- Worldmaking: Race, Performance, and the Work of Creativity by Dorinne Kondo
Worldmaking: Race, Performance, and the Work of Creativity. By Dorinne Kondo. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018; 376 pp.; illustrations. $104.95 cloth, $28.95 paper, e-book available.
In the fields of theatre and performance studies, thoughtful scholarship on race, and separately, dramaturgy, fill journals and monographs. Yet engagement with racial dramaturgy is very limited (save for Faedra Carpenter's excellent writing ). In that absence, Dorinne Kondo's Worldmaking: Race, Performance, and the Work of Creativity articulates why dramaturgy, the process of researching the world of the play, must vigorously engage racism, the structure of power and meaning-making that racially marks all bodies who inhabit stages and worlds.
The book groups chapters into Acts. Act I, "Mise-en-Scène," includes chapter 1, "Theoretical Scaffolding, Formal Architecture," which introduces key terms and Kondo's ethnographic engagement; and chapter 2, "Racialized Economies," in which Kondo, following Lisa Lowe (2015), argues against the late-20th-century "newness" of neoliberalism, suggesting instead that neoliberalism furthers modernity's longer logics of racism and colonialism that produce racialized theatre structures. Act II, "Creative Labor," features chapter 3, "(En)Acting Theory," which analyzes Anna Deavere Smith's oeuvre and includes Kondo's ethnographic interviews with Smith; chapter 4, "The Drama behind the Drama," described below; and chapter 5, "Revising Race," which investigates David Henry Hwang's Yellow Face (2007) from "multiple perspectives of critic, ethnographer, dramaturg, and playwright" (167). Act III, "Reparative Creativity," features Kondo's creative process with chapter 6, "Playwriting as Reparative Creativity"; and chapter 7, "Seamless, A Full-Length Play," Kondo's playscript tracing histories of a Japanese American family across early-21stcentury Southern California and 1940 in Oregon. Worldmaking begins with an "Overture" and is stitched together by three "Entr'acte" chapters, ethnographic "vignettes" on Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park (2010), an acting class, and a conversation about limited space for Asian American theatre in Los Angeles (53).
In 1993, Kondo worked as a dramaturg on the world premiere of Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Staged as a one-woman documentary theatre performance at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, California, Twilight was based on Smith's interviews with over 200 Los Angelinos present during the "rebellion/riots/uprisings/civil unrest" sparked by the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King by four white police officers, who were later acquitted (133). A performance in which Smith, a black woman, portrays white, black, Asian diasporic, and Latinx characters, Twilight allowed audiences to bear "witness to this state of emergency" (131).
In chapter 4, Kondo brings the reader backstage into rehearsals. Kondo details her dramaturgical role, which included research, script edits, and feedback, and most immediately, "respond[ing] to Smith's performance as she listened to her audiotapes and subsequently performed onstage," or what Kondo calls "dramaturgy on the spot" (145). [End Page 179]
Critically, the chapter centers the racial stakes of this dramaturgical work, intensified as Smith culled 200 interviewees to stage 25 characters. "Which characters should be cut, and which should stay?" Kondo asks, and "What are the politics of racial representation being played out onstage?" In the dramaturgical process, these questions took on frustration, conflict, and ultimately, repair. After one rehearsal in which Smith cut the characters of a Chicano artist and a Japanese American musician, Kondo and fellow dramaturg Héctor Tobar were livid. After disagreeing on these cuts, Kondo temporarily left rehearsal; later Smith added the characters back in. The chapter details the decision-making processes through which Smith dialogued with collaborators to portray characters amidst racial turmoil—within and beyond a black–white racial schema.
The chapter anchors arguments pervasive across Worldmaking. First, Kondo's analysis focuses on Twilight's live theatre production, not the film version, which has been widely taken up in critical scholarship. As such, Kondo "emphasize[d] the processes through which race was produced or reproduced backstage, where [the collaborative team] both contested and...