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The Turn-of-the-Century American Theater Context

  • Richard Wattenberg
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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)

Abstract

Circumscribed as it was by diverse period assumptions and intellectual constructs, late-nineteenth-century frontier discourse was, nevertheless, transformed when it entered the theater. As a mode of representation, or (re) presentation, the theater production process inevitably impresses itself on the material with which it deals. In other words, the theater does not function as a transparent window through which either the actual frontier western experience or the experience as it was constructed through nontheatrical discourse can be viewed in its pure state. When set within a theatrical context, the turn-of-the-century frontier western “discourse” was unavoidably recast to meet the needs of prevailing theatrical practices that is, in the theater, frontier discourse was shaped to accommodate a “vocabulary” and “syntax” specific to the theater of the period. Insofar as this vocabulary and syntax set the parameters of theater representation, they can be seen as the distinguishing elements of what we might call “theater discourse.” Late-nineteenth-century frontier western drama should be understood, then, as the product of what Stephen Greenblatt referred to as a complex cultural “negotiation.”1 Drama representing frontier western experience is the outcome of an intersection of two discursive fields: one defining the limits of what was said about the frontier western experience, and the other defining the limits of what constituted theater or what could be expected of theater representations in the late nineteenth century.

Keywords

Late Nineteenth Century Stock Company Audience Member Century Gender Ticket Price 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 8.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This theme, of course, has been explored by Richard Slotkin at length in his three volumes: Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1860 (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973); The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890 (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1986); and Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993).Google Scholar
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    In discussing the kind of social interaction that comprises “theatrical formations,” Bruce McConachie writes: “[G]roups of spectators and theater performers produce each other from the inside out as artists-to-be-experienced and audiences-to-be-entertained in a given historical period. The result is what may be termed a theatrical formation, the mutual elaboration over time of historically specific audience groups and theatre practitioners participating in certain shared patterns of dramatic and theatrical action,” Melodramatic Formations: American Theatre and Society, 1820–1870 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992), xii.Google Scholar
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© Richard Wattenberg 2011

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