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No Safe Spaces

Re-casting Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in American Theater

Angela C. Pao

Publication Year: 2010

No Safe Spaces opens up a conversation beyond narrow polemics . . . Although cross-racial casting has been the topic of heated discussion, little sustained scholarship addresses both the historical precedents and theoretical dimensions. Pao illustrates the tensions and contradictions inherent not only in stage representations, but also in the performance of race in everyday life. A wonderful book whose potential readership goes well beyond theater and performance scholars. ---Josephine Lee, University of Minnesota "Non-traditional casting, increasingly practiced in American theater, is both deeply connected to our country's racial self-image(s) and woefully under-theorized. Pao takes on the practice in its entirety to disentangle the various strands of this vitally important issue." ---Karen Shimakawa, New York University No Safe Spaces looks at one of the most radical and enduring changes introduced during the Civil Rights era---multiracial and cross-racial casting practices in American theater. The move to cast Latino/a, African American, and Asian American actors in classic stage works by and about white Europeans and Americans is viewed as both social and political gesture and artistic innovation. Nontraditionally cast productions are shown to have participated in the national dialogue about race relations and ethnic identity and served as a source of renewed creativity for the staging of the canonical repertory. Multiracial casting is explored first through its history, then through its artistic, political, and pragmatic dimensions. Next, the book focuses on case studies from the dominant genres of contemporary American theater: classical tragedy and comedy, modern domestic drama, antirealist drama, and the Broadway musical, using a broad array of archival source materials to enhance and illuminate its arguments. Angela C. Pao is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University. A volume in the series Theater: Theory/Text/Performance

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance

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pp. 1-22

Over the past several years, there has been a sustained and productive convergence of concepts and concerns in the fields of theater and performance studies, American ethnic studies, and national and transnational studies. Scholars working in these areas have conducted complex investigations into the nature and forms of racial, ethnic, and national identity and difference...

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One. Bearing the Weight of Reality: The Theatricality of Cross-Racial Corporeal Encounters

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pp. 23-41

The potency of nontraditional casting as a form of social activism, a forum for cultural criticism, and a source of artistic innovation derives from a peculiar situation created by modern realistic and naturalistic acting traditions whereby two more or less fully constituted identities—that of the actor and that of the character—inhabit the same body...

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Two. Re-casting Race: Nontraditional Casting and Racial Formation

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pp. 42-63

Nontraditional casting was a practice born of a moment. It was not just a product of, but also a participant in, the radical social changes of the middle decades of the twentieth century. Like all sociocultural practices, the new approaches to casting were as much a new way of thinking as a different way of doing things...

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Three. Bodies Like Gardens: Classical Tragedy and Comedy in Color

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pp. 64-115

Toshio Mori’s fictional account of a young man’s growing ambition to become a Shakespearean actor would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that the character in question is named Tom Fukunaga, a Japanese American born and raised in California in the 1920s and 1930s. As things turn out in this particular story...

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Four. Beyond Type: Re-casting Modern Drama and National Identity

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pp. 116-140

While the various forms of nontraditional casting have come to be widely accepted in European classical tragedies and comedies, there continues to be greater resistance to racial mixing or cultural transposition in modern or contemporary domestic drama...

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Five. The Theater, Not the City: Genre and Politics in Antirealistic Drama

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pp. 141-174

The first American production of Jean Genet’s play Les Nègres, closed on September 1, 1961, after 974 performances at the St. Mark’s Playhouse on September 1, a run that broke all records for an Off-Broadway dramatic production. The same press release that announced the closing of the play also stated that a national tour was being planned...

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Six. Chasing Rainbows: Re-casting Race and Ethnicity in the Broadway Musical

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pp. 175-221

While verisimilitude is by no means scorned in the uniquely American form of theater known as the Broadway musical, many works falling into this category cultivate the borderlands of fantasy and luxuriate in the unikely. This highly composite form of theatrical performance threads a fully developed dramatic narrative through scenes of spoken dialogue and naturalistic gestures and episodes of full-voiced singing and full-bodied dancing with equal aplomb...

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pp. 222-228

Since multiracial casting first became a regular part of the American theater scene a half century ago, the practices have prompted myriad debates, discussions, and developments. Theater professionals, critics, and audiences have been led to articulate or to reexamine their assumptions concerning fundamental theater practices and the relationship of theater to contemporary society...


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pp. 229-260


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pp. 261-282


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pp. 283-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027972
E-ISBN-10: 0472027972
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051212
Print-ISBN-10: 0472051210

Page Count: 316
Illustrations: 12 B&W photos
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance