There might not be a more (terrifyingly) apt moment to talk about Dixon’s 1905 play, which provided the basis for D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation.1There’s a legend surrounding a presidential endorsement of the film: after the viewing of the movie, President Wilson supposedly declared that it was “like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” 2 And, of course, the Ku Klux Klan endorsed the person being sworn into the office of the presidency today. There has been a lot of talk about how we cannot – must not – normalize white supremacy: but the KKK has been normalized – even romanticized – in popular culture since its founding in the Reconstruction period – and Dixon’s play is certainly an instance of this.… Read more
I remember a time when I said I was going to try and do a Bad Play Friday once a week. That was hysterical.↩
Melvyn Stokes, D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation”: A History of “The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 111. The film was screened for Wilson on February 18, 1915. ↩
Hello again, intrepid fans of bad plays! This week, I’m looking at a professional melodrama set during the war: William Haworth’s The Ensign (1892).
To my knowledge, the copy I got from the Sherman Collection at Southern Illinois Universitymight be the only extant copy of the play. But it seems that a lot of unpublished typescripts are squirreled away in odd places/papers, or haven’t been catalogued, or the finding aids aren’t digital/online, so I could be wrong on this front (please contact me if you know of any other copies out there!).
Anyways, actor/playwright/director William Haworth chose a rather unexpected location for the start of his play (at least, unexpected compared to many other popular Civil War melodramas).… Read more
Each week, I will share some quick thoughts on a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century US play. 1 This series is really a way of keeping me honest as I work through my monograph on Civil War memories; because it is monograph-related, the play will somehow touch upon the war, slavery, or Reconstruction. I’ll be revisiting some plays I’ve already read/written about, but many will be texts I just recently acquired, thanks to a generous PSC-CUNY grant. The grant sent me to the Sherman Theatre archive, part of the Morris Library Special Collections at Southern Illinois University this past February.… Read more
My commentary will most likely be rife with sarcasm because it’s my second language, although my doctoral program would not accept it as one of the language requirements. ↩
Amateur performance comes up an awful lot in my research these days: the Grand Army of the Republic productions put on by veterans and locals for charity throughout the late-nineteenth century, the efforts of Charles Sager touring the Midwest and staging his spectacle/pageant The Negro in the late 1890s, and – in more recent developments – the work done by Civil War reenactors. I’ve been thinking more about amateur performance as I’ve prepared for the Mid-America Theatre Conference in Cleveland (where I’m presenting later today). For my MATC paper, I attempt to set up a framework for analyzing performance and consumption at the Gettysburg Sesquicentennial.… Read more
The piles designated as “shelf-overflow” in our small apartment are growing as I begin accumulating more books for my research project on war reenactments. I had to create a one-page works cited for a recent abstract submission on the Gettysburg Sesquicentennial, but it is time for me to start building a more substantial list/Zotero library. The scope of this project will include Civil War and colonial-era war reenactments. I’m hoping to shamelessly crowd-source to help bulk up this bibliography (shout-outs to be included, of course), especially drawing on the expertise of performance studies colleagues. Suggest away.… Read more
I parked my rental car along West Confederate Avenue this morning in Gettysburg National Military Park, racing to get to the outdoor amphitheater. I could hear a small horn band playing, and I didn’t want to miss the sermon: my host – Walt Powell, PhD – was the speaker at this inter-denominational service. 1 Walt began his speech by explaining how he had considered using the words of Reverend James Brand, a veteran of the 27th Connecticut, who had delivered a rather political oration at a monument dedication for his regiment in 1885 – wherein he talked about corruption and the “liquor oligarchy.”… Read more
Walt and Sue Powell are incredibly plugged in to the Gettysburg community, and as Walt is also a reenactor (though mostly colonial things these days), they have been invaluable resources during this research trip. ↩
I’m not doing the speech full justice here, but suffice to say it eloquently wrestled with the overlap between memory, history, commemoration, and what we should take away from the war and the sesquicentennial. ↩
It was the second day of the official reenactment at the privately-owned farm, but I did not sally forth to witness another battle today. Instead I went downtown to get a sense of the local market: some of the museums, the businesses, the institutions and individuals that profit from and cater to the visitors to Gettysburg. While I did get a sampling of the wares, I also finally found a way into the big issue that had been looming – largely unspoken – over the past couple of days. Slavery, finally, was front and center in the narratives and places that I encountered today.… Read more
Researching black performance in the late nineteenth century poses a host of problems for a theatre historian. The archive is, at best, spotty, though there have been many excellent recent attempts to redress these gaps. In my efforts to find plays and productions speaking to slavery and Civil War memories staged by black performers in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, I found a short but tantalizing bit about Charles Sager’s production The Negro (1899)in Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch’s A History of African American Theatre.1 I decided the production merited a bit more digging, as it was a rare example of black history staged for a larger audience around the turn-of-the-century, when touring plantation shows were the most popular modes of black performance.… Read more
See Errol G. Hill, “New Vistas: Plays, Spectacles, Musicals, and Opera,” A History of African American Theatre, eds. Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch’s (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 140. ↩