Theses Doctoral

Brand New Worlds: Disney's Theatre Assemblages

Barall, Elfriede Michi

The significance of brands within our media-intensive culture can hardly be overstated. Having emerged in the mid-20th century as platforms for the distribution of commodities, brands have since become, as scholar Celia Lury argues, “the logos of the global economy.” Brand interfaces not only differentiate mass production, but produce cultural assemblages that rewrite social and political relations. This dissertation concerns itself with the meaning of theatrical production within brand performance, with a specific focus on the Walt Disney Company. Although there are many corporate producers in commercial theatre today — Warner Brothers, MGM, Universal, and Cirque du Soleil, to name a few — Disney has the distinction of being the first to make live theatre a cornerstone of its brand relationships. Disney has also had, in branding terms, the most depth, breadth and consistency of any global entertainment brand.

Using the concept of assemblage as an applied framework, I consider how Disney’s brand theatre functions as a form of communicative/affective capitalism, as an interface for consumer interactivity and exchange. Following Deleuze and Guattari, DeLanda and Lury, I argue that Disney’s theatre assemblages are heterogeneous, contingent, emergent and most of all generative. At the heart of this project is the question of how Disney’s theatre assemblages cohere – the question of identifiable, intensive continuities. What kinds of historical contingencies are replicated in Disney’s texts and territories? How does the company code cultural flows? In what ways are Disney’s theatre assemblages networked to social formations like childhood, gender, race, sexuality, and nation? What kinds of consumer interactions and socio-technical conditions are most important to the ongoing process of developing brand relations? Although Disney’s multi-modal theatre assemblages are a function of neoliberal logic and labor norms, and sustain dominant modes of production, they are also highly mutable, often supporting contested claims of intelligibility and citizenship.

The company produces a vast range of theatre experiences. This dissertation focuses on character encounters, children’s theatre, Broadway musicals, a re-creation of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and animal/safari performance. The chapters are composed as a nested set of assemblages, starting with theatre for Disney’s most important demographic: children. I then move into larger social fields/assemblages, considering theatre that addresses the nation, theatre that reframes transnational/global space, and finally, animal/ecological theatre. Taken together, the chapters present an argument for the significance of brand theatre as a localized, expressive, collaborative and extremely flexible site of cultural affiliation, agency and assembly.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Worthen, William B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 11, 2019