Performing America

Cultural Nationalism in American Theater
Jeffrey D. Mason and J. Ellen Gainor, Editors
How theatrical representations of the U.S. have shaped national identity


Performing America provides fresh perspectives on the development of visions of both America and "America"—that is, the actual community and the constructed concept—on a variety of theatrical stages. It explores the role of theater in the construction of American identity, highlighting the tension between the desire to categorize American identity and the realization that such categorical uniformity may neither be desirable nor possible.

The topics covered include the links between politics and the stage during the Federalist period, the appropriation of "Indian" artifacts, an exploration of early gender roles, and the metaphorical connections between the theater and western expansion. Other essays treat vaudeville's artistically colonized cultures; Chautauqua's attempt to homogenize culture and commercialize American ideals; W. E. B. Du Bois's pageant, The Star of Ethiopia, as a strategy for constructing "African-American" as "Other" in an attempt to promote a vision of black nationalism; and how theater was used to help immigrants form a new sense of community while joining the resident culture.

The collection then turns to questions of how various ethnic minorities through their recent theatrical work have struggled to argue their identities, especially in relation to the dominant white culture. Two final essays offer critiques of contrasting aspects of the American male.

Throughout, the collection addresses questions of marginality and community, exclusion and inclusion, colonialism and imperialism, heterogeneity and homogeneity, conflict and negotiation, repression and opportunity, failure and success, and, above all, the relationship of American stages at large. It will appeal to readers of a wide range of disciplines including history, American culture, gender studies, and theater studies.

Jeffrey D. Mason is Professor of Theatre, California State University, Bakersfield.

J. Ellen Gainor is Associate Professor of Theatre Studies and Women's Studies, Cornell University.

Praise / Awards

  • "This excellent collection of essays on American theatre engages with a variety of subjects under the overarching banner of the construction of nationalism. . . . The book would thus make a substantial contribution to an upper-level honours degree course on drama, and be equally valuable for postgraduate or other researchers in theatrical history."
    —Heidi Slettedahl Mapherson, New Theatre Quarterly, 2002
  • ". . . nothing less than the central positioning of American theatre as 'a product, an expression, and as an integral constituent of [America's] culture.' . . . Rather than attack the problem of American culture as a whole, the studies in this collection embrace the fragmentary representation of pluralism and diversity in theatre and drama. At issue is not the project of recuperating previously excluded voices but the more ambitious goal of showing how discrete cultural expressions relate to those who wielded cultural as well as social and political power and centering attention on the national dimension of what has been dismissed as marginal. This concept of national identity as the articulation of individual and community insists that the cultures and communities that constitute 'America' have permeable and unstable boundaries. Race, gender and ethnicity, interlocking and hierarchically related, are under constant renegotiation on the American stage. . . . Mason asks urgent questions about the boundaries of 'America' and our membership in the 'imaginary' which must, if we are to survive, become a responsible actuality. Mason, Gainor, and their contributors see that the stakes are high and that theatre is a powerful agent; the right answers to those questions and the theatrical sites in which they are transformed could transform the isolated into a collective."
    —Susan Harris Smith, University of Pittsburgh, Text and Presentation, April 2000

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 256pp.
  • 11 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08792-1

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  • $39.95 U.S.

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