Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • THE ROOTS OF AMERICAN IMPROVISATION: PLAY, PROCESS, AND PEDAGOGY

    Author:
    Margaret Duffy
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Jane Bowers
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the ways in which the art of American improvisation, as it developed in Chicago, operates as a catalyst for liberating creativity in the individual. I have traced its historical roots to the work and theories of three first-generation American women: Neva Boyd, Viola Spolin, and Josephine Raciti Forsberg. Boyd was a kindergarten teacher at the beginning of the twentieth century who championed the significant role that "directed play," particularly in the form of games, takes in the personal and social development of the individual. Viola Spolin, also known as "the high priestess" of improvisation, was trained as a social group worker by Boyd. Spolin built on Boyd's theories and created games, known as the "Spolin Games," for teaching improvisation. In 1963, she published Improvisation for the Theater, a foundational text for acting and improvisation teachers. Josephine Raciti Forsberg, who was trained by Spolin, is a theatre practitioner and teacher, whose contributions to the art of American improvisation have been greatly overlooked. Forsberg also established the first, and for many years the only school, dedicated to teaching the art of American improvisation, The Players Workshop of The Second City. In this dissertation, I have particularly focused on Forsberg's influences, curriculum, and exercises. In creating this narrative, I have used personal interviews with Forsberg and her unpublished notes, Something from Nothing,/italic>. Forsberg's notes do not provide a theoretical perspective, so I have supplied a framework, making the connections between her exercises and the theories and individuals who influenced her and her work. Lastly, in extending the discussion of the transformative nature of improvisation, I explore the link between creativity and improvisation from a cognitive process perspective.

  • THE ROOTS OF AMERICAN IMPROVISATION: PLAY, PROCESS, AND PEDAGOGY

    Author:
    Margaret Duffy
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Jane Bowers
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the ways in which the art of American improvisation, as it developed in Chicago, operates as a catalyst for liberating creativity in the individual. I have traced its historical roots to the work and theories of three first-generation American women: Neva Boyd, Viola Spolin, and Josephine Raciti Forsberg. Boyd was a kindergarten teacher at the beginning of the twentieth century who championed the significant role that "directed play," particularly in the form of games, takes in the personal and social development of the individual. Viola Spolin, also known as "the high priestess" of improvisation, was trained as a social group worker by Boyd. Spolin built on Boyd's theories and created games, known as the "Spolin Games," for teaching improvisation. In 1963, she published Improvisation for the Theater, a foundational text for acting and improvisation teachers. Josephine Raciti Forsberg, who was trained by Spolin, is a theatre practitioner and teacher, whose contributions to the art of American improvisation have been greatly overlooked. Forsberg also established the first, and for many years the only school, dedicated to teaching the art of American improvisation, The Players Workshop of The Second City. In this dissertation, I have particularly focused on Forsberg's influences, curriculum, and exercises. In creating this narrative, I have used personal interviews with Forsberg and her unpublished notes, Something from Nothing,/italic>. Forsberg's notes do not provide a theoretical perspective, so I have supplied a framework, making the connections between her exercises and the theories and individuals who influenced her and her work. Lastly, in extending the discussion of the transformative nature of improvisation, I explore the link between creativity and improvisation from a cognitive process perspective.

  • "This Theatre is a Battlefield": Political Performance and Jewish-American Identity, 1933-1948

    Author:
    Garrett Eisler
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    David Savran
    Abstract:

    "THIS THEATRE IS A BATTLEFIELD": POLITICAL PERFORMANCE AND JEWISH-AMERICAN IDENTITY, 1933-1948 by Garrett Eisler Advisor: Professor David Savran This dissertation explores the effect of political performance on Jewish-American cultural identity during the World War II era. With the rise of Hitler, many previously secular and assimilated Jewish theatre and film artists embraced their ethnic heritage and used their work as vehicles for, first, antifascist and, subsequently, Zionist mobilization. This cultural work, I argue, proved instrumental in effecting a postwar shift in Jewish-American identity from assimilation to "hyphenation." I begin by tracing Jewish artists' involvement in the prewar antifascist activism of the Popular Front. At a time when isolationist sentiment engendered American complacency towards Hitler and when Jewish concerns were marginalized, even demonized, as "warmongering," producing and exhibiting antifascist narratives was difficult. But by exploiting various genres of the popular stage (agitprop, musical satire, social realism) and film (espionage thriller, historical allegory), these artist-activists gradually influenced the public sphere regarding intervention into the European crisis. For many artists who had hitherto masked their Jewish identity (by changing their names, for instance), these projects marked a process of "coming out" that paved the way for greater acceptance of Jewishness in the postwar era. I then turn to the 1940s to show how, after Pearl Harbor, many of these same Jewish-American artists continued their activism by enthusiastically joining the U.S. war propaganda effort, and, after victory, campaigning for a Jewish state in Palestine. My main focus is on close readings, based on archival research, of three propaganda pageants by the playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht in collaboration with émigré composer Kurt Weill: Fun to be Free (1941), We Will Never Die (1943), and A Flag is Born (1946). By intervening into public debates over isolationism, America's response to the Holocaust, and the birth of the State of Israel, these works asserted Jewish agency more overtly than anything previously on the American stage. Such cultural work, I argue, anticipated and influenced a postwar shift to a more openly professed Jewish-American identity--something reflected in other cultural products of the era such as the 1947 film, Gentleman's Agreement. As the United States' swift recognition of Israel in 1948 indicated, something had changed in Americans' attitudes towards Jews. This project argues that the work of this Jewish-American "cultural front" throughout the war era was instrumental in bringing that about.

  • Contemporary Site-Specific Theatre in New York City: Performance, the City, and Spatial Politics

    Author:
    Bertie Ferdman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Judith Milhous
    Abstract:

    This project examines contemporary site-specific theatre (works intimately connected to the spaces in which they are performed) in New York City and asks: Can site-based theatre have an impact on the transformation and development of cities? Can this kind of theatre change our perception and use of public space? The dissertation explores how site-specific artists use alternative urban spaces outside the traditional theatre building and engage the experience of space and place as integral to their work's content. By formulating an understanding of site-specific theatre as inherently linked to urban spatial practices and politics, I argue that site-specific theatre reveals the inner workings of a city's spatial politics (and therefore who gets access to space and when), and the power dynamics involved in the creation and use of space as a public forum. How can we engage in a conversation about the city via site-specific theatre? By examining urban site specificity in contemporary theatrical practice in New York City, I address its connections and potential contributions to the urban setting, to urban dialogue, and to urban space. I discuss site-specific theatre's potential to engage with city space in ways that can actually affect-- positively and negatively-- urban planning, real estate values, and gentrification. My purpose in this dissertation is two-fold: (1) to highlight a genre within theatrical performance that should stand on its own (within the field of theatre studies); and (2) to provide a theoretical framework in which to discuss this genre in the conversations regarding theatre and urban studies, and therefore problematize theatre's potential for intervention in both private and public space in the creation of cities.

  • Contemporary Site-Specific Theatre in New York City: Performance, the City, and Spatial Politics

    Author:
    Bertie Ferdman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Theatre
    Advisor:
    Judith Milhous
    Abstract:

    This project examines contemporary site-specific theatre (works intimately connected to the spaces in which they are performed) in New York City and asks: Can site-based theatre have an impact on the transformation and development of cities? Can this kind of theatre change our perception and use of public space? The dissertation explores how site-specific artists use alternative urban spaces outside the traditional theatre building and engage the experience of space and place as integral to their work's content. By formulating an understanding of site-specific theatre as inherently linked to urban spatial practices and politics, I argue that site-specific theatre reveals the inner workings of a city's spatial politics (and therefore who gets access to space and when), and the power dynamics involved in the creation and use of space as a public forum. How can we engage in a conversation about the city via site-specific theatre? By examining urban site specificity in contemporary theatrical practice in New York City, I address its connections and potential contributions to the urban setting, to urban dialogue, and to urban space. I discuss site-specific theatre's potential to engage with city space in ways that can actually affect-- positively and negatively-- urban planning, real estate values, and gentrification. My purpose in this dissertation is two-fold: (1) to highlight a genre within theatrical performance that should stand on its own (within the field of theatre studies); and (2) to provide a theoretical framework in which to discuss this genre in the conversations regarding theatre and urban studies, and therefore problematize theatre's potential for intervention in both private and public space in the creation of cities.

  • 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.