Theses Doctoral

Race and Performative Historiography in the American Theatre, 1991-2014

Schneider, Rosa Elizabeth

The history play is among the United States' oldest theatrical forms, and since its inception the genre has been used to represent and interrogate questions of identity and citizenship. Over the last quarter of the twentieth century until the present day, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of history plays that focus on questions of race and representation. “Race and Performative Historiography in American Theatre, 1991-2014” provides an explanation for this surge, revealing that theatre-makers (playwrights, directors, actors, and designers) drew on a long tradition of metatheatrical techniques on the American stage to make race central to their representation and creation of history. This dissertation scrutinizes some of these techniques, which I have termed Performative Historiography, as these techniques rewrite the way the audience understands our national and racial past. Combining extensive performance analysis, archival work, race theory, and American theatre history, "Race and Performative Historiography" expands the discipline's understanding of the role of the theater in representing America’s racial past, present, and future.
Each chapter of “Race and Performative Historiography” describes one of these techniques: sedimented time, historical synecdoche, and revision and repetition. These techniques provide theater-makers new ways of making vivid the past, exposing embedded power structures and forms of prejudice, as well thinking through and against national myths and structures of thought. Not only do these chapters describe these techniques, but they trace how these playwrights and directors give new life to older American theatrical forms: elements from minstrelsy (such as black, white, and red face), melodrama, and Living Newspapers of the Federal Theatre Project. Tracing the afterlives of these forms, I reveal how the juxtaposition of these older traditions with contemporary models of representation creates new theatre forms, and shows that even the most daring of the new American playwrights draw on a long and storied tradition. The history play has always been a genre that American playwrights have turned to define who we are, and where we have been, as a nation. "Race and Performative Historiography" dissects the means by which they make those claims.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Worthen, William B.
Howard, Jean E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2019