In the first half of the twentieth century, a number of American theatres and theatre artists fostered interracial collaboration and socialization on stage, behind the scenes, and among audiences. In an era marked by entrenched racial segregation and inequality, these artists used performance to bridge America’s persistent racial divide and to bring African American, Latino/Latina, Asian American, Native American, and Jewish American communities and traditions into the nation’s broader cultural conversation.
In Experiments in Democracy, edited by Cheryl Black and Jonathan Shandell, theatre historians examine a wide range of performances—from Broadway, folk plays and dance productions to scripted political rallies and radio dramas. Contributors look at such diverse groups as the Theatre Union, La Unión Martí-Maceo, and the American Negro Theatre, as well as individual playwrights and their works, including Theodore Browne’s folk opera Natural Man, Josefina Niggli’s Soldadera, and playwright Lynn Riggs’s Cherokee Night and Green Grow the Lilacs (the basis for the musical Oklahoma!). Exploring the ways progressive artists sought to connect isolated racial and cultural groups in pursuit of a more just and democratic society, contributors take into account the blind spots, compromised methods, and unacknowledged biases at play in their practices and strategies. Essays demonstrate how the gap between the ideal of American democracy and its practice—mired in entrenched systems of white privilege, economic inequality, and social prejudice—complicated the work of these artists.
Focusing on questions of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality on the stage in the decades preceding the Civil Rights era, Experiments in Democracy fills an important gap in our understanding of the history of the American stage—and sheds light on these still-relevant questions in contemporary American society.
Southern Illinois University Press; June 2016
- ISBN 9780809334698
- Read online, or download in secure EPUB format
- Title: Experiments in Democracy
- Author: Cheryl Black (ed.); Jonathan Shandell (ed.); Elam, Jr., Harry J. (contrib.); Garrett Eisler (contrib.); Anne Fletcher (contrib.); Stuart Hecht (contrib.); Ju Yon Kim (contrib.); Eric Mayer-Garcia (contrib.); Elizabeth Coonrod Martinez (contrib.); Andrea Nouryeh (contrib.); Elizabeth A. Osborne (contrib.); W. Douglas Powers (contrib.); Margaret Savilonis (contrib.); Lisa Jackson-Schebetta (contrib.)
Imprint: Southern Illinois University Press
About The Author
Cheryl Black is a professor of theatre, the director of graduate studies, and the Catherine Paine Middlebush Chair in Fine and Performing Arts at the University of Missouri. She is the author of The Women of Provincetown, 1915–1922, as well as essays published in Staging a Cultural Paradigm: The Political and the Personal in American Drama; Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works; and Violence in American Drama: Essays on Its Staging, Meaning, and Effects. She is the president of the American Theatre and Drama Society and a fellow of the Mid-America Theatre Conference.
Jonathan Shandell is an associate professor of theatre arts at Arcadia University. His scholarship on race and integration on the twentieth-century American stage has been published in the anthologies The Cambridge Companion to African American Theater and Authentic Blackness-“Real” Blackness: Essays on the Meaning of Blackness in Literature and Culture. He served as the president of the Black Theatre Association from 2014 to 2016.
Contributors include Garrett Eisler, Harry J. Elam Jr., Anne Fletcher, Stuart J. Hecht, Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, Ju Yon Kim, Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez, Eric Mayer-García, Andrea Nouryeh, Elizabeth A. Osborne, W. Douglas Powers, and Margaret F. Savilonis.