*Each virtual issue collates some of the best writing from our archives, updated with new introductions written by prestigious scholars of black studies, and will be free to read and download for a limited time.*
Black theater and performance offer lenses into a range of Black spaces, experiences, and perspectives. Two TBS issues from 1979 and 1995 outline key priorities in studies of Black theater that have opened multiple and capacious trajectories for research and production. The ensuing collection attempts to capture the forms, archives, and methods of the field in its expected and idiosyncratic manifestations in TBS.
For the summer of 1979 Vévé Clark and Margaret Wilkerson edited Black Theater Traditions. A thorough and vibrant collection, this groundbreaking issue features scholars and scholar/artists who, as James V. Hatch asserts in the title of his entry with Krystyna Bakowski, “resuscitated” Black theater history. In a post-Civil Rights explosion of Black creativity, studies in Black theater accrued objects, methodologies, and repertoires that reflected Black Arts Movement priorities. Luminary scholars and practitioners in this issue lay a foundation that has supported the continued illumination of vernacular, everyday, working class experience alongside the poetics of Black performance and performativity in diverse venues. While acknowledging that scholarship, repertoires, and archives of Black performance offer revolutionary potential, contributors also amplify that potential to extend notions of theatrical practice to encompass practices of daily life. Vévé Clark and Amiri Baraka discuss his restaging of Langston Hughes’ revolutionary play Scottsboro, Limited, a topic that saw yet another landmark revival in a trenchant musical pageant in 2010 for a five-year run. Margaret Wilkerson argues that Black theatrical acts necessarily occur off the proscenium stage in community “event,” while also reviewing the productions and institution-building work of Black community theaters. Katherine Dunham and Vévé Clark emphasize diaspora and attune to an Africanist presence. John O’Neal and a posthumous offering by Lorraine Hansberry articulate the social and community goals of Black American theater. Rhett Jones, Ramona Bass, and George Bass consider the role of community and children in theatrical practice. Errol Hill attends to form and style rooted in Black experience while others characterize Black music and poetry as foundational to theatrical aesthetics rather than scripts, Aristotelian plotlines, and linearity characteristic of European theater. Performance, both on and off the stage, structures and transforms Black culture as well as social and personal experience. Scholars address technique, stagecraft, ritual, aesthetics, venue, audience, training, casting, and plays.
Articles in TBS’s 25th Anniversary issue, Black Drama and Film (Spring 1995), emphasize ritual in Black drama as form, content, and significance. Scholars draw on oral, church, musical, and secular traditions and Africanist practice to illuminate ritual form and force. Contributions to this TBS issue invoke filmmaking and film content as trajectories of ritual form and explore film as a site for the performance of gender and culture. This issue includes an extensive index of films by Black women. The emphasis on ritual as performance form and history positions this commemorative celebratory issue of TBS to offer its continued support and blessing to black knowledge and freedom movements.
Beyond these issues, Black theater and performance research in TBS has illuminated practices and experiences of identity and instances of Black performative mastery. The fundamentally interdisciplinary research considers the work of performers, playwrights, plays, and performances to analyze race, diaspora, gender, identity, self-activity, and belonging. Performance offers a material and symbolic ground for the investigation of the ways Black people experience our lives and identities. Together these examples outline the critical force of performance as an analytic in Black Studies.
Stephanie Leigh Batiste
University of California, Santa Barbara
Articles are free to access through August 2017 and can be accessed here.