Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Playing Hippies and Indians: Acts of Cultural Colonization in the Theatre of the American Counterculture

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers

Second Advisor

Scott Magelssen (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Eileen Cherry-Chandler (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Sheri Wells-Jensen (Committee Member)


In this dissertation, I examine the appropriation of Native American cultures and histories in the theatre of the American counterculture of the 1960s and seventies, using the Living Theatre's Paradise Now, the street theatricals and broadsides of the San Francisco Diggers, and James Rado and Gerome Ragni's Hair: The American Tribal-Love Rock Musical as my primary case studies. Defining themselves by points of difference from mainstream America and its traditional social and cultural values, counterculturalists often attempted to align themselves with Native Americans in order to express an imagined sense of shared otherness. Representations of Natives on countercultural stages, however, were frequently steeped in stereotype, and they often depicted Native cultures inaccurately, elided significant tribal differences, and relegated Native identity almost wholly to the past, a practice that was particularly problematic in light of concurrent Native rights movements that were actively engaged in bringing national attention to the contemporary issues and injustices Native Americans faced on a daily basis. In my study, I analyze the impulses that might have led counterculturalists to appropriate Native culture during this period, highlighting some of the ways in which such appropriations played out in Paradise Now and Hair, as well as on the streets of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. I examine the countercultural tendency to use stereotyped Native characters as mascots for various−and sometimes competing−causes, such as environmentalism, hallucinogenic drug use, communalism, pacifism, and violent activism, and I demonstrate how such mascotry appeared in the theatre of the period. I also interrogate the propagation of the troublesome "vanishing Indian" stereotype during the sixties and seventies, tracing its development into the popular myth of the hippie as reincarnated Native. Finally, I examine Hanay Geiogamah's 1972 play Body Indian as an alternative model for more ethical and responsible Native representation, also proposing my own guidelines for non-Native artists engaging with Native subject matter in their creative work.