American Theatre: History, Context, Form

American Theatre: History, Context, Form

American Theatre: History, Context, Form

American Theatre: History, Context, Form


This book provides a brief yet informative evaluation of the variety and complexity of theatrical endeavours in the United States. It embraces all epochs of theatre history, from pre-colonial Native American performance rituals and the endeavours of early colonisers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to the end of the twentieth century, situating American theatre as a lively, dynamic and diverse arena.

Implications of political manoeuvrings, economics -- state-funding and commercial enterprises -- race and gender, as well as material factors such as technology, riot and fire, are examined as major forces in determining the structure of America's playhouses and productions.

The volume investigates critical understandings of the term 'theatre,' and assesses ways in which the various values of commerce, entertainment, education and dramatic production have informed the definition of theatre throughout America's history.


This book explores a long history of American theatre. The standard history of America’s Puritan heritage, with its emphasis on theatre bans and rigorous policing of performance activities, has stood in the way of a fully developed understanding of theatre in America. Whilst critics have, in recent years, developed our knowledge of American theatre, the predominant focus has been the twentieth century, and this book sets out to redress that critical imbalance. Close examination of America’s theatre history reveals a diverse, stimulating and relevant body of work, one that is crucial to understanding the range of cultural and social developments across the nation. Theatrical production not only responds to social issues, but actively participates in social debate, operating as a platform for examining construction of racial, ethnic, gendered, national and ultimately human identities. Accounts of American theatre tend to date themselves, chronologically, in accordance with records of theatre ‘facts’ that have been established alongside settled colonial communities. My exploration is also subject to those limitations. However, drawing on the cultural organisations of Native American and African non-print practice, I extend that concept of ‘fact’ to include performance histories in America that are not predicated on colonial record. In the production of an analysis that draws performance dramas into contact with theatre, I will demonstrate that the rich and compelling diversity of theatre in America is, and always was, more than a replication of imported European forms.

Until recently, what was considered to be a history of ‘American theatre’ worthy of critical discussion was carefully abridged, ‘coming of age’ with Eugene O’Neill in the early years of the twentieth century. Even then there was no sense of innovation or uniqueness about theatre within critical writing. More often parallels would be drawn between . . .

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