Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Toward the Horizon: Contemporary Queer Theatre as Utopic Activism

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Jonathan L. Chambers (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Nermis Mieses (Other)

Third Advisor

Angela K. Ahlgren (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Heidi L. Nees (Committee Member)

Abstract

In Toward the Horizon: Contemporary Queer Theatre as Utopic Activism, I pursue two intersecting goals. First, I offer close readings of theatrical representations of queerness that expand beyond the shallow representations of the not-so-distant past, including the trope of the gay best friend (G.B.F.) and so-called “homosexual problem plays.” Second, I engage with dramaturgies of theatre for social change, reading those dramaturgical possibilities into scripted drama in support of my argument that contemporary queer theatre creates utopic activist potential within viewing and/or reading audiences.

Over five chapters, I explicate and critically consider queer theatrical works that deploy dramaturgies and pedagogies of theatre for social change, including Bull in a China Shop by Bryna Turner, Significant Other by Joshua Harmon, Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Scissoring by Christina Quintana, Log Cabin by Jordan Harrison, The Prom by Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar, A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson, and The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez. I build upon the queer theory legacies of Jose Esteban Muñoz and his conceptualizing of utopia on the horizon, and Jill Dolan’s notion of utopic performatives, to argue that these pieces hold the potential to lead audiences towards what I term “utopic activism.” Utopic activism concerns the potential to create change through the application of pedagogies and dramaturgies of theatre for social change to scripted drama, and in turn prompt audiences toward envisioning, embracing, and enacting a better future. Individual chapters draw on a variety of critical modes of investigation including history, historiography, and historicization, empathy, relationships and friendships, and genre conventions to investigate the ways queer theatre creates meaning.

My study finds queer representation in contemporary theatre is steadily changing and consistently embracing more complex and affirming visions of queerness. Indeed, while there are many areas still lacking, particularly when it comes to the inclusion of diverse voices published as playwrights as well as more diverse characters in queer narratives, the scripts I read suggest a better more equitable future on the horizon.

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