Publication details

Early Performances of the American Nation



Year of publication 2019
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description The first play written and performed in the United States of America, The Contrast by Royall Tyler (1787), was advertised as a work of “a citizen of the United States” in a gesture that was expected to overcome a shared anti-theatrical prejudice of the former British colonies. It set off a series of productions of various genres in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (drama, comedy, cabaret, nationalistic pageants, etc.) that created an American national identity through performative processes (Butler; liminality of a nationalist performance: Turner). A newly born American nation (Derrida’s “We, the People”) was being defined by dramatic displays of nationalistic sentiment (Richards 2005), which served as sources of identity rather than aesthetic components of given productions. In the course of such performances, audiences participated in an exchange of signs of the new nation (such as the American flag and nationalistic songs) and thus assumed and shaped their national identity-in-the-making. Paradoxically, the emerging American nation was being presented as different from the British in performances built upon British models (Brown 1995), which illustrates a defining role that context plays in performance. Last but not least, nationalist performances created an identity of the American nation in connection to the landscape (Rebhorn 2012), which became as important as the ideological background. The presentation will consider the above topics from a perspective of a performative nature of a debate about national identity, which among other things allowed theatre to thrive in a fundamentally anti-theatrical society.
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