through five theatrical events in different historical periods, from the early colonial era to the present: the 1539 Civic Festival of Mexico-Tenochtitlán, the 1721 Bicentennial Parade of the Royal Banner, the 1910 Great Civic Procession and Great Historical Parade, the 2001 Zapatista entry into Mexico City, and the 2010 Bicentennial of Independence and Revolution. I show how, in order to reassert power, rulers have invented traditions and recycled old rituals in their staging of official celebrations. I foreground the role of the indigenous populations in these performances: as subjects with agency, as exploited objects, and as exotic characters. I start with the premise that the Zócalo is a socially produced location and not a neutral space where things occur. My argument rests on the notion that each of the performances I analyze reframes the Zócalo into a specific space with different meanings and symbolisms. Through my case studies, I demonstrate the following transformations of the square: it was redefined as also indigenous after the conquest, it was an unstable space during the reign of the Bourbons, it became Mexico's national site of performance with the celebrations of independence, it was converted by the Zapatistas into a locus of indigenous struggle, and it was used as a folkloric and monumental place of nationhood in 2010. This project conveys the square's potential as a site of repression, rebellion, and liberation.

  • Thomas Chaundler and Academic Drama: Performance Practices in the Medieval English University

    Author:
    Thomas Meacham
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Pamela Sheingorn
    Abstract:

    Previous scholarship has claimed that university drama did not exist (at Oxford or Cambridge) before the Tudor period. To support this claim, scholars have repudiated medieval pedagogy, in particular, for being unable to generate the kinds of "exploratory" forms of inquiry that would later allow university drama to occur in the early sixteenth century through humanist pedagogy. I contend that medieval or scholastic pedagogy is capable of producing dynamic forms of entertainment and that a vibrant tradition of medieval university drama and performance did occur throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This performance tradition has been unrecognized by scholars not only because of inaccurate assumptions about medieval pedagogy, but also because scholars have not considered the full range of medieval performance practices or "texts" beyond the traditional play text. My investigation takes as its focus one of the last medieval university plays, Thomas Chaundler's Liber Apologeticus de omni statu humanae naturae (A defense of human nature in every state, c. 1460). The play is typically valued only for its alleged ability to explain the literary transition from medieval to humanist stylistics, and not for its literary qualities and/or performance potential. My dissertation views Liber Apologeticus and the texts of its parent codex, Cambridge: Trinity College MS R.14.5 (in addition to select texts from another manuscript compiled by Chaundler, Oxford: New College MS 288) as representing the culmination of a substantive and nuanced medieval university performance tradition. The texts of the Chaundler MSS incorporate, for instance, medieval pedagogical practices (such as disputation and preaching), devotional practices (such as the observance of the Office of the Dead), and ceremonial practices (such as commendatio speeches and King of Christmas festivities) to produce dynamic and transformative forms of performance. Furthermore, I demonstrate that these texts existed within networks of performative and textual communities that reached beyond the walls of Oxford and were generative of ecclesiastical and pedagogical performance practices and aesthetics that can be traced back to Oxford University's first institutionalization as a corporate body.

  • Drop Dead: Municipal Crisis and the Geographies of Performance in New York City, 1972-1982

    Author:
    Hillary Miller
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    David Savran
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation, I argue that the fiscal upheaval that occurred in 1970s New York did not only affect the budget sheets of city-funded organizations; it also stunted the distribution of theatre across the city and the movement towards decentralization that began in the 1960s. I demonstrate the ways in which the policy responses to the fiscal crisis-- which formed the early foundations of neoliberal governance in New York City--had contradictory results in specific localities and across institutional domains. In the examples presented within these four chapters, theatre mediated conflicts over public resources, spatial inequities, and community identity. In Chapter 1, I argue that as performers reconfigured representations on stage, Off-Off Broadway evolved in a dialectical relationship with neighborhood groups and local politicians. In Chapter 2, I demonstrate the ways in which the municipal vision of a river-to-river expansion model grounded in a thriving Times Square led to initiatives that often ignored the fundamental characteristics of theatre production in the city, when its strongest currents lay in decentralization, not a central district. Chapter 3 examines the dynamic theatre programming of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which, I argue, was not the stable center of rebirth, but rather part of many overlapping zones of performance activity that re-shaped contested urban spaces during the 1970s. In Chapter 4, I investigate two performance troupes in Coney Island and establish the ways in which performers were separated from the contexts of their neglected home neighborhoods. This study interrogates theatre as a social practice in times of municipal crisis, and establishes the 1970s as pivotal in the institutionalization of the arts in New York City.

  • Staging Fat: Dramaturgy, Female Bodies, and Contemporary American Culture

    Author:
    Jennifer-Scott Mobley
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Judith Milhous
    Abstract:

    Abstract Staging Fat: Dramaturgy, Female Bodies, and Contemporary American Culture By Jennifer-Scott Mobley Advisor: Dr. Judith Milhous This dissertation argues that fat as it is perceived today is a particular construction of American culture and that there are a myriad of meanings associated with the fat female body in representation. I assert that, in the context of realism, fat female bodies onstage and in various cultural texts speak semiotically without saying a word and are "read" by audiences regardless of the actual text. In the first chapter I trace the history of fat in the U.S. and the evolution of fat prejudice between the late nineteenth century and the present day as well as discuss the stereotypes and fears directed at fat women in our culture. In chapter two I examine a cross section of plays that call for fat actresses and analyze how playwrights use fat to develop a character and dramaturgically as a plot device. Chapter three explores plays that do not explicitly call for fat actresses but have been traditionally cast with fatter actresses because of the implied "fat behavior" of the character. In chapter four I demonstrate the interplay of fat, race, and sexuality in various cultural texts. Chapter five investigates fat performers who either deliberately use their bodies to interrogate stereotypes or to capitalize on cultural assumptions about fat women. Finally, I argue that Americans, partially as a result of reality TV programming and the vast reach of mass media due to the internet, increasingly blur the line between representation and reality. American audiences have become so accustomed to homogenized representations of slender, white, feminine beauty onstage and in film, TV, and advertising that any performing female body that falls outside the hegemonic standard is read as "unrealistic" and therefore audiences will ascribe additional meanings to her character beyond the actual narrative.