Studies Theatre Hist & Culture

John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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Studies Theatre Hist & Culture

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American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War

Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962

Bruce A. Mcconachie

In this groundbreaking study, Bruce McConachie uses the primary metaphor of containment—what happens when we categorize a play, a television show, or anything we view as having an inside, an outside, and a boundary between the two—as the dominant metaphor of cold war theatergoing. Drawing on the cognitive psychology and linguistics of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, he provides unusual access to the ways in which spectators in the cold war years projected themselves into stage figures that gave them pleasure.

McConachie reconstructs these cognitive processes by relying on scripts, set designs, reviews, memoirs, and other evidence. After establishing his theoretical framework, he focuses on three archtypal figures of containment significant in Cold War culture, Empty Boys, Family Circles, and Fragmented Heroes. McConachie uses a range of plays, musicals, and modern dances from the dominant culture of the Cold War to discuss these figures, including The Seven Year Itch, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The King and I,A Raisin in the Sun, Night Journey, and The Crucible. In an epilogue, he discusses the legacy of Cold War theater from 1962 to 1992.

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Athenian Tragedy in Performance

A Guide to Contemporary Studies and Historical Debates

Melinda Powers

Foregrounding critical questions about the tension between the study of drama as literature versus the study of performance, Melinda Powers investigates the methodological problems that arise in some of the latest research on ancient Greek theatre. She examines key issues and debates about the fifth-century theatrical space, audience, chorus, performance style, costuming, properties, gesture, and mask, but instead of presenting a new argument on these topics, Powers aims to understand her subject better by exploring the shared historical problems that all scholars confront as they interpret and explain Athenian tragedy.

A case study of Euripides’s Bacchae, which provides more information about performance than any other extant tragedy, demonstrates possible methods for reconstructing the play’s historical performance and also the inevitable challenges inherent in that task, from the limited sources and the difficulty of interpreting visual material, to the risks of conflating actor with character and extrapolating backward from contemporary theatrical experience.

As an inquiry into the study of theatre and performance, an introduction to historical writing, a reference for further reading, and a clarification of several general misconceptions about Athenian tragedy and its performance, this historiographical analysis will be useful to specialists, practitioners, and students alike.

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Classical Greek Theatre

New Views of an Old Subject

Clifford Ashby

Many dogmas regarding Greek theatre were established by researchers who lacked experience in the mounting of theatrical productions. In his wide-ranging and provocative study, Clifford Ashby, a theatre historian trained in the practical processes of play production as well as the methods of historical research, takes advantage of his understanding of technical elements to approach his ancient subject from a new perspective. In doing so he challenges many long-held views.

Archaeological and written sources relating to Greek classical theatre are diverse, scattered, and disconnected. Ashby's own (and memorable) fieldwork led him to more than one hundred theatre sites in Greece, southern Italy, Sicily, and Albania and as far into modern Turkey as Hellenic civilization had penetrated. From this extensive research, he draws a number of novel revisionist conclusions on the nature of classical theatre architecture and production.

The original orchestra shape, for example, was a rectangle or trapezoid rather than a circle. The altar sat along the edge of the orchestra, not at its middle. The scene house was originally designed for a performance event that did not use an up center door. The crane and ekkyklema were simple devices, while the periaktoi probably did not exist before the Renaissance. Greek theatres were not built with attention to Vitruvius' injunction against a southern orientation and were probably sun-sited on the basis of seasonal touring. The Greeks arrived at the theatre around mid-morning, not in the cold light of dawn. Only the three-actor rule emerges from this eclectic examination somewhat intact, but with the division of roles reconsidered upon the basis of the actors' performance needs. Ashby also proposes methods that can be employed in future studies of Greek theatre. Final chapters examine the three-actor production of Ion, how one should not approach theatre history, and a shining example of how one should.

Ashby's lengthy hands-on training and his knowledge of theatre history provide a broad understanding of the ways that theatre has operated through the ages as well as an ability to extrapolate from production techniques of other times and places.

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Fangs Of Malice

Hypocrisy, Sincerity, and Acting

Matthew H. Wikander

The idea that actors are hypocrites and fakes and therefore dangerous to society was widespread in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fangs of Malice examines the equation between the vice of hypocrisy and the craft of acting as it appears in antitheatrical tracts, in popular and high culture, and especially in plays of the period. Rousseau and others argue that actors, expert at seeming other than they are, pose a threat to society; yet dissembling seems also to be an inevitable consequence of human social intercourse. The “antitheatrical prejudice” offers a unique perspective on the high value that modern western culture places on sincerity, on being true to one's own self.

Taking a cue from the antitheatrical critics themselves, Matthew Wikander structures his book in acts and scenes, each based on a particular slander against actors. A prologue introduces his main issues. Act One deals with the proposition “They Dress Up”: foppish slavery to fashion, cross-dressing, and dressing as clergy. Act Two treats the proposition “They Lie” by focusing on social dissembling and the phenomenon of the self-deceiving hypocrite and the public, princely hypocrite. Act Three, “They Drink,” examines a wide range of antisocial behavior ascribed to actors, such as drinking, gambling, and whoring. An epilogue ties the ancient ideas of possession and the panic that actors inspire to contemporary anxieties about representation not only in theatre but also in the visual and literary arts.

Fangs of Malice will be of great interest to scholars and students of drama as well as to theatre professionals and buffs.

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Fantasies of Empire

The Empire Theatre of Varieties and the Licensing Controversy of 1894

In the London summer of 1894, members of the National Vigilance Society, led by the well-known social reformer Laura Ormiston Chant, confronted the Empire Theatre of Varieties, Leicester Square, and its brilliant manager George Edwardes as he applied for a routine license renewal. On grounds that the Empire's promenade was the nightly resort of prostitutes, that the costumes in the theatre's ballets were grossly indecent, and that the moral health of the nation was imperiled, Chant demanded that the London County Council either deny the theatre its license or require radical changes in the Empire's entertainment and clientele before granting renewal. The resulting license restriction and the tremendous public controversy that ensued raised important issues--social, cultural, intellectual, and moral--still pertinent today.Fantasies of Empire is the first book to recount in full the story of the Empire licensing controversy in all its captivating detail. Contemporaneous accounts are interwoven with Donohue's identification and analysis of the larger issues raised: What the controversy reveals about contemporary sexual and social relations, what light it sheds on opposing views regarding the place of art and entertainment in modern society, and what it says about the pervasive effect of British imperialism on society's behavior in the later years of Queen Victoria's reign. Donohue connects the controversy to one of the most interesting developments in the history of modern theatre, the simultaneous emergence of a more sophisticated, varied, and moneyed audience and a municipal government insistent on its right to control and regulate that audience's social and cultural character and even its moral behavior.Rich in illustrations and entertainingly written, Fantasies of Empire will appeal to theatre, dance, and social historians and to students of popular entertainment, the Victorian period, urban studies, gender studies, leisure studies, and the social history of architecture.

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French Theatre Today

The View from New York, Paris, and Avignon

Turk, Edward B.

 In 2005 literary and film critic Edward Turk immersed himself in New York City’s ACT FRENCH festival, a bold effort to enhance American contact with the contemporary French stage. This dizzying crash course on numerous aspects of current French theatre paved the way for six months of theatregoing in Paris and a month’s sojourn at the 2006 Avignon Festival. In French Theatre Today he turns his yearlong involvement with this rich topic into an accessible, intelligent, and comprehensive overview of contemporary French theatre. Situating many of the nearly 150 stage pieces he attended within contexts and timeframes that stretch backward and forward over a number of years, he reveals French theatre during the first decade of the twenty-first century to be remarkably vital, inclined toward both innovation and concern for its audience, and as open to international influence as it is respectful of national tradition.
 
French Theatre Today provides a seamless mix of critical analysis with lively description, theoretical considerations with reflexive remarks by the theatremakers themselves, and matters of current French and American cultural politics. In the first part, “New York,” Turk offers close-ups of French theatre works singled out during the ACT FRENCH festival for their presumed attractiveness to American audiences and critics. The second part, “Paris,” depicts a more expansive range of French theatre pieces as they play out on their own soil. In the third part, “Avignon,” Turk captures the subject within a more fluid context that is, most interestingly, both eminently French and resolutely international. The Paris and Avignon chapters contain valuable and well-informed contextual and background information as well as descriptions of the milieus of the Avignon Festival and the various neighborhoods in Paris where he attended performances, information that readers cannot find easily elsewhere. Finally, in the spirit of inclusiveness that characterizes so much new French theatre and to give a representative account of his own experiences as a spectator, Turk rounds out his survey with observations on Paris’s lively opera scene and France’s wealth of circus entertainments, both traditional and newly envisioned.
 
With  his shrewd assessments of contemporary French theatre, Turk conveys an excitement and an affection for his topic destined to arouse similar responses in his readers. His book’s freshness and openness will reward theatre enthusiasts who are curious about an aspect of French culture that is inadequately known in this country, veteran scholars and students of contemporary world theatre, and those American theatre professionals who have the ultimate authority and good fortune to determine which new French works will reach audiences on these shores.

 

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From Androboros to the First Amendment

A History of America's First Play

Peter A. Davis

The story of America’s earliest extant play begins with a petty crime—a crime that would have passed largely unnoticed had it not been for one fact: it prompted a beleaguered royal governor of one of Britain’s colonies to lash out at his enemies by writing a biting satire. Androboros, A Bographical [sic] Farce in Three Acts (1715), is universally acknowledged as the first play both written and printed in America. Its significance stems not simply from its publication but from its eventual impact. The play inadvertently laid the foundation for one of the defining rights of the nation that would eventually emerge some seventy-five years later—the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, guaranteeing a free press and freedom of expression.

Androboros was not just the first of its kind, it was also ahead of its time in many ways, preceding the harsh political satires and farces of the later eighteenth century by some fifty years. Such plays served a small but essential role in promoting political thought among the colonists. Written by anonymous authors and passed from hand to hand, these short, crude, and often bawdy plays and dialogues were rarely acted due to their inflammatory lampoonery. Nevertheless, they provided an opportunity for disgruntled colonists to vent their grievances and promote their ideas to fellow citizens. The farces of the late eighteenth century drove home the meaning and message of the American Revolution.

Equally significant is that Androboros may have influenced a few of the key political discourses published in the 1730s, and these works in turn may well have shaped the future of the American political landscape for the next several decades and even into the modern era. But as a closet drama intended only to be read by close friends and political supporters, this play has languished as a minor footnote in American intellectual history. Scholarly research published to date has been, for the most part, inadequate and occasionally inaccurate. This study remedies that oversight, providing a full analysis as well as an annotated typescript and facsimiles of the original printing.

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Jews and the Making of Modern German Theatre

 While it is common knowledge that Jews were prominent in literature, music, cinema, and science in pre-1933 Germany, the fascinating story of Jewish co-creation of modern German theatre is less often discussed. Yet for a brief time, during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic, Jewish artists and intellectuals moved away from a segregated Jewish theatre to work within canonic German theatre and performance venues, claiming the right to be part of the very fabric of German culture. Their involvement, especially in the theatre capital of Berlin, was of a major magnitude both numerically and in terms of power and influence. The essays in this stimulating collection etch onto the conventional view of modern German theatre the history and conflicts of its Jewish participants in the last third of the nineteenth and first third of the twentieth centuries and illuminate the influence of Jewish ethnicity in the creation of the modernist German theatre.

 The nontraditional forms and themes known as modernism date roughly from German unification in 1871 to the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933. This is also the period when Jews acquired full legal and trade equality, which enabled their ownership and directorship of theatre and performance venues. The extraordinary artistic innovations that Germans and Jews co-created during the relatively short period of this era of creativity reached across the old assumptions, traditions, and prejudices that had separated people as the modern arts sought to reformulate human relations from the foundations to the pinnacles of society.

 The essayists, writing from a variety of perspectives, carve out historical overviews of the role of theatre in the constitution of Jewish identity in Germany, the position of Jewish theatre artists in the cultural vortex of imperial Berlin, the role played by theatre in German Jewish cultural education, and the impact of Yiddish theatre on German and Austrian Jews and on German theatre. They view German Jewish theatre activity through Jewish philosophical and critical perspectives and examine two important genres within which Jewish artists were particularly prominent: the Cabaret and Expressionist theatre. Finally, they provide close-ups of the Jewish artists Alexander Granach, Shimon Finkel, Max Reinhardt, and Leopold Jessner. By probing the interplay between “Jewish” and “German” cultural and cognitive identities based in the field of theatre and performance and querying the effect of theatre on Jewish self-understanding, they add to the richness of intercultural understanding as well as to the complex history of theatre and performance in Germany.

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Kitchen Sink Realisms

Domestic Labor, Dining, and Drama in American Theatre

Dorothy Chansky

From 1918’s Tickless Time through Waiting for Lefty, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, A Raisin in the Sun, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue to 2005’s The Clean House, domestic labor has figured largely on American stages. No dramatic genre has done more than the one often dismissively dubbed “kitchen sink realism” to both support and contest the idea that the home is naturally women’s sphere. But there is more to the genre than even its supporters suggest.

In analyzing kitchen sink realisms, Dorothy Chansky reveals the ways that food preparation, domestic labor, dining, serving, entertaining, and cleanup saturate the lives of dramatic characters and situations even when they do not take center stage. Offering resistant readings that rely on close attention to the particular cultural and semiotic environments in which plays and their audiences operated, she sheds compelling light on the changing debates about women’s roles and the importance of their household labor across lines of class and race in the twentieth century.

The story begins just after World War I, as more households were electrified and fewer middle-class housewives could afford to hire maids. In the 1920s, popular mainstream plays staged the plight of women seeking escape from the daily grind; African American playwrights, meanwhile, argued that housework was the least of women’s worries. Plays of the 1930s recognized housework as work to a greater degree than ever before, while during the war years domestic labor was predictably recruited to the war effort—sometimes with gender-bending results. In the famously quiescent and anxious 1950s, critiques of domestic normalcy became common, and African American maids gained a complexity previously reserved for white leading ladies. These critiques proliferated with the re-emergence of feminism as a political movement from the 1960s on. After the turn of the century, the problems and comforts of domestic labor in black and white took center stage. In highlighting these shifts, Chansky brings the real home.

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London in a Box

Englishness and Theatre in Revolutionary America

Odai Johnson

If one went looking for the tipping point in the prelude to the American Revolution, it would not be the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor, or the blockade of Boston by British warships, or even the gathering of the first Continental Congress; rather, it was the Congress’s decision in late October of 1774 to close the theatres. In this remarkable feat of historical research, Odai Johnson pieces together the surviving fragments of the story of the first professional theatre troupe based in the British North American colonies. In doing so, he tells the story of how colonial elites came to decide they would no longer style themselves British gentlemen, but instead American citizens.

London in a Box chronicles the enterprise of David Douglass, founder and manager of the American Theatre, from the 1750s to the climactic 1770s. The ambitious Scotsman’s business was teaching provincial colonials to dress and behave as genteel British subjects. Through the plays he staged, the scenery and costumes, and the bearing of his actors, he displayed London fashion and London manners. He counted among his patrons the most influential men in America, from British generals and governors to local leaders, including the avid theatre-goers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. By 1774, Douglass operated a monopoly of theatres in six colonies and the Anglophone Caribbean, from Jamaica to Charleston and northward to New York City. (Boston remained an impregnable redoubt against theatre.)

How he built this network of patrons and theatres and how it all went up in flames as the revolution began is the subject of this witty history. A treat for anyone interested in the world of the American Revolution and an important study for historians of the period.
 

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