Acts of Gaiety

LGBT Performance and the Politics of Pleasure
Sara Warner
The importance of pleasure, humor, and frivolity in shaping LGBT lives and activism


Acts of Gaiety explores the mirthful modes of political performance by LGBT artists, activists, and collectives that have inspired and sustained deadly serious struggles for revolutionary change. The book explores antics such as camp, kitsch, drag, guerrilla theater, zap actions, rallies, manifestos, pageants, and parades alongside more familiar forms of "legitimate theater." Against queer theory's long-suffering romance with mourning and melancholia and a national agenda that urges homosexuals to renounce pleasure if they want to be taken seriously by mainstream society, Acts of Gaiety seeks to reanimate notions of "gaiety" as a political value for LGBT activism.

The book mines the archives of lesbian-feminist activism of the 1960s-70s, highlighting the outrageous gaiety that lay at the center of the social and theatrical performances of the era and uncovering original documents long thought to be lost. Juxtaposing historical figures such as Valerie Solanas and Jill Johnston with more recent performers and activists (including Hothead Paisan, Bitch & Animal, and the Five Lesbian Brothers), Warner shows how reclaiming this largely discarded and disavowed past elucidates possibilities for being and belonging. Acts of Gaiety explores the mutually informing histories of gayness as politics and as joie de vivre, along with the centrality of liveliness to queer performance and protest.

Sara Warner is Faculty Fellow at Harvard University and an Associate Professor of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell.

Praise / Awards

  • "Acts of Gaiety is a great read. Filled with excellent research that sets the various theater productions in context and accompanied by a compelling historical account of the conjunctions of riot and revelry in LGBT liberation movements, it will make an impact on a number of different fields."
    —Judith Halberstam, USC

  • "Acts of Gaiety is a rollicking ride. Sara Warner revises both lesbian feminist histories, emphasizing riotous, joyful action rather than earnest righteousness, and queer theoretical trends, stressing pleasurable politics over loss and the death drive. And who wouldn't want to spend the day reading about the Lavender Menace, Valerie Solanas, the Five Lesbian Brothers, and Hothead Paisan?" 
    —Lisa Duggan, New York University
  • "Acts of Gaiety is a wonderful reframing of the politics of pleasure, away from self-indulgent negative affects, in contemporary queer studies." 
    —Marcie Bianco, Lambda Literary Review
  • "Acts of Gaiety... documents and reanimates the mirthful, pleasurable, and even giddy performances by and for LGBT audiences that have unified, empowered, and politicized this community for a half century."
  • "Acts of Gaiety is an important archive of lesbian performance, remarkable for its revisions of misunderstood histories and its attempt to reactivate the spirit of lesbian feminism. It is a pleasurable read, with a serious purpose: to explore the possibilities afforded by not taking ourselves so seriously."
    Modern Drama

  • "In Acts of Gaiety, Sara Warner offers a crucial reevaluation of politically resistant feminist and lesbian/gay performances from the 1960s to the present; in so doing, she traces a performance lineage that complicates the rise of queer theory in academia on the one hand and the concomitant turn of LGBT movements to conservative social agendas on the other."
    Theater History Studies
  • Finalist, Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Studies, 2013
  • Honorable Mention: American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) 2013 Barnard Hewitt Award
  • Winner: Association for Theater in Higher Education Outstanding Book Award 2013

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
  • 11 B&W illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11853-3

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  • $69.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03567-0

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  • $30.95 U.S.



  • Queer, gay, lesbian, feminist, performance, theater, drama, activism, sex and sexuality studies