Real American Entertainment: Performance and Nationalism in Branson, Missouri
Year of Dissertation:
Abstract Real American Entertainment: Performance and Nationalism in Branson, Missouri by Jennifer Worth Advisor: Distinguished Professor Marvin A. Carlson My dissertation focuses on emblematic performances in Branson, Missouri, the "Live Entertainment Capital of the World," and demonstrates that Branson's performances are both commercial artistic properties and cultural and political markers of belonging for its audiences. After an introduction that lays out the basic history and scope of Branson, each of my four chapters is centered on a major idea used by Branson to market its "authentically" "American" entertainments, and paired with a corresponding archetype that producers perform and after which consumers are encouraged to model their behavior. Chapter One deals with the theme of rurality, and demonstrates through two case studies, The Shepherd of the Hills and The Baldknobbers Jamboree Show, how the Hillbilly functions as the archetypal figure of pleasure and identification. Chapter Two discusses differences between "history" and "heritage" through a reading of Silver Dollar City, and traces the use of the Soldier-Patriot at the Veterans Memorial Museum, Celebrate America! and Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, which explain how history is simultaneously invoked and ignored in the name of national unity. Chapter Three inspects the role of evangelical Christianity in national identity, and assesses the role of the Evangelical in two spectacles, Noah, The Musical, and The Jim Bakker Show. The final chapter engages with the American Dream and uses the figure of the almost-assimilated Immigrant, as employed by headliners Shoji Tabuchi and Yakov Smirnoff who carefully craft and maintain perpetual "outsider" status. I detail how this popular but overlooked site functions culturally for both its producers and its consumers, with two larger goals: to create a fuller picture of the American performance landscape and to interrogate the idea of "Americanness" at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Displaced Conversations: A Genealogy of Feminist Performance
Year of Dissertation:
A few months before he died, Jackson Pollock attended three performances of the Broadway premiere of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Unable to watch the play in its entirety, Pollock rushed out early each time, grief-stricken. Why did Pollock find it unbearable to witness Godot? And what can be understood by examining this (missed) encounter between two of the greatest postwar artists—one a painter and one a playwright? If I exchange the genders of Pollock and Beckett for women artists, these questions form the basis of the twin investigations of my project: 1) why does the act of witnessing feminist performance sometimes go awry at the intersection of performer and spectator; and 2) how may a genealogy of feminist performance reveal itself—specifically, how does performance art emerge from Pollock's action paintings and Beckett's Godot (and the encounter between the two), and how does feminist performance art develop as a response to postwar abstract art in its hyper-masculinized form? In following the trajectory of feminist performance art, I find conversations taking place among the works of painter Deborah Kass, performance artist Deb Margolin, and sculptor Hannah Wilke, similar to the conversation between Beckett and Pollock. The term “conversation&lrquo; is not meant literally, since Beckett and Pollock never actually exchanged words and neither have the other artists who are “conversing&lrquo; in this dissertation. Nonetheless, the works of these women speak to each other, and a significant exchange takes place that concerns common themes and practices indicative of feminist performance art and illuminates their work and their contributions to the feminist movement within U.S. culture. I identify this phenomenon as a “displaced conversation.&lrquo; A displaced conversation reverberates in the gap of a missed encounter between artists who share common artistic influences and who could, potentially, meet physically; that is, they run in distinct, but similar, artistic circles that allow for the possibility of common social, political, and aesthetic influences. What I find most compelling about listening in on the displaced conversations taking place among these artists is that it reveals a new interdisciplinary narrative of feminist performance art. Although many scholars discuss a history of performance art as following a visual arts trajectory, and others suggest one following from avant-garde theatre practices, I construct a radical trajectory of feminist performance that examines both perspectives simultaneously. Through these various conversations, I discover that a loose genealogy of feminist performance art begins to emerge like a family tree with many branches. Moreover, each of these feminist artists engages in the exchange between artist and spectator, and the performative nature of her work provides agency for intervention and witnessing the Other. Witnessing their bodies and work places us into conversation within the exchange of performance, too, but the act of witnessing frequently goes awry. In the chapters of my dissertation, I draw on a rigorous theoretical understanding of the codes of parody, nostalgia, and the psychology of witnessing, and apply these theories in novel ways to examine why the act of witnessing these artists' work is sometimes traumatic. In particular, in regards to the work of Kass, I develop a theoretical foundation for a form of feminist nostalgia called queer nostalgia. Finally, in the epilogue, I tie together the displaced conversations among Kass, Margolin, and Wilke and observe how the current political climate affects the state of feminist performance art today. Visual artist Patricia Cronin enters the on-going conversation, specifically through her moturary sculpture, Memorial to a Marriage, 2002. Cronin's grave site sculpture inscribes a “future nostalgia&lrquo; to suggest that only time can make the burden of witnessing easier. I hope that, by reading the pieced-together fabric of a feminist genealogy woven by the works of these women artists, as well as witnessing their radical bodies in performance, we begin to see something new about performative identities in U.S. culture. Throughout this dissertation, I demonstrate how feminist performance investigates the intersection of the inner space of the artist with individual audience members; the conviction is that through this experience of intersubjectivity and bearing witness to those who suffer, feminist performance transforms each of us through empathy and an acceptance of difference.
"The Commodification of US Acting as Seen Through the League of Professional Theatre Training Programs, 1965-1987"
Year of Dissertation:
This dissertation explores the relationship between US acting, actor training, and the sociology of theatre. Using the cultural criticism of notable Western Marxists, it argues that the profession of US acting has become a commodified enterprise, most especially since the 1970s and 80s. By using the now defunct League of Professional Theatre Training Programs as its object of study, the dissertation examines the decreasing importance of stage actors, and by extension, the not-for-profit theatre in American society, a trend that began in the 1970s and persists today.