Wesleyan University

Rashida Shaw The Black Circuit: Race, Performance, and Spectatorship in Black Popular Theater April 21,2014


This lecture captures the dynamics of Black theatrical spectatorship at length by presenting a sustained examination of the productions, playwrights, practitioners, producers and spectators of contemporary Black popular theater, widely referred to as "Chitlin Circuit" Theatre. Bearing a theatrical lineage that links vaudeville with the 1950s gospel musicals of Langston Hughes, "Chitlin Circuit" Theatre melds religion, comedy, African American vernacular materials and the popular musical forms of gospel, R&B and jazz music into contemporary narratives about urban African American life. Using an audience-centered research approach that combines textual analysis, performance analysis, reconstruction, contemporary and historical ethnography, in-depth interviewing and archival analysis, Shaw demonstrates that the contemporary "Chitlin Circuit" Theatre is doing much more than simply (re)presenting marginalized voices onstage. With special attention to the context in which these Black cultural products are created, disseminated and received, Shaw focuses on the social spaces, local contexts, temporal conditions and embodied acts within which these case studies emerge and examine the political implications of their consumption and sustainability.

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