The American Theatre and Drama Society presents a second annual evening at the Drama Book Shop. Four authors, each of whom has written a compelling and utterly fascinating new contribution to American theatre scholarship, will present. This year's selected authors are Robin Bernstein (Harvard University), Soyica Colbert Diggs (Dartmouth College), Stuart Hecht (Boston College), and Tamsen Wolff (Princeton University). Mark Cosdon (Allegheny College), president of the American Theatre and Drama Society, is the evening's host.
About the Authors: Robin Bernstein is a cultural historian who specializes in U.S. performance and theatre. Her interests include formations of race, age, gender, and sexuality; and her research integrates the study of theatrical, visual, material, and literary culture. A graduate of Yale's doctoral program in American Studies, she is Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of History and Literature. Her books include Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York University Press, 2011) as well as the edited anthologies Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theatre (University of Michigan Press, 2006) and Generation Q (Alyson Press, 1996). Her recent article, "Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race" (Social Text no. 101 December 2009) developed a new methodology by which to analyze material culture so as to uncover otherwise inaccessible evidence of past performances. "Dances with Things" won two prizes: the Outstanding Article in a Journal award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and the Vera Mowry Roberts Award for Research and Publication, given by the American Theatre and Drama Society for the best essay published in English. Bernstein's other articles include "Children's Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; Or, The Possibility of Children's Literature" (PMLA 126.1 January 2011) and essays on Lorraine Hansberry, Anna Deavere Smith, Harlem Renaissance playwright Angelina Weld Grimké, and children's author Louise Fitzhugh. In 2010-2011, Bernstein held a Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. Bernstein's current book project, Hand Knife Photograph: Performances of Impossible Gender, investigates the question, "How can theories and practices of performance reconfigure knowledge of lesbian histories?"
Soyica Diggs Colbert (Dartmouth College) The African American Theatrical Body: Reception, Performance, and the Stage (Cambridge) presents an innovative approach to performance studies and literary history. Soyica Diggs Colbert argues for the centrality of black performance traditions to African American literature, including preaching, dancing, blues and gospel, and theatre itself, showing how these performance traditions create the 'performative ground' of African American literary texts. Across a century of literary production using the physical space of the theatre and the discursive space of the page, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, August Wilson and others deploy performances to re-situate black people in time and space. The study examines African American plays past and present, including A Raisin in the Sun, Blues for Mister Charlie and Joe Turner's Come and Gone, demonstrating how African American dramatists stage black performances in their plays as acts of recuperation and restoration, creating sites that have the potential to repair the damage caused by slavery and its aftermath.
Stuart Hecht (Boston College) Transposing Broadway: Jews, Assimilation, and the American Musical. Over the last hundred years, Broadway artists from Berlin to Sondheim developed a form that corresponds directly to the Americanization of the increasingly Jewish New York audience, and that audience's aspirations and concerns have played out in the shows themselves. Musicals thus became a paradigm which instructed newcomers in how to assimilate while correspondingly envisioning "American Dream" America as democratic and inclusive. Musicals still function today as "cultural Ellis Islands" for fringe populations seeking admission into the nation's mainstream---including women, blacks, Latinos and gays.
Tamsen Wolff is an Assistant Professor of drama in the English department at Princeton University. She specializes in modern and contemporary drama, performance studies, women's studies, directing, and dramaturgy. She serves on the advisory committee of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies and directs a research project for the Center that examines the conditions for the production of new plays by new playwrights in America. She has directed numerous new plays, including Jane Anderson's Night Call and Smart Choices for The New Century at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ and four plays by Colin Swanson, current Jerome fellow and the recipient of the 2002-03 McKnight Grant, among them, Waterless Places at the Public Domain Theatre and Marguerite's Book at Frontera's Hyde Park Theatre, both in Austin, TX. Tamsen has also worked as a dramaturg on a number of projects, including Anne Bogart's American Silents and the Building Association's Xtravganza! She received her Ph.D. in Theatre and English from Columbia University in 2002. Her first book is entitled Mendel's Theatre: Performance, Eugenics, and Early Twentieth-Century American Drama.
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