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Title:Playing American: race and citizenship in American theatre and performance during the Great War, 1917-1919
Author(s):Salerno, Michelle R.
Director of Research:Robinson, Valleri
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Robinson, Valleri
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Davis, Peter A.; Ruiz, Sandra; Chambers-Letson, Joshua
Department / Program:Theatre
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):theatre history
performance studies
critical race studies
First World War
Great War
World War One
Robert Prager
Mine Eyes Have Seen
Alice Dunbar Nelson
Houston Riot
Abstract:This dissertation explores the intersection of race and citizenship in American theatre and performance during US active engagement in the Great War through focusing on performances by and about German immigrants and African American soldiers. Quickly after President Woodrow Wilson requested a declaration of war against Germany, the American homefront became a site of coercive patriotism supported by an extreme nationalistic rhetoric. A vital aspect of military preparedness would be the conformity of opinion, political expression, and outward signs of loyalty. Those who could or would not fit into the newly defined narrow view of proper American citizenship expression found themselves in the dangerous position of being outsiders. Those of German descent and recent German immigrants were suspected of disloyalty. Through a racialized process of enemization, Germans lost their access to the safety and security provided by White privilege. The performances examine in this dissertation derive from this brief period where the construction of race, and in particular the instability of Whiteness, stands out precisely because Germans are now considered White. Wartime German enemy construction was created through the modes and means of American anti-Black racism connecting xenophobic suspicions with deep-rooted racial of ideologies of White supremacy. The First World War was a ferocious conflict but rather than focus on the brutality of the battlefield this study centers on the often-overshadowed violence of the homefront. Against the backdrop of the striking spectacle of violence that was the Great War there were more intimate performances of violence that linked the minority subject to the nation. Through an interdisciplinary analysis rooted in theatre history, performance studies, critical race/ethnic theory, American studies, and utilizing archival research these chapters foreground how performed acts of violence constructed and circulated notions of race and citizenship on the theatrical stage and in everyday performance. The chapters of this dissertation discuss and analyze a theatrical event and a performative event for both German immigrants and African American soldiers including (1) an analysis the play Friendly Enemies (1918) by Aaron Hoffman and Samuel Shipman and its production and critical history, (2) the lynching of German immigrant Robert Prager in Collinsville, IL, (3) the African American soldiers charged for mutiny and murder for their participation in the Houston Riot, and (4) an analysis of the play Mine Eyes Have Seen (1918) by Alice Dunbar Nelson and its production history. Taken together, these chapters demonstrate that the hyper-patriotic wartime American landscape offers a productive site for examining the role of violence in racial and citizenship formation.
Issue Date:2016-07-05
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Michelle Salerno
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-11-10
Date Deposited:2016-08

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