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Black Theatre

Ritual Performance In The African Diaspora

Paul Carter Harrison

Publication Year: 2002

Generating a new understanding of the past—as well as a vision for the future—this path-breaking volume contains essays written by playwrights, scholars, and critics that analyze African American theatre as it is practiced today.Even as they acknowledge that Black experience is not monolithic, these contributors argue provocatively and persuasively for a Black consciousness that creates a culturally specific theatre. This theatre, rooted in an African mythos, offers ritual rather than realism; it transcends the specifics of social relations, reaching toward revelation. The ritual performance that is intrinsic to Black theatre renews the community; in Paul Carter Harrison's words, it "reveals the Form of Things Unknown" in a way that "binds, cleanses, and heals."

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. 1-10

In 1996 Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright August Wilson dropped the gauntlet on skepticism about the validity of Black Theatre. His keynote address, “The Ground on Which I Stand,” delivered at the eleventh Biennial Theatre Communications Group National Conference at Princeton University, became the occasion ...

Part I: African Roots

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pp. 13-17

The terms theatre and drama will be used throughout this section and throughout this book as terms that are inclusive of ritual, ceremony, carnival, masquerade, testimonials, rites of passage, the blues, improvisation, “Negro spirituals,” spoken word, hiphop, storytelling, and other performative modes of expression rooted ...

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Roots in African Drama and Theatre

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pp. 18-38

In a book on Haiti published in 1929, W. B. Seabrook gives an eyewitness account of a Voodoo substitution sacrifice which I have always found most fascinating, as illustrating the awesome relationship between role-playing and sympathetic magic.1 The worship of the Voodoo god Damballa Ouedo would seem to require ...

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The African Heritage of African American Art and Performance

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pp. 39-63

The term “African American” reflects the two-ness of the black experience in North America, denoting what W.E.B. DuBois aptly described as a double-consciousness, that is, a sense of being an African and American at the same time, “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one ...

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Agones: The Constitution of a Practice

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pp. 64-87

The historicity of contemporary black (African, African-American, and Caribbean) dramatic practice is unintelligible outside the agonistic interactions among three main competing, more-or-less coherent discursive formations: the hegemonic, colonialist Eurocentric; the counterhegemonic, anticolonialist Afrocentric; ...

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What the Twilight Says: An Overture

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pp. 88-107

When dusk heightens, like amber on a stage set, those ramshackle hoardings of wood and rusting iron which circle our cities, a theatrical sorrow rises with it, for the glare, like the aura from an old-fashioned brass lamp is like a childhood signal to come home. Light in our cities keeps its pastoral rhythm, and the last ...

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Caribbean Narrative: Carnival Characters—In Life and in the Mind

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pp. 108-114

Historian Isidor Paiewonsky, in his book Eyewitness Accounts of Slavery in the Danish West Indies, describes the performative heritage and practice of Caribbean blacks from the Virgin Islands during their time of forced servitude. He describes the African drum music and the violent dancing, which planters came to fear ...

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Rebaptizing the World in Our Own Terms: Black Theatre and Live Arts in Britain

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pp. 115-128

It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), the bastion of “balanced” broadcasting, decided it was time to take off the air The Black and White Minstrel Show. This program, based on the first American theatre tradition, says more about the hegemony of a colonial fantasy constructed ...

Part II: Mythology and Metaphysics

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pp. 131-139

The essays in this section on Mythology and Metaphysics seek to explain, through select African diasporic epistemologies, the connection between performative rituals and the phenomenology of myth and metaphysics as the culmination of the dramatic experience. The epistemological underpinnings of these essays are rooted ...

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The Fourth Stage: Through the Mysteries of Ogun to the Origin of Yoruba Tragedy

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pp. 140-152

The persistent search for the meaning of tragedy, for a re-definition in terms of cultural or private experience is, at the least, man’s recognition of certain areas of depthexperience which are not satisfactorily explained by general aesthetic theories; and, of all the subjective unease that is aroused by man’s creative insights, ...

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The Candombl

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pp. 153-166


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Legba and the Politics of Metaphysics: The Trickster in Black Drama

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pp. 167-180

The trickster in black culture, whether represented in animal form (as tortoise, spider, or monkey), or as a divinity such as Esu-Elegbara or Legba in West Africa, has often been used to convey an important moral or cultural message, implied in the action the trickster describes. Through the message, an individual, family, ...

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Art for Life’s Sake: Rituals and Rights of Self and Other in the Theatre of Aimé Césaire

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pp. 181-208

“Poetry and Knowledge” is considered to be Aimé Césaire’s ars poetica, his theoretical statement on the nature of poetry.1 No similar statement by Césaire on the nature of theatre has been published. But Césaire’s poetry, prose, plays, and interviews are full of statements that point to a conceptualization of theatre not ...

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Sycorax Mythology

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pp. 209-226

Sorceress, queen, slave, mother, witch, and revolutionary—Sycorax ruptures the narrative of visual modernity with her vociferous howls of dissent in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A mythic representation mother earth, virgin nature, or the maternal spirit, Sycorax embodies a radical revisioning of gendered power within ...

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Conjuring as Radical Re/Membering in the Works of Shay Youngblood

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pp. 227-235

Making art affords one the opportunity to create that which did not previously exist. Likewise, the act of conjuring brings into being something that would not otherwise have occurred. Conjuring, then, has a direct kinship to art, as both seek to release their vision upon the world. ...

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Archetype and Masking in LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman

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pp. 236-244

Amiri Bakara uses archetype and masking in creating the characters who people his play Dutchman. The play is a political statement about the need for social action against racism and the racial assimilation of African Americans into white society. The character Clay is depicted as an African American assimilationist, and ...

Part III: Dramaturgical Practice

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pp. 247-250

A play-wright, by definition, does not write a play, but rather constructs a dramatic event. This dramatic event is a construction of characters in a time/space mode that has elasticity and is guided along a road map or plot with a heightened poetic language that creates a spectacle in the process of revealing the ...

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The Dramaturg’s Way: Meditations on the Cartographer at the Crossroads

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pp. 251-256

When you think or hear the word dramaturg, what comes to mind? The dramaturg is gaining prominence in the professional theatre and I welcome the chance to explain what a dramaturg does. The dramaturg is a cartographer of the dramatic landscape and is responsible for mapping the intellectual, physical, and ...

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Introduction to Moon Marked and Touched by Sun

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pp. 257-272

When I consider the status of African-American women playwrights within the social context, my first thoughts wrap around the high-profile ascensions of black women in the larger American society. Call the roll on recent “first black woman” titleholders: Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature; ...

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Kennedy’s Travelers in the American and African Continuum

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pp. 273-284

I have been in dialogue with the plays of Adrienne Kennedy for many years; although words are not to be entirely discounted, images represent the essence of the dialogue. Images form the core of Adrienne Kennedy’s theatre. Kennedy achieves her greatest impact in the arresting, though critically resisting, images that ...

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Mojo and the Sayso: A Drama of Nommo That Asks, “Is Your Mojo Working?”

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pp. 285-295

Aishah Rahman’s play, Mojo and the Sayso, was inspired by a real-life incident that enraged New York City’s black community in the early 1970s. Clifford Glover, a ten-year-old African American boy, was shot by a plainclothes police officer while he was walking with his father near his home in Queens. The police department ...

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Ritual Poetics and Rites of Passage in Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

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pp. 296-310

In the choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, playwright Ntozake Shange combines storytelling, conjuration, healing ritual, testament, and incantation, all drawn from an African spiritual and cultural ethos, to stage the healing and rebirth of seven women of color who are represented ...

Part IV: Performance

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pp. 313-315

It is necessary to eradicate the misconception that African and African American theatre is an exotic variation of Western European theatre and must therefore be governed by its general principles and aesthetics—a notion has prevailed both in academic circles and in the popular mind for nearly a century. “We are not ...

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Form and Transformation: Immanence of the Soul in the Performance Modes of Black Church and Black Music

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pp. 316-331

As Africans in the New World, black performing artists are faced with the daunting challenge of how to sing the liberating song of our ancestors in a hostile, alien land. Having been dislocated from the site of our ancestry, memory of the liberating song demands an inquiry into our spiritual origins. ...

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The Sense of Self in Ritualizing New Performance Spaces for Survival

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pp. 332-344

The two ritual elements universally common to theatre are dance (movement) and storytelling (oral tradition). Ritual can be defined as a recurring pattern of action that represents the desire to begin life anew, and the need to find some way of expressing that desire. If a sense of self based on identity and heritage could endure ...

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Barbara Ann Teer: From Holistic Training to Liberating Rituals

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pp. 345-377

In 1965 noted African American poet and playwright Langston Hughes perceived “a very great need for a serious theatre in the Harlem Community . . . a theatre in which the drama and the folk arts of the Negro people might be presented before the very audiences out of whom this drama is born.”1 Hughes was not the ...

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Bopera Theory

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pp. 378-381

Theatre in the United States is obstructed in its development by the same forces that obstruct the general positive development of human life and society. Frequently we are stalled by our very amazement at the rulers of this society, shrieking for years of their “superiority,” when one has only to look around to see what a mess ...

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From Hip-Hop to Hittite: Part X

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pp. 382-387

i cannot write this essay about the Hittite process unless i confess that our stories are in our flesh in our genetic memories in our ancestral callings and responses on landscapes where jazz looks ahead and becomes hip-hop an angry son who wants more than what his father settled for in his lifetime i must confess that ...

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Members and Lames: Language in the Plays of August Wilson

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pp. 388-396

The recent Oakland Schools case on black English (1996) and its precedent in Wayne County, Michigan (1979), have drawn public attention to a long-contested issue in African American letters. What is at stake is the nature and status of that particular version of American English spoken by some members of the African ...

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Porque Tu No M’entrende? Whatcha Mean You Can’t Understand

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pp. 397-399

Before we can honestly address multiculturalism, we must address the chauvinism of the English language. Since medieval times English speakers have characterized other languages, like Italian and French, as dandified and lacking depth, or as incomprehensibly erudite, while in fact English is a greedy, swallowing ...

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Performance Method

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pp. 400-408

As a child growing up in Kentucky, in retrospect, I realize I was surrounded by all sorts of folk art that was African at its base. Even though I was groomed to be a very middle-class Negro person, this folk/African art was very much a part of my world. Much of what I’ve become emanates specifically from that world, ...

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Afterword: Testimony of a Witness

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pp. 409-414

Forty-three years have passed since, from the Broadway stage, the Younger family abandoned its vermin-infested flat on Chicago’s South Side, heading out for the hostile but greener, airier Clybourne Park in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Today, virtually in the spot where the old tenement stood, ...

About the Contributors

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pp. 415-418

E-ISBN-13: 9781439901151
Print-ISBN-13: 9781566399449

Publication Year: 2002