The Irish national theatre movement developed in the ferment of cultural nationalism at the turn of the century, but it was not at all clear what form a national theatre should take: an Ibsenian model of critical realism, favoured by Edward Martyn, George Moore, and John Eglinton, the mythological poetic drama of Yeats, or the peasant plays that came to be written by Yeats and Gregory. Apart from the playwrights, the company of actors formed around the Fay brothers, nationalist groups such as Maud Gonne’s Inghinidhe na hEireann, and the Abbey’s English patron Annie Horniman all had ideas of their own. This chapter analyses the national and theatrical politics of the period up to the death of Synge in 1909, paying particular attention to the ways in which debates of the period centred around the idea of an Irish theatre in ways that were to influence future generations.
The aesthetic principles of education and representation that Yeats and Gregory set out at the founding of the Abbey Theatre enabled the directorate to cultivate a relationship with the state that ensured the theatre’s place as the Irish National Theatre. Yet this was a relationship that demanded compromises on both sides—in the negotiation for a state subsidy, finally granted in 1925, in issues of censorship over controversial plays such as The Plough and the Stars in 1926, and in the uneasy relationship with the Fianna Fáil government that came to power in 1932. Even so, at least during Yeats’s lifetime, the Abbey directors were able to resist the complete ideological co-option of the theatre, and any compromises to artistic freedom were made willingly in order to ensure the continued alliance of the theatre and the state.
Kathy A. Perkins
This essay traces the efforts of African American women to establish new voices in the American theater during the period from 1910 to 1945. It discusses the role of the Federal Theatre Project Negro Unit in providing opportunities for both African American playwrights and actors, and it highlights some “signal moments” during this period. These include the development of the Little Negro Theatre movement, the staging of Angelina Grimké’s groundbreaking play Rachel, and the establishment of African American acting troupes such as the American Negro Theatre and the Lafayette Players. This essay also considers the works of Mary Burrill, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Thomas S. Hischak
This essay examines the history of musical theater in the United States during the period from 1870 to 1945. It explains that while The Black Crook from 1866 may be considered as the first modern-style musical, the fully integrated musical did not arise until sometime later, which set in motion a period frequently referred to as the “golden age” of musical drama. It considers several musicals in the 1940s, including Show Boat, Oklahoma!, and Carousel. This essay also argues that while the musical is rarely considered realistic, most of the musicals in the 1940s engaged in an integrated fashion with something approximating real life.
Jeffrey D. Mason
This essay examines the works of the American playwright Arthur Miller, who was considered a transitional figure in politically charged drama. It refers to the influence of the Great Depression and leftist politics on Miller, situates his early well-known plays in the Broadway of the late 1940s, and traces the shift from 1930s social class struggle to the 1950s suspicion of personal morality. It explains that labor issues were no longer current when Miller wrote his labor-oriented plays and explores how certain of his works, particularly The Archbishop’s Ceiling, were influenced by the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s.
By the 1970s, arts funding for theatre in Ireland had become concentrated in three organizations: the Abbey and the Gate in the Republic, the Lyric Theatre in Northern Ireland. Changes in arts policy, North and South, beginning in the late 1970s, radically transformed the Irish theatre landscape over the following decades. Many of the most exciting and challenging developments in Irish theatre in the 1980s and 1990s thus came from the margins, whether on the social margins of society (such as work done at the the Axis Theatre in Ballymun) or from the geographical periphery of what had been a theatre culture centred in Dublin, in the work of companies such as Red Kettle in Waterford and in the construction of performance spaces around the island. This chapter provides an overview of this transformation of the Irish theatre world, focusing on the policy decisions that lay behind it.
The place of Samuel Beckett in Irish theatre is anomalous. On the one hand, he is the inescapable figure, the writer cited by so many subsequent Irish playwrights as a touchstone for their work. On the other hand, his work is not ‘Irish’ in any obvious way. While there are fleeting references to Irish placenames, much of the late work takes place in a purely theatrical world that is removed from any national or culturally specific setting. The Beckett Festival of 1991, in which all of Beckett’s nineteen plays were produced, was developed by Michael Colgan as a way of repatriating the playwright. Colgan’s entrepreneurial skills were put at the service of a major theatre event in which popular Irish actors such as Barry McGovern, Johnny Murphy, and Maureen Potter were matched with international directors. This Irish event then toured abroad, and led to the commemorative ‘Beckett on Film’ project.
When Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea formed the Field Day Theatre Company to stage Friel’s Translations in 1980, they created a company arguably more conscious of its own symbolic value, and its own place in history, than any since the Abbey. Field Day soon developed into a wider cultural enterprise, playing a significant role in setting the terms of cultural debate in the 1980s, for which it was both vigorously supported and sharply criticized. The terms of this debate shaped the response to Field Day’s theatrical productions: Friel’s Translations and its companion piece, The Communication Cord, as well as key works by other writers, notably Thomas Kilroy’s Double Cross and Stewart Parker’s Pentecost. Drawing extensively on manuscript materials that have only recently entered the public domain, the Field Day initiative and Friel’s role in it are the subject of this chapter.
Irish theatre since 1960 has been dominated by the work of major playwrights, above all Brian Friel and Tom Murphy. The changing social context of Ireland in the early 1960s out of which both writers emerged within a few years of one another is evident in their breakthrough plays, Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark (1961) and Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1964). In these plays, as in The Loves of Cass Maguire (1966) and A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant (1969), Murphy and Friel devised new dramatic forms to explore the mentality of exile generated by the phenomenon of mass emigration. Exile is then transposed into a spiritual or metaphysical condition in two later plays, The Sanctuary Lamp (1975) and Faith Healer (1979).
One measure of a great performer is his or her capacity to define a major role for a generation. This chapter considers the acting styles and achievement of four such performers in some of their principal parts: Siobhán McKenna from her internationally acclaimed playing of Shaw’s Saint Joan to her last part, as Mommo in Murphy’s Bailegangaire; Cyril Cusack as Christy Mahon, the Shaughraun, and Drumm in Hugh Leonard’s A Life; Donal McCann as Frank Hardy in Friel’s Faith Healer, the Captain in Juno and the Paycock, and Thomas Dunne in Sebastian Barry’s The Steward of Christendom; the tour de force of Marie Mullen playing five different roles in DruidSynge. Tracing the work of these four actors over more than half a century allows the particular achievement of each to emerge, as do the points at which their careers overlap, allowing us to discern a distinctive Irish tradition of acting.
Early Abbey staging and design was extremely simple, partly enforced by the limitations of their resources. Yeats’s ambitious experiments with the screens of Gordon Craig came to nothing. Initially, the Gate Theatre was established self-consciously as a theatrical alternative to the Abbey, open to European aesthetics, and concentrated on stage production and design, ideas articulated and exemplified by Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards in their design and direction work. However, the chapter argues that this conventional narrative overlooks the design work of Tanya Moiseiwitsch at the Abbey Theatre in the 1930s, which showed a strong influence of expressionism. When the view of Irish theatre is further broadened to include pageants and public performances which are also a feature of mid-century, it becomes clear that Irish theatre of the time was far from being an unrelieved vista of peasant realism.
Although Irish theatre is often considered to be primarily a writer’s theatre, with its roots in a realist tradition, Irish theatre since 1960 has consistently challenged this definition through the work of its directors and designer. Whether in the case of Tomás Mac Anna’s work at the Abbey in the mid-1960s, Joe Dowling’s production of Juno and the Paycock, or the collaborative work of Patrick Mason with writer Tom MacIntyre and actor Tom Hickey in the 1980s, contemporary Irish theatre has equally been shaped by its directors. Likewise, although less heralded, designers such as Bronwen Casson, Frank Conway, Wendy Shea, Joe Vanek, and Robert Ballagh played a crucial role in the development of a contemporary Irish theatre. This chapter considers their work, focusing on key examples from influential productions.
This essay examines the representation of new sexualities in American drama, beginning with attempts by Mae West, Lillian Hellman, and Tennessee Williams to represent queer experience in the theatre. It traces the influence of the gay rights movement and the AIDS crisis on the development of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters on stage, both in mainstream and alternative theatres. This essay also analyzes plays by Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally, Paula Vogel, and others who explore queer identities and the intersections of class, race, gender, and sexuality.
Ireland in the early 1990s began to undergo social changes at an unprecedented rate. Friel and Murphy, the two playwrights who had established themselves as the leading figures in Irish theatre over the previous three decades, responded to this social change by producing a series of plays that were memory-based (such as Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa), or which traced the continuing role of a past that seemed forgotten in the present (notably in Murphy’s The House). Many other emergent playwrights in this period, including Sebastian Barry, Billy Roche, Conor McPherson, and Patricia Burke Brogan, made use of traditional techniques of storytelling and themes of alienation to explore a similar territory of community, loss, and memory. This chapter traces continuities in Irish theatre in a changing social landscape.
Jon D. Rossini
This essay examines possible directions in evaluating the recent performances of racialized ethnic identities in American drama from the mid 1960s. It focuses on Puerto Rican, Chicana/o, Latina/o, Asian American, and Native American drama and provides a historical and aesthetic context the dramatic texts and performances that have emerged from these groups in the last four decades. This essay argues that post-war ethnic drama engages with the shifting concept of ethnicity itself, often functioning as an overt rejection of assimilationism and declarations of the need for “potential social liberation.”
Steven F. Bloom
This essay focuses on the career of the American playwright Eugene O’Neill, from his early years as a maker of one-act naturalistic melodramas through the transition to his important experimental phase and on to the critical acclaim of his last plays. It discusses how his family and personal problems informed his drama, and it highlights the significance of his experimental dramas in overcoming the limitations of the experimental label through the posthumous critical success of his later works. This essay also analyzes some of his most notable plays, including The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.
This essay examines the history of the so-called experimental theatre in the United States. It argues that experimentation in the theatre concerns not merely words but also images and performance and that experimental means experiential, a theatre that resists conforming to preset templates. It describes the circumstances that shaped these theatres, the challenges they faced, and some of the works that caused political problems for them. This essay considers how experimental theatre has become more like the norm for an expressive theater than Broadway.
‘Festivalization’—the organization of theatre cultures around the moveable feast of the festival—is a defining feature of theatre culture in an age of globalization. The effects of this phenomenon on Irish theatre have been apparent for many years, going back to the Tóstal festivals in the 1950s, which in turn evolved into the Dublin Theatre Festival, which would bring to Ireland forms of contemporary theatre practice that challenged Irish theatre-makers to explore innovative ways of creating performances. At the same time, as the ‘festival play’ and ‘event theatre’ became increasingly important to the economics of theatre, Irish productions mounted with an eye to the festival circuit came to feature more prominently in Irish theatre production, and a number of Irish companies now define themselves in relation to this new global geography. This chapter explores and assesses the effects of this important feature of contemporary theatre practice.
Barry B. Witham
This essay examines the drama of the Federal Theatre Project in the United States during the 1930s. It suggests that accusations of Communist propaganda that eventually destroyed the project obscured the fact that its productions participated actively in Popular Front politics of civil rights, anti-fascism and capitalist critiques. As a result the Federal Theatre attempted to create a genuine “peoples theatre.” This essay also analyzes several plays including Class of 29, Chalk Dust, Prologue to Glory and several Living Newspapers.
This essay examines the history of the so-called feminist drama in the United States. It suggests that the feminist theatre is a form of protest theatre and highlights the spread of feminist thought and principles into all aspects of theatre. It discusses the influence of feminism in both repertoire and performance and explains feminist theatre workers’ goal of parity in positions of authority. This essay also considers the works of several feminist playwrights, including Marsha Norman, Muriel Miguel, and Suzan-Lori Parks.