Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

The Semiotics of Celebrity at the Intersection of Hollywood and Broadway

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kristen Rudisill (Other)


In 1990, Michael L. Quinn, in his essay, “Celebrity and the Semiotics of Acting,” considered celebrity phenomenon—and its growth in the latter part of the 20th century—and the affect it had on media, society, and the role and performance of the actor. Throughout the first fifteen years of the 21st century, there has been a multitude of film and television stars headlining in Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Despite this phenomena, there is currently an absence of scholarship investigating how the casting of Hollywood stars in stage productions affects those individuals in the theatre audience. In this dissertation, I identify, using a variety of semiotic theories, ways in which celebrity is signified by exploring 21st century Broadway and Off-Broadway productions with Hollywood film and television star casting.

Hollywood is an industry that thrives on perpetuating celebrity. Film and television stars are products that need to cultivate a consumer base. Every star in Hollywood has specific attributes that are deemed valuable; these values are then marketed and sold to the public, creating a connection between the star and certain values. A film or television star is an established actor who has received fame and acclaim for a least one role that was critically lauded, or their past roles become a part of their value and product. Throughout the first three chapters of this dissertation, I explore the types of signification that can stem from product, value, and past roles using a variety of productions as case studies: Equus, Orphans, Sister Act: The Musical, Asuncion, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Fences, Godspell, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, and The Best Man. The first half of each chapter addresses how significations of product, value, and past roles are established, while the second half of each chapter uses the case studies to demonstrate how these significations made prior to the performance and during the performance can affect the perception and reception of an audience member. In my final chapter, I take into consideration how theatrical frames can affect the signification process, and how product, value, and past roles are recalled and signified during the star’s performance using Picnic, Death of a Salesman, and No Man’s Land/Waiting for Godot as case studies. My research found that: The star as a sign is complex and the significations a reader can call to mind are numerous. Preconceived notions and memories affect the audience as a star’s product, value and associations, and past roles become signified thus shaping the perception and reception of both the star and the production.