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Utopia in Performance

Finding Hope at the Theater

Jill Dolan

Publication Year: 2005

Jill Dolan is the theatre's most astute critic, and this new book is perhaps her most important. Utopia in Performance argues with eloquence and insight how theatre makes a difference, and in the process demonstrates that scholarship matters, too. It is a book that readers will cherish and hold close as a personal favorite, and that scholars will cite for years to come. ---David Román, University of Southern California What is it about performance that draws people to sit and listen attentively in a theater, hoping to be moved and provoked, challenged and comforted? In Utopia in Performance, Jill Dolan traces the sense of visceral, emotional, and social connection that we experience at such times, connections that allow us to feel for a moment not what a better world might look like, but what it might feel like, and how that hopeful utopic sentiment might become motivation for social change. She traces these "utopian performatives" in a range of performances, including the solo performances of feminist artists Holly Hughes, Deb Margolin, and Peggy Shaw; multicharacter solo performances by Lily Tomlin, Danny Hoch, and Anna Deavere Smith; the slam poetry event Def Poetry Jam; The Laramie Project; Blanket, a performance by postmodern choreographer Ann Carlson; Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman; and Deborah Warner's production of Medea starring Fiona Shaw. While the book richly captures moments of "feeling utopia" found within specific performances, it also celebrates the broad potential that performance has to provide a forum for being human together; for feeling love, hope, and commonality in particular and historical (rather than universal and transcendent) ways.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Chapter One: Introduction: Feeling the Potential of Elsewhere

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pp. 1-34

Utopia in Performance argues that live performance provides a place where people come together, embodied and passionate, to share experiences of meaning making and imagination that can describe or capture ›eeting intimations of a better world...

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Chapter Two: “A Femme, a Butch, a Jew”: Feminist Autobiographical Solo Performance

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pp. 35-62

How can performance, in itself, be a utopian gesture? Why do people come together to watch other people labor on stage, when contemporary culture solicits their attention with myriad other forms of representation and opportunities for social gathering? Why do people continue to seek the...

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Chapter Three: Finding Our Feet in One Another’s Shoes :Multiple-Character Solo Performance

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pp. 63-88

Utopia can be a placeholder for social change, a no-place that the apparatus of theater—its liveness, the potential it holds for real social exchange, its mortality, its openness to human interactions that life outside this magical space...

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Chapter Four: Def Poetry Jam: Performance as Public Practice

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pp. 89-112

Performance, as I argued by discussing monopolylogue performers in the last chapter, offers a way to practice imagining new forms of social relationships. I believe in theater’s use value as a place to fantasize how peace and justice, equality and truly participatory democracy might take hold sometime...

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Chapter Five: The Laramie Project: Rehearsing for the Example

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pp. 113-138

The Laramie Project uses the idiom of performance to construct a public with which to examine the ›aw in the social fabric illuminated by the murder of Matthew Shepard. On October 6, 1998, the twenty-one-year-old gay college student, out searching for a semblance of a queer life for himself in Laramie...

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Chapter Six: Militant Optimism: Approaching Humanism

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pp. 139-166

I find myself with a keen desire to reclaim a commitment to human commonality. I know that gender, race, sexuality, ability, class, and other vectors of identity remain entrenched as discriminatory benchmarks in public discourse and in the distribution of social and political power. But more and more...

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Epilogue: Finding Hope at the Theater

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pp. 167-172

Throughout Utopia in Performance, I’ve suggested that moments of liminal clarity and communion, ›eeting, brie›y transcendent bits of profound human feeling and connection, spring from alchemy between performers and spectators and their mutual confrontation with a historical present that lets...


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pp. 173-206


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pp. 207-224


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pp. 225-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025572
E-ISBN-10: 0472025570
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472069071
Print-ISBN-10: 0472069071

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 647888893
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Utopia in Performance

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Subject Headings

  • One-person shows (Performing arts).
  • Monodrama -- History and criticism.
  • Theater -- Psychological aspects.
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