Volume 34 of Theatre History Studies revisits the foundations of theatre, explores the boundaries and definitions of theatre, and illuminates how writing about the history of theatre is itself a form of historiography.
The five essays are arranged chronologically, starting with Alan Sikes’s discussion of the Abydos Passion Play. Sikes challenges the long-held interpretation of that ritualized annual reenactment of the death, dismemberment, and return to life of Egyptian god-king Osiris as the world’s first recorded dramatic production. In analyzing the “Passion Play”—Sikes argues the term is not apt—he applies semiotic theory using "sign and referent" to revise general concepts of mimesis, and in so doing clarifies the fundamental answer to the question, “What is theatre?”
In a pair of essays, Andrew Gibb and Nicole Berkin both explore theatre during America’s antebellum period. Gibb examines minstrelsy in antebellum California, exploding narrow definitions of minstrelsy as a primarily Eastern phenomenon and one reflecting a stark interaction of two races. Following the story of Jewish African Caribbean immigrant William Alexander Leidesdorff, Gibb demonstrates that national forms are always affected by their local productions and audiences. Berkin’s essay focuses on the struggles over cultural power that took place between popular entertainers and theatre managers. She examines how both parties used touring strategically to engage with antebellum notions of deception and fraud.
The last two essays, by Megan Geigner and Heide Nees, present findings from performance studies which, by examining a wide array of dramatic and performative texts, expands the interdisciplinary foundations of theatre history studies. This fascinating collection is rounded out by an expanded selection of insightful reviews of recent literature in the area.