Staging Desire

Queer Readings of American Theater History
Kim Marra and Robert A. Schanke, Editors
Recovers the hidden history of theater professionals who transgressed the gendered expectations of their time


Staging Desire gathers critical and biographical essays on notable stage personalities who made their mark before 1969, when the Stonewall riots accelerated the lesbian and gay rights movement in the United States. How they staged their unconventional sexualities greatly influenced the course of their personal and professional lives, and thus the course of American theater history. The book builds on an earlier collection—the well-received Passing Performances, which focused on actors, directors, producers, and agents—by examining playwrights, lyricists, critics, and designers. Shaping theatrical representations from offstage, these practitioners exploited the special opportunities theater offered as a complex and many-layered medium for expression of transgressive desire.

Essays cover the careers of major figures Clyde Fitch, Rachel Crothers, Mercedes de Acosta, Djuna Barnes, Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, George Kelly, William Inge, James "Acorn" Oaks, Adam "Vagabond" Badeau, Eric Bentley, Loie Fuller, Robert Edmond Jones, and Jean Rosenthal. Grounded in research into the history of sexuality, the book engages central problems of terminology and evidence in analyzing sexual practices of the past and the modes of articulation of sexuality in theater, conditioned by American culture's peculiar anxieties about both.

Kim Marra is Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, University of Iowa.

Robert A. Schanke is Professor of Theatre, Central College, Iowa. They edited Passing Performances: Queer Readings of Leading Players in American Theater History, a previous volume in this series.

Praise / Awards

  • "Staging Desire is important for the foundational work it does both within the field of theater history and gay and lesbian studies. It is a 'prideful' book that successfully narrates gay and lesbian contributions to the professional American theater and outlines the many ways in which same-sex desire shaped artistic and personal experiences and determined certain artistic choices or aesthetic sensibilities."
    —Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix, Illinois State University
  • "The collection informs us of the historical gay repression that occurred in pre-Stonewall writing, and also sheds light on the lesbian component in the work of women who did not define themselves as such. . . . [T]he book adds depth and insight to a historical understanding of the American theatre. . . . Staging Desire will no doubt help to add to public understanding, where all too often ignorance and reprobation still reign."
    —Benjamin Ivry, American Theatre, May/June 2002
  • ". . . an impressive overview of the various strategies gay men and lesbians use to present themselves on the stage. Together with Marra and Schanke's earlier collection Passing Performances (1998), Staging Desire constitutes the fullest account we currently have of the place of sexuality in the American theater 'before Stonewall,' that is, before the riot at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 resulted in the development of a modern lesbian and gay rights movement. . . . This anthology, then, is indispensable for theater historians and students of sexuality. Yet it offers a more general lesson, valuable to all historians. Building on methodological suggestions by George Chauncey, Sue-Ellen Case, Jill Dolan, and others, these essays suggest ways of finding evidence where evidence was thought to be lacking or irretrievable. From such innovative research techniques, all who believe in verifiability can profit."
    —David Van Leer, University of California, Davis, Journal of American History

Look Inside

Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 416pp.
  • 20 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06749-7

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  • $30.95 U.S.