Date of Degree

5-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Theatre

Advisor(s)

Judith Milhous

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Studies

Keywords

American; Arena Stage; Black; Non-profit; U.S. Theatre Institutions

Abstract

Theatre socially reproduces and contests economic, racial, and national hierarchies. There is a dearth of scholarship on U.S. regional theatre because of middlebrow anxiety and yet, for that very reason, regional theatre demands attention as a fitting example of the site of struggle over different forms of capital. Located in Washington, D.C., Arena Stage is the ideal case study for both the invention of viable non-profit theatre and the negotiation of race and national identity in the United States. Arguably the closest institution the U.S. has to a national theatre, the company was the first regional theatre to send a profitable new play to Broadway and now brands itself as the largest theatre devoted to "American Voices." By capitalizing upon its location in the nation's capital; staging racially liberal dramas; and developing institutional practices that help the institution to accumulate economic, cultural, and symbolic capital, the theatre has thrived for more than sixty years.

My dissertation is a critical history of Arena Stage from 1950 to 2010 and consists of three thematic sections that focus on how the company produced non-profit practices, African/Caribbean/American drama, and U.S. identity. While the history chapters provide context and theoretical underpinnings from Pierre Bourdieu's Field of Cultural Production to Michael Omi and Howard Winant's Racial Formation in the United States, the case study chapters perform close readings of Arena Stage's most successful productions that mark turning points: The Great White Hope (1968) inspired a trend toward Broadway transfers with attendant economic and symbolic capital; Raisin (1973), the musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, staged a liberal yet safe black theatre; and the multiracial production of Oklahoma! (2010) opened the company's new theatre center and symbolized a diverse, neoliberal nation. I draw from performance and American studies; sociology and critical race theory; archival materials; and interviews with artists and administrators. I argue that Arena's viability has been largely due to the theatre's progressive politics yet ultimate maintenance of hegemonic structures, namely of class, race, and nation.

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