Performance in America

Contemporary U.S. Culture and the Performing Arts

Performance in America

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 86 b&w photos Published: November 2005

Author: David Román

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

Performance in America demonstrates the vital importance of the performing arts to contemporary U.S. culture. Looking at a series of specific performances mounted between 1994 and 2004, well-known performance studies scholar David Román challenges the belief that theatre, dance, and live music are marginal art forms in the United States. He describes the crucial role that the performing arts play in local, regional, and national communities, emphasizing the power of live performance, particularly its immediacy and capacity to create a dialogue between artists and audiences. Román draws attention to the ways that the performing arts provide unique perspectives on many of the most pressing concerns within American studies: questions about history and politics, citizenship and society, and culture and nation.

The performances that Román analyzes range from localized community-based arts events to full-scale Broadway productions and from the controversial works of established artists such as Tony Kushner to those of emerging artists. Román considers dances produced by the choreographers Bill T. Jones and Neil Greenberg in the mid-1990s as new aids treatments became available and the aids crisis was reconfigured; a production of the Asian American playwright Chay Yew’s A Beautiful Country in a high-school auditorium in Los Angeles’s Chinatown; and Latino performer John Leguizamo’s one-man Broadway show Freak. He examines the revival of theatrical legacies by female impersonators and the resurgence of cabaret in New York City. Román also looks at how the performing arts have responded to 9/11, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the second war in Iraq. Including more than eighty illustrations, Performance in America highlights the dynamic relationships among performance, history, and contemporary culture through which the past is revisited and the future reimagined.


Performance in America invites readers to contemplate the role of the performing arts—theater, standup comedy, dance, cabaret shows, and more—in shaping national politics. His timely work on the contemporary—an understudied aspect of work on temporality—stresses the production of temporary affective audiences that come together in a ‘now’ to perform and create communities.” — Jennifer DeVere Brody, GLQ

“At every step, Román shows a gift for presenting a complex thesis in an accessible style, making this book an important resource for undergraduates as well as specialist readers.” — Mary Brewer, New Theatre Quarterly

“In fifty years, at the one-hundredth ASTR conference, I hope Román's book will be honored as one that broke with convention to acknowledge those ‘queer’ (surprising, communal, deviant) acts that cite the past, but differently.” — Theresa Smalec, Theatre Journal

“It’s refreshing to read a critique of the performing arts in American that situates performance at the centre of ‘current national enquiries and debates’ and as vital to shaping the national imaginary.” — Australasian Journal of American Studies

“Rather than attempt an exhaustive summary of ‘contemporary U.S. culture and the performing arts’ (the book’s subtitle), Performance in America provides short, focused looks at a variety of artists in different contexts. Considering them together, one is persuaded that contemporary American performance is not only vibrant and varied, but an integral component in the construction of national identity and culture.” — Natka Bianchini, Theatre Survey

“Román makes a persuasive case for the centrality of performance in contemporary U.S. culture. . . . In its analyses, tone, and scope, this book succeeds in achieving what its subjects accomplish: a critical reassessment of performance in America.” — Debora Paredez, Theatre Research International

“Román’s book testifies to the power of performance through a passion that leaves the reader energized and even inspired.” — Jason Fitzgerald, Theater

“Since one of book’s critical interventions is to make visible and explicit the (often) unacknowledged conversations that take place between American studies and theatre and performance studies, this last point is worth underscoring: Performance in America will do much to help bridge the perceived divide between the disciplines.” — Kathleen M. Gough, Journal of American Studies

“Coming together to lift a celebratory glass to their peculiarities, as if they have suddenly found themselves together again in Nick’s Pacific Street bar from Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life (1939), the carefully assembled guests of David Román’s Performance in America add up to an improbable but exhilarating ensemble. Anyone who can make Elaine Stritch feel right at home at a party with the ghost of Sarah Siddons will show you the time of your life, and Román is that kind of host, entertaining the divas of stage, screen, dance, and cabaret while cordially welcoming his readers.” — Joseph Roach, author of Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

“In a work of immediate political relevance and lasting theoretical importance, David Román forcefully establishes live performance at the center of America’s cultural life, showing how its unique capacity to mobilize ‘provisional collectivities’ in the here and now allows it to express and inform crucial national debates. Román’s brilliant readings of various undervalued genres of popular performance are themselves a tour de force of critical performance, teaching us how to engage the vast ‘embodied archive’ in which American publics and counter-publics understand themselves.” — Una Chaudhuri, Professor of English and Drama, New York University


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David Román is Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS and a coeditor of O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: Here and Now 1

1. Not About AIDS 49

2. Visa Denied: Chay Yew's Theatre of Immigration and the Performance of Asian American History 78

3. Latino Genealogies: Broadway and Beyond — the Case of John Leguizamo 109

4. Archival Drags; or, the Afterlife of Performance 137

5. Cabaret as Cultural History: Popular Song and Public Performance in America 179

6. Tragedy and the Performing Arts in the Wake of September 11, 2001 226

Afterword: The Time of Your Life 281

Notes 311

Bibliography 333

Index 345
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3663-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3675-4
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