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  • 19 Drama
  • Dorothy Chansky

In accepting the MLA Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement in 2005, J. Hillis Miller praised "those students and faculty these days who are most attracted by the contextual side of literary studies, by what is called cultural studies, and by investigation into the milieu of ideological assumptions about race, class, gender, politics, and history within which literary works were and are written, within which they are embedded, and which are embedded in them." He then expressed his "immense respect [for] the shift away from literary study toward the study of film, television, popular music, video games, and other features of popular culture. . . . Anyone who looks with a candid eye can see that literature is on the way to becoming more and more a thing of the past, ein Vergangenes, to misappropriate Hegel's term a little."

If this combination of shift and respect is alarming to anyone in literary studies, it is a bit déjà-vu/ho-hum for scholars of drama and theater, or perhaps I should say for scholars of drama in theater, that slippery site where text and context are so patently mutually constitutive. Accordingly, I am arranging this chapter to reflect the centrality of cultural studies in considering drama. Sections titled "Plays" and "Playwrights" come first, but the latter part of the essay is a broad category I'm calling Performance/Production/Praxis/Perspectives. I have collapsed the theory/history/criticism divide to reflect precisely such a collapse in most works that appear under any of the more traditional rubrics. The section covers books and essays that investigate drama and performance in historical, theoretical, occasionally performative ways, [End Page 427] locating drama in its glory and discontents on stages ranging from playhouses to museums to the street to wharves (yes, Provincetown, lest we think that nontraditional and site-specific venues comprise a recent innovation), private homes, big-top tents, and screens both large and small. Regarding the "Plays" section, I am eschewing the list of new work that opened onstage (heady, but of necessity a bit of a laundry list) for an admittedly much shorter list of lauded plays that appeared in print (although many opened this year as well), which is to say important plays that became available as literature. That said, the list is partial, although it covers a sweep of genres and writers ranging from relative newcomers to seasoned names.

The year emitted an early zinger via Philip Auslander's sobering observation in TDR, "No Shows: The Head Count from the NEA" (49, i: 5–9). Concocting a fictional Jeopardy category called "Arts Participation," he offered an imaginary player the "answer" of 78. The question? "What is the percentage of the adult population of the United States that did not attend the theatre at all in 2002?" Based on the most recent NEA Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, published in 2004, the aggregate figure for musical and nonmusical theater attendance is 22.3 percent (dropping to 12.3 percent if we leave out the musicals). In other words, about 63 million Americans see about 3.6 theatrical performances a year, spending about 10 hours to do so, the latter being the same number of hours the average American spends watching television over a three-day stretch. Since part of Auslander's argument is that we need to take the mediatized seriously, he reminds us that these figures do not include time spent watching movies, DVDs, videos, or television broadcasts of plays. Nor, of course, do they reflect time spent reading plays or other performance-influenced literature. Nonetheless, if you are reading this and saw more than four theater performances in the past 12 months, you already know you are in rarefied company.

i Playwrights

Milestones in American drama included the deaths of Arthur Miller and August Wilson. Three new books about Miller honor his memory and a late interview with Wilson caught him post-medias res, in dialogue with one of his obvious heirs, Suzan-Lori Parks ("The Light in August," AmTheatre 22, ix: 22–78). [End Page 428]

The biggest of the 2005 Miller books is Christopher Bigsby's Arthur Miller: A Critical Study (Cambridge...


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