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Volume 22, Number 2 Spring 2010
Founding Editors: Vera Mowry Roberts and Walter Meserve
Editor: David Savran
Guest Editor: Mark Cosdon
with the ATDS Publications Committee:
Dorothy Chansky, Harley Erdman, Anne Fletcher, Michelle
Granshaw, Kim Marra, Peter Reed, Ilka Saal, Sarah Stevenson,
Bob Vorlicky, and Barry Witham
Managing Editor: Naomi Stubbs
Editorial Assistant: Rayya El Zein
Circulation Manager: Tori Amoscato
Circulation Assistant: Ana Martinez
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Professor Edwin Wilson, Chairman, Advisory Board
Professor Daniel Gerould, Director of Publications
Jan Stenzel, Director of Administration
Philip Auslander
Una Chaudhuri
William Demastes
Harry Elam
Jorge Huerta
Stacy Wolf
Shannon Jackson
Jonathan Kalb
Jill Lane
Thomas Postlewait
Robert Vorlicky
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre welcomes submissions. Our aim is to
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Volume 22, Number 2 Spring 2010
Spectacles of Insanity: The De/en"um Tremens on the Antebellum Stage
"Soft and Silky Around her Hips": Nineteenth-Century Circus and Sex
Fitzpoodle and the Amazon: Gender, Burlesgue, and Anglophobia
in the Spirit of the Times
Integrating Broadway: Cultural Memory, Performance, and History
in The Southerners
Because She Said So ... : How Twyla Tharp and Movin' Out
Legitimized the "Dansical" as a Choreographic Domain/Diversion
on Broadway
I am honored to introduce the Spring 2010 issue of the Journal of
American Drama and Theatre, a continuing partnership between the journal
and the American Theatre and Drama Society. I wish to thank each of
our authors for sharing their work with us. As JADT readers will see, the
essays presented here are illuminating and utterly fascinating models of
scholarship. Each author's article was carefully vetted and commented
upon by the members of the ATDS Publications Committee, making my
job as editor of the annual spring issue significantly easier. I wish to thank
the committee-Dorothy Chansky (Texas Tech University), Harley
Erdman (University of Massachusetts), Anne Fletcher (Southern Illinois
University at Carbondale), Michelle Granshaw (University of
Washington), Kim Marra (University of Iowa), Peter Reed (University of
Mississippi), Ilka Saal (Ghent University), Sarah Stevenson (College of
Mount Saint Vincent), Bob Vorlicky (New York University), and Barry
Witham (University of Washington)-for their hard work, generosity,
and unwavering support. This is an enormously gifted group of people;
it was a true pleasure working with each of you. I wish to thank Heather
Nathans, president of ATDS, for her good counsel and enthusiasm. On
behalf of ATDS, I wish to express our organization's deepest apprecia-
tion to JADT and David Savran for this productive, ongoing collabora-
tion. The Naomi Stubbs has been enormously helpful, gracious,
and supportive in seeing this issue through to fruition. I know the pro-
fession eagerly anticipates this young scholar's continuing emergence.
For the spring 2010 issue, ATDS's Publications Committee invit-
ed colleagues to explore comedy, spectacle, and theatrical diversions, both
in the United States and Latin America. We wondered why do comedy
and light entertainments remain resilient? How do we account for the
popularity of these forms? After all, an 1858 commentator in the Boston
Courier argued, "What we want in our busy, bustling, hurried city life is
such relaxation as will smooth the brow and lighten the spirit . .. . He who
goes to an evening place of entertainment after a day of mental toil,
desires not an additional entanglement of brain, but perfect and entire
relief." Over 150 years later, this sentiment seems to dominate audiences'
theatrical preferences, as the The Producers' Carmen pleads, "People want
laughter when they see a show. The last thing they're after's a litany of
The five essays in this issue explore topics arising out of mar-
velously popular genres-melodrama, circus, burlesque, the early musical,
and the contemporary dansical. These are forms that might frustrate
those looking for literary merit or sublime depictions of physicality. Yet,
no one can deny the lure of these forms, their stunning theatricality, and
the mass appeal they hold for popular audiences.
This special issue's first three articles interrogate topics rooted in
nineteenth-century performance. In her essay "Spectacles of Insanity:
The Delirium Tremens on the Antebellum Stage," Amy E. Hughes exam-
ines the familiar moral reform melodrama of the nineteenth-century
American stage. Analyzing the period's medical writings on the delirium
tremens, Hughes demonstrates the threat of insanity, the prescription for
normalcy, and how these competing strains were played out in W H.
Smith's The Drunkard. With his contribution "'Soft and Silky Around Her
Hips': Nineteenth-Century Circus and Sex," David Carlyon continues to
reshape the way that the profession understands one of the period's most
misconstrued forms. Tamara Smith unpacks the complicated gendered
and nationalistic rhetoric that the Spirit of the Times utilized in its coverage
of Lydia Thompson's British Blondes. This issue's last two pieces reflect
the recent surge in scholarly interest surrounding the American musical.
Bethany Holmstrom investigates the tensions of staging race in the 1904
musical The Southerners, one of Broadway's first integrated productions.
Finally, Pamyla A. Stiehl's timely essay "Because She Said So ... : How
Twyla Tharp and Movin' Out Legitimized the 'Dansical' as a
Choreographic Domain/ Diversion on Broadway" surveys the famed
choreographer and her career-spanning attempt to move the fully danced
narrative from the concert stage to Broadway, culminating in the 2002
Broadway triumph Movin' Out, a stunning merger of balletic dance and
Billy Joel's music. Like each of the genres considered in this special issue
of the Journal of American Drama and Theatre, the dansical has been
maligned by some. Yet, its popularity cannot be dismissed.
I'm confident that readers of the Journal of American Drama and
Theatre will be engaged and fascinated by the essays collected here. The
scholarship is compelling; the insights into these popular forms are par-
ticularly illuminating. It has been a pleasure working with each of these
Mark Cosdon
Guest Editor
Amy E. Hughes
As intersections of activism and performance, nineteenth-century moral
reform melodramas-featuring implicit or explicit references to temper-
ance, abolition, suffrage, and other issues--comprise an intriguing sub-
genre.1 In them, sensationalism meets ideology; entertainment and poli-
tics collide. Moreover, at the heart of many such dramas is a spectacular
instant: a sensational, affective representation that was sometimes recy-
cled, reiterated, and re-imagined in multiple contexts. The delirium tremens
scene in temperance melodrama, during which the protagonist experi-
ences a psychotic episode upon overindulging in drink, is a case in point.
It became ubiquitous in the genre, especially in the wake of The Drunkard;
00 The Fallen Saved! (1844), written by actor and reformed inebriate W H.
Smith and an anonymous collaborator (probably Rev. John Pierpont).Z
First produced by Moses Kimball at the Boston Museum in February
1844, this popular "moral drama" became, in Bruce A. McConachie's
words, "the model for most subsequent dramas of dipsomania."3 And
when P. T. Barnum presented the play at the American Museum in New
York, it became the first play to achieve an uninterrupted run of 100 per-
Reenactments of the delirium tremens (DTs) posed a striking, spec-
tacular contrast to contemporaneous temperance propaganda focusing
1 I express deep gratitude to Marvin Carlson, Daniel Gerould, Judith Milhous,
and Heather Nathans for their feedback as I developed these ideas. I also thank Mark
Cosdon and the members of the ATDS Publications Committee for their comments, as
well as the com·eners of the 2009 American Studies Association conference for giving me
the opportunity to present an earlier version of this material. This work was supported
(in part) by grants from the Martin S. Tacke! American Theatre Research Fund (Graduate
Center, CUNY), The PSC-CUNY Research Award Program, and the American
Antiquarian Society (Jay T. and Deborah Last Fellowship).
For more on Pierpont's possible involvement in The Drunkard, see John W
Frick, Theah-e, Culture and Temperance Reform in Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2003), 116-18; and Amy E. Hughes, "Answering the
Amusement Question: Antebellum Temperance Drama and the Christian Endorsement
of Leisure," NewEng/andTheah-e]ourna/15 (2004): 1-19.
3 Bruce A. McConachie, Melodramatic Formations: American Theatre and Society,
1820- 1870 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992), 178.
on the drunkard's home, hearth, and family. John W Frick terms the DTs
scene "temperance melodrama's obligatory sensation scene," remarking
that its "theatrical potential ... proved irresistible to playwrights who
sought spectacular effects that would frighten the intemperate into absti-
nence." Similarly, Michael Booth includes the DTs in his sketch of tem-
perance drama's dramaturgical formula; Judith N. McArthur describes it
as a "standard" aspect of the genre; Jeffrey D. Mason asserts it was one
of The Drunkards "principal attractions"; and Richard Moody, in a brief
introduction to The Drunkard in a 1966 drama anthology, claims that
sometimes "this shattering episode was given a solo exhibition."4
Interestingly, medical texts from the period suggest that physi-
cians and asylum administrators considered the DTs to be, essentially, a
temporary episode of insanity. In effect, therefore, an actor or orator
who performed the DTs was realizing a mao gone mad. In order to
understand audiences' perceptions of this spectacle during the 1840s, I
analyze writings by the physicians Benjamin Rush, Pliny Earle, and
Edward Jarvis, who conceived of the disorder as a brief and curable ill-
ness. Then, using Smith's play as a case study, I explore how insanity is an
ominous, omnipresent danger in temperance dramaturgy. Madness mate-
rializes most vividly in the fourth act of The Drunkard, when the protag-
onist Edward Middleton suffers an elaborate attack of the DTs. But I
also suggest that Middleton's breakdown is not an isolated spectacle-
long before that, the threat of insanity is embodied by Agnes (the sister
of Middleton's friend and confidant, William), who is designated "A
Maniac" in the cast of characters. Despite Agnes's prominence in the
story, theatre historians who have studied The Drunkard generally ignore
her presence and actions. I contend that this collective oversight has hin-
dered a full and nuanced understanding of the drama and, perhaps, tem-
perance entertainment generally. Through these visual and textual exam-
ples I ultimately argue that dipsomania, both as physical malady and the-
4 Frick, Theatre, Culture and Temperance Reform, 64 and 66; Michael R. Boorh,
"The Drunkard's Progress: Nineteenrh-Century Temperance Drama," Dalhousie Review 44
(1964): 207; Judith N. McArthur, "Demon Rum on the Boards: Temperance Melodrama
and the Tradition of Antebellum Reform," Journal of the Earfy Republic 9 (Winter 1989):
536;Jeffrey D. Mason, Melodrama and the Myth of America (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1993), 83; Richard Moody, Dramas from the American Theatre, 1762-1966 (Cleveland:
World Publishing, 1966), 279-80. Moreover, in her unpublished dissertation on late-nine-
teenrh and early-twentieth-century temperance culture, Joan L. Silverman observes that in
temperance dramaturgy "the hero's drinking intensifies after marriage and parenthood,
culminating in delirium tremenl' ("'I'll Never Touch Anorher Drop': Images of Alcoholism
and Temperance in American Popular Culture, 1874-1920" (PhD diss., New York
University, 1979], 37).
attica! exhibition, invoked prescriptions of normality that emerged in the
U.S. during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Historiography and T1r Drunkard : A Focus on the Family
Historians of the U.S. temperance movement offer a variety of explana-
tions for its emergence during the nineteenth century, including the
greater availability of alcohol, especially hard liquors (or "ardent spirits'');
the pressures of urbanization resulting from the growth of cities;
changes in labor practices, such as the shift from an apprenticeship-based
work environment to a more industrial model; and the religious spirit and
optimism fueled by the Second Great Awakening, which emphasized the
perfectibility of man as well as the nation.s Such changes fostered anxi-
eties about social order and discipline, standards of respectability, and the
stability of the traditional family unit.
These assertions have deeply informed theatre historiography,
with most scholarship on temperance melodrama concentrating on the
ways in which it depicts the home. Booth acknowledges that "the
wretchedness of the drunkard" reinforced "the morality of temperance
sentiments"; but he ultimately asserts that the "suffering of his wife and
children" illustrates the moral most strongly. McArthur focuses on the
victimization of women and children in three pre-Civil War plays, includ-
ing The Drunkard. McConachie argues that in moral reform melodramas
"families are the victims"; he highlights how bourgeois values inform the
characters, settings, and themes of The Drunkard by focusing on the
drunkard's wife and the material manifestations of the famliy's decline.
And in the most comprehensive exploration of the genre published to
5 The literature on temperance reform is substantial, especially regarding pro-
hibitionist activity after the Civil War and during the early twentieth century. Since I am
interested in early renditions of the delirium tremens on stage, particularly during the 1840s,
for the purposes of this study I concentrate on temperance activism during the antebel-
lum period. Representative scholarship focusing (in whole or in part) on these early
efforts include Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American
Temperance Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963); W]. Rorabaugh, The
Alcoholic Republic: An A merican Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); Ian R.
Tyrrell, Sobering Up: From Temperance to Prohibition in Antebellum America, 1800-1860
(Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979); Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin,
Drinking in America: A History (New York: Free Press, 1982); Jack S. Blocker, Jr., American
Temperance Movements: Cjcles of Reform (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989); Leonard U.
Blumberg and William L. Pittman, Beware the First Drink! The Washington Temperance
Movement and Alcoholics Anotrymous (Seattle: Glen Abbey Books, 1991 ); Steven Mintz,
Moralists and Modernizers: America's Pre-Civil War Reformers (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1995).
date, Frick asserts that "fear for the integrity of the nuclear family was
especially prominent on reformers' lists of concerns" and addresses that
issue first and foremost in his analysis of themes addressed in temper-
ance drama.
Certainly, the prevalence of the family in illustrations, litho-
graphs, and ephemera generated by temperance culture suggests that
activists routinely employed domestic images to advance their cause.
Using strategies of juxtaposition, these products encouraged citizens to
visualize the spectacle of indulgence alongside pictures of abstinence.
The Bottle (1847) by British graphic artist George Cruikshank is perhaps
the most recognizable nineteenth-century depiction of the inebriate's
decline and its effect on the family. The Bottle operates through compari-
son and contrast: the first frame, picturing a tranquil and solvent middle-
class home, functions as a barometer against which later scenes of
depravity are measured. As the husband and wife's drinking habit wors-
ens, the well-appointed room is raided and rendered bare by creditors
(see figures 1 and 2). Eventually, every member of the family meets a hor-
rible end. Prior to The Bottle, N. Currier-the New York City lithography
firm that eventually transformed into Currier & Ives, a leading distribu-
tor of prints for the popular market- issued The Drunkard's Progress: From
the First Glass to the Grave in 1846 (figure 3). In it, a young man occupies
each step of a triangle-shaped staircase, representing successive stages of
dissipation-again, encouraging sobriety by juxtaposing different states.
Although the focus in this print is clearly the drunkard, the family is nev-
ertheless present: beneath the staircase, a forlorn woman and child (pre-
sumably, the family that the drunkard has abandoned) walk away from a
dilapidated house toward an unknown destination.
Because women and children populate these representations,
many theatre historians have offered important insights about the mid-
dle-class ideologies they communicate, as well as their somewhat prob-
lematic gender politics. However, in my effort to supplement and perhaps
complicate these observations, I suggest that the inebriate's depravity is
most strongly signified by mental illness and the prospect of institution-
alization. After all, the fmal tableau of Cruikshank's graphic melodrama
The Bottle depicts the protagonist suffering a permanent state of mania in
what seems to be an insane asylum (figure 4). Therefore, I would like to
focus on this particular aspect of the drunkard's spectacular decline: the
alleged insanity induced by alcohol. As Joel Bernard has noted, medicine
6 Booth, "The Drunkard's Progress," 211; McArthur, "Demon Rum on the
Boards," 533-9; McConachie, Melodramatic Formations, 184; Frick, Theatre, Culture and
Temperance Reform, 68-71.
Figure 1: "The bottle is brought out for the first time: the husband induces his
wife 'just to take a drop."' George Cruikshank, The Bottle, Plate I, 1847.
Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
Figure 2: ''An execution sweeps off the greater part of their furniture: they
comfort themselves with the bottle." George Cruikshank, The Bottle, Plate III,
1847. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
Figure 3: The Drunkard's Progress: From the First Glass to the Grave. N. Currier,
1846. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
served as the "cornerstone" of nineteenth-century temperance ideology,
and physicians took a keen interest in the relationship between habitual
drinking, physical health, and antisocial behavior.7 To date, scholarship on
temperance melodrama has overlooked how medical discourse may have
influenced widespread perceptions of the DTs. To understand audiences'
fascination with DTs scenes, as well as their function within temperance
dramaturgy generally, we must take into account contemporaneous theo-
ries about the disorder's causes and cures.
Theories of Inebriation and Insanity in the Antebellum Era
During the first half of the nineteenth century, a marked rise in the num-
ber of institutions for the deviant and mentally ill occurred alongside
growing concerns about alcohol consumption. In 1820, there were fewer
than ten asylums in the U.S., but by 1860, one or more asylums could be
Joel Bernard, "From Fasting to Abstinence: The Origins of the American
Temperance Movement," in Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History, edited by
Susanna Barrows and Robin Room (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 345.
Figure 4: "The botde has done its work-it has destroyed the infant and the
mother, it has brought the son and the daughter to vice and to the streets, and
has left the father a hopeless maniac." George Cruikshank, The Bottle, Plate
VIII, 1847. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
found in nearly every state.s Sociologist Roger Bastide has argued that
madness is a structural concept, defined and manufactured by the larger
culture. Insanity, he asserts, "does not in fact exist as a natural entity, but
only as a relationship .... [A] person is mad only in relation to a given
society; social consensus defines the fluctuating boundary between the
rational and the irrational."
Bastide's analysis suggests that the rapid
increase in American insane asylums not only reflected revised defini-
tions of deviance but also new views regarding the best way to handle
8 Gerald N. Grob, introduction to Edward Jarvis, Insaniry and Idiory in
Massachusetts: Report of the Commission on Lunary (1855; reprint, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1971), 9. This expansion did not go unnoticed even in its time: Pliny
Earle, in his 1848 report on the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in New York, discusses the
rapid increase in asylums, attributing it to "the anention of the community, in various
parts of the country, (which] became awakened to the wants of that suffering class, and
the efforts of many individuals [who] were actively directed to measures for their relie£"
History, Description and Statistics of the Bloomingdale A!)lum for the Insane (New York: Egbert,
Hovey & King, 1848], 19-20.
Roger Bastide, The Sociolo!!J of Mental Disorder (1965], translated by Jean
McNeil (New York: David McKay, 1972), 195.
aberrant individuals.IO Conceived as a spectacular instance of disorder
and deviance, the DTs seem to have played a role in the sociological con-
struction of both normalcy and aberration. Although a detailed account
of the medicalization of the DTs is beyond the scope of this article, I will
briefly chart some of the key ideas advanced by nineteenth-century med-
ical practitioners who described alcohol-induced derangement.
Concerns about alcohol's impact on the mind, morals, and body
were pioneered in America by the physician Benjamin Rush, whose land-
mark essay, An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Mind and
Bot!J (originally published in 1785), connected intemperance with ill
health, criminal behavior, and madness. Because it outlined the physical
and moral impact of drinking, Rush's Inquiry constituted, according to
Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin, "a radical challenge to
previous thinking; it assaulted the old dictum that alcohol was a positive
good," a necessity for health and healing.
Rush's Inquiry was widely read:
by 1850, nearly 200,000 copies had been printed. Because of the text's
popularity, many scholars agree that the Inquiry deeply informed the
underlying ideologies of the U.S. temperance movement.
But temperance historians generally overlook the fact that Rush
also "made the first and most elaborate attempt [in the U.S.) to link the
somatic and ethical dimensions of insanity," as Mary Ann Jimenez
notes. l3 Later editions of the Inquiry included ' 'A Moral and Physical
l O See Norman Dain, Concepts of Insanity in the United States, 1789-1865 (New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1964); Mary Ann Jimenez, Changing Faces of
Madness: Ear!J American Attitudes and Treatment of the Insane (Hanover, NH: University Press
of New England, 1987); David]. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and
Disorder in the New Republic [1971], revised edition (Piscataway, NJ: Aldine Transaction,
2002); and Andrew T. Scull, "Madness and Segregative Control: The Rise of the Insane
Asylum," Social Problems 24, no. 3 (February 1977): 337-51.
II Lender and Martin, Drinking in America, 3 7.
12 Rorabaugh, A lcoholic Republic, 40-46; Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 17; Lender and
Martin, Drinking in America, 36-40; Blocker, American Temperance Movements, 7 -8; Mintz,
Moralists and Modernizers, 72; Thomas R. Pegram, Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry
America, 1800-1933 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998), 13-15. In their histo.ry of the ftrst ine-
briate asylum established in the U.S. (an institutional model originally advocated by Rush),
John W Crowley and William L. White assert, "The American temperance movement can
rightly be said to have begun with the publication of [Rush's) Inquiry' (Drunkard's Ref uge:
The Lessons of the New York State Inebriate A sylum [Amherst: University of Massachusetts
Press, 2004), 3). For more on Rush's influence, see Katherine H. Nelson, "The
Temperance Physicians: Developing Concepts of Addiction" (PhD diss., American
University, 2006), 48-58.
13 Mary Ann Jimenez, Changing Faces of Madness: Ear!J Amencan Attitudes and
.4 .... •J/'IA<--ofT.,.,._. ...I ,.,...,.........._J:.IpMo ..a <if_. ,_.,;,. ._j'"""
Health ud >Vealth.
Figure 5: ''A Moral and Physical Thermometer: A Scale of the Progress of
Temperance and Intemperance." Benjamin Rush, An Inquiry into the Effects of
Ardent Spirits upon the Human Bocfy and Mind (Boston: James Loring, 1823), 2-3.
Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
Thermometer" charting the "diseases" and "punishments" inflicted by
different types of alcohol (figure 5). In the diagram, the habitual con-
sumption of hard liquor results in vices like fighting, perjury, burglary,
and murder, as well as physical ailments such as epilepsy, palsy, apoplexy,
and madness. The "punishments" in the third column of Rush's ther-
mometer are, for the most part, destinations: the list includes "Hospital,"
"Poor House," "State prison," and "Gallows." Rush's barometer can be
seen as an early example of how temperance advocates invoked notions
Treatment of the Insane (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1987), 72.
of normality and self-discipline in their rhetoric. It also suggests that the
threat of institutionalization or incarceration played a prominent role in
that rhetoric.
Rush continued to explore the connections between mental ill-
ness and intemperance in his later writings. In Medical Inquiries and
Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind (1812), he reiterated his con-
tention that ardent spirits often caused a "partial derangement" of the
"moral faculties." He described the drunkard's madness as being both
temporary and recurrent: "Successive paroxysms of madness, with per-
fect intervals between them, occur most frequently in habitual drunkards .
. . . The remedies for this disease have hitherto been religious and moral,
and they have sometimes cured it. They would probably have been more
successful, had they been combined with such as are of a physical
nature." This understanding of alcohol abuse inspired Rush to propose a
new kind of institution, the "sober house," designed specifically for
4 Although the sober house did not materialize until the mid-
nineteenth century (the New York State Inebriate Asylum, which began
operating in the 1860s, is one example), his proposal might have reflect-
ed an emergent mandate to sequester drunkards from the general pub-
lic-not only for the rehabilitation of intemperate men, but also for the
good of the general populace.
Another landmark in the development of delirium theory
occurred in 1813, when T. M. D. Sutton, a British physician, published a
pamphlet in which he coined the term delirium tremens- a phrase inspired
by "the marked tremor of the hands caused by excessive drinking or as a
result of sensitivity to alcohol in certain people."
5 Now the disorder that
eventually came to symbolize the drunkard's depravity had a name. This
allowed scientific observers to distinguish alcohol-induced hallucinations
from other kinds of disturbances. The diagnostic term was quickly
adopted by medical practitioners and eventually entered popular culture
through newspaper accounts, temperance narratives, and live entertain-
ment. Eventually, alcohol abuse became one of the most frequently cited
reasons for sending individuals to lunatic asylums, second only to mas-
In 1848, Pliny Earle further outlined the differences between
14 Benjamin Rush, Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon tbe Diseases of tbe Mind
(Philadelphia: Kimber & Richardson, 1812), 358, 164, and 266-67. Emphasis in original.
IS Dimitrios Adamis, Adrian Treloar, Finbarr C. Martin, and Alastair J. D.
MacDonald, "A Brief Review of the History of Delirium as a Mental Disorder," History
of PJycbiatry 18, no. 4 (2007): 465.
delirium tremens and other forms of insanity in his History, Description and
Statistics of the Bloomingdale A.rylum for the Insane. In it, Earle-who was the
head physician of the asylum at that time-offers a statistical analysis of
patients admitted there from 1821 to 1844. The DTs is a central topic of
discussion: in order to distinguish it from "insanity proper" (as he terms
it), Earle devotes an entire chapter to the DTs. His description of the dis-
order is incredibly vivid-even theatrical. Like a melodrama punctuated
by an elaborate sensation scene, the relatively dry and clinical prose of his
History explodes into a profusion of adjectives, imagery, and metaphors
when he explicates dipsomania:
Enemies in human form spring up to bind, to drag to
prison, to the tribunal of justice, to the rack or to the
place of execution, or, perchance to shoot or to slay
with the sword; and, finally, the phantoms of the ideal
world, specters with gorgon heads and bodies more
hideous than those of the satyr or the fabled tenants of
the lower regions, glower upon him with their eyes of
fire, gnash their teeth in fiendish defiance, at length seize
upon him, and he struggles with them in the full faith
that he has encountered the devil incarnate.16
Earle's account incorporates many of the symptoms famously embodied
by performers who reenacted the DTs on various stages, including the
actors W H. Smith and Harry Watkins, and the most famous temperance
lecturer of the nineteenth century, John B. Gough.
Several years later, Edward Jarvis-a prominent statistician and
temperance advocate-underscored the connection between intemper-
ance and insanity in his book Insanity and Idiocy in Massachusetts (1855). Like
Earle's History, Jarvis's Report attempts to reveal connections between
alcoJ:lol, aberrant behavior, and insanity, reflecting what Robert A. Gross
has termed "the fusion of morals and numbers" that permeated the
physician's work.I7 Jarvis charts the drunkard's trajectory from occasion-
al errors in judgment to abject poverty to absolute insanity. He asserts
that mental derangement inevitability leads to "ill success and poverty,"
16 Earle, History, 49-50.
Robert A. Gross, "Preserving Culture: Edward Jarvis and the Memory of
Concord," in Edward Jarvis, Traditions and Reminiscences of Concord, Massachusetts, 1779-
1878, edited by Sarah Chapin (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), xxvi.
followed by "disorders of the nervous system and .insanity, which,
according to hospital records, find their most common origin in the excit-
ing and exhausting effects of alcohol, especially among the poor."
Although he discusses patients' family histories-gesturing toward a
hereditary theory of mental illness-Jarvis strongly emphasizes self-dis-
cipline as the foundation of sound mental health. This model, which
privileged behavioral causes over biological ones, dominated most nine-
teenth-century discourse about insanity.19
I want to emphasize, despite the brevity of my summary here,
that these theories by Rush, Earle, and Jarvis exhibit a moral dimension:
respectable, middle-class behavior serves as the barometer by which the
authors measure deviance. Rush, one of the earliest advocates of tem-
perance in the U.S., argues that excessive behaviors like immoderate
drinking will lead to ruin; his illustrated Temperance Thermometer
asserts that habitual alcohol consumption results .in .incarceration and
death. Earle built on this claim by detailing the extraordinary number of
DTs cases at the Bloomingdale Asylum. And through a careful statistical
analysis, Jarvis attempted to confirm the link between immoral behavior
and insanity by proving that drunkenness was the leading cause of mad-
ness in Massachusetts. Although not all Americans would have been
acquainted with these medical texts, the public did become familiar with
their fundamental ideas and ideals by way of popular discourse: news
reports, graphic representations, activist rhetoric, and performance.
Spectacular Indiscipline in 7he Drunkard
Just when insane asylums and similar .institutions were segregating drunk-
ards from the general population, the DTs increasingly appeared in enter-
tainment culture. Theatre and other amusements reinforced the notion
that when an .individual did not adhere to the middle-class norm of absti-
nence, madness could result. In Smith's The Drunkard; or, The Fallen Saved!,
for example, the hero, Edward Middleton, endures a journey that seems
structured, in many ways, like a medieval morality tale. His very name
suggests he is a kind of middle-class Everyman, and other aspects of the
text, .including the subtitle, convey notions of salvation and transforma-
tion. Middleton's fall consists of a drastic change in his financial circum-
stances due to his drinking habit, which is effected in part through the
18 Jarvis, Insanity and Idiocy in Massachusetts, 55.
19 William Sims Bainbridge, "Religious Insanity in America: The Official
Nineteenth-Century Theory," Sociological Ana(ysis 45, no. 3 (1984): 223-39.
devious machinations of the villain, Lawyer Cribbs. In the fourth act,
Middleton suffers from a spectacular bout of the DTs, and even attempts
When Middleton begins drinking regularly several years after his
marriage to the heroine, Mary, and the birth of their daughter Julia, his
decline is manifest visually both in costume and in body. In the third
scene of Act II, which is set in a tavern, the stage directions indicate that
his dress is "rather shabby."20 He becomes even shabbier after a drunken
fight with fellow patrons at a bar-room, during which he begins bleeding
from his forehead (25). In the following scene, Cribbs, who helped insti-
gate the quarrel in the tavern, predicts, "He has tasted, and will not stop
now short of madness or oblivion" (26). Later, as the drunkard contem-
plates returning home to his wife and daughter, his physical state suggests
he is on the verge of DTs:
Oh how my poor brain burns! My hand trembles! My
knees shake beneath me! I cannot, will not appear
before them thus; a little, a very little [drink) will
strengthen me. No one sees; William must be there ere
now, for my hiding place. Oh! The arch cunning of the
drunkard! (Goes to tree R. H. [right), and from the hollow
draws forth a bottle; looks round, and drinks. Cribbs behind
exulting.) So, so! I t relieves! It strengthens! Oh, glorious
liquor! Why did I rail against thee? Ha, hal (26-27).
After this, he returns home, only to learn that Mary's mother has died
because his drinking has impoverished the family. Blaming himself, he
becomes frenzied; and when Mary, Julia, and William try to bar him from
leaving, he ~   i l s out, "Unloose me; leave me; why fasten me down on fire?
Madness is my strength: my brain is liquid flame!" (30).
These comments pave the way for the play's crowning spectacu-
lar instant: Middleton's DTs episode in the first scene of Act IV, which is
set outdoors near a tavern on Hawley Street in Boston. The stage direc-
tions indicate that the disorderly drunkard is lying on the ground "without
hat or coat, clothes torn, ryes sunk and haggard, appearance terrible, &c." (38).
When he wakes, he calls for brandy and rum, and laments, "Pain!
Dreadful pain! Heavens how I tremble. Brandy! Brandy? (sinks down in
20 W H. Smith, The Drunkard; or, The Fallen Saved! (1844; Boston: Jones's
Publishing House, 1847), 23. Subsequent page references to the play will be indicated par-
agotry)" (38). The landlord of the tavern enters and Middleton strangles
him when he denies the drunkard's appeals for brandy. Fortunately,
William (Middleton's friend and confidant) enters and stops him from
committing murder.
After the landlord exits, the drunkard's insanity ensues. The
Harvard Theatre Collection houses the manuscript side that Smith prob-
ably used when performing Middleton at the Boston Museum in 1844. In
the manuscript, the DTs sequence differs slightly from the 1847 pub-
lished edition, in that the side indicates greater fragmentation and confu-
sion. It reads as follows:
[MIDDLETON:] (delirium) Here friend- take it off. Will
you?-there- that serpent coiling round my leg-
there-pull-pull-ah! How strong they are-there-
don't kill it-give it liquor- poison it slowly with rum-
it shall be punish'd justly-Toads and Serpents-
drown'd with brandy-excellent punishment- justice!
[WILLIAM:] [He does] not know me.
[MIDDLETON:] Hush! Gently-gently-while she's asleep
I'll kiss-she would reject me did she know it-there-
hush! God bless my Mary, Bless her and my child-
hush-if the Globe turns round once more, we shall
slide from its surface into infinite nothingness-or eter-
nity-hal Ha! Great idea that-a boiling sea of wine-
fired by the torch of fiends. ha! ha!
At this point, William slips off to get help, and the hallucinations end.
Middleton regains his senses and, recognizing that he has descended into
utter depravity, produces a vial of poison. Before he can consume it,
Rencelaw-an upstanding and wealthy member of the community who
is a reformed drunkard himself-arrives, seizes the poison, and cajoles,
"Nay, friend, take not your life, but mend it" (40). After Rencelaw
redeems Middleton, the pieces are in place for the hero's eventual recov-
ery and redemption.
The prospect of institutionalization-whether in a prison, a
poor house, or an insane asylum-haunts the drama from the outset. In
the first act, Cribbs remarks that Mrs. Wilson (Mary's mother) "has a
2! William Henry Sedley Smith, Manuscript Side for Edward Middleton, 1844,
Series III, Item 64, William Henry Sedley Smith Collection, Harvard Theatre Collection.
claim upon the Alms House" if she cannot remain in the cottage on the
Middleton estate, which has been her home for many years. The idea of
her mother being warehoused with paupers is so horrible to Mary that it
elicits a corporeal reaction from her: a stage direction indicates that she
"shudders" upon hearing Cribbs's statement (1 0). Later, Cribbs com-
plains that Agnes-a young woman driven mad by the premature death
of her fiance-should be institutionalized;ZZ he grumbles, "Why don't the
Alms House keep such brats at home?" (17). Later, Cribbs invokes the
insane asylum specifically during an exchange with Mrs. Spindle, a some-
what befuddled old maid. During her first speech in the play, Mrs. Spindle
admits, "I buy all the affecting novels, and all the terrible romances, and
read them till my heart has become soft as maiden wax, to receive the
impression of that cherished image I adore" (13)-during the early nine-
teenth century, novel-reading was sometimes cited as a cause of mental
illness in women.
3 In the second act, when Cribbs has a frustrating
exchange with Spindle, he declares, "Get your friends to send you to the
Insane Hospital, and place you among the incurables, as the most fusty,
idiotic old maid that ever knit stockings" (22).24
But insanity is literally embodied by Agnes, William's sister, who
is designated "A Maniac" in the cast of characters and called "my poor,
little, half-witted sister" by William and "crazy" by Cribbs. In many ways,
Agnes invokes another theatrical madwoman, Ophelia in Hamlet. When
Agnes encounters Cribbs during her first appearance in the play, he com-
plains, "Who let you out? You distress the neighborhood with your mut-
tering and singing. I'll have you taken care of." She is unable to hold a
coherent conversation with him; instead, she sings a song, and later mim-
ics Ophelia by scattering flowers across the stage (17 -18). Interestingly, at
the end of the scene Agnes departs from the Ophelia model and invokes
instead the hallucinatory terror of the DTs. After William rescues her
from the angry Cribbs, he instructs Agnes to stay put until he comes
back. When he exits, she sings another verse before offering a short, stilt-
22 As the play progresses, Agnes's story is revealed: she went mad when her
fiance died of the deliriHm tremens, a death caused in part by Cri bbs's machinations. The
villain confesses in a soliloquy, "for my own purposes l ruined (him], I triumphed over
him-he fell-died in a drunken fit, and she (Agnes] went crazy" (17).
23 See, for example, Isaac Ray, Mental Hygiene (1863; reprint, New York: Hafner
Publishing, 1968), 243-44.
Ironically, Cribbs is the only character in the play who actually experiences
the horrors of institutionalization: late in the drama, he is mistaken for Middleton and
ed soWoquy that concludes with an episode of sheer panic:
I will sit on this rock till I hear the bells that are far off,
for them-! think of his words, who says he did not
love me. It was a good character he wanted of the par-
son. A girl out of place, is like an old man out of his
grave. (Bells chime piano.) They won't ask me to their
merry makings, now, though I washed my best calico in
the brook. (Sings.)
''Walk up young man, there's a lady here,
With jewels in her hair."
(Sudden!y ciasp.r her hands and screams) Water, water! Hear
him, oh hear him cry for water; quick, quick! He'll turn
cold again! His lips are blue; water, water! Exit frantical!y,
R. I. E. (19).
Although it is not entirely clear what causes Agnes to scream, it seems
possible she is reliving her fiance's death from the DTs-the traumatic
episode that literally drove her mad. By reenacting her part in the specta-
cle of his death, she offers a preview of Middleton's delusions in Act IV
At the play's conclusion, Agnes serves a dramaturgical function
when she experiences a miraculous recovery and effects the villain's
comeuppance. But her most important purpose is to represent the
omnipresent prospect of madness, clearly indicated by her designation as
"A Maniac" in the cast of characters. She represents the archetypal per-
son-out-of-place, whose lack of clarity and inhibition leads to disruptive
behavior. As she herself states prior to her panic attack, "A girl out of
place, is like an old man out of his grave" (19). Her broken mind causes
her to wander the countryside, well beyond the boundaries of her prop-
er space (the home). In addition, her presence inspires the people around
her, especially Cribbs, to invoke the threat of institutionalization. I sug-
gest that the mutterings, screams, and confusions of Agnes operated in
close partnership with Middleton's DTs episode to render visible the
specter of insanity that, by 1844, asylums had effectively hidden from
Interestingly, most scholars who have written about The
Drunkard have omitted Agnes in their discussions, aside from brief men-
tions in plot synopses, as if she were a minor character unworthy of
attention. However, it seems that Agnes lingered in the minds of specta-
tors. For example, John Bouve Clapp singles her out in a 1903 Boston
Evening Transcript article about the drama's premiere at the Boston
Museum: ''Agnes Dowton, the poor insane girl, has a mad scene that
never fails, in the hands of a capable actress, to arouse the sympathy and
pity of the spectators."25 Moreover, casting records kept by the Boston
Museum's stage managers indicate that the second-ranked actress in the
company usually portrayed Agnes. In the 1849 revival of The Drunkard at
the museum, Mrs. J. W Thoman- nee Elizabeth Anderson, a descendent
of the ftrst Joseph Jefferson-played the role. According to one newspa-
per account, Thoman (a soubrette) could "adapt herself to parts of a
more serious kind without the least display of extravagance," and William
Winter reports that she "became a favorite in Boston."26 Audiences
appreciated her ftne singing voice, which may be another reason why she
was cast in the part.27 Thoman's repertoire also included Nerissa, Regan,
Lady Anne, and the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet.2B
Finally, Agnes's importance is evident in the concluding tableau
of The Drunkard, which displays the Middleton family in domestic tran-
quility. The final stage direction reads,
EDWARD plqys on a flute !Jmphof!Y to "Home, sweet home."
... The burthen is then taken up I?J chorus of villagers behind .
. . The meloc!J is repeated quicker, and all retire with the excep-
AGNES, singing, and becoming gradualfy diminuendo. Air
repeated slowfy. JUUA kneels to EDWARD, who is at table,
R H. seated in prqyer. EDWARD'S hand on bible, and point-
25 John Bouve Clapp, "The First Dramatic Success," Boston Evening Transcript,
16 May 1903, n.p., Boston Museum Subject File, Prints and Photographs Department,
Boston Athenaeum.
26 Unidentified clipping, "Personalities: Tho" clippings ftle, Harvard Theatre
Collection; William Winter, The Jeffersons (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1881), 95. Playbills
from the premiere production of The Drunkard in 1844 indicate that the actress "Miss E.
Coad" originated the role of Agnes (Boston Museum Playbills File, Harvard Theatre
Collection). This might be Emily Coad, an actress and singer who debuted at the Chestnut
Theatre in Philadelphia and enjoyed a solid career in California during the Gold Rush era
("Drop-Curtain Monographs," New York Times, 3 July 1887, 16). The 1844 premiere of
The Drunkard also featured Mrs. G. C. Germon (nee Jane Anderson and a sister of
Elizabeth Anderson/Mrs. J. W Thoman) as Mary.
John Bouve Clapp, "The First Star," Boston Evening Transcript, 9 May 1903,
n.p., Boston Museum Subject File, Prints and Photographs Department, Boston
28 Boston Museum Cast Lists, volume 1 (1845-1857), Harvard Theatre
ing up. MARY standing leaning upon his chair. W'ILLIAM
and AGNES, L center. Music till curtain falls. Picture (50) .
Although McConachie, Mason, and Frick have all discussed this tableau,
they focus on Middleton, Mary, and Julia; they do not note that Agnes
and William are also present.29 In other words, Agnes is hidden in plain
sight. This omission signals, I think, a noteworthy gap in our under-
standing of The Drunkard and its historical moment. Her presence under-
scores the idea that wayward individuals can be restored to society.
Agnes's recovery, like Middleton's, reassures spectators that redemption is
possible. As Bastide argues, every illness works in partnership with its
cure: "The dynamics of mental disorder operate within a system where
both the deviant and society are in collaboration .... [I]t is not only the
appearance of the illness which is part of the system, but also its disap-
pearance."30 Agnes's inclusion in the last scene suggests that every
American, despite lapses in proper behavior and respectability, could
rehabilitate and join the ranks of ordinary citizens once more.
Granted, a particular scene in a particular play cannot fully cap-
ture the complex corporeal politics of a historical moment. Renditions of
the DTs were temporary and fleeting, constituting just a few moments in
a relatively long evening. In addition, DTs scenes satisfied practical needs
related to market share and capital, providing actors with opportunities
to leverage their talent and offering audiences the pleasure of witnessing
an acting tour de force. But the sensationalism of the DTs sequence derived
from the audience's belief that such scenes occurred in the real world.
Physicians and activists considered the DTs to be a form of temporary
insanity and, perhaps even more importantly, a manifestation of moral
deviance. A spectator's perception of a performer's feigned madness was
likely informed, in whole or part, by this understanding. Reformers
employed many images to advance the temperance cause, especially
dystopian visions of the drunkard's ragged family; but through spectacles
of insanity, dramatists, performers, and activists reinforced the orderly
middle-class body in a powerful and visceral way.
9 McConachie, Melodramatic Formations, 184-5; Mason, Melodrama and the Myth of
America, 84-85; Frick, Theatre, Culture, and Temperance Reform, 123.
30 Bastide, Sociology of Mental Disorder, 207.
David Carlyon
It was a real bully circus. It was the splendidest sight that
ever was when they all come riding in, two and two, a
gentleman and lady, side by side, the men just in their
drawers and undershirts, and no shoes nor stirrups, and
resting their hands on their thighs easy and comfort-
able-there must a been twenty of them-and every
lady with a lovely complexion, and perfectly beautiful,
and looking just like a gang of real sure-enough queens,
and dressed in clothes that cost millions of dollars, and
just littered with diamonds. It was a powerful fine sight;
I never see anything so lovely. And then one by one they
got up and stood, and went a-weaving around the ring
so gentle and wavy and graceful, the men looking ever
so tall and airy and straight, with their heads bobbing
and skimming along, away up there under the tent-roof,
and every lady's rose-leafy dress flapping soft and silky
around her hips, and she looking like the most loveliest
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
It was a real bully account. It was bully when Mark Twain wrote it and,
despite changing literary tastes, it still is. Huck's visit to the circus, spread
over five paragraphs in chapter twenty-two, fairly glows on the page,
matching Twain's rapturous descriptions of nature on the Mississippi.!
Violence briefly threatens when the audience rises against a drunk, but
good nature prevails once he turns out to be a performer in disguise. The
circus episode also matches conventional wisdom about old-time circus,
wafting through collective memory as a small, sweet affair mostly for chil-
dren. That sweetness appeared in an illustration common across the nine-
teenth century. Echoed in Twain's description of a woman "looking like
the most loveliest parasol," it showed an equestrienne, one foot on the
horse, the other raised behind her with balletic elegance, with her skirt
1 Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in The Works of Mark Twain, edit-
ed by Robert H. Hirst, volume 8 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 191-4.
mtlrA Uir \tlf'l.-..
l'h1 ... rinu• 11icrttt ... ul' ride-s:
t\11: I'Jfl"'!ht: tsn hC"r   h:\t"k:
.\n,,mU rite! ::l ilff-"l
t\lth t\yin!' ,::u-h IWd
:-,;;.,. w t h• t•bilJ.n.·u.
The l 'fl)•m <.,t-. m     1nt.h.
Figure 1: "Miss Adele's Dancing Act," in Visit to the Circus (New York:
McLoughlin Bros., 1883). Author's Collection.
gracefully billowing in an umbrella-like effect. A version of the illustra-
tion, from a children's book published a year after Huckleberry Finn, con-
veyed the same message: here was sweetness personified, here, childlike
However, Twain was telling a stretcher. His description, like the
nostalgic image of circus and this iconic illustration, hid as much as it
showed. Antebellum circus had been raw adult fare, rife with violence,
politics, and sex, with constant complaints. Twain knew it too. As young
Sam Clemens of Hannibal, Missouri, he reveled in that rowdiness. Then
as author, he normally included it; his writing usually sparkled with lively
anecdotes. But in a famously unsentimental book, he turned momentari-
ly sentimental, transforming sharp-eyed Huck for this episode into a
wide-eyed innocent. In this essay I examine the historiographical context
of Twain's description, before turning to the subject of sex in dirty jokes,
prostitution, and circus voyeurism. A section on voyeurism embedded in
the repeated illustration of equestrienne on horse follows. Finally I will
consider the equestrian/ equestrienne Ella Zoyara. An avatar of gender
contestation, s/he also represents the playfulness of antebellum per-
The notion of circus as a site of sweetness and light would have aston-
ished antebellum America. Before the Civil War, circus played a central
role in American life precisely because it offered boisterous adult fare,
permeated by sex and violence, with political commentary adding spice.
But circus then went through a major cultural shift, from its origin as
adult fare to something for adolescents. That is not to suggest circuses
had excluded children. Appeal had been broad-adults and children
could both appreciate a flip off a horse-and footloose youngsters could
always find their way in, just as children today find sexually explicit mate-
rial that is officially off-limits. Circuses also offered occasional family
matinees. Nevertheless, into the 1860s, circus fare was aimed primarily at
adults. But within a generation the circus not only turned its focus to chil-
dren, it became regarded as a quintessential children's pleasure.
Though Twain did not invent circus sentimentality, he capitalized
on it brilliantly. His masterful depiction burrowed deep into cultural con-
sciousness in part because of his skill, but also because he described pre-
cisely what Americans wanted to believe about circus, then and since, that
it was a sweetly innocent enterprise. Even those who regarded circus as
unsophisticated rely on the cliche of sweet innocence as a contrast to
their own presumably greater sophistication. The influence of Twain's
description deepened over the years, his masterful writing helping solidi-
fy the notion of circus as a vessel of childlike innocence. Though Twain
was writing fiction (and not history) to appeal to Gilded Age tastes, cir-
cus chroniclers have routinely taken his account as a true picture, and
folded it into a growing big top of circus cliches. Meanwhile, poets and
authors have repeatedly drawn on the circus for symbols, and trained his-
torians, little interested in apparent marginalia, have turned to other top-
ics. Just as Edward Said's "Other" was symbolically central but culturally
2 See David Carlyon, Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man Youve Never Heard OJ (New
York: Public Affairs, 2001), especially 196-214 and 405-13.
marginal, American circus became symbolically central but historio-
graphically marginal. With primary evidence scarce, and the broader con-
text obscure, the cotton-candy image continued to dominate both con-
ventional wisdom and scholarly discourse. So no one noticed that Twain's
description served as a pivot in this historical shift.
For the same reason, no one noticed Twain's circus description as
a pivot in the book itself. Without rigorous circus historiography provid-
ing context, Twain scholars treated his sentimentalized description as
essentially historical. Yet external and internal clues are there. For years
Twain struggled to write a children's book as a sequel to Tom SaU(Jer. Then
he visited Hannibal. His boyhood home, font of his creative imagination,
had grown golden in memory but the shabby river town he found told
him it had been shabby before, particularly in its exploitation of slaves.
Returning to the manuscript, he saw his way clear, to a scathing satire of
that shabbiness. So he painted nature in a glowing light and depicted
human enterprises ashore as corrupt or ridiculous-with the exception
of the circus. That turn came with chapter twenty-two. Significantly, but
also unnoticed for over a century, that placement puts Huck's circus in
the exact center of the book, a work in forty-three chapters. Potentially
structural in a book usually considered structureless, the pivot provided
by the circus is also thematic. The circus is an anomaly in Huckleberry Finn,
the only human activity on shore given the positive treatment Twain oth-
erwise devoted to nature on the river, and to the "natural" relationship
between Huck and Jim. Though Twain otherwise mocked sentimentality
in Huckleberry Finn, here he sentimentalized the circus, painting it in the
same glowing strokes he gave to the starry night on the Mississippi.
Meanwhile, the depiction of Huck as a wide-eyed innocent does not fit
Twain's portrayal of his hero elsewhere in the book, but it does fit emerg-
ing sentimentality about the circus and children. That sentimentality can
be seen in one of the most prominent nineteenth-century paintings of
the circus, W H. Brown's "Bareback Riders," done in a primitive style that
corresponds to the bold outlines of Twain's literary version. His senti-
mental vision in this episode may have represented a last look at a boy-
hood as he fondly remembered it, before plunging into the deeper, dark-
er course his masterpiece would take. Reconsidered in the historical con-
text Twain and his readers had known, the circus episode emerges as a
structural and thematic pivot.3
That historical context emerged as performance scholars began
3 David Carlyon, "Twain's 'Stretcher': The Circus Shapes Huckleberry Finn,"
South Atlantic Review 72, no. 4 (Fall2007): 1-36. For this essay's place in Twain scholarship,
sec Alan Gribben, "Mark Twain," American Literary Scholarship (2007), 109.
Figure 2: W H. Brown, "Bareback Riders," 1886.
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. Image courtesy of the
Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
digging through encrusted layers of circus sentimentality to the bedrock
of primary evidence. Applying more rigor than early chroniclers, recent
researchers have looked at details long ignored: show routes, perform-
ance lineups, specific elements and rosters of acts, careers, conditions,
finances, touring, struggles with authorities, feuds with primly disdainful
critics, and interaction with audiences. Stuart Thayer, dean of American
circus history, and William Slout hacked their way through hackneyed
views, using extensive primary sources to lay a foundation in well-
researched accounts of early circus and its performers. Others then built
on those details to explore how circus fit and influenced the larger cul-
ture: David Carlyon's Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man Youve Never Heard OJ,
is a biography and cultural history, examining nineteenth-century per-
formance and middle-class development; in The Circus Age, Janet Davis
investigates cultural issues in the late nineteenth-century expansion of
circus; Peta Tait analyzes Circus Bodies: Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance;
Brenda Assaellooks at The Circus and Victorian Society; Jacky Bratton and
Ann Featherstone cover The Victorian Clown; and Gregory J. Renoff
explores cultural issues in a focused study of The Big Tent: The Traveling
Circus in Georgia, 1820-19 30.4
Those who complained about sex and violence in performance had (and
have) a point: sex and violence do permeate amusements. However these
notorious elements are not simply accessories to the business, subsidiary
to some other, primary purpose. Sex and violence go to the heart of per-
formance. First, they grab attention. That is not merely marketing, a cyn-
ical testament to the fact that sex sells-getting attention is a key aspect
of amusements, crucial in both categories of the dichotomy popular
through the past century, "entertainment," and "art." If a performance is
to have an effect, it must engage the audience-and these two elements
do that sublimely. More importantly, sex and violence resonate because
they reach to the heart of the human condition. In the public conversa-
tion of performance, sex and violence enact the fundamental concerns of
life and death. So it was, supremely, in nineteenth-century circus. People
went for fights and they found them. More particular to the subject here,
they attended for titillation, and got it verbally, in sexual intercourse, and
Antebellum clowns provided the verbal titillation in dirty jokes.
Unfortunately it is not clear what talking clowns said. Newspapers,
unwilling to commit the offensive matter to print, rarely gave examples
of the jokes. Instead, to the approbation of the high-minded (and endur-
ing regret of the researcher), they reverted to euphemism, complaining
about the era's clowns as "objectionable," or praising them as "unobjec-
tionable." That distinction was probably the most frequently rendered
journalistic assessment of the era's clowns. However reports did leave a
hint in repeated references to clowns relying on joe Miller} Joke Book,
which was a collection of jokes, many bawdy, published as Joe Miller} jests
in 1739 and attributed to a favorite London actor who probably told none
of them. As the collection grew tenfold in succeeding editions, "Joe
Stuart Thayer, Annals of the American Circus: 1793-1860 (Seattle: Dauven &
Thayer, 2000 [originally three volumes, 1976, 1986, 1992]); Thayer, Traveling Showmen: The
American Circus Before the Civil War (Detroit: Astley & Ricketts, 1997); William L. Slout,
O!Jmpians of the Sawdust: A Biographical Dictionary of the Nineteenth-Century American Circus (San
Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1998); Carlyon, Dan Rice; Janet M. Davis, The Circus Age:
Culture & Society Under the American Big Top (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
2002); Peta Tait, Circus Bodies: Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance (London and New York:
Routledge, 2005); Brenda Assad, The Circus and Victorian Society (Charlottesville: University
of Virginia Press, 2005); Jacky Bratton and Ann Featherstone, The Victorian Clown
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Gregory ]. Renoff, The Big Tent: The
Traveling Circus in Georgia, 1820-1930 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Miller" became a byword for old jokes. Charles Dickens invoked it in
1843 in Chn'stmas Carol, having Scrooge say, "Joe Miller never made such
a joke as sending [a turkey] to Bob's will be."s The collection was espe-
cially notorious for its ribaldry. That included the jest about the new wife
who urged her husband stay in bed and rest a little. "No, my dear," he
replied, "I'll get up and rest." Other jokes were less discreetly monoga-
mous. It was said of a wench who frequented the law courts, that she
would make an able lawyer herself "if she had as much law in her head,
as she had in her tail."6 The "unobjectionable" clown presumably avoid-
ed Joe Miller's.
Fortunately the thin historical record on clown material thickens in
one major exception, the famous circus clown Dan Rice. Though obscure
when he died in 1900 (and still confused with the blackface star, T. D.
"Jump Jim Crow'' Rice), Dan Rice may have been the most well-known
public figure of his day. His fame soared beyond performance into the
broader culture, thanks to his "hits on the times" (social and political
commentary) and his direct appeal to the emerging middle class. He
almost certainly was seen by more of his fellow citizens than any other
antebellum figure. A colossus of roads and rivers, he traveled the coun-
try on summer tours. Contrary to later images of small shows, antebel-
lum circus tents were some of the largest structures on the continent, and
Rice played to thousands every week, showing six days a week, usually
twice a day. Once the touring season ended, Rice did not lay over, turn-
ing to other work for the winter as lesser circus lights had to do, but
joined all-star shows in the country's major theatres in Boston, New
Orleans, Washington, New York, and Philadelphia (where he performed
at the Walnut Street Theatre, still in operation). People around the coun-
try knew that "Riceana" meant another quip born from Dan's lightning
wit, or at least attributed to him, the way jokes were later attributed to
Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain. Scholars consider Rice, whose tours
took him to Hannibal, Missouri, to be Twain's model for the clown,
"quick as a wink with the funniest things a body ever said," that delight-
ed Huck.7
5 Charles Dickens, Christmas Carol, 92. Electronic Text Center, University of
Virginia Library, http:/ / (accessed 9
February 2010).
6 Qohn Mottley], joe Miller's jests, or the Wit's Vade-mecum, edited by Robert
Hutchinson (1739; New York: Dover, 1963), 45, 42.
7 Carlyon, Dan Rice; Twain, Huckleberry Finn, 192. To confuse T. D. Rice and
Dan Rice would be like confusing Michael Keaton and Buster Keaton.
Because of Rice's prominence, more was written about him, leav-
ing at least a few details of his material. He was regularly praised for being
"unobjectionable." That was a testament to his popularity, for the praise
ignored the fact that, like other clowns, he told dirty jokes. For instance,
he made a joke of warning the ringmaster to stay away from Mrs. Rice.
Relying on the period's anti-Mormon bias, in a tall tale about scheming
with Joseph Smith, Rice tossed a titillating hint about Mormon polygamy
by saying he might take advantage "of the spiritual comforts just intro-
duced by Joe."s Another time, Rice boasted about the arousing effect of
his embrace. He said that when he kissed a woman, she "felt as if some-
thing was running through her nerves on the foot of diamonds escorted
by angels, shaded by honeysuckles, and the whole spread with the melted
rainbow. Jerusalem! what power there is in a full-breasted kiss."9
References to "angels" or a "melted rainbow" sound innocent but the
passage as a whole conveys a more lewd effect. It may be as close as polite
nineteenth-century print came to a description of orgasm.
Rice practiced what he preached. In Buffalo in 1846, he was arrest-
ed for "criminal conversation," the legal system's euphemism for adultery.
He escaped, hid for a few days, was recaptured, then released because the
offended husband, a member of the circus band, did not press charges.1o
Unabashed, Rice turned the incident into another story which became
such a hit that he published it in his promotional biography. In his ver-
sion of events, the circus was traveling between towns when Dan saw the
wife of "Mr. M" on horseback, exposed to the elements. Concerned for
her well-being, he invited her to join him in "his capacious carriage."
When the husband then threatened her, our hero intervened, venturing
to "interpose his arm" to protect her. Once the troupe reached town,
Rice arranged a room for her at his hotel. Events that night showed the
"facility with which his sympathies are aroused." Hearing noises in the
lady's room, he broke in to discover her husband attacking her. Rice leapt
in, holding the abuser "against the wall with one hand, while with the
other he placed the fainting lady upon a sofa," her clothes disordered.
Predictably this account displays the teller as noble and innocent.
However, an alternate version lurks between the lines, the details loaded
8 "A Ticklish Subject," Dan Rices Songs, Sentiments, jests, and Stories (New York,
1865), 36; in Joseph Smith [Wessel T. B. Van Orden], Sketches from the Life of Dan Rice, the
Shakspearian jester and Original CloiPII (Albany, NY, 1849), 13-25. For discussion of these
examples, see Carlyon, Dan Rice, 307, 48-49.
9 Maria Ward Brown, The Lzje of Dan Rice (Long Branch, NJ, 1901), 292.
10 Morning Express (Buffalo), 28-29 August and 1-2 September 1846.
with suggestive hints, hints that could be emphasized in performance:
Dan encountered an exposed woman and invited her into his large car-
riage, with space to stretch out; he then offered her an arm, a room, and
his "aroused" feelings. The tale reaches its climax with her clothes in dis-
array. Unless one adopts the ahistorical attitude that nineteenth-century
audiences were too reserved to appreciate public jokes about sex, Rice's
ribaldry is clear.11
People got more than talk at the circus. Sexual intercourse could be
found as well. "The Flying Trapeze," a song better known as "The Daring
Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," came out in 1867, about a sweetheart
abandoning her parentally-approved suitor to run away with a flyer. The
lyrics did not need to state explicitly that sex drew the runaway. Sex also
reared its head in hints of prostitution. The public press was even less
likely to be explicit about this subject than the details of a clown's "objec-
tionable" jokes. Yet concern regularly shone through accounts of circus
women, both in veiled warnings about some and in desperate insistence
on the propriety of others. As a circus owner, Rice made clear in his pub-
licity that he excluded "improper persons" from backstage, without need-
ing to explain why. Everyone knew that meant men seeking sex.12 That
practice was illustrated in Theatrical and Circus Life; or Secrets of the Stage,
Greenroom and Sawdust Arenas. The subtitle "Secrets" promises a racy treat-
ment, a promise fulfilled in a depiction of circus women on flagrant dis-
play, observed by proto-stage door Johnnies. That hint of 1882
"HoopLa!," paid or not, lurks in the shadows of the picture, just as it
existed in the shadows of circus. In her deeply researched and evocative
book, Actresses as Working Women, Tracy C. Davis compares prostitutes
and actresses in an analysis that would encompass circus performers,
pointing out they were "types of women whose public lives, financial
fragility, and independence signaled vulnerability and the likelihood of
successful, undetected exploitation."13
Between hints of sex in dirty jokes and actual sex in quick encoun-
ters, nineteenth-century circus offered a display of barely-clothed bodies.
As in burlesque, with its baggy-pants comics kin to clowns of the circus,
display was a major point. Circus anticipated theatre's notorious leg
11 Smith, Sketches from the Ufi of Dan Rice, 57-63.
12 Clipping, "Curiosities of Dan Rice's Great Show," c. March 1860, Harvard
Theatre Collection.
13 John J. Jennings, Theatrical and Circus Life; or Secrets of the Stage, Greenroom and
Sawdust Arenas (St. Louis, 1882), 512; Tracy C. Davis, Actresses as Working Women: Their
Social Identity in Victorian Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), 92.
Figure 3: From John J. Jennings, Theatrical and Circus Lift; or Secrets of the Stage,
Greenroom and Sawdust Arenas (St. Louis, 1882), 512.
shows like The Black Crook (1866) by presenting a frank, extended look at
the human form. Officially the pitch was skill, vigor, and beauty: come
see our talented performers. However, theatre and circus implicitly invit-
ed one to leer at legs. The antebellum equivalent of Las Vegas, circus dis-
played showgirls in revealing wear. Boys too. People of both sexes were
eager to eyeball the male body. Whether Walt Whitman was homosexual
or homosocial, his keen interest shines through his review of Rice's cir-
cus in Brooklyn in 1856: "It can do no harm to boys to see a set of limbs
display all their agility." Ostensibly Whitman was repeating a favorite
theme, the vigorous combination of mind and body, and the circus was
a healthy exemplar. As he put it, ''A circus performer is the other half of
a college professor. The perfect Man has more than the professor's brain,
and a good deal of the performer's legs." Yet however high-minded,
Whitman emphasized the pleasure of watching "these wonderfully leg-
developed individuals."14
14 "The Circus," Life Illustrated, 30 August 1856, in New York Dissected, edited by
Emory Holloway and Ralph Adimari (New York: Rufus Rockwell Wilson, 1936), 193-96.
Circus had an advantage over theatre because it could plead utility,
claiming that efficiency and safety required the display of its performers
in skimpy clothing. That was a legitimate claim. Turning a "somerset"
(somersault) is tough in a bustle. Even so, the practical necessity of sparse
attire highlighted the sexual allure. Circuses have always been adept at
officially directing the audience gaze at the skill while inviting it to linger
on the body demonstrating that skill. Jules Leotard, the flyer who inspired
"The Flying Trapeze," invented a one-piece outfit that he called a "mail-
lot" but eventually acquired its name from him, the leotard. The look in
old photographs of thick tights, bulky trunks, and the body-hugging leo-
tard may seem modest, especially to eyes inured to the twenty- first-cen-
tury public parade of displayed skin, but tights and leotards were risque
at a time when clothing normally covered both genders neck to toe. In
the circus, the intent was then as now: display the maximum allowed by
society's standards, while hinting at what is not quite seen. That tactic can
be seen in the circus today, when women wear nude-colored leotards to
look, like their sister performers of long ago, nearly naked. Parading sex-
uality beneath its family-fare image, the circus presents virtual G-strings
with a G-rating. And so it was in 1860, when T. Allston Brown, former
circus agent and future theatre historian, lamented the "nude style of
dressing that now prevails at the circus."Js
Historian Tracy C. Davis, in her book Actresses as Working Women,
examined this "vestimentary convention" of nineteenth-century per-
formance. She described "fleshings," or tights, as "the article most heav-
ily invested with indexical signification of skin, eroticism, and sexual
stimulation."16 So pronounced was the well-understood intention of this
display-what Brown had called the "nude style of dressing" and Davis
labeled "clothed nudity"-that the phrase "ballet girls" began as one of
contempt. Like strippers in a later era or the dancers in The Black Crook,
such women were deemed to be simply displaying their bodies for pay,
Whitman was not alone in deciding that circus admirably blended mind and body. The
Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 January 1860, intoned: "We love the circus because it teaches a truth,
that in our too intellectual age we are not a little apt to forget- 'No sound mind without
a sound body."' (The same article ascribed the efficiency of British cavalry to boys' love
of equestrianism, similar to the bromide attributed to the Duke of Wellington the same
year as Whitman's review, in 1856, that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.
C. F. R. Montalembert, De L'avenir Politique de I'Angleterre, chapter 10, quoted in Elizabeth
M. Knowles, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 810).
15 New York Clipper, 29 December 1860, 296.
16 Davis, Actresses as Working Women, 135.
barely a step above--even an invitation to-prostitution. Not surprising-
ly, circuses employed ballet girls for its spectacles. In 1860, Rice added ''A
Full Corps de Ballet and 100 Auxiliaries" to his circus for the giant spec-
tacle, The Magic Ring. Treading the line between titillation and respectabil-
ity, his publicity simultaneously promised display of female performers
and emphasized their respectability by contrasting them with "Stars of
the Ballet" who "are notoriously liberal in their display of personal
Observers agreed. That included those who equipped them-
selves to better witness the outrage.
I used no opera glasses at first, but at last had to use
them to see whether she even had tights on or not, so
nearly was the colour of the flesh imitated. She had
nothing on but a very short skirt-which when she
danced & pirouetted flew right up to her head, & left the
rest of the body with the waist exposed except for a very
slight white gauze between the limbs.1s
When the presence of tights was "a matter of inference and faith, not of
observation & knowledge," one might see a woman, lying with legs "fully
exposed .... A very thin piece of gauze, mark you, is thrown slantingly
across the person, but not sufficient to hide."19 Furthering this lascivious
wink was the nickname for tights, "symmetricals," suggesting two lines
with a common axis. This turbulent sexuality erupted in one diarist's
heavy breathing over a woman on the trapeze: "The only clothing she had
on was a blue satin doublet fitting close to her body and having very
scanty trunk hose below it. Her arms were all bare; her leg, cased in flesh-
ings, were as good as bare up to the hip." These confessions to his pri-
vate self made it clear that people were invited to watch what parts of her
17 "Curiosities," Harvard Theatre Collection. Oli\·e Logan was especially harsh
about "ballet girls," in Before the Footlights & Behind the Scenes (Philadelphia, 1870), 576, 583,
but caution should be exercised. Though historians treat her as an objective observer, a
broader context shows class bias. She was a failed actress who turned to lecturing, where
she flattered the sensibilities of her middle class audiences by scorning her old field, while
titillating them by expanding on the "leg business."
18 Greater London Record Office, verbatim testimony, 10 October 1894,
LCC/MIN/10,803, quoted in Davis, Actresses as Working Women, 156.
19 Greater London Record Office, W A. Cooke's verbal submission to the
Licensing Hearings (1894], LCC/MIN/10,870, quoted in Davis, Actresses as Working
Women, 129.
body they would. As she performed, men "held her upside down in the
air, her limbs all sprawling apart." At the climax of the act, "half nude as
she was," with "her fair young face all crimson with heat and wet with
perspiration," she stood "perched up there, naked and unprotected, with
no one to help her."20 This heavy breather was no anomaly: by the 1890s,
pornographic pictures included naked female trapeze performers and
The image of the equestrienne standing on one leg on horseback, with
one or more men ill attendance, seems innocence itself. So it has been
routinely regarded, and with reason. Visually, it produced a pleasillg pic-
ture. As seen in an early version, from the 1843 London Gazette, the tutu-
like skirt spreads horizontally, balancing the vertical of the standing rider,
while the men standing apart balance the overall composition. Then as a
practical matter, it promised what an audience would see in a typical rid-
ing act. Circus began as an animal display, the skill of horse and of rider
combined with comedy, and the early days showcased riding acts as long
as twenty millutes. That required attendants. The "master of the rillg," in
charge of the performance generally, controlled the horse. The clown
originally provided comedy to give the rider a short break during the act.
Clowns also handled the props, such as a "balloon," the paper-cover
hoop the rider leapt through. That explains the phrasing "clown to"
found ill early advertisements: "clown to the rope" (tightrope), "clown to
the equestrian acts," as well as "clown to the stage."21
Yet understanding the bodily display of early circus reveals the sex-
ualized nature of this iconic illustration. In illstance after illstance of per-
20 George A. Speaight, A History of the Circus (London: Tantivy Press, 1980),
74-76; Tait quoted the diarist but omitted the more lascivious bits (Circus Bodies, 22-23).
21 While the individual skills of riding, clowning, and juggling reach back into
the mists of time, what became known as "circus" had a distinct beginning: in London in
the 1780s when Philip Astley expanded his riding displays by adding juggling and come-
dy. John Bill Ricketts then presented the first American circus in 1793 Philadelphia. As
circus expanded, more performers meant shorter acts, so riders needed less rest and
employed assistants to handle props, freeing the clown to develop the comedy as a dis-
tinct act. The "masrer of the ring" evolved as well, into three roles. The man in charge of
the horses had also been the man in charge of the show but with expansion the former
became equestrian director and the latter the performance director. Meanwhile the origi-
nal label, master of the ring, shifted to the announcer, now called "ringmaster." See
Thayer, Annals, 55-58; and A. H. Saxon, Enter Foot and Horse: A History of the Hippodrama
in England and France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).
Figure 4: Engraving, "Madame Lejars" at Batty's Amphitheatre, London Gazette,
August 1843. Author's Collection.
haps the most repeated image in the century's circus art and advertising,
the men are placed precisely as if they were looking up the woman's skirt.
The frequent appearance of three men in the image suggests the infinity
of men who might be watching, the male gaze embodied. While the men
in the London Gazette engraving (figure 4) are not positioned to look up
the skirt, the anonymous artist drew spectators who could look directly
along the equestrienne's raised leg, reinforcing the suggestiveness. That
would not have been surprising in 1843, when circus was flourishing as
adult amusement. Yet the sexuality persisted even as circus, as part of the
growing sentimentality, came to be regarded as children's fare. The same
children's book that supplied figure 1 included a similar image. Here too
(figure 5), peeking through the presumed innocence, the basic elements
endure: A woman standing on horseback, her skirt flying up in the back,
with men, including a clown, looking up at her from the ring. Here too,
with an audience as part of the picture, some are shown looking up her
dress as well. Increasing the suggestiveness is an inside joke, the first line
of the accompanying text referring to "Miss Fanny." Americans knew the
word "fanny" as slang for rear end but it had a different meaning in the
United Kingdom, where "fanny" referred to female genitalia. And that,
after all, is the ultimate aim of male voyeurism. Shakespeare, ribald as
usual, spelled it out in Mercurio's line about a "fine foot, straight leg, and
f."IJW.._..., J.l, .....

t"h1l i n ru·h altire--
Hur plw•n ;...,...rn:-. fuil uf Gn
., • mnn•J n n..::. " 1\.lt r. aJ-•:d -,t.·irtc ,\nrl &tt\p
Tia• L.nrM. ..w.111·idt ht'"P ,, • ..
QWJ\   ;, .....1'1 'l•ly ..
f'rn' h*" t. · i1 -'1·!: :i. naai·l - :Lh.
.\n•l .. J•Mnf!inrr • oo1" th"" :- "u.ll.!
n,-;!Jiu ... 11 .. ,... . upun llt  
• tlt•. ( !· UIIJ.l.., ''ill.t CUI ' r:LJ i .. phy,
\ t lJ t-Jevh:\nt r, ... play.
Figure 5: "Miss Fanny," in Visit to the Circus. Author's Collection
quivering thigh, and the demesnes that there adjacent lie."22
Sexuality persisted into what became seen as a quintessential chil-
dren's amusement because the fundamental nature of circus performance
itself did not change. The allusions to sex became buried but remained
integral to what could be seen. That helps explain the continuing inclu-
sion of the clown in this repeated image. Originally purveyor of dirty
jokes, the clown would have been a perfect agent for this visual dirty joke.
Then as circus became romanticized as a children's amusement, the clown
became romanticized as well. As clown-with-child became iconic, the
clown virtually embodied the new notion of innocence. Yet the clown
presumably continued to make the same jokes. Though the research on
late nineteenth-century clowns has not yet been done, it is likely that audi-
22 Romeo and juliet, II.ii.19-20.
Figure 6: Trade card, c. 1873, "Cooper, Bailey & Co's." Author's Collection.
ences still got jokes about sex, chapter and verse, word and gesture. In
any case, the sexuality that adults would have remembered still hovered
around the clown, and the clown continued to wink out of the picture, in
conspiracy with the knowing, gazing adult. Another variation on the basic
image includes "a clown to the rope." It appeared on a trade card. Like
baseball cards in the next century, the trade card was a small piece of
cardboard used for promotion. In figure 6 (a card approximately 2 1/2"
by 4 1/2") the man is not looking directly up the woman's legs- though
the clown does seem to be winking conspiratorially at us- but if any-
thing, sexual innuendo has increased. The anonymous artist raised the
skirt unnaturally above the clown's head, with no hint of shielding petti-
coats. In this scenario, the clown would only have to raise his head to see
what ribald literature would have called her modesty. Hence, that con-
spiratorial wink. By extension, men in the implied audience behind her
could look for themselves.
Twain's circus description reveals the same camouflaged sexuality.
Usually Twain was notorious for omitting sex from his writing.
Nevertheless, he snuck in a bit in the description of "every lady's rose-
leafy dress flapping soft and silky around her hips, and she looking like
the most loveliest parasol." It does not take a prurient reader to ponder
things "soft and silky around her hips." That hint would have been obvi-
ous to adults of the 1880s, who had seen the same leg shows as Twain
Figure 7: "Playing Circus," in Jennings, Theatrical and Circus Life, 520.
and knew the original association of circus and sex. And when does a
woman look like a parasol? When her skirt is raised. That may explain
why Twain momentarily sentimentalized Huck, using his presumed inno-
cence to hide the sexuality.
Of course sentimentality does not flourish without challenge. The
increasingly bloated sentimentality of nineteenth-century circus invited
mockery. In a cultural reaction, the word "circus" got turned on its head.
The varied performances under canvas came to mean a different kind of
variety, in rowdy commotion or confusion; people began saying "it's a cir-
cus around here" or "that meeting turned into a circus." Twain used this
alternate meaning in Huckleberry Finn. Even as he depicted the genuine
article in chapter twenty-two, he described Tom Sawyer subjecting Jim in
chapter thirty-nine to a "circus" of rats and snakes. "Circus" also became
slang for especially wild actions with prostitutes.23 An 1882 book pictured
a publishable version, using a variation of the basic equestrienne image
to convey this salacious kind of "playing circus" (see figure 7). This
woman "rider," leg up and skirt flying, stands on a man on all fours, like
a horse.
23 &ndom House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, s.v. "circus," first use
cited, 1878. "Circus" as a reference to sex acts continued at least into the 1950s. See John
Steinbeck, East of Eden (New York: Viking Press, 1952), 580. It may still survive in broth-
els; I have not done primary research.
Figure 8: Detail, "Chez Molier," Le Courier Franrais, 21 June 1891. Author's
The voyeurism became explicit, this side of pornography, in a
French journal. In 1880 Ernest Molier began an amateur circus. He was
an accomplished rider, and enlisted the elite of Paris, including aristocrats
and writers, as riders and gymnasts for his Cirque d'Amateurs.
Gymnastics and physical training had become popular, a vogue that man-
ifested itself elsewhere in the revival of the Olympics in 1896.24 A decade
after Molier began, a French periodical carried a full-page illustration of
acts from his show. The largest image, covering two-thirds of the page,
pictures a woman standing on horseback, watched by a covey of men (see
figure 8). They are pictured in evening wear, top hats, and monocles; she
is naked.25
24 Tait, Circus Bodies, 31-36. Tait points out that the word "masculinity" came
into wide use in the 1890s (34).
5 George Speaight, A History of The Circus, 161; Nichola A. Haxell, '"Ces
Dames du Cirque': A Taxonomy of Male Desire in Nineteenth-Century French Literature
and Art," MLN 115 (September 2000): 783-800. Before the field took on the name "cir-
cus," one show had called itself "Olympic." That was understandable. Circus acts led to
gymnastic sports, including rings and vault (over a "horse"). If "olympic" had become the
label for what we now call circus, founders of the Olympic movement would have faced
Circus had another antebellum offering that combined sexual titillation
and gender controversy, each a lure, together nearly irresistible. It began
in 1860 with the first American appearance of Ella Zoyara. Praised for
graceful riding, Zoyara also displayed a woman's grace offstage, or so said
the publicity. But whispers about Ella's gender grew to questions and
then a media uproar. Was she a he? "She" was. In 1852, Spencer Stokes
dressed an apprentice, Omar Kingsley, to perform as a girl and took him
to Europe. There the slim boy performed variously as "Ella Stokes" and
"Ella Zoyara." (Apprentices often took the name of their masters. James
Bailey, of Barnum & Bailey, was originally James McGuinness before
joining on.) After eight years on the Continent and in England, Stokes
brought Omar/Ella back for a 16 February New York debut with a cir-
cus at Niblo's Garden.
As the gender question drew attention, other showmen rushed to
exploit it. Within a week, Christy's Minstrels presented the   giant,
Zoyara."26 That was a glancing allusion, like many minstrel show jokes,
simply a name suggesting some current event. A more direct response
came at Dan Rice's Great Show. Bringing his circus to Philadelphia's
National Theatre for the winter season, Rice followed the ballet-girl thrill
of his Magic Ring with another thrill, his own Ella Zoyara. Rice's public-
ity insisted that this was the original Zoyara, and that his rider was a gen-
uine woman. Rice told half the truth: the performer was a female, prob-
ably his apprentice Estelle Barclay. However, by then the true gender was
beside the point. In the escalating controversy, the titillating question
mattered more than biological fact, and both were of more import than
what any of the riders did in performance. Keeping the pot boiling, Rice
issued a statement of mock indignation that Stokes' Zoyara was fake.27 It
was not simply publicity. Genuine questions did rise. Early in the contro-
versy, one amusement weekly, The Spirit of the Times, sniffed that "If
[Zoyara] is a man, the 'humbug' is a very dishonest one." Yet even here,
before the joke became clear, a wry shrug crept in, about a proprietor
who "put too much faith in Barnum's book."2B People recognized it as
a quandary, the name of their ancient ideal already applied to the English-speaking world's
most popular amusement, Carlyon, Dan Rice, 39-42.
26 New York Clipper, 25 February 1860, 359.
27 New York Clipper, 3 March 1860, 367, and 17 March 1860, 383.
28 Spirit of the Times, 11 February 1860, 12.
controversy for the sake of controversy. The other major show-business
weekly, The New York Clipper, made that clear, with a tongue-in-cheek
report of alternating genders referring to Stokes' Zoyara.
He was unfortunate enough to lose her balance while
performing his bare back act, and before she could
recover himself, down she went, sustaining an injury to
one of his feet, which incapacitated her from appearing
for a short time. He is again on hand, however, or, at
least, on foot, astonishing the spectators by her wonder-
ful command over the horse.29
Compounding uncertainty, when Rice moved on to Baltimore, he exhib-
ited Zoyara's "mother" driving a 12-horse hitch through the streets.30
Naturally this gender pretense/performance has attracted scholar-
ly interest, yielding valuable work.3t However the helpful focus on issues
of gender has tended to miss a crucial element: the playfulness inherent
in this "controversy." In Circus Bodies, her otherwise fascinating study of
cultural identity, Peta Tait refers to only the first Zoyara and focuses on
the persuasiveness of the masquerade, while ignoring both the joke and
the publicity value of controversy; there is little recognition that the
"secret" was widely known. Shauna Vey contributes to the scholarly dis-
course in her discussion of these four Zoyaras but similarly falters in the
broader historical context of "the show business." Rice's Zoyara was not
a man pretending to be a woman, a key point in Vey's analysis, but a
woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. Vey mistakes
Dan Rice's circus for a minstrel company, despite quoting a reference to
riding, which no minstrel show had. More broadly, like Tait, she frames
the matter as a sober public quandary rather than the good-humored
publicity stunt it was. The New York Clipper writer alternating gender pro-
29 New York Clipper, 25 February 1860, 359.
30 Baltimore American, 16 April 1860.
31 For earlier scholarship on Zoyara, see Carlyon, Dan Rice, 279-81, 311, 320;
Tait, Circus Bodies, 66-70; and Shauna Vey, "The Master and the Mademoiselle: Gender
Secrets in Plain Sight in Antebellum Performance," Theatre History St11dies 27 (2007): 39-
59. Vey is particularly shaky on the circus business. In addition to mistaking a circus for
a minstrel company, she treats exaggerated attacks on Rice's show as fact, missing their
socially constructed nature; does not recognize the common publicity ploy of public chal-
lenges to other riders; and apparendy does not realize that, except for stars like Rice who
appeared in winter all-star shows, circus performers routinely had to find other work
between summer tours.
nouns was not a "bemused" outside observer, as Vey suggests, but an
insider continuing the joke. Confusion among the Zoyaras [Zoyari?] was
not merely "imitation," but Rice pushing the "controversy."
P. T. Barnum had great success pushing controversy. Though he
didn't invent the technique, he employed it more than any other show-
man of his day. James W Cook makes the persuasive case in The Arts of
Deception: Plqying with Fraud in the Age of Barnum, that this technique
worked so well because it touched a cultural nerve. As the emerging mid-
dle class wondered about its status in an officially classless society, it
found comfort in sorting out the uncertainty in notorious presentations
like Barnum's, while feeling awkward as that uncertainty matched their
own. In Cook's words, this was an age of "artful deception," when audi-
ences both reveled in and worried about claims made.32 The Zoyara
deceptions produced the same effect, generating both pleasure and awk-
ward uncertainty. The Clipper coverage emphasized the playful pleasure.
A few weeks after the she/he quotation above, the weekly returned to the
point, making a word play on "sell" as synonym for a humbug: "Dan is a
showman, and understands his business better than Barnum ever did
his," so Rice triumphs with his "remarkable 'dam-sell."'33
There is a tendency to regard the nineteenth century as less savvy
than our own age. Despite innumerable cautions against ahistorical
assumptions, the attitude persists that they were more often fooled than
us. A good example is what I have labeled the Rube Story, variations on
the tale of a rustic at the theatre who is too naive to understand that the
play is a fictional representation. Though historians routinely repeat the
Rube Story as representative fact, it is itself fiction. Careful study
unearthed the urban legends or literal fictions behind the Rube Story. It
also revealed its social construction, as the Rube Story reinforced hege-
mony, inexorably assigning the presumed stupidity to a marginalized fig-
ure: rustics, of course, but also blacks, Native Americans, Mormons, and
women. Why have historians persisted in presenting this fiction as fact?
For one thing, a single study cannot easily overturn decades of historio-
graphical habit, as the same stories get recycled, with accumulation sug-
gesting accuracy. More crucially, the Rube Story neatly- if ahistorically-
32 James W Cook, The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001). Neil Harris, Humbug: The Art of P. T.
Barnum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973) also emphasized the public play,
what he called an "operational aesthetic," but Cook focuses more specifically on cultural
issues (75-78).
33 Clzpper, 10 March 1860, 375.
Figure 9: Tobacco card, "The Circus Rider," 1889. Author's Collection.
represents the conventional and convenient notion of a benighted nine-
teenth-century audience.34 But the nineteenth century knew as well as our
own that plays are fiction, that blacked-up whites are not genuinely black,
and that showmen ginned up performance "controversies" to get atten-
tion. Nineteenth-century audiences also had a sense of humor. Even as
Mazeppa retained its popularity over decades, ubiquity and occasional sec-
ond-rate productions turned this thrilling chase on horseback into an eas-
ily understood joke. That was captured in a front-page cartoon in 1857.
A docile, swaybacked horse is being led by a slack rope held by an off-
stage hand, with a fake buzzard suspended above, with the pictured
lethargy above an ironic caption: "Mazeppa-Again he urges on his wild
The Zoyara joke popped up again years later, on another trade
card. The one shown in figure 9, a tobacco card from 1889, shows the
now standard standing equestrienne, her raised parasol of a skirt, a clown
grinning at us, and an indistinctly drawn audience in a position to leer. As
34 David Carlyon, "'Blow Your Nose with your Fingers': The Rube Story As
Crowd Control," New England Theatre Journa/7 (1996): 1-22.
35 New York Clipper, 11 April1857, 401 (front page); Saxon, Enter Foot and Horse,
ostensibly innocent as other such images, the card continues the same
sexual innuendo. The text on the back pushes the point. Extolling the
rider's beauty and skill, it identifies the rider as Ella Zoyara. Though the
Zoyara craze was a generation old by then, it was well within living mem-
ory. Those buying the tobacco, looking at this image, and reading "Ella
Zoyara" on the back would have gotten the joke. A punch line reinforced
it. When the text insisted that "Riders like this are born, not made," a
contemporary reader would have remembered that matters had once
been exactly the opposite: the "maid" Zoyara was very much made.
Historiography's erasure of sex from nineteenth-century circus fits the
conventional view of circus as small, sweet, and innocent but misses evi-
dence in plain sight. The real "good, old days" of circus provided robust
sexuality; in clown's jokes, occasional intercourse, and this repeated illus-
tration of men looking up a woman's skirt. Whatever issues of taste,
morality, gender, or economic empowerment came into play, sexual allu-
sion glimmers through the apparent innocence. It also serves as a salutary
reminder that nineteenth-century audiences were not the naive rubes of
nostalgic tales and Twain's fiction, clueless bystanders missing references
that would only be caught by later, wiser ages. To the contrary, they were
as smart, sophisticated, and sexual as ourselves. They also had a sense of
humor; they got the joke. The text accompanying figure 1 describes the
equestrienne as a "Fairy from a story-book - I A Princess from their
dreams." That may have been. But the parasol effect with eager men
ogling puts an entirely new construction on the text's final couplet:
'While as they watch the dancing sprite I The Clowns seem grinning
with delight."
Tamara Smith
In the fall of 1868, the management of Wood's Museum in New York
City unveiled its latest exotic import: the Lydia Thompson Burlesque
Troupe, freshly arrived from England, in their inaugural performance of
Ixion. It was an immediate sensation. Critics agreed that the plot-loose-
ly based on a Roman myth about a mortal man who seduced goddess-
es-was thin, but audiences loved the witty puns, the fancy costumes, the
local references, the flirtatious innuendo, and the lively dancing. Above
all, however, audiences were fascinated by the almost exclusively female
cast known for their shapely legs and flowing blonde hair. In the title role
of Ixion was troupe leader Lydia Thompson, a keen businesswoman and
charming comedian rumored to be so beautiful-at least according to her
carefully crafted advance press-that she inspired suicides and duels at
every turn. In a country still reeling from a bloody and recent Civil War,
these comic spectacles were a welcome diversion, and audiences flocked
to see them. Remarking on her New York debut, one of her early review-
ers declared, "There is no question that Miss Lydia has made a great pop-
ular hit." The British Blondes had arrived, and they were taking New
York by storm.t
But while these spectacular burlesques were initially welcomed as
a harmless and entertaining amusement, in early 1869 the critical
response to the Thompson Troupe took a dramatically negative turn.
While in October 1868 the New York press had initially been enthralled
with the Thompson Troupe, praising their wit and beauty in Ixion, as early
as February 1869, editorials had begun to appear criticizing the new
import, and by May the transformation was complete. Responding to
burlesque's coarseness, its foreignness, the unapologetic sexuality of its
actresses, and its dependence on cross-gender casting, in early 1869 the
New York press went on the offensive and attempted to drive the
"Other Places," Spirit of the Timts, 21 November 1868; ' 'Theatres and Things
Theatrical (First Review of Ixion)," Spirit of the Timts, 3 October 1868. The sensational biog-
raphy provided by Thompson's publicist is described and critiqued in "Theatres and Things
Theatrical," Spirit of the Times, 12 September 1868. For a concise description of Thompson's
style and the initial critical response, see Robert C. Allen, Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and
American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 12-14.
so Sl\UTH
Thompson Troupe and their imitators back to England. Leading the
charge was the Spirit of the Times, a national gentleman's entertainment
paper published out of New York City that would become one of
Thompson's most vociferous detractors.
In this essay, I examine the gendered and nationalistic rhetoric
that the Spirit of the Times deployed in both its criticisms of these per-
formers and its contemporaneous political commentary in order to
explain why a lighthearted spectacle like burlesque came to be treated as
a dangerous theatrical invader. By comparing the gendered rhetoric of
two reviews-a damning mockery of The Forty Thieves from February
1869, and an earlier, glowing description of Ixion from October 1868-I
argue that the Spirit's anonymous theatre writer became increasingly hos-
tile to the Thompson Troupe because of the convergence of three
events: the proliferation of imitators that transformed Thompson's per-
formances from a harmless curiosity into the vanguard of a British cul-
tural invasion; comparisons between the Thompson Troupe and two
established United States performers, which inserted the Blondes into an
international cultural rivalry; and the intense debate over the Alabama
Claims, a diplomatic crisis between the United States and Great Britain,
which made conquering the English on every front a matter of national
masculine honor. In this climate, the Thompson Troupe became an
unwilling surrogate for England and the target of nationalistic journalists'
Anglophobia and chauvinism. Ultimately, I argue that the Spirit of the
Times viewed the success of the Thompson Troupe as a typical British
ploy to unman the United States.
At the end of the 1860s, the Spirit of the Times was the most wide-
ly read sporting and entertainment paper in the United States. While not
as popular as the largest mass-circulation dailies, its subscription list of
30,000 readers compared respectably to the New York Times' 59,000, and
as sporting paper it outpaced its nearest rival (the Clipper) by 5,000 sub-
scribers.z And yet even these respectable circulation figures belie the
Spirifs overall influence. In 1873, journalism historian Fredric Hudson
noted that the Spirit was the foremost in its field, and one of only five
contemporary sporting papers worthy of mention in his history of
American journalism. A notice in the paper that letters had been left at
its office for Fanny Kemble and Olive Logan further suggest that the
paper's readership included prominent members of New York's theatri-
cal profession. The Spirit was a specialty paper, but it was respected and
2 George P. Rowell, ed., Ceo. P. Roweil & Co. :r American Newspaper Directory (New
York: Geo. P. Rowell & Co., Newspaper Advertizing Agents, 1870), 698-9, 700, 703.
carried weight among New York's journalistic and theatrical communi-
The Spirit was not the only paper to either react against the
Thompson Troupe or to frame its reaction in nationalist terms. The
Clipper-another New York entertainment weekly-made several attacks
on the troupe, notably a gossipy article condemning the troupe's manag-
er, Alexander Henderson, for anti-American comments he made at a din-
ner party, published alongside a poem characterizing the Blondes as for-
eign gold diggers in search of "fresh victims."4 The New York Times, sim-
ilarly, gradually rescinded its initially favourable assessment of the com-
pany, eventually characterizing them as a foreign frivolity that was crowd-
ing out domestically produced entertainments.s In this respect, the Spirit's
response to the Thompson Troupe can be seen as a representative exam-
ple of anti-burlesque sentiment in the popular press.
And yet, while the Spirit was not alone in its attacks on bur-
lesque, three key features of its journalism make it an especially produc-
tive venue for studying the intersections between masculinity and nation-
alism that drove the anti-burlesque backlash. First, because it was a sport-
ing and entertainment paper, it contained substantial commentary on
popular entertainments. Second, the Spirit was unique among sporting
papers for its frequent and biting political commentary.6 Finally, unlike
widely circulating dailies like the Times, the Spirit had a highly gendered
mandate. Billing itself as "The American Gentleman's Newspaper," the
Spirit courted a wealthy male audience, and reported primarily on such
typically masculine pursuits as horse racing, sports, and hunting. It ran
advertisements for horses and sporting gear, and it frequently lauded
President Grant for his assertiveness and military prowess. This was a
man's paper, and its masculine perspective shaped its editorial stance.
Thus, while other papers participated in the Anglophobic attacks against
the Thompson Troupe, the Spirits outlook and mandate produced a spe-
3 Frederic Hudson, journalism in the United States, .from 1690 to 1872 (New York:
Harper & Brothers, 1873), 341-43; "Notice," Spirit of the Times, 19 September 1868.
"Introductory Overtures," Clipper, 22 May 1869. This dinner party set into
motion a conflict between Henderson and the Spirit of the Times' new theatre critic,
George Butler, that culminated in libel charges against the latter and assault charges
against the former. Butler was not the theatre editor at the time the articles I analyze were
written, however, and so the scandal lies outside the scope of this paper.
5 "Minor Topics (Burlesque Invasion)," New York Times, 17 May 1869.
6 Hudson, journalism in the United States, 342.
cific alchemy of masculinity, politics, and entertainment that makes the
paper particularly well situated to highlight the degree to which gender
and nationalism collided in the anti-burlesque backlash.
In addition to the paper's mandate, part of the reason that gen-
der factored so heavily into the Spirit's critiques of burlesque was that
competing versions of masculinity had dominated discourses of the
recent Civil War, and left lingering anxieties in the popular Northern
imagination. As the war progressed, both sides launched into a rhetorical
battle to emasculate their opponents. The Northern press in particular
seized upon the supposed effeminacy of the South, feminizing them as a
"petticoat confederacy" typified by Jefferson Davis's apocryphal escape
from occupied Richmond in woman's clothing. In the years following the
Civil War, then, gender-particularly masculinity-was at the forefront
of the popular imagination. Given how contested masculinity was during
the preceding years, it is no surprise that a Reconstruction era writer seek-
ing to discredit an opponent would wield manhood and effeminacy as key
rhetorical weapons.7
This preoccupation with masculinity factored heavily in the Spirit's
editorial flavor in the post-war years, and became a prominent feature of
its reviews of the Thompson Troupe. The Spirit's anonymous theatrical
writer begins his February 1869 review of Forty Thieves, for example, with
a heavily gendered caricature of the audience that alternately portrays the
male spectators-epitomized by the article's fictional ''Young
Fitzpoodle"-as passive women and impulsive, impotent infants. This
characterization, it should be noted, is not a description of real burlesque
audiences. While the Thompson Troupe no doubt had their devoted fans,
some of whom likely were idly wealthy, fashionable young men, there is
no record of what proportion of the audience they represented, or how
they responded to the Spirit's attacks. Rather than an actual public, these
''Young Fizpoodles" can most productively be understood as a fictional
construct the author invented to convey the danger that foreign enter-
tainments posed to American manhood.
To communicate this threat, the article suggests the usual bur-
lesque audience was absurdly effeminate, and on this night:
were ranged in gracefully disordered rows in front of
the orchestra. Their little necks were draped in neckties
of spotless white, their little heads shone with the soft
sheen of most odorous macassar, and their little hands,
7 Michael S. Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History, second edition
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 14, 50-52.
squeezed into little gloves, flirted their little canes with
all the graces of a Spanish belle with a flirtation fan.
They were delicately lovely, and graced this occasion as
though created for no other purpose.s
Through this focus on their feminine appearance and vanity, the author
deftly reverses the direction of the male gaze: while he began by criticiz-
ing these men for deploying a lascivious gaze, he ends by suggesting they
invite it. The spectators are "graceful," "little," and "delicate," and, the
author sarcastically notes, particularly suited to playing a decorative role.
While their adornments are appropriate for men-canes, gloves, neckties,
and macassar9-the way the author describes them evokes both feminine
beauty and a desire to attract male sexual attention. The neckties and
gloves emphasize the delicacy of their necks and hands, and the "soft
sheen" of the macassar suggests a feminine preoccupation with beauty as
well as the use of cosmetics to achieve it. Most damningly, the author
transforms their canes into "flirtation fans"-an item strongly associated
with coy feminine     the men themselves into Spanish belles.
Each of these men, the author implies, had gazed so long at women that
he risked becoming one.
These audiences, furthermore, are not only unmanly because
they are too womanly, but also because they are too childish. Describing
these regulars as "fragile babes of fashion," the same article suggests that
they "should be tucked in high chairs, dressed in bibs, and set back
around the walls where they can giggle, ogle, and smirk, and be carried
out when they want to go without disturbing quiet, intelligent people."
As historian Mark E. Kann notes, defining manhood in opposition to
boyhood was a common feature of the rhetoric of citizenship in the
nineteenth-century United States. ''A mature man," he explains, "was a
self-supporting adult who defended liberty, fulfilled family responsibili-
ties, and governed women. His opposite was the 'boy' ... who was lust-
ful, impulsive, and avaricious rather than disciplined."!! In a culture that
"Theatres and Things Theatrical (Reviews of Forry Thieves and Field of Cloth
and Gold;," Spirit of the Times, 6 February 1869.
9 An oil men used to slick back their hair.
"Reviews of Forty Thieves and Field of Cloth and Gold;" "Theatres and Things
Theatrical (Burlesque Mania)," Spirit of the Times, 13 February 1869.
Mark E. Kann, A Republic of Men: The American Founders, Gendered Language,
and Patriarchal Politics (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 20-21.
predicated adult masculinity on sexual restraint, the burlesque spectator
was as much a failed man when he sat openly "ogling" the women before
him "with amorous idiocy" as he was for drawing such a gaze himself. By
depicting the audience as infants, the author exaggerated the immaturity
implied by their lack of restraint to a comically absurd extreme. The
writer wanted to undermine the habitual burlesque-goer's masculinity by
any means possible, and so framed him as a failure as a man on three
counts: effeminacy; an inability to suppress his sexual desires; and allow-
ing himself to be governed by, rather than governing, the women on
stage before him.
It was this last failure that the Spin! most emphasized in its 1869
review. Despite the associations between boyhood and sexual impulsive-
ness, the infantilization of these spectators through a direct analogy with
babies makes the allure of the women onstage take on a distinctly mater-
nal quality. Far from suggesting that the men's attentions posed a threat
to the performers' chastity, the article suggests a power dynamic that
reversed mid-nineteenth-century gender norms. The men are not sexual
aggressors leering at vulnerable girls; they are impotent babes competing
for the attentions of powerful women.
This reversal is typical of the article's characterization of bur-
lesque's gender inversions: just as the male spectators are insufficiently
masculine, the women onstage represent an unconventional femininity
that underscores the audience's emasculation. When the Thompson
Troupe had appeared alongside the living curiosities of Wood's Museum,
the article explains, "the usual burlesque audience ... cheered the dreary
existence of the Nova Scotia giantess by their nightly worship at the feet
of Miss Thompson." The same audience followed the troupe when they
moved to Niblo's Garden, and now turned their obsequious attentions to
"each fairy queen and voluptuous amazon [sic]" that appeared in "naked
majesty of form on the shining stage." Framing Thompson as an object
of "worship" and placing her in the figurative company of queens, giant-
esses, and Amazons, the author establishes that the troupe's allure came,
at least in part, from its dangerously commanding inversion of the peri-
od's chaste and submissive image of conventional femininity. Later in the
same article, when he has dispensed with his thickest parody, the author
describes one Amazon in detail. Describing Pauline Markham's Amazon
leader as "stern, haughty, and high; mailed in the garb of war,'' the author
reports that she "enraptured the audience; filled them, thrilled them with
fantastic feelings never felt before." Whether he was sincere or sarcastic
in his praise of Markham's performance, the comment nonetheless
underscores his observation that the men in the audience were captivat-
ed by performances of strong and imposing women.12
The strength of these women was, in one respect, a threat to
conventional femininity, but in the context of this article-which focus-
es so heavily on the audience's effeminacy-it also serves to underscore
the writer's anxiety about the effects of British burlesque on American
masculinity. As Kimmel explains, normative conceptions of femininity
serve, not only to delineate acceptable female behavior, but also as "a
negative pole against which men define themselves."13 In this instance,
the presence of dominating women reverses the poles: when these bur-
lesque fanatics admire women who claim the dominant "masculine" posi-
tion, the article implies, they relegate themselves to a subservient, "femi-
nine" role.
The defining characteristic of the women in the February 1869
review of Forty Thieves is not merely its unorthodox treatment of gender,
but also their desire to dominate, and thereby emasculate, their male
admirers. The article suggests that in Thompson's burlesques, even an
actress who plays a "gauzy fairy" is appropriately feminine only insofar as
it allows her to achieve a mercantile end. In yet another mockery of the
weak burlesque audience, the author personifies the foppish young men
who "ogle" burlesque performers nightly as "young Fitzpoodle," and
describes the "fairy's" reaction to his attentions. "Has not old Fitzpoodle
a brown-stone front on the avenue," she thinks, "which he saved from a
commercial disaster before he retired rich? Is not young Fitzpoodle a fool
and an only son?"14 The English burlesque actress was, if not an actual
prostitute, certainly a gold digger, intent on acquiring the fortunes of
industrious Americans by preying on the effeminate weaknesses of their
foppish sons. Her apparent delicacy is only a more cunning means of
But while the women might be guilty of mercenary seduction, it
is the male audience's lack of masculine restraint that makes them vul-
nerable to such advances. In the mid-nineteenth century, proper mascu-
line sexuality was defined, not only by potency, but also by restraint. In
the northeastern United States, where the dominant vision of manhood
was the industrious self-made man, masculinity came to be associated
with self-control and the judicious allocation of resources. Doctors and
businessmen advocated sperm retention and warned that the frivolous
12 "Reviews of Forty Thieves and Field of Cloth and Gold."
13 Kimmel, Manhood in America, 5.
14 "Reviews of Forty Thieves and Field of Cloth and Gold."
56 SMlTH
expenditure of energy through excessive sexual activity was detrimental
to a man's success and, therefore, symptomatic of an effeminate lack of
I f these British Blondes succeeded in acquiring American
wealth by seducing foolish only sons-already failures as men by the
standard of self-made manhood-it was only because these fops lacked
the masculine strength of will to resist their baser desires.
The February 1869 review of Forry Thieves, then, demonstrates
that the theatrical writer for the Spirit of the Times found the Thompson
Troupe's gender inversions threatening to American manhood. And yet,
while these daring reversals were indeed the feature of the performances
that the Spirit's theatrical writer seized upon most in his condemnations,
they were not the real problem. Had the troupe's departures from gender
norms been the Spirit's primary concern, one would expect the paper's
criticisms of the troupe to have been consistent throughout their New
York run. Thompson's performances, while they maintained the playful
sexuality and gender reversals typical of burlesque, did not become any
more risque in this period, a fact that Thompson would later point out in
a letter to the Times marveling at how "a certain clique" had "suddenly
discovered" the vulgarity of her shows.I6 If anything, Thompson seems
to have tried to mitigate criticisms of her public persona. Thompson's
performance in her subsequent performance of Sinbad as "a Girl of the
Period"- a pointed mockery of fashionable, independent women-may
have been a self-parodying attempt to defuse accusations of unfeminine
Though this performance came after the Spirit's attacks,
it suggests Thompson was more interested in minimizing her unfeminine
image than promoting it. And yet, comparing the review of Forry Thieves
to the Spirit's earlier characterizations of the Thompson Troupe in its
October 1868 review of Ixion reveals a curious and dramatic shift: while
the performances of gender in Thompson's burlesques had not changed
substantially since their New York debut in October 1868, the Spirits
reactions to these performances underwent a dramatic transformation.
The Spirit's theatrical writing always had an acerbic edge and few
reviews---:-be it for Shakespeare, opera, or burlesque-were free from the
occasional sarcastic barb. Given this editorial character, however, the
15 David G. Pugh, Sons of l.ibertJ: The Masculine Mind in Nineteenth-Century
America (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983), 96-98.
16 Lydia Thompson, "The Burlesque Artistes at Niblo's," N ew York Times, 9
June 1869.
Maria-Elena Buszek, "Representing 'Awarishness': Burlesque, Feminist
Transgression, and the 19th-Century Pin-Up," The Drama Review 43, no. 4 (1999): 154.
Spirit's initial review of Ixion in October 1868 had been positively glow-
ing. The Thompson Troupe opened before a house the author describes
as "large and notable," in which journalists, theatre folk, and "more
respectable people" were all well represented. Although the reviewer
found the plot thin and unimaginative, he nonetheless heaped praise on
the troupe. Thompson, he reports, "has captivated her audiences, men
and women, by her delightful deviltry." Lisa Weber, in the role of
Mercury, "drew peals of genuine laughter," and Ada Harland's perform-
ance of Jupiter "couldn't have been done more gracefully, by-Jove."
While the author may not have approved of the script, he was clearly sat-
isfied by the manner in which it was enacted.18
Not only did the author give a favorable review of Ixion, he
praised the female members of the cast precisely for their conventional
femininity. Thompson, he writes, was "remarkably free from vulgarity
and coarseness and, although appropriately nervous, "appeared like an
energetic, self-contained young lady." Even when she was engaging in
more masculine activities, her natural femininity prevailed. "Jig-dancing,"
the author assured his readers, "is etherealized by her bewitching steps,
and comic songs are sublimated by her modesty of manner."19 His praise
for the other actresses was similar: they had "sweet" voices, were beauti-
ful, and were all "graceful."20 Had the inverted performances of gender
been the primary reason for the author's antipathy, one would expect to
see a consistent condemnation from the outset: instead, he made these
attacks only after initially praising the same actresses for their feminine
graces in a show in which they played largely male parts. Gender does not
appear to have been the primary issue, rather it was a convenient rhetor-
ical device he deployed to contain performances that he feared repre-
sented a British theatrical incursion that threatened the United States' cul-
tural independence. These gendered assaults furthermore represented a
continuation of the paper's broader fears of the United States submitting
to English cultural and political domination.
Other scholars have suggested that the shift in the critical recep-
18 "First Review of Ixion."
9 Ibid. "Etherealizing" female bodies was a common tactic for preserving fem-
inine virtue in the dangerously embodied context of dance. As Allen notes, in the 1840s,
"ballet became morally and socially acceptable ... by containing the ballerina within a
silent, removed world .. . and within a body that promoted rather than detracted from the
illusion that the audience was watching a creature with the same materiality as a fairy.
Allen, Horrible Prettiness, 89-92.
20 "First Review of Ixion."
cion of the Thompson Troupe was an expression of cultural anxiety. Of
the scholarly discussions of the shift, Allen's class-based analysis is the
most well known. In his 1991 treatise on burlesque, Allen argues that the
Spirit of the Times, like other papers, began to cast burlesque as a danger-
ous form of low entertainment once it moved to the upscale Niblo's
Garden from the respectable though less affluent Wood's Museum.
while this explanation does account for the timing of the change, it is
unsatisfactory for two reasons: because the Spirit's criticisms of the
Thompson Troupe predate their move to Niblo's, and because the paper's
early commentary suggests that it would have actually approved of the
move to the upscale venue.
First, although the review of the Forry Thieves was the most
damning account thus far, the Spirit's reviewer had been inserting nega-
tive comments alongside his generally favorable reviews with increasing
frequency since relatively early in the Blondes' run. As early as 10
October 1868, the Spirit's theatre editor was questioning the masculinity
of the audience, by describing them as "smooth-faced young men, [and]
bulbous bugled old men"- placing them at either side of, but distinctly
apart from, the height of manly vigor.22 By 17 October the reviewer was
beginning to cast aspersions on Thompson's chastity, reporting that
Henderson was trying to prevent people from speaking with her
"although the man at the wheel [Thompson as Ixion] has spoken by this
time to nearly every one [sic] in town."23 The review of Forry Thieves did
include significantly more of these pointed remarks than the Spirit's pre-
vious accounts, but it was the culmination of a gradual shift rather than
a sudden transformation. The Spirit's relative silence about the Blondes
between 5 December and the opening of Forry Thieves on 6 February,
however, made the intensification of these renewed criticisms appear
more abrupt.
21 Alien, Horrible Prettiness, 16. While Allen credits this move from Wood's to
Niblo's as the primary reason the timbre of burlesque changed in this period, he does
acknowledge that there were other forces at play. Elsewhere in his book, for example,
Allen notes that on 8 November 1868 the editor of the New York Times had "comment-
ed favorably'' on an anti-burlesque resolution passed at a Ministerial Union meeting in
Chicago (129). I maintain my position here, however, because Alien still argues that the
change in the Times' treatment of burlesque in theatrical articles, as well as the bulk of anti-
burlesque criticism in other papers, came after the move provided a catalyst.
22 "Theatres and Things Theatrical (Second Review of Ixion)," Spirit of the
Times, 10 October 1868.
23 "Theatres and Things Theatrical (Mere Mention)," Spirit of the Times, 17
October 1868.
Furthermore, far from objecting to the move to Niblo's, the
Spirit's theatre writer had actually suggested the more affluent theatre
would be a more appropriate venue for a show as highly dependent on
spectacle as Ixion. In his initial review of that show, he remarked:
There is no doubt that these young ladies would have
made a lasting success at either the Olympic or Niblo's,
where the management, besides possessing ample stage
facilities, spare no expense to lend increased effect, by
gorgeous surroundings and elaborate scenery. As it is,
we fear that the present full house at Wood's will dwin-
dle down to the standard Museum receipts, for the loca-
tion of the theatre alone will keep away many of the
spectacular, burlesque-loving community.24
While matters of class and respectability likely did contribute to the even-
tual backlash that British burlesque would face, the change in venue was
not the sole reason for the shift in the Spirit if the Times' opinion.
But while the Spirit's commentary undercuts arguments that the
venue change inspired its critical about-face, it does provide ample evi-
dence that the paper's antipathy stemmed from a belief that the Blondes
were the vanguard of a condescending and imperialistic British cultural
invasion. As the Thompson Troupe's popularity grew, imitators-many
of them from Great Britain-began to emerge, intent on profiting from
the new style's popularity. On 5 December the Spirit reported sarcastical-
ly on the imminent arrival of other troupes:
Now, "the gods give us joy," for if four or five yellow-
legged, bare-headed-no, the other way if you please:
bare-legged, yellow-haired-young ladies can thrill the
town with their novelty and beauty, ten or fifteen will
drive us wild with bewildering delight. And we learn
there are more where these came from, and they have
been engaged. 25
British burlesque, once a singular curiosity, was poised to become a per-
vastve trend. The trend, furthermore, implied an invasion by English
24 "First Review of Jxion."
25 "Theatres and Things Theatrical (Wood's Museum)," Spirit of the Times, 5
December 1868.
actresses.26 When the Spirit 's theatrical writer warned his readers that
"there are more where these came from," he meant England. By 13
February 1869, the incursion was well underway. In an article entitled
"The Burlesque Mania," the Spirit reported the effects of the public fas-
cination with the new form. "Under such circumstances," he wrote, "it is
not remarkable that new burlesque enterprises threaten us from various
quarters. The most nearly impending is that of what is called the 'Elise
Holt' Troupe .... There is no reason to doubt that its success will be at
least equal to that of its predecessors."2
The mania for British burlesque,
no longer a harmless fascination, had become a weakness the British
could exploit to gain access to United States shores.
The arrival of these foreign performers was particularly irksome
for the Spirit's theatrical writer both because of his general dislike for the
English and his belief that European artists and managers looked down
on American audiences. Even in his glowing review of Ixion, for exam-
ple, the writer would only grudgingly concede, "despite our
Anglophobia-that ~ o n   male cast member] Mr. Becket [sic] is a very
good actor."ZB Nor was this the first manifestation of this author's suspi-
cion of foreign artists. Before the Thompson troupe arrived, he noted a
European belief "that anything in the shape of opera was good enough
for America," and that they were only then beginning to realize the
refinement and taste of the United States public.29 To this writer, then,
the arrival of these English intruders-pretty and entertaining, perhaps,
but lacking in "histrionic talent" and performing in plays with no dra-
matic merit-represented typical old world condescension.3o British pro-
ducers were, in essence, failing to recognize the critical maturity of
United States audiences, instead treating them like undiscriminating chil-
26 Ganzl makes a similar observation, noting that "It was all very well for for-
eigners, like Tostee, to descend on New York, make their hit, be the brief delight of the
city, and then go away, but the Thompson Blondes were becoming a fixture. And they had
opened the floodgates to a rush of other 'blawsted British' burlesquers. It was time [for
the press] to take them down a peg." Kurt Ganzl, Lydia Thompson: Queen of Burlesque (New
York: Routledge, 2002), 91.
27 "Burlesque Mania."
28 "First Review of Ixion." The Spirit of the Times routinely misspelled Henry
Beckett's name as "Becket."
"Theatres and Things Theatrical (Barbe Bleu)," Spirit of the Times, 22 August
30 "First Review of Ixion."
dren, easily entertained by pretty baubles. Those who confirmed these
artistic prejudices by frequenting poor quality entertainments like bur-
lesque, the author implied, deserved the bibs and highchairs he would
later consign them to in his review of Forg Thieves.
At the same time that the British invasion was massing, the Spirit's
theatrical writer noted the cavalry-like arrival of native-born burlesquers
who could, perhaps, defend American stages from the looming English
hordes. On 9 January 1869, the Spirit reported that a local manager had
"concluded arrangements to produce next month a really good bur-
lesque, with [popular American comedians] Billy and Mrs. Florence at the
head." After asserting that both of these native-born performers were
vastly superior to their English counterparts-Beckett and Thompson
respectively-the author pronounced optimistically that "it would not
surprise us in the least to see the blonde beauties beaten out of the field
by a bevy of brunette belles of home extraction."3
The Spirit's theatrical
writer was not opposed to the presence of burlesque on United States
stages per se, so long as it was domestically produced.
Thus, when on 6 February the Spirit attacked the masculinity of
those United States theatergoers who habitually attended British bur-
lesque, the author was repudiating them not only for frequenting a for-
eign performance, but also for choosing it over a viable-and superior-
domestic alternative. In the same column that contained the review of
Forty Thieves and its emasculating take on Thompson's audiences, the
author also made the following observations about this competition
between American and British burlesque:
Mrs. Florence made up with all the careful study and
taste that always mark that painstaking artist's person-
ations and throughout the entire performance there ran
a vein of dramatic talent which proves conclusively the
superior intelligence of American talent if it would only
descend to "jigs" and assert itself in all its naked
majesty. Thank God it won't! We send England and
France a Jefferson and Patti, and we get in return a flock
of dancing dolls, who babble of the supremacy of "for-
eign talent."32
31 "Theatres and Things Theatrical (Other Matters)," Spirit of the Times, 9
January 1869.
32 "Reviews of Forry Thieves and Field of Cloth and Gold."
"Real" American men could enjoy burlesque, but only if they displayed a
properly patriotic devotion to the superiority of native-born performers.
Those who chose to watch the imported version were unmanned by their
submission to British claims of international artistic supremacy.
The international rivalry implied by the comparisons between
the British and United States performers takes on a heightened signifi-
cance when viewed in light of the intense diplomatic discord between the
two countries that coincided with their performances. The Spirit's attacks
on Thompson and her audience were a product of this climate of polit-
ical friction. Although the Spirit of the Times was primarily an entertain-
ment paper, it did occasionally run editorials on political matters. During
the Thompson Troupe's first season in New York, negotiations between
the United States and Great Britain to settle what was known as the
Alabama claims fascinated the editorship of the Spirit. The frequent and
fiercely anglophobic editorials that the Spirit ran regarding these negotia-
tions cast any Americans willing to make concessions to Britain as
unmanly thralls of a feminized empire, and deployed a gendered rhetoric
uncannily similar to the paper's depiction of Thompson and her audi-
ences. These editorials, furthermore, date back at least to October 1868,
and could therefore explain the earlier examples of Anglophobic hostili-
ty in the Spirits reviews of the Blondes that the arrival of British imita-
tors in January and the February opening of Mr. and Mrs. Florence could
The ''Alabama claims" were an ongoing diplomatic conflict
between the United States and Great Britain in the late 1860s. During the
Civil War, the Confederacy attacked U.S. merchant vessels with heavily
armed cruisers, most of which had been built in England. The Alabama
was the most famous of these British-built Confederate cruisers-
stealthy ships that attacked commercial vessels serving the northern
states, thereby disrupting Union commerce. As the most well-known
British-built Confederate raider, the Alabama became a symbol for
British interference during the Civil War.33 Towards the end of Andrew
Johnson's presidency, the United States and Great Britain were negotiat-
ing a settlement to compensate merchants who had lost ships and car-
goes to these raiders. As Thompson settled into her first United States
engagement, emotions ran high on both sides of the Atlantic, and rela-
tions between the two countries were tense.3
Writing from the perspec-
33 James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, third edi-
tion (New York: McGraw Hill, 2001), 194.
34 Ibid., 590-91.
tive of the victorious North, the Spirit treated the dispute over the
Alabama claims as a continuation of English support for illegitimate
The Spirit's perspective on the Alabama claims, however, was as
much a matter of defining the United States' international status as it was
about punishing England for aiding the Confederacy. George Wilkes, the
paper's editor in chief, cast the settlement of the Alabama claims as a
choice between masculine domination and feminine submission on a
global political stage, a dichotomy that echoes the paper's treatment of
the Thompson Troupe and its audiences. ''While we refuse to be paid
part of the debt England owes," he wrote,
we are masters of all, and we can better afford to remain
unpaid and powerful, than to accept partial restitution
and be rendered impotent and weak. We hold England
in chains of her own forging; we can prevent her from
going to war with even the meanest government that
insults her.3s
While it was customary in this period to refer to countries with a femi-
nine pronoun, the image of England as a woman in chains is inescapable.
According to Wilkes, the desirable, current, and-presumably-natural
dynamic between these two nations was that of a masculine United States
controlling a feminized England. To relinquish this stance was akin to
being "rendered impotent" -the ultimate surrender of masculine
When Wilkes and the Spirit's other writers cast their arguments
against settlement of the ''Alabama claims" as a struggle for a masculine
United States to defend its independence against a powerful feminine
England, they were tapping into a common rhetorical trope that readers
would immediately recognize. This gendered representation of the rela-
tionship between the two countries was, by the nineteenth century, a well-
established tradition in the United States. Just as popular Union discourse
configured the Civil War as a contest between a northern manhood and
3S "The Southern Confederacy and Its Representative in Europe," Spin/ of the
Times, 21 November 1868.
36 The definitions given in the Oxford English Dictionary show that although
"impotent" could mean powerless (and likely would be used this way in a polite newspa-
per), its use to denote a lack of sexual potency dates back to the 17th century, and would
likely have been known to the readers. OED Online, s.v. "impotent," 1 and 2b. http:/ /dic- (accessed 15 March 2010).
southern effeminacy, United States nationalists habitually interpreted
conflicts with Britain in explicitly gendered terms. As K.ann explains, the
nation's founders frequently lauded "this manly, this heroic, and truly
patriotic spirit" of revolutionary fighters while condemning England's
"effeminate and delicate soldiers." While England was sometimes also
cast as a tyrannical father, revolutionaries frequently "portrayed the
Revolution as the struggle of a maturing American male against a grasp-
ing British mother, and as a conflict pitting patriots defending manly free-
dom against corrupt governors hoping to seduce them back into female
dependence."37 Submission to England-either through political conces-
sions or through a fascination with British theatre that placed one, figu-
ratively, in a high chair-represented a regression from manhood to
In Wilkes's description of the Alabama claims, the United States
had not only broken free from "female dependence," but had fully actu-
alized its manhood by exerting control over its formerly domineering
mother. Citizens of the United States were "masters," not only of their
own fates but of England's as well. Like a strong husband or father, the
United States could exert its patriarchal control over England, and could
"forbid her" from taking actions of which it disapproved. England, like
a woman, could no longer defend herself against even the "meanest"
insults, and would become dependent on the United States' paternal pro-
tection. Settling the Alabama claims prematurely, more than merely rob-
bing the United States of its potential as a world power, deprived it of its
natural masculine authority.
Because of its highly visibly gender inversions, burlesque became
a convenient surrogate for the Spin/'s fear that the United States was fail-
ing to exert its national masculinity in negotiating the   ~ a b a m a claims."
As a result, the Spirit's portrayal of the dynamic between Great Britain
and those in the United States who accepted paltry British settlement
offers closely parallels the paper's depiction of Young Fitzpoodle and the
imperious women of burlesque. The Spirit's editorials routinely portrayed
Reverdy Johnson, the Southern-born diplomat dispatched to England to
settle the claims, as well as anyone else from the United States who yield-
ed too easily to the British, as effeminate men so enthralled by a power-
ful woman that they would willingly cast aside their country's natural mas-
culine power. Johnson was, according to the Spirit, an agent of "servility
[and) obsequiousness," and "the embodiment of the feeblest foreign pol-
icy that ever shamed a nation as powerful as our own." England, for her
37 Kann, A Republic of Men, 3, 20.
part, had "invented the new motto, 'once a colony, always a colony"' and,
in sum, had designs on the United States that were every bit as mercan-
tile as those of the "gauzy fairy" who had set her eyes on Fitzpoodle's
brownstone. Like the regular attendees at Thompson's performances,
Johnson and his colleagues failed to be real men and were, consequently,
"the champion[s] of national disgrace and the instrument[s] of British
The simultaneity of the intensified discussion of the ''Alabama
claims" and the highly gendered attacks on British burlesque's regular
audiences was no coincidence. The Spirit's editorship saw both the young
men who eschewed native talent in favor of proliferating British invaders,
and the diplomats who took a soft stance with England as endangering
American manhood through submission to a foreign feminine power.
Just as the young men in the audience clamored for the attentions of
these foreign beauties, the Spirit argued, Johnson and his supporters
sought to court lady England. "It was Sir Walter Raleigh," the Spirit
noted," who threw his cloak in the mud before a British Queen; but Mr.
Johnson ... has used the American flag." Similarly, a week before the
Spirit accused New York's theatrical traitors of engaging in a " nightly
worship at the feet of Miss Thompson," it sneered that, "Reverdy
Johnson was picked up out of the senate and tossed across the ocean into
England's lap, like a bouquet thrown upon the stage, to gain the favor of
a domineering actress."39 Thompson, as England's most prominent the-
atrical emissary, had become a living symbol of her country's imperial
The gender inversions in the Spirit's review of The Forry Thieves,
then, were an expression of nationalistic anxieties during a key moment
in the United States' development as an international power. The United
States, the Spirit argued, was poised to become a major player on the
world stage. Whether or not it succeeded in doing so would be deter-
mined by its ability to assert its manhood in the face of British challenges,
and .its citizens' willingness to support its interests-whether on a politi-
cal or theatrical stage-despite the seductiveness of English temptresses.
The .inversion of gender tropes .in the review of Forry Thieves served as a
warning to United States readers of the dire consequences of becoming
38 George Wilkes, "How to Settle with England," Spirit of the Times, 13 February
39 "Reviews of Forty Thieves and Field of Cloth and Cold;" "Reverdy Johnson's
Betrayal of America," Spirit of the Times, 31 October 1868; "The Foreign Policy of
America," Spirit of the Times, 30 January 1869.
entranced by British femininity. If left unchecked, Lydia Thompson's
spectacular burlesques- and the British cultural and political power they
represented-threatened to unman the United States.
Integrating Broadway: Cultural Memory, Performance, and
History in The Southerners
Bethany Holmstrom
In 1904, Prince Pu Lun of China, nephew of the Imperial Emperor of
China, visited the United States to attend the St. Louis World's Fair.l
Accompanied by an entourage of various governmental officials, Pu Lun
made his way across the country. In May, the Prince stopped in St. Louis
for the dedication ceremony of the Chinese presentation which included
(amongst other items) opium and various smoking implements.
As the
first Chinese dignitary and royal to visit the World's Fair, his arrival mer-
ited attention and was duly noted by multiple newspapers across the
country.3 By early June he had reached New York where he attended a
performance of The Southerners at the New York Theatre. As the first
racially integrated musical on Broadway, The Southerners was recognized as
a mixed novelty, a "study in black and white" as the promotional materi-
als claimed.
The show was produced and directed by George W Lederer
with book by Harry B. Smith and Will Marion Cook, the latter also
responsible for the music. The Prince was so entranced that he wandered
backstage during intermission, awed by the scenery and the cast. He ges-
tured towards Vinie Daly-a white actress playing a black slave girl-and
asked his interpreter, "Is that one a negro?"S Ms. Daly was so miffed by
the mistaken racial identity that she "rolled up a sleeve" to display her
chiding the Prince, "Don't get me mixed up with them ... I'm
1 The author thanks Peter Reed and David Savran for their comments on this
paper. An earlier version of this work was presented at the 2009 ATHE Conference.
Yangwen Zhen, The Social Ufe of Opium in China (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2005), 184.
3 Carol Ann Christ, "'The Sole Guardians of the Art Inheritance of Asia':
Japan and China at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair," Positions 8, no. 3 (Winter 2000): 693.
"Musical Comedy at the New York," New York Tribune, 24 May 1904, 7.
5 "Prince Pu, From Devil Wagon, Sees Chinatown," New York Times, 3 June
1904, 3.
6 "Brokers Cheer Pu Lun," New York Tribune, 3 June 1904, 2.
not black."
The Prince apparently took her correction in stride, noted
the "real" African-Americans that milled about backstage, and "much
pleased .. . made some remark about racial equality."8
Of course, the turn-of-the-century United States was far from
achieving racial equality. The failure of Reconstruction, the establishment
of Jim Crow laws, and the Pfesry v. Ferguson legalization of "separate but
equal" segregation would lead to the great northern urban migration of
blacks from the rural south. Vinie Daly's insulted reaction to the Prince's
misconception reveals much about the racial politics of the country: even
an actress whose family and childhood were rooted in show business and
who was starring in the first racially integrated musical on Broadway
dreaded being mistook for one of her darker colleagues. The anxiety of
being "mixed up with them" permeated white America, feeding into a
dormant fear that would resurrect the white supremacist movement by
the 191 Os. The work of African American artists like Bert Williams,
Ernest Hogan, George Walker, Aida Overton Walker, Paul Dunbar, Bob
Cole, Abbie Mitchell, and Will Marion Cook amongst others opened
avenues of artistic employment for African Americans, but the options
were still limited compared to the opportunities for white performers.
However, these artists, as Cedric]. Robinson argues, "perfected a host of
Black resistance gestures for display before largely white audiences," stag-
ing "the sly oppositional stratagems which would sluice Black resistance
into public entertainment."9 The comedy, performance styles, and histo-
ry that were called upon bred a disruptive quality inherent in the produc-
tion of The Southerners. However, this quality was masked by familiar con-
ventions that catered to white expectations-and even superficially
quelled white audience anxiety. The subversive moments of this produc-
tion created a site of interrogation of racial hierarchies through two sep-
arate modes of derivative critique: one of artistic performance, and one
of history. Will Marion Cook and Harry B. Smith's musical creates an
overlay of these two, revealing a conflicted piece that was nostalgic, crit-
ical, and optimistic all at once. The moments of intersection contain real
sociopolitical critique and wield a disruptive potential, all the while oper-
ating under the guise of racially acceptable performative modes, safely
7 "Prince Pu," New York Times, 3.
8 Ibid.
9 Cedric J. Robinson, Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the &gimes of
Race in American Theater and Film Before World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2007), 128.
situated in the comedic vein of light musicals. The tensions of staging
race in the early-twentieth-century U.S. were manifested in The Southerners.
Further examination of this production reveals the achievements, short-
comings, and ambiguous politics of the first racially mixed show on
Producing Memory and Race at the Turn of the Century
Opening in New Haven on 19 May 1904, The Southerners was successful
enough to move to Broadway at the New York Theatre on 23 May, clos-
ing in August after thirty-six performances. The musical is set on an ante-
bellum plantation, a setting which facilitated the assembling of the first
racially integrated cast on Broadway. Less than a year prior to the open-
ing of The Southerners, the manager of the Madison Square Theatre plead-
ed with the white cast of the farcical My   i j e ~ Husbands to end their
strike, which was precipitated by the manager's and playwright's attempts
to cast an African American as a supernumerary in the show: "I've never
acted with a negro ... and I never expect to," argued one actress when
Moses Fairfax was brought in to rehearse his role as a stage-coach driver
in a scene.
The manager and playwright were unsuccessful, and the pro-
duction was staged with a white man cast as the stage driver.
Will Marion Cook and Harry B. Smith-who had collaborated
on theatrical ventures in the past-adopted pseudonyms for the produc-
tion: the book of the show was advertised as being by Will Mercer and
Richard Grant, though newspapers did cite Will Marion Cook as the
composer of the Considering the relatively recent backlash
against racially mixed casting mentioned above, Smith and Cook's adop-
tion of pseudonyms was probably considered a necessary political and
lO "Actors Draw Color Line," New York Times, 13 August 1903, 9. The play was
written by Edwin Milton Boyle. See also "Object to Negro Actor," New York Tribune, 13
August 1903, 6.
11 It is unclear from the newspaper articles whether the white man cast as the
stage driver appeared in blackface for the production.
12 The biographers of Will Marion Cook and Harry B. Smith-Marva Griffin
Carter and John Franceschina, respectively-both attribute the authoring of the book to
these men. Though many scholars and reviews simply listed Mercer and Grant as the co-
librettists, the biographers' assertion have ample evidence: Harry B. Smith registered the
unpublished manuscript for copyright on 10 May 1904, and Will Marion Cook's middle name
was originally Mercer from his father's side of the family. See Marva Griffin Carter, SJJJing
Along: The M«Jical Life of Will Marion Cook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) and John
Franceschina, Harry B. Smith: Dean of American Librettists (New York: Routledge, 2003).
financial maneuver to protect their future careers. Smith was a prolific
book and lyric writer who was willing to work with African Americans at
a time when other white performers refused, and he would go on to write
the comic sketches for Bert Williams in the Follies of 1910, which were not
received well by the participating white cast members.
3 The politics of
Smith's African American collaborator, Will Marion Cook, were decided-
ly more overt in his body of work. As a classically trained violinist with
credentials from Oberlin Conservatory, Joseph Joachim, and Antonio
Dvorak, the composer of the popular Clorincf:y, or the Origins of the
Cakewalk (1898) and the internationally-recognized Williams and Walker
vehicle In Dahomry (1902), Cook was deeply committed to racial equality
and combating racial prejudice with his art. With ex-slaves and prominent
freed-people in his family history, his stance on race led to a feud with
Bob Cole; Cole advocated that blacks should emulate white composition
styles in order to "compete on an equal basis," while Cook asserted that
blacks should not attempt to capitalize on white forms, but create their
own unique musical mode that "reflected the soul of black people."14
Conjuring up the theories of WE. B. DuBois, Cook and his contempo-
raries enlisted their creative and productive forces in the face of juridi-
cally instituted and extralegal oppression. The threat of racial violence
was constant in the "United States of Lyncherdom" as Mark Twain wrote
privately in 1901, and as George Walker and Ernest Hogan could direct-
ly attest to, having been attacked in a race riot in Manhattan only a year
prior to Twain's angry quip.1s
The choice of an antebellum plantation in Louisiana as the set-
ting of The Southerners perhaps seems to contradict Cook's racial politics,
or to even support the repressive narrative of race that dominated U.S.
culture at the turn of the century. When viewing the production through
the lens of "resistance, parody, and double-consciousness" that David
Krasner explores, and the "countercodes, innuendoes, and subtle shifts in
emphasis" that black performers used to "play against the grain of
restrictive racial codes," the plantation scene is not so outlandish.16 The
collective cultural memory of early-twentieth-century African Americans,
3 Franceschina, Harry B. Smith, 202-3.
14 Allen L. Woll, Black Musical Theatre: From Coon/own to Dreamgirls (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 6.
15 Carter, Swing Along, 55.
16 David Krasner, Resistance, Parocfy, and Double Consciousness in Ajn'can-American
Theatre, 1895-1910 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), 3.
removed only a generation or two from slavery, was inextricably bound
to the plantation. In his theoretical analysis of collective memory,
Maurice Halbwachs suggests that in a "group" that "has undergone fun-
damental change, its memory seems to return to remembrances of the
periods before and after that change via different pathways that are not
continuous with one another."17 Though they are not continuous, these
pathways are still accessible and "we can always penetrate into the time
characteristic of a bygone group because ... traces suffice to ensure the
permanence and continuity of time."tS The temporal movement of his-
tory is continuous, and the generational gaps ensured that the memories
of Cook and his black theatrical contemporaries did not conform to the
pathway of his elders. The traces, the memories, and the residual socio-
economic effects of slavery provided continuity between the free and the
enslaved. Perhaps this musical comedy, set in the scene of oppression,
provided an access point via the traces of a shared cultural memory. The
subversive potential of such a placing technique, simultaneously geo-
graphically/ temporally distant but horrifically close in African American
memory and history, signals the multiple layers of historical critique and
performance techniques in operation in The Southerners. Its contemporary
critics seemingly regarded The Southerners as little more than an unsophis-
ticated, though entertaining, novelty revue. Contrary to the dismissive
opinion of these critics, a more detailed reading of this production
reveals the attempts by the African American cast and creator to achieve
a balance-perhaps awkwardly-between the racial politics of the early
twentieth century and the unachieved Reconstruction-era promise of
racial equality.
The show's construction is not complex, and the book and num-
bers are not interwoven together. Instead, the numbers serve as oppor-
tunities for showcasing various talents, clearly drawing from the vaude-
ville/ revue tradition. There are two pairs of lovers: Le Roy Preston
(William Gould), bound for the navy after a fight with his Southern belle
Polly Drayton (Elfie Fay), and his sister Japonica (Reine Davies), who is
watched over by a lecherous old general, along with LeRoy's friend Cyril
(Wilmer Bentley). Le Roy wishes to free his slaves before he joins the
navy, but the slaves are less than thrilled by the promise of manumission.
In his stead, Le Roy bestows the care of the plantation to his "cousin"
Robert Rutledge (the bass, Albert Hart), though it is never clear if Bob is
17 Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, translated by Francis]. Ditter, Jr.
and Vida Yazdi Ditter (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1980), 123.
8 Ibid., 124.
actually his cousin or perhaps a fake. Either way, the slaves are threatened
with the auction block to pay off Bob's gambling debts, Polly dons
breeches to try and join Le Roy at sea, and Japonica stands in for her own
black slave Parthenia (Vinie Daly) at auction. There is a free agent char-
acter in the play: the polygamist Branigan Bey Gunie McCree), an "Irish
Turk" visiting America to acquire a new addition for his harem. When the
plot devolves into an impending sea battle between Bey-who has
snatched Japonica-fighting against Cyril and Le Roy, an older Preston is
awakened by his still-faithful servant, his ex-slave Uncle Daniel (Eddie
Leonard), and they chuckle over the past together.
9 The reviews and
.other material suggest that the play underwent several transformations,
additions, and changes throughout production, much like other revue-
derived comedic productions of the period, such as In Dahomry.zo
Minstrelsy and Racial Uplift
Both the book and numbers of The 5 outherners draw upon an array of the-
atrical and musicological conventions. Minstrelsy shapes the production
in multiple ways: through the use of blackface (both within the plot itself
and within the production), residual routines from the minstrel show, and
the representation of happy, rhythmic "plantation darkies" that were the
creative material for the form. The speaking roles-including the black
slave roles-were played by white actors in blackface, thus leading to the
confusion that would so infuriate Vinie Daly, the actress playing the slave
Parthenia. However, African American musicians and actors peopled the
ensemble, with performers such as Abbie Mitchell (Cook's wife) and oth-
ers receiving acclamation in reviews (though they remain mostly
unnamed). Forgoing the recuperative strategies that could result from
black minstrel troupes-as with the work of Williams and Walker-the
production team had to concede to certain expectations of the Broadway
audience. The well-explored double-consciousness play of Williams and
19 The opening scene- presumably of Uncle Daniel and Le Roy embarking
upon this musicalized memory of their antebellum life-is not included in the extant
script. The first page of the book is labeled as Act I, scene 2, so with this sequencing and
the post-war bracket at the conclusion of the play, surmising the content of the first miss-
ing scene is possible.
20 Though the production probably changed frequendy and was flexible in
terms of content, I will be basing much of my analysis on the unpublished manuscript
Harry B. Smith submitted for copyright, as it is the only one extant. It appears that the
majority of the plot and numbers explored here remained part of the show throughout
its run, based upon what can be gleaned from the reviews.
Walker, along with their all-black cast mates, maintained the tradition of
the segregated stage while performing their subversive comic routines.z1
Casting black actors in speaking roles in an integrated production was
another matter altogether. Even with African Americans relegated to
non-speaking chorus roles in The Southerners, the racial tension was palpa-
ble on the night of the premiere according to at least one newspaper
account.22 The blackface aspects of Dandy Dan-played by minstrel
dancer Eddie Leonard
3--<:ome to the fore as he delivers a rehearsed
speech for his master's twenty-first birthday: ''As representationer ob dis
plantation I'se been appointed to do de spokesman."2
The older Aunt
Matilda incredulously asks "My Lord! Where did he get it?," appalled by
Dandy Dan's "phraseology."zs It is clear that Dandy Dan learned his
stump speech from the minstrel stage. Furthermore, the very relegation
of the blacks to the chorus-noted for its powerful singing and dancing
in reviews-is clearly in keeping with stereotypes about the innate rhyth-
mic sense that accompanied African American singers/ dancers. The lim-
itation of the African American performers to such a role in the show
would have proved problematic if Cook and Smith's intention was to
break from minstrelsy.
Other moments in the book and the numbers, however, attempt
to off-set the derogatory discourse engendered by minstrelsy. The open-
ing number in the extant script for The Southerners is sung by the white
chorus lolling on the porch, "I Love the Southland." The music changes
as the black chorus enters, overtaking the praise of Dixie with Will
Marion Cook's well-known number, "Swing Along," which was the only
lyric he wrote for the Williams and Walker vehicle In Dahomry. Though his
In Dahomey collaborators originally tried to dissuade Cook from inserting
the piece into that landmark show, the song was perhaps one of his most
21 See Krasner, Resistance.
22 "'The Southerners' in Black and White," NeiV York Times, 24 May 1904, 9.
23 Eddie Cantor would do impressions of Eddie Leonard as pact of his rou-
tine, showing continuity in this minstrel tradition leading into films.
24 Will Marion Cook and Harry B. Smith, The Southerners (unpublished type-
script). 10 May 1904. Copyright Manuscript Division, Washington D.C.: Library of
Congress, 7. For ease of reference, I will be using the later pagination supplied by the
archivists. Many thanks to Professor Thomas Riis, Professor Krystyn Moon, and Dr.
Alice Lotvin Birney for their aid in tracking down the manuscript.
25 Ibid., 8.
successful.26 It clearly encourages black children to "swing along," to
swagger down the streets with racial pride and uplift. The "chillun"
Mandy and Sue are told that "White fo'ks a-watchin' an' seein' what you
do / White fo'ks jealous when you'se walkin' two by two" in the song.
Marva Griffin Carter sees this as a clear moment of the "white racialized
gaze," wherein a DuBoisian double-consciousness is clearly articulated in
a song to engender "racial pride and optimism in the pursuit of social jus-
tice."27 Even more pointedly, the officers and southern belles that make
up the white chorus of The Southerners sit on the piazza of the sugar plan-
tation manor-surrounded by magnolias and wisterias, sipping lemon-
ade-while watching the field hands "dressed in their holiday clothes ...
some grotesquely elegant" carrying banjos, singing "Swing Along" as
they enter the stage.
Krasner also notes the double-consciousness that
occurs in the song due to black objectification: the song for whites was
"typical of African Americans singing and dancing; for blacks; it was an
exhortation to 'keep one's head up high,' and a caution that 'the gaze' is
always upon them."
Though the surroundings and stage scenery could
not be more clearly referencing antebellum slavery and the trappings of
minstrel performance, the song that Cook places in the scene is devilish-
ly clever: the white fo'ks are watching-both those in the mixed race
audience and those on stage-as the black chorus enters, and black and
whites mix for the first time on stage, with the blacks triumphantly tout-
ing a song of racial uplift. The minstrel tradition is subtly destabilized
within the production's opening number, though the audience members
and stage whites both could remain entirely ignorant of this subversion.
The spectacle of the singing black chorus and the seeming trappings of
minstrelsy were presented for the audience's consumption. At the same
time, this representation was troubled by the lyrical content of "Swing
Along," promising another form of racial representation that was being
brought onto the early-twentieth-century stage.
Even the most "minstrel" of the songs in the show, both lyrical-
ly and in performance, had moments of disruption. There is a barbecue
held the night before the sailors, with Le Roy Preston in their number, set
26 Carter, Swing Alongy 61 -2.
Marva Griffin Carter, "Removing the 'Minstrel Mask' in the Musicals of Will
Marion Cook," Musical Quarter!J 84, no. 2 (2000): 211.
28 Cook and Smith, Southerners, 4.
29 Krasner, Resistance, 71.
sail. Dandy Dan and Parthenia lead the festivities, with the whites watch-
ing the "dancing specialty" and "throw[ing] coppers" to the black cho-
rus.30 This is presumably where the song "Darktown Barbecue" was fea-
tured, with both words and music by Cook. The syncopated song
described "dem coons" that "eat Dem pig tails and pig's feet" and
"danced all night" to "ragtime an' coon jine" at the barbecue.
Interestingly, the guests all arrive in "somethin' on wheels / Quite a few
coons had automobiles": a telling and jarring anachronism within the
world of the play, reflecting material wealth and gain. There are no white
masters or guests in attendance in the song lyrics, though they are pres-
ent for the performance in The Southerners. The song celebrates the art of
guests such as Tildy Green, who "danced till imh face was red" (marking
a mulatto character), and "Ole Deacon Johnson an' Aunt Sallie too, /
Forgot about church at dat barbecue." While reminiscent of minstrel and
coon songs that foregrounded the supposed "authenticity" of their black
subjects, this number deviates in important ways. Thomas Riis suggests
that this song is clearly "another inheritance from minstrelsy" with "Old
South topics."31 I would argue that this song perhaps has the veneer of
minstrelsy, but practices the same form of double-consciousness as
"Swing Along." The contemporary material accoutrement referenced
within the song and the racially exclusive black community, who "sang
'kause dey had no work to do," are clearly performing for their own ben-
efit and enjoyment, not that of the white gaze-which is absent from the
song, if not its performance within the play. The framework of white
chorus/audience, tossing coppers, situates the song within the minstrel
mode, though the lyrics belie another theatrical, communal mode in
which "Darktown" celebrates itself. There is a community clearly articu-
lated within this song, and though the white audience might gaze upon
the festivities with pleasure, they cannot ultimately partake in the cele-
Stage Traditions and Subde Politics
Though the songs performed by the black chorus display a double-con-
sciousness that illustrate both the departures from and gestures towards
minstrelsy, the other performance traditions in operation were not guite
as deviant. The structure of the book and numbers clearly drew upon
30 Cook and Smith, Southerners, 65.
3! Thomas Riis, Just Before ]ail{: Black Musical Theater in New York, 1890-1915
(Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 107.
vaudeville and was "a return to the revue/variety formula."32 Though a
New Haven review called the book "clever" and declared " the piece a dis-
tinct novelty,"33 it seems that the reviewers believed the novelty was pri-
marily due to the "introduction of black faces into musical comedy,"34 the
"colored warblers"35 that made up the "strong, well trained chorus of
negro voices."36 Contemporary reviews noted that the show was of "the
latter day variety" formula, and even advertised as a "musical study in
black and white," that the revue format "never required any study,"
though the set was "sumptuous."37 The revue/vaudeville format gave
birth to such inexplicable pieces as "Squirrel Song." After an argument
with Le Roy, Polly Drayton complains to the audience that men are
"about as reliable as the squirrels in the park-you feed a squirrel one
morning and think he's your friend for life. Next morning you are there,
but where is master squirrel? Over yonder, being tempted by another
girJ."38 This launches the "Squirrel Song," where a "chorus of pickanin-
nies,"39 or small black children, come on stage dressed in animalesque
costumes. Even the more positive reviews said that "people on the hunt
for refined musical comedy will do well to look elsewhere": both because
of this clear derivation from the vaudevillian/ revue tradition, as well as
the "contortional" dancing that was almost acrobatic.40
Though these lowbrow features permeate the text, it is clear
from the reviews that race was perhaps the most "novel" of the variety
acts. The New York Times assured readers at the end of the review that
"for those who like black and white this black and white is all right."
32 Ibid., 1 05.
33 Reprinted in "News of the Theatres," Chicago Daify Tribune, 20 May 1904, 6.
34 "The Theater," Town and Country, 28 May 1904, 27.
35 "Drama and Music," Boston Globe, 21 August 1904, 22.
"Musical Comedy at the New York," Nezv York Tribune, 24 May 1904.
37 Ibid.
38 Cook and Smith, Southerners, 26.
39 '"The Southerners' in Black and White," New 1'ork Times, 24 May 1904, 9.
0 Ibid.
1 Ibid.
Lederer's advertising strategy banked upon the racial aspects of the show,
drawing on the "chorus of real live coons" who would be "mingling with
the white members of the cast," causing some audience members to
"tremble in their seats, as if expecting another P e h ~ e explosion."
2 The
paper cited that Will Marion Cook had "succeeded in harmonizing the
racial broth as skillfully as he had harmonized the accompanying scores,"
but that "it was rumored he had supplied his darky aides with safety
razors." The tension spilled into the audience as well and it was reported
that "the proscenium boxes ... were reported to be filled with Wy whites
who had retreated before the thunder storm."43 Though the racial anxi-
ety was palpable during its Broadway opening, the derivative, non-threat-
ening revue format ensured that there was no overt political narrative
being played out on stage.
Another familiar stage tradition makes a bizarre appearance in
the play. There is no easily designated central villain in the piece for quite
some time: the long-lost cousin Robert Rutledge is a possible candidate,
though he is described in the cast list as a "combination of black sheep
and innocent lamb," willing to sell his cousin's slaves to the more menac-
ing Judge Budge and Colonel Maximilian Easy to pay off his gambling
He does recognize the value of Polly and the slaves alike, but
refuses to "let" the white women to the sexually voracious Branigan Bey.
Bey later emerges as a threatening figure, though he initially appears as a
comic stage type with somewhat comically perverted notions of marriage
and sex. Branigan Bey is a descendant of the Stage Irishman, and sings
songs about his "Irish Canary," but is heralded as an "Oriental potentate"
that is visiting the West "to complete this education to our land he comes
I He wishes to be strictly up to date," as the chorus sings · ~   e e ­
-ah! Ah!-ee--ah! (That is not a donkey bray) I Ah-- ee--
ah! Ah!-ee--ah! (It is Turkish for hooray)."
5 The character list
introduces him as a ''Viceroy pro tern of the Isle of Balishoo."46 This tex-
tual confusion must have been clearer in production, as the character por-
trayed by Junie McCree is recognized by a reviewer as "a gentleman of
3 Ibid.
Cook and Smith, Southerners, 3.
45 I bid., 28.
46 Ibid., 3.
Celtic extraction with a Turkish tide . . the conventional Irishman of
musical comedy."47
Bey initially attempts to buy Japonica from Bob, who tries to cor-
rect Bey's misunderstanding of American ways. Bey believes Bob has
brought him to the "right place," a "slave market," which is always his
first stop in town, "in case I like to do a litde shopping,"48 though he
believes the white women are the wares. When corrected, Bey asks, ''You
don't sell them? For Heaven's sake, what do you do, rent them?"
the southern belles begin to interrogate Bey, he reveals that he is married
"a little," with "about 247 wives at home."SO As the disgruntled girls leave,
Bey tells Bob that he wouldn't want to buy them unless they "close their
mouths," and then proceeds to get intoxicated on the mint julep that
Polly made earlier (and which also required its own dedicatory song and
mixing ritual).5
Bey sets his sights on Parthenia, having had no luck with
the white women, leading to the inadvertent kidnapping of Japonica
when she substitutes herself for Parthenia at the slave auction to save the
loyal servant. The "real" Potentate, Mustapha Lot, makes a short appear-
ance at the end. It seems here that the extant script is somewhat incom-
plete, as Lot calls for gongs to sound before beheading someone- pre-
sumably the young lover Cyril, who has pursued the disguised Japonica-
but this is not clear in the jumbled ending.
This Orientalized Irish Turk is an oddity, combining the drunk-
en, lecherous, and potentially violent Irish stage stereotype from melo-
dramas and the serialized Mulligan Guard plays with the polygamist
harem-holding Turk. The reconfiguration of types within Bey, as well as
his cross-racial desire, is what makes him particularly dangerous: his taste
in women in his songs is expressly internationally white European, to the
ranks of which he'd like to add an American. However, when rejected by
the white American girls, who are clearly not interested in his wealth or
the fact that one could "put her initials on my automobile," he will resort
to black slave girls to quench his sexual appetite.s2 The sexual abuse his-
"Musical Comedy at the New York," New York Tribune, 24 May 1904.
48 Cook and Smith, Southerners, 29.
Ibid., 30.
so Ibid., 31.
St Ibid., 33.
52 Ibid., 30.
torically practiced by white slave masters is deferred to a doubly-Othered
man, evolving from comic Irishman to menacing Turk onstage as his sex-
ual possessiveness waxes. There is no explicit indictment of slavery or its
dehumanizing aspects with this choice of villain, perhaps exempting the
predominantly white Broadway audience from its historico-racial com-
plicity in the peculiar institution. In contrast, the sale of
Parthenia/Japonica nearing the climax of the play-indeed, the potential
sale of all the slaves on the Preston plantation-draws from a long tradi-
tion of nineteenth-century abolitionist literature.s3 The destabilizing
potential of the performative traditions discussed above are situated
within a narrative that also subtly interrogates history. The historical grid
draws even more heavily from the troubled sphere of African-American
history, providing another dimension of double-consciousness that could
go mostly unnoticed by the singular vision of the whites in the audience.
The Failure of History
A critique of Reconstruction and race relations in the United States is
embedded in The Southerners. The critique of history in the production
points to the racism that had been incorporated and then juridically insti-
tutionalized by the turn of the century. Though African Americans were
half of the creative power and cast involved in the show, I believe that
the performance-especially when read as a commentary on race and
history in American culture-qualifies as what Daphne Brooks calls an
''Afro-alienation act."54 These acts are "encoded with the traumas of self-
fragmentation" resulting from the African-American experience that
turns "not only into a kind of 'second sight' ... but also into a critical
form of dissonantly enlightened performance."S5 These acts also serve to
"intervene in the spectacular and systemic representational abjection of
black peoples."56 This last point is crucial, as the theatrical representation
of blacks was the selling point of The Southerners. Couched in the familiar
53 Many slave narratives, such as Harriet Jacobs's or Solomon Northup's, fea-
tured auction scenes. The most prominent stage representations-in Dion Boucicault's
The Octoroon and the many stage versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin- used the slave auction for
political ends in their anti-slavery versions.
54 Daphne A. Brooks, Bodies in Dissent:   Peiformances of Race and
Freedom, 1850-1910 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006), 4.
55 Ibid., 5.
56 Ibid.
performative modes and peopled with the familiar stage characters dis-
cussed above, the production could produce "dissonantly enlightened
performance" in the guise of popular culture.
The fragmentation that Brooks discusses was not only an intrin-
sic component of African American identity construction in this config-
uration, but also characterized the cultural hierarchy in the United States
during the premiere of The Southerners. Lawrence Levine tracks the slip-
pery language surrounding the new designation of cultural status around
the end of the nineteenth century, arguing that the urge to label such cul-
tural differences was akin to the moral/ racial justification of slavery.
Levine states that the white slaveholders had "an unconscious stake in
seeing their African slaves maintain much of their cultural distinctive-
ness" to establish the inferiority of blacks and thus rationalize the pecu-
liar institution.57 Interestingly, Levine says that this same brand of think-
ing enabled the attempt to establish cultural hierarchies around the turn
of the century: "once again we can find an elite group with a vested inter-
est ... in welcoming and maintaining the widening cultural gaps that
increasingly characterized the United States."58 This intriguing alignment
links the history of slavery-and its descendants- with the musical com-
edy, perhaps making the '1\fro-alienation act" in The Southerners even
more powerful. The difference of the African Americans historically
legitimized slavery, and their difference made them the novelty on the
stage of the New York Theatre. The historical irony is pointed: the black
chorus is doubly differenced, both through their race and as the histori -
cal representatives of slavery.
Slavery apologists in the antebellum era characterized blacks as
"childlike," reliant on their masters for the protection, sustenance, and
religion that their white slaveholders could provide. When Le Roy offers
manumission to his slaves early in the show, they "turn to each other
helplessly and confer" before sending Dandy Dan to plead their case.59
'Whar's de matter?" Dan asks Le Roy, "Is whiteside and hominy so dear
you can't afford to feed us? De crops am good, and-well, to make a
short story long we don't want no freedom." Le Roy assures his slaves
that "there's work to be found," and offers their freedom papers to
57 Lawrence W Levine, Highbrow/ Lowbr01ll: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarcf?y in
America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 226-7.
58 Ibid., 227.
59 Cook and Smith, Southerners, 9.
them.60 The emancipation that Le Roy offers his slaves does not ensure
their economic stability or their well-being, mirroring the historical reali-
ty of Reconstruction. This rejection of freedom could serve to make a
case for a black reliance argument, or alternatively as an indictment of the
unfulfilled political promises of emancipation: either way, the ensuing
chaotic plot hinges upon the question of the ownership of the Preston
The work that Le Roy refers to was not to be found in the wake
of manumission or mass emancipation. In the New York of The
Southerners, around 25% of the black citizens were unemployed, while
75% of the employed did manual labor or other common work.61 In the
aftermath of Reconstruction, the social, economic, and juridical poverty
of blacks lasted for decades, causing the northward migration of African
Americans out of the share-cropping South. The inability of Le Roy is a
precursor to the greater failure of Reconstruction: neither Le Roy nor the
post-war government could provide for a host of newly minted citizens.
Le Roy is the worst possible guardian for the bodies he owns. He must
retreat to "think it over" when the slaves reject his offer, as an immature,
fickle, and incapable leader.
His own sister Japonica is inexplicably in
the care of an older general (though LeRoy is clearly of age), he plans to
join the navy over a lover's quarrel, and he entrusts the care of his prop-
erty (human or otherwise) to a cousin he fails to recognize. The insubor-
dination of the liberation-eschewing slaves through Dandy Dan's series
of questions is one of the "confrontational jabs as verbal weapons" that
Carver sees in the movement to distance minstrelsy from the musical.63
This weapon was "aimed at white audience members, who had no knowl-
edge of their full meaning."
Though working within the parameters of
the stereotypical "childlike" characterization of slaves, the larger indict-
ment of the government and the failure of Reconstruction is a subtle
undercurrent-beneath the frivolity of dancing squirrels and minstrel
stump speeches.
The failure of Reconstruction was not the only social critique
60 Ibid.
61 Rlls, just Before Jazv 30.
62 Cook and Smith, Southerners, 10.
63 Carter, S111ing Along, 90.
64 Ibid.
embedded within the play. One moment of a single production of The
Southerners serves to crystallize the contested and at times ambiguous ter-
ritory of history and race in the show. During the 16 June performance
at the New York Theatre, two of the black chorus members were legally
wed onstage during the barbecue sequence, with a "colored .. . parson"
officiating in "full sight of the audience."6S Meriting only a brief remark
in the New York Times-and not tied to any sort of review-it offers a
telling glimpse into the historical critique at play. This moment is partic-
ularly powerful: obviously, in the world of the play, slave marriages were
not legally binding and were broken with impunity, but this marriage was
legally binding and displayed before the white world, clearly an ironic
indication of juridical rights (however limited) that African Americans
could enjoy in the early twentieth century. The fragility of marriage
amongst slaves during the antebellum era led to the dissolution of fami-
lies, but this performed union had the juridical and symbolic weight of
the past imposed upon it. Even in the seeming minstrel merriment of the
barbecue sequence, where the black chorus danced for its white co-work-
ers and paying audience, the African American performers asserted their
citizenship and relatively recently bestowed inalienable rights, undermin-
ing the trappings of historicized and racialized spectacle with a pointed
The ending of the antebellum plot and the post-war framework
offers the most openly optimistic and recuperative strategy within the
entire production, but this strategy is ultimately thwarted when the early-
twentieth-century limitations of politics and performance are brought to
bear. Though the first scene is not extant, it presumably began with the
older General Le Roy Preston ruminating with his former slave and min-
strel dancer Dandy Dan, now his pensioner Uncle Daniel (it is not clear
whether the General had the honor of serving for the Union or
Confederate army). The dreams of the General transport us to the 1830s
setting and the plot presented above. In the extant manuscript the audi-
ence did not actually see the happy couples-Le Roy /Polly or
Japonica/Cyril- unite, nor does the white heroine accompany her lover
into the post-war narrative framework. Instead, Uncle Daniel, still refer-
ring to Le Roy as "Marse," pours liquor and wakes Le Roy from his
dream. As Christmas carols are sung outside, Le Roy imbibes and they
both laugh, with Le Roy toasting Dan's health as he deferentially salutes
his ex-master. The freed slave and his former owner keep each other
company in their dotage, a masculinized utopia that is an unfamiliar ter-
65 "Negroes Married on Stage," New York Times, 17 June 1904, 9.
rain in the later manifestations of the musical comedy. The race relations
are clearly still not equal, but the inclusion of the post-war story is in and
of itself a gesture towards a more tenable, equitable future. This gesture
remains at best only a vague overture with limited potential: the black-
faced white actor shares a memory with his fellow white performer, an
exercise in reminiscing that ultimately excludes the African Americans
that shared the theatrical space.
Though Showboat has received scholarly attention for its focus on
race-both in its content and casting-The Southerners serves as a prede-
cessor and an important landmark in African-American Broadway and
theatrical history. Within the confines of the socially acceptable racial
intermingling, Cook and Harris created a space for subtle interrogation
that drew from popular performance traditions of the musical come-
dy/revue, while playing to multiple political and racial audiences. The
production could ultimately reassure the white audience members of
their supposed racial superiority in the hopes of drawing in a profitable
house, but practiced skillful techniques of subversion and subtle criticism
while doing so. As with the closing sequence of the production, any
explicit critique was carefully veiled with familiar performance conven-
tions, still leaving much political work to be done by later African-
American performers. The Southerners is regarded as being derivative and
negligible when compared to contemporaneous black shows such as In
Dahomry, but the achievement of staging an interracial show on Broadway
when the United States still adamantly refused to get "mixed up with
them" is remarkable. Prince Pu Lun's distorted vision of racial equality
matched that of his host country: African Americans were at best a tol-
erated but marginalized presence, perpetually chained to the plantation in
the landscape of U.S. history and culture. The multiple concessions made
to the audience on the Great White Way, who were drawn to witness the
freakish spectacle of race, cannot mask the subversive potential gleaned
from The Southerners upon closer inspection.
Pamyla A. Stiehl
My more recent attempt to introduce the word "dansi-
cal" into the language of dance has so far met with scant
response .... A pity for we do need to find a new defi-
nition for a new form in theatrical dance-a Broadway-
style musical in which there are no singers and no actors,
only dancers. It is not a musical, as such. And it's not
exactly a ballet .... So what is it, exactly?
Clive Barnes, 20041
Ah, the "dansical"-that coined and confounding term, suggestive of
both a liminal phenomenon (blurring the line between concert dance and
musical theatre) and a compelling paradox (negating the traditional musi-
cal model while claiming musical theatre status). Yet, its liminal and par-
adoxical nature is not limited to linguistics; for more importantly, the
"dansical" has found great popularity as a material theatre construct, that
is, a hybrid Broadway production which merges and mutates the musical
theatre and ballet genres. Given its dance-centric construct/ aesthetic, the
dansical facilitates a choreographer's domain within the musical theatre
forum, flexing concert dance muscle and flaunting a concert pedigree.
Conversely, the dansical has also been deemed a choreographic diversion,
representing a departure from the oft-perceived "high art" arena of con-
cert dance. To many observers, the dansical is the "ballet" which has
shuffle-ball-stepped its way onto the Broadway stage and, in its reconfig-
ured guise as "low art/ entertainment," has not only incurred a new audi-
ence but also incited wide speculation. This dualism of elitist choreo-
graphic domain and popular choreographic diversion provides a heady,
delicate, and lucrative platform for any dance auteur willing and able to
engage and exploit both paradigms. Such an auteur is Twyla Tharp.
Throughout her career, Tharp has developed, defined, and promoted the
dansical, methodically moving the dance-theatre work from the concert
stage to the Great White Way, a journey which culminated in the
Broadway triumph, Movin' Out (2002). This production, which signifies a
Clive Barnes, "Attitudes," Dance Magazine, June 2004, 98.
highpoint for the dance evolution/revolution within the American musi-
cal genre, also suggests a realm of legitimacy and potentiality for the dan-
sica! (a.k.a. concert dance in "light entertainment" garb)-a realm dictat-
ed by Tharp, whose populist aesthetic, as well as her authority and auton-
omy, enabled her to create a "ballet" on Broadway, declare it a "musical,"
and have it widely celebrated as such.
Before specifically addressing Tharp's achievement, the overall
term/ construct of "dansical" must be elucidated; thus, I offer my own
two-pronged definition: 1) The dansical is a dance-dominant production
created by a choreographic auteur and intended as a musical theatre work
for Broadway; 2) The dansical moves choreography I dance to the fore-
front where it dominates (and sometimes diminishes) the score and
libretto, while the production's star is the choreographer who asserts
authorial control and content through her signature movement. In other
words, the dansical is a "musical" creation by a "self-expressive" chore-
ographer. In 1985, theorist Bert States addressed the phenomenology of
the singer/ dancer on stage whose musical performance is a "self-expres-
sive form of theater." In the "self-expressive" mode, the performer steps
"out of the illusion" when he begins to sing or dance within a produc-
tion; and the musical number, itself, becomes "an audacious display of
the actor's power" wherein "suddenly the flow is broken" and "artistry
becomes the object of our attention."
I submit that the "self-expressive"
mode is one in which the Broadway choreographer may also work.
Specifically, her choreography may become more important as an "auda-
cious display" of technical and/ or aesthetic wizardry than as a collabora-
tive, integrated element. Such choreography also signifies its self-expres-
sive author, allowing her to phenomenologically step to the front of the
stage, through her proxy dancers, garnering acknowledgement and
acclaim. Importantly, the choreographer must also assume an authorita-
tive position (i.e., the role of director) by which she can control other
stage elements, subduing collaborative or integrative voices (book and
score) while ultimately asserting choreographic dominance and creating a
fully-realized self-expressive work (e.g., dansical).3
2 Bert 0. States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: On the Phenomenology of Theater
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 162-5.
3 A crucial distinction must be made here. There exists another category of
contemporary dance productions which have enjoyed successful Broadway runs and/ or
international theatre tours (e.g., Riverdance, Tap Dogs, Burn the Floor, Forever Tango, etc.), but
they do not qualify as dansicals. Such dance productions were not originally created or
primarily positioned as musicals; neither are they wholly defmed by and attributed to self-
expressive choreographers who are acknowledged as the productions' dominant, signa-
Of course, these defining characteristics have often complicated
the position, status, and legitimacy of the dansical within the American
musical theatre genre, especially when this genre has traditionally been
recognized for and credited with advancing the "ideal" of the integrated,
interactive, and symbiotic music/ text/ movement form (i.e., the
Gesamtkunstwerk, originally advocated by Richard Wagner in the mid-
1800s). To reiterate, the dansical, while deemed a musical, is a dance-
dominant work which defies and confounds the long-revered
song/ text/ dance construct ( Gesamtkunstwerk) which typically comprises
and distinguishes the musical theatre genre. And, not surprisingly when a
genre is challenged, attention is paid and voices are raised; for any such
activity suggests a turning point for the genre, as well as a moment of
faith, introspection, and interrogation for those vested in its evolution
and future survival. Beginning with the 1978 debut of Bob Fosse's
Dancin' (the first fully realized and acknowledged Broadway dansical), the
all-dance musical has both troubled and excited (or intrigued) members
of the musical theatre community. At one end of the spectrum, a con-
siderable contingent has applauded the new musical form and its con-
current promotion of dance/ choreography. This development is partic-
ularly significant given the fact that, in the past, the Broadway choreog-
rapher has been somewhat overshadowed by composers, lyricists, libret-
tists, and directors in the collaborative arena of musical theatre.4 And, in
a similar vein, Broadway choreography/ dance, itself, has suffered neglect
and/ or marginalization at the hands of scholars and critics who barely (or
perfunctorily) address movement vernacular in musical theatre antholo-
gies and reviews. Both situations reflect a bias in which musical theatre
rure, and omnipresent auteurs. As a result, the works frequendy feel more communal and
organically evolved, with the choreography somewhat subservient to the virtuosic per-
formers or an already established dance tradition. In short, such productions are most
often categorized as imported dance spectacles/ events and treated as entities separate
from the musical theatre genre. Akin to these productions are Broadway (and Off-
Broadway) works which are movement-based, kinetic spectacles (e.g., Stomp). Yet, they also
lack the stamp of a single, specific choreographic auteur. From 2001-2009, they were
assigned the designation "Special Theatrical Event" for Tony voters. The category was
recendy withdrawn by the Tony Awards Administration and Management Committees.
This is not the case with dansicals such as Dancin', Fosse, Dangerous Games, Contact, Swing!,
and Movin' Out, each being deemed a "Broadway musical" from the onset and bearing the
signature, guiding hand of a proprietary choreographer/ director, i.e., Bob Fosse, Graciela
Daniele, Susan Stroman, Lynn Taylor-Corbett, and Twyla Tharp, respectively.
4 This assertion does not apply to those select choreographers who have also
become successful directors Gerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Tommy Tune, etc.). As previ-
ously detailed, these artists can "self-expressively" attain great power and prestige within
the musical theatre arena.
88 S·nEHL
dance (i.e., "show dance") is frequently viewed as "entertainment" as
opposed to concert dance, which is more often considered an "art" idiom
worthy of serious attention and accreditation. Yet, as Tharp proves, the
dansical can incite, illuminate, engage, and refute this art/ entertainment
(or high art/low art) binary and bias as it blurs the line between concert
dance and musical theatre, all the while exploiting a new paradigm of lim-
Importantly, however, even those who have long championed
choreography/ dance on Broadway often stop short of advocating for the
dansical. For instance, in his 1978 review of Dantin', Walter Kerr assert-
ed that dance plays a crucial role in any musical, providing climactic and
illuminative moments of kinetic expression on stage. Yet, he also viewed
such moments as being necessarily incited and facilitated by the book and
score, with their pressing need for "some sort of detonation." Ultimately,
he lamented that, in a dansical, the progression and impetus is missing;
for there is "nothing that requires the dancing."s In short, with its con-
struct/ concept of dance dominance, often at the expense of the song
and text components, the dansical may be weakening its own musical the-
atre legacy and power. For without the intersubjective dynamics and
interplay between the three components, what remains vigorously unique to
musical theatre? Such is the troubling, flip side of the dansical.
Consequently, notwithstanding the many critics, scholars, and audience
members who applauded popular Dantin' successors such as Fosse (1999),
Swing! (1999), and Contact (1 999), there were (and are) prominent parties
who questioned the genre "purity" and validity of these works, as well as
their distortion and/ or dismissal of the Gesamtkunstwerk ideal. To this
end, Mark Grant asserts that the dansical "exploded the paradigm of the
integrated book musical," grousing: ''When the primary language of the-
ater is no longer word, character, or music but rather gesture, movement,
and staging, the power and legitimacy of language and music are under-
mined."6 Further, as Joseph P Swain concurrently writes, such a dispro-
portionate "musical" actually "becomes something else."7 And in accor-
dance with this ongoing debate, the Broadway debut of Movin' Out incit-
ed confusion and consternation with regards to its indeterminate nature.
5 Walter Kerr, "Dancin' Needs More," New York Times, 9 April 1978, DS.
Emphasis in original.
Mark N. Grant, The Rise and Fall of the Broadw([l Musical (Boston: Northeastern
University Press, 2004), 298.
Joseph P Swain, The Broadw([l MusicaL- A Critical and Musical Survey (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1990), 360.
How should one categorize this "dansical?" Revolution, revelation, diver-
sion, or all three? The New York Time! Ben Brantley, who summarily
praised the show, also voiced the majority opinion that it exemplified a
poststructural conundrum: "Even at a time when the Broadway musical
keeps stretching into new categories to find new audiences, Movin' Out
fits no pigeonhole."8
Yet, the ambiguous Movin' Out defmitiveiy succeeded on two
fronts. Met by an enthusiastic box office, the production ran for 1,303
performances. Met by a chorus of critical bravos, it received nine Tony
Award nominations (including a nomination for Best Musical and a win
for Best Choreography). And, unlike its predecessors, Movin' Out was not
castigated as a bastardized form-a "musical" in name only-but was,
instead, accorded a valid musical theatre lineage and legacy.9 In Newsday,
Linda Winer declared Movin' Out to be "an ecstatic throwback" to the
"dancicals [sic) in the Bob Posse-driven '70s."to A "throwback," yes, but
also the latest development in a "ballet" trend on Broadwayll_a merged
archetype embodied by Movin' Oufs formidable auteur, Twyla Tharp.
Born 1 July 1941, Tharp remains one of the most celebrated and recog-
nized names in concert dance, having introduced a critically acclaimed
signature dance technique, founded an eponymous dance company, and
choreographed an immensely broad and popular repertoire of concert
works, as well as a handful of movie and stage musicals. Her ascent to the
top of the dance world was unusually swift and momentous. Soon after
8 Ben Brantley, "In a Top 40 State of Mind," New York Times, 25 October 2002,
It is important to note that successful dansical predecessors Dancin', Fosse, and
Contact had critics and scholars decidedly split in their analyses and assessments regarding
the genre categorization and placement of the works. In the case of all three productions,
public debate raged over the "musical" merit (and disingenuousness) of such concentrat-
ed dance works on Broadway, with many voicing fierce resistance to the "musical" status
and honors accorded them.
linda Winer, "A Movin' Dansical of Waste of War, Power of Art,", 25 October 2002. http:/ / entertainment/ stage/ ny-
c2977115oct25.story (accessed 30 October 2002).
II Included in this trend was Matthew Bourne's all-male production of Sumn
Lak£ (1995) which appeared on Broadway for a special engagement in 1998. Although
this work does not technically meet my definition of "dansical," having been created as a
revisionist ballet (not a musical) for Bourne's dance company in Great Britain, it also
defies strict "non-dansical" categorization, as its venue and marketing campaign succeed-
ed in persuading Tony Award voters to bestow Best Director and Best Choreographer
awards in the Musical category to the production.
her first critically-lauded concert piece, The Fugue (1970), she cemented a
reputation as an American iconoclast, populist, and pioneer on the cusp
of a new concert technique/ aesthetic, often "pushing the envelope" in
terms of her unorthodox dance vocabulary, musical scores, and commis-
sions. Formative signature ballets include 1973's Deuce Coupe (set to a
musical backdrop of Beach Boys tunes)12 and 1976's Push Comes to Shove
(a reflexive parody, created for Mikhail Baryshnikov and American Ballet
Theatre). In Dance in America (1985), Robert Coe describes Deuce Coupe as
the "popular art" ballet which made Tharp "the darling and the brat of
the dance world."
3 Regarding Push/ Shove, Ellen Switzer in Dancers! (1982)
posits: "If there is such a thing as a hit ballet, Tharp has produced it."1
Resultantly, during the mid '70s, dance critic/ scholar Arlene Croce
declared Tharp "a herald of a new age."15
Importantly, this "new age" was signified by Tharp's self-expres-
sive choreography as she playfully and potently merged her own diverse
dance training (modern, ballet, jazz) and love of American pop cul-
ture/idioms with a formalist aesthetic and methodology. Coe describes
Tharp's "contemporary classicism" as a "fusion of styles," that is, an
"entirely personal intersection of ballet, jazz, spunk, spit, and a little of
the old soft-shoe."
6 Hubert Saal details Tharp's "populist" leanings and
the assimilation/ appropriation of social dance and pedestrian movement
within her modern dance discipline, writing that Tharp "finds her dance
material in ordinary walking, on ordinary dance-hall floors."!? And as
Tharp's choreography became increasingly codified, it was deemed "sig-
nature" movement; for example, Croce proclaimed that her trademark
exploitation of "plain speech in classical choreography" verged upon
becoming "a new style."18
2 Originally commissioned by Joffrey Ballet, the 1973 performance also
included a graffiti backdrop painted live by local New York city street artists.
13 Robert Coe, Dance in America (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1985), 216.
Ellen Switzer, Dancers! Horizons in American Dance (New York: Atheneum,
1982), 119.
15 Quoted in Coe, Dance in America, 217.
16 Coe, Dance in America, 215.
17 Hubert Saal, "Dance as Slouch and Twitch," Newsweek, 19 October 1981, 104.
18 Quoted in Switzer, Dancers!, 114.
Acknowledged as a critical/popular success, Tharp entered the
'80s empowered to explore and exploit the theatrical potential of narra-
tive dance within the concert sphere. Thus, in the space of three years,
she created a triumvirate of dance-theatre pieces-all of which figure
prominently in the Tharpian paradigm of the dansical and stand in her
repertoire as concert precursors to Movin' Out. The works are Chapters and
Verses (1979), When We Were Very Young (1980), and The Catherine Wheel
(1981). Set to a composite score and employing dialogue, the earliest
work-Chapters and Verses-is a choreographic depiction of the coming-
of-age experiences of youths in the 1970s. Although positioned by Coe
as a ballet at the "threshold" of Tharp's "odyssey toward a new dance-
theatre form,"J9 Chapters and Verses was not positively received by dance
critics. Foreshadowing laments regarding the dansical's confounding mer-
gence of concert dance and musical theatre, as well as its concordantly
conflicted place on the "high art/ low art" continuum, Croce lambasted
Chapters and Verses for its "glib super-Broadway style."20
Indeed, if Croce found the ballet's faint Broadway taint discon-
certing, Tharp's follow-up work would provoke even more anxiety and
interrogation. In 1980, Tharp worked with librettist Thomas Babe and
composer John Simon to create the narrative dance piece When We Were
Very Young. As denoted by Coe, this "American dream .. . turned night-
mare" depicts an adult son's recollections of his mother's suffering, cru-
elty, instability, and premature death, setting the memories against his
own idealized notion of domesticity.2
With When We Were Very Young,
Tharp also thrust her concept and construct of the dansical upon a newly
converged theatre/ concert stage. Accordingly, Coe anthologizes the pro-
duction by explaining that "audiences awaiting the rebirth of South Pacific
would be kept waiting" as When We Were Very Young "would evolve into
something entirely new: a dansical, involving an original score, a constant
stream of dancing and mime, and a spoken text to parallel them both."ZZ
19 Coe, Dance in America, 207.
20 Quoted in ibid., 218.
21 Coe, Dance in America, 219. Regarding When We Were Very Younis unique the-
atrical/ dramatic construct, Coe also offers an illuminative description: "The text became
a kind of radio play, with a child actress and Babe himself reading from a platform high
above the stage. The dansical traces Jane's [the mother's] mock-picaresque adventures, ..
. her fugitive sexuality and drinking, and boisterous rows that finally are not all that com-
ical." Ibid. It should also be noted that Tharp alternated with company member Sara
Rudner in the role of the mother, Jane, in the original Winter Garden production.
22 Ibid., 218. Coe's italics. Another significant aspect of this citation is that
Debuting at Broadway's Winter Garden, When We Were Very Young
received mixed reviews; specifically, critic Tobi Tobias declared the work
to be "tediously like the eternal kvetch."23 Tharp, however, was not
deterred from further exploring and confounding perceived boundaries
between concert dance and musical theatre. Thus, eighteen months later,
Tharp and her dance company premiered her seventy-eight-minute,
apocalyptic opus The Catherine Wheel (1981), which enjoyed a highly pub-
licized four-week Broadway engagement at the Winter Garden.
Significantly, many dance critics and scholars anthologize the work as an
evolution of When We Were Very Young. Dance critic Deborah Jowitt, in
her Village Voice review, wrote that Catherine Wheel featured When We Were
Very Youngs "same embittered family";24 while Coe places Catherine Wheel
alongside When We Were Very Young as a "kind of dance-theater of cruel-
ty," which recycles the latter's "quintessential cartoon characters."ZS
Specifically, Catherine Wheel re-presents Tharp's nightmarish take
on the American dream through theatrical, narrative segments in which a
"nuclear family" is shown in a number of compromising and disquieting
situations and relations. Further, it includes a dancing "Greek chorus"
and allusion to Saint Catherine, a martyr in pursuit and defense of a spir-
itual ideal. Finally, Catherine Wheel ends with Tharp's choreographic tour de
force, "The Golden Section," which features aerobic, aerial, and symbiot-
ic movement, representing an apotheosis in which non-narrative, pure
dance redeems an ugly, cruel, apocalyptic world.26 All of these compo-
nents comprise a ballet to which the "dance theatre" moniker has been
applied-sometimes in a laudatory fashion and, at other times, the pejo-
rative. Jowitt proclaimed Catherine Wheel to be "a dance-theater piece so
huge-scaled, so active, so fierce, so densely layered and cross-referenced
that you sit in your seat hardly able to move."2
Conversely, Saal declared
Coe's "dansical" designation for When We Were Very Young is one of the earliest uses
(1985) of the term by a concert dance or theatre scholar/historian.
23 Quoted in ibid., 219.
24 Deborah Jowitt, The Dance in Mind: Profiles and Reviews, 1977-83 (Boston:
David R. Godine, 1985), 57.
25 Coe, Dance in America, 222.
26 Today, "The Golden Section," excerpted as "Five Golden Sections," has
become a popular and critically acclaimed concert piece for Tharp, commissioned by
numerous dance companies.
27 Jowitt, The Dance in Mind, 57.
the work to be, "in deference to Broadway, ... more concerned with the-
ater than dance," disparaging it as "grotesque, amateurish, bitter and
blackly clownish."28
As evidenced by Saal's description, some critics specifically
lamented Wheel's theatrical thrust and scope, often asserting that its dra-
matic narrative jeopardized and convoluted its dance power and poten-
tial. In her Christian 5 cience Monitor review, Nancy Goldner surmised: "One
wonders if she's [fharp] not sacrificing too much dance invention at the
altar of the story."29 Concurrently, the New York Times' Anna Kisselgoff
lamented,   ~ t present, Miss Tharp lacks considerable depth in her mes-
sages."30 Yet, the overall weakness of Tharp's libretto (and theatricaliza-
tion, thereof) did not completely undermine Wheel; for the work was still
positioned by Tharp, and considered by most critics, to be a concert
piece, defined, dominated, and distinguished by its universally praised
dance/ choreography. In short, Coe asserts that "the point" of Wheel was
not "the astounding complexity of her [fharp's] allegory," but the "blaz-
ing river" of "ceaseless dancing ... blasted along by . .. David Byrne's
music and lyrics."31
Here, I must address, due to my positioning of Wheel as a "dan-
sica!" antecedent to Movin' Out, the above-referenced score by pop/rock
musician David Byrne, former lead of the New Wave band "Talking
Heads." As will be illustrated, Tharp approached, commissioned, and
"collaborated" with Movin' Oufs Billy Joel in much the same manner she
worked with Byrne. When Tharp decided to explore a possible collabo-
ration with Byrne as composer, lyricist, and recording artist of Wheefs
original score, she embarked upon a process in which she choreographi-
cally compiled and directed the score, looking to mass-marketed music
for inspiration (as well as a "pop" aesthetic). She recounts: "I worked
with my dancers and some of the old Talking Heads numbers, and then
I asked David to come in and look at it and see if it made sense to work
with me."32 In a Ne1v York Times article, Robert Palmer detailed the result-
28 Saal, "Dance as Slouch," 104.
29 Nancy Goldner, "New Twyla Tharp Work Bites Off More than It Can
Dance," Christian Science Monitor, 29 September 1981, 19.
30 Anna Kisselgoff, "Twyla Tharp's Growing Pains," New York Times, 4 October
1981, D12.
31 Coe, Dance in America, 222.
32 Quoted in Robert Palmer, "A Talking Head Collaborates with Twyla Tharp,"
New York Times, 20 September 1981, D17.
ant method of creating Catherine Whee/'s recorded score: "Some of
Byrne's [23] pieces were written more or less to order, to go with dance
movements Miss Tharp had already worked out; other pieces generated
dance movements."33
In short, dance ruled the overall work; and although Catherine
Whee/was seen as the progeny of When We Were Very Young and often des-
ignated as "dance theatre," it was positioned by Tharp as concert
dance/ballet and acquiescently read as such. Unlike When We Were Very
Young, the term "dansical" was never applied to Catherine Whee/. And
today, no "musical theatre" allusions have been made to the piece-pos-
sibly because such a categorization could be seen as undermining the
work's potent place in the Tharpian canon. I suggest that the aforemen-
tioned "high art versus low/ popular art" paradigm is partly responsible
for this situation; for one cannot ignore the critical consensus that, unlike
When We Were Very Young (which has fallen into obscurity), Catherine Wheel
represents a crucial moment and development in American modern
dance, as well as Tharp's career. As such, the work is "necessarily"
deemed "serious art." Further, to position Catherine Whee/ as a dansical
(that is, as a musical) may possibly rob it of its artistic gravitas and import
for those who, consciously or unconsciously, prejudicially view the
Broadway musical as a form of popular entertainment (or low/popular
art). In other words, a dansical/musical designation for Catherine Wheel
may dilute or negate the work's high art standing. Tellingly, even mixed
assessments of Catherine Whee/work to reaffirm its concert status and sig-
nificance; for instance, Coe anthologizes Cathenne Whee/ as a "flawed,
infuriating masterpiece."34 Such a "flawed masterpiece" merits serious
"dansical" consideration, however, as it predates and foreshadows Movin '
Out, containing a similar methodology, construct, and aesthetic by Tharp,
as well as inciting analogous criticisms, justifications, and/ or equivoca-
tions within the theatre/ dance community. Most important, two decades
33 Palmer, "A Talking Head," D1 7.
Coe, Dance in America, 225. Importantly, Tharp would revisit Cathenne Wheel
throughout her career, fme-tuning her "flawed masterpiece" and working to solidify its
place within the modern dance canon. Specifically, she directed a 1982 television version
of Catherine Wheel for BBC which then aired on PBS as part of the Dance in America series
in 1983. Tharp shortened the production a bit but also added a computer-generated fig-
ure of St. Catherine to illustrate her allegorical reference to the Saint; further, Tharp elu-
cidated the work's imagery and themes through a preceding on-camera interview. In 1987,
she presented The Catherine Wheel III. Condensed to 40 minutes, this version removed or
abbreviated many of the more controversial narrative family segments, while keeping the
unanimously lauded "Golden Section" intact.
after Catherine Wheel, Tharp ultimately subverted the aforementioned
high/low art paradigm as she repositioned her newest dance-theatre
work, Movin' Out, as a musical/ dansical, exploiting its hybrid status to not
only ensure Broadway box office success but, paradoxically, to also gar-
ner artistic kudos for her "signature" reconfiguration of and contribution
to the musical theatre genre.JS In this respect, Tharp was able to "have it
both ways," a phenomenon facilitated and buttressed by her concert
cache and populist proftle. Presciently, as Palmer proclaimed in 1981,
Catherine Wheel may have represented "a first" for modern dance on
Broadway but it would "not be the last of its kind."36 Indeed, like
Catherine Wheel, Tharp's 2002 Broadway foray, Movin' Out, featured a com-
piled, commissioned pop/rock score; a sociopolitical narrative imposed
upon the score; and Tharp's self-expressive control and domination of
the overall work as she conceptualized, wrote, and directed the produc-
tion, predominantly relying upon her signature choreography to theatri-
cally convey her tale. Yet, in terms of authorial intent and reception,
Movin' Out differed crucially from WheeL Upon its Broadway debut at the
Richard Rodgers Theatre on 24 October 2002, the "ballet" was classified
by Tharp (and validated by the theatre community) as a "musical," placed
firmly within the musical theatre genre and intended for a musical theatre
audience. In a word, Movin' Out was deemed a "dansical."37
35 In the intervening years between The Catherine Wheel and Movin' Out, Tharp
furthered her prolific, expansive, and prestigious career. In 1988, her company, Twyla
Tharp Dance, merged with ABT, while Tharp, herself, continued to independently chore-
ograph for ABT, along with other companies such as NYCB, British Royal Ballet, Paris
Opera Ballet, Jaffrey Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, and Hubbard Street
Dance. By the 1990s, along with having created approximately 100 concert works, she had
choreographed five ftlms: Hair (1978), Ragtime (1980), Amadetts (1984), White Nights
(1985), and Irl Do Anything (1994); she had also directed/ choreographed the Broadway
version of Singin' in the Rain in 1985. (Interestingly, the film/ theatre productions, other
than Hair, contained little of Tharp's "signature" choreography.) In addition, Tharp
reestablished Twyla Tharp Dance in the '90s, successfully touring the company from 1999
to 2003.
36 Palmer, "A Talking Head," D1 7.
37 As I have documented, Tharp was no stranger to the dansical, having previ-
ously experimented with the form. It must be noted, however, that Movin' Out came on
the heels of the formidable dansicals Fosse (1 ,093 performances and 1999 Tony Award for
Best Musical) and Contact (1 ,010 performances and 2000 Tony Award for Best Musical).
The popular and critical successes of these forerunners most likely facilitated and inspired
a renewed effort by Tharp toward realizing her own self-expressive Broadway production;
further, Tharp may have benefited from an existing Broadway climate conducive to the
dance musical. Yet, as this essay will illustrate, Movin' Out set a new benchmark and rep-
The road to Broadway was a bit rocky, however, and from Movin'
Out's earliest conception and throughout its theatrical run, Tharp played
the role of all-powerful, self-expressive auteur. After approaching Billy
Joel with the idea of using his song catalogue as a compilation score for
her musical told entirely through dance, Tharp proceeded to write anoth-
er sociopolitical "coming-of-age" narrative to bring the song selections to
life. After recruiting a prestigious cast of dancers (mostly culled from
professional ballet companies), the eight-million-dollar production
embarked on a Chicago tryout, during which it received overwhelmingly
negative reviews. Emblematic of Tharp's self-expressive proclivities was
her response to the work's less-than-auspicious debut and reception.
Specifically, the New York Post's Michael Riedel, placing the blame
"squarely on the shoulders" of Tharp, reported: "Critics suggested that
the show needed a professional book writer and maybe even a new direc-
tor. But that was not going to happen. Tharp ... will not ... stand for
anyone else trying to fix her show."38
Indeed, in almost every aspect, Tharp is the primary and ultimate
author of Movin' Out. According to Riedel, she originally insisted her
billing read "created by Twyla Tharp" but settled for "conceived, chore-
ographed, and directed by" after being pressed by producers to acknowl-
edge Joel's "substantial" contribution.39 Yet, Tharp has suggested that her
libretto (as she self-expressively, choreographically redefines it) is the
musical's communicative force. She expounds, "Yes, there are Billy's
lyrics, but it's told through a different medium .... The movement and
the action tell the story."40 Significantly, Tharp is also the literal librettist
of Movin' Out. Along with choreography, she supplied the written dance
narrative which details the tumultuous triangle of Brenda, Eddie, and
Tony, and the gentler, bittersweet romance of James and Judy-all set
against a backdrop of Vietnam, as well as its repercussions throughout
resents a new paradigm, for it was read by most critics to be the highpoint of the dansi-
cal evolution/ revolution in terms of concert "artistry" and authority, as well as musical
theatre legitimacy and prestige.
38 Michael Riedel, "Billy Joel's Blues," Ne1v York Post, 24 July 2002, 50.
39 Ibid. Importantly, Tharp was not the first Broadway choreographer/director
to insist upon the "conceived/ choreographed/ directed" billing; this billing was intro-
duced to Broadway in 1957 by the pioneering auteur Jerome Robbins who demanded the
title credit in all publicity and program materials for West Side Story.
40 Quoted in Mervyn Rothstein, "Mutual Admiration Society," Playbill, 30
November 2002, 10.
B£CAUSE SHE S.uo So ... 97
the remainder of the 1970s and early '80s. As Dancing Times' George
Dorris summarized, "as three blue collar young men go off to Vietnam,
only two [fony and Eddie] return, emotionally scarred, to slowly heal and
become ready to move out."
In a sense, one might see Movin' Out as Tharp's latest edition in
her narrative dance-theatre series (beginning with Chapters/ Verses), as she
again supplied a libretto that critically depicts, interrogates, and decon-
structs American myths and memes. In a 2003 interview, Tharp traced
her evolution in regards to narrative dance and libretto authorship.
Having entered the concert arena in the late '60s as a "non-narrative"
choreographer, she eventually experimented with "storytelling" in the
'70s, hoping to "reach an audience emotionally." By 1988, she had
enrolled in a screenwriting class at Columbia University.
2 Finally, in 2002,
Tharp specifically cited a textbook Aristotelian strategy when describing
her Movin' Out libretto, stating that her "goal" was to make audiences feel
that they, along with her characters, had "made a progression." She con-
cluded that there was an "old-fashioned word" for it: "catharsis."43 Yet,
there were some detractors with regards to the dramatic efficacy and
immediacy of her libretto; for instance, in his review, Clive Barnes posit-
ed that Movin' Out's book "is familiar to the point of seeming simplistic,"
pointedly summarizing, "If a story is too silly to speak, then sing it; and
if it's too silly to sing, then dance it."44
In this respect, Movin' Out again echoes Catherine Wheel, as
Tharp's libretto was seen by some as a weak element which somewhat
proved a disservice to her recognized area of expertise and authority:
choreography. This time, however, Tharp was seemingly able to redress
such criticism by framing an argument (supported by the formidability of
her concert dance persona) that ironically agreed with and built upon
Barnes's glib complaint regarding her "silly" story. Defending her choice
to "dance it," Tharp argued in 2003: "There is obviously a power and a
truth in action that doesn't lie, which words easily can do." She conclud-
ed that her choreography for Movin' Out represented the ultimate "truth
41 George Dorris, "Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out," Dancing Times, January 2003,31.
Italics in original.
42 Quoted in Fletcher Roberts, "How Twyla Tharp Learned to Tell a Tale," N e:v
York Times, 1 June 2003, ARl O.
43 Quoted in Rothstein, "Mumal Admiration Society," 14.
Clive Barnes, "A Movin' Baller-Tharp's Choreography Takes Center Stage,"
New York Post, 25 October 2002, 47.
on the stage .... There is more power to our physical reality than to dia-
logue."4S Thus, Tharp reiterated her career-long populist argument that
concert dance is superior to almost every other art form in its ability to
"speak" to the masses (therefore, it should rightly be celebrated as "pop-
ular" art and moved beyond the exclusive concert arena). And, for the
most part, Tharp won the day as most prominent critics not only
affirmed but also applauded Tharp's position that her libretto was most
potent in its use of dance/ choreography (sans spoken word) to commu-
nicate the story and convey the characters' emotional journeys. Even
skeptics became converts and advocates. Jowitt, who initially "doubted"
Tharp's reattempt at "narrative," came away "exhilarated" by Movin' Out
and its "bold choreographer's vision."46 And although Kisselgoff con-
curred with Barnes that Tharp's libretto sounded "familiar" if one
remembered "films like The Deer Hunter," she ultimately extolled, "The
idea here is that the how is more important than the what. Dance can
express what words cannot."47 I might add that the "familiar" story also
made the Broadway "ballet" more accessible and immediate, ultimately
working as cultural shorthand to broaden its audience appeal. To this
point, Brantley wrote in his Times review that "Tharp uses the basic story
in the way choreographers of storybook ballets used fairy tales," while
the actual onstage choreography serves to "uncover deeper emotional
Still, there were resistors to this self-expressive choreographic-
cum-narrative strategy. Writing in 2004, Barry Singer proclaimed that he
did not understand the critical "delirium" surrounding Movin' Out, citing
the deficient dance narrative as a major culprit. Specifically, he posited
that the "nearly constant motion" and "breathless" pace of the produc-
tion "would have been flne if Movin' Out simply was a twitchy piece of
movement," concluding: "unfortunately, Tharp felt compelled to tell tick-
et buyers a story for their hundred bucks ... . The results were a travesty
of both the war itself and the decade that was torn apart by it."49
45 Quoted in Roberts, "How Twyla Tharp Learned to Tell a Tale," ARlO.
6 Deborah Jowitt, "Showcasing Heroes," Village Voice, 5 November 2002, 61.
Anna Kisselgoff, "The Story Is in rhe Steps," New York Ti111e1, 25 October
2002, El.
8 Brantley, "In a Top 40 State of Mind," E1.
9 Barry Singer, Ever After: The Last Years of Musical Theater and Bryond (New
York: Applause, 2004), 258.
Regarding this "travesty" of a libretto, a fascinating development
ensued in 2003 when Tharp submitted Movin' Out to the Pulitzer com-
mittee for consideration. Riedel detailed the process in a New York Post
At one point, sources say, the producers considered sub-
mitting just the lyrics, but decided they needed some-
thing meatier. So they came up with a booklet blending
photographs, lyrics, and plot synopsis. The left-hand
pages feature photos illustrating the ballet, scene by
scene. The right-hand pages consist of Joel's lyrics,
printed alongside a plot synopsis written by
The "musical" did not win the prize; but efforts made toward its
consideration in the "drama" category-given its absence of dialogue or
textual narrative spoken onstage- illuminate the degree of theatrical
merit and legitimization bestowed upon the Tharp dansical, as well as the
force of its popularity. Yet, it may also give one pause as to the ultimate
dissolution of the Gesamtkunstwerk music/ text/ dance ideal that had once
defined and delineated the American musical, along with the validation of
a new dance-dominant archetype that may now be considered to consti-
tute "musical theatre," with a "book" choreographically redefined and
reconfigured. Yet, there were (and are) many theatre critics who accept-
ed Tharp's dansical redefinition/ re-conception of a libretto; in particular,
Riedel wrote: ' 'Anybody who argues that Movin' Out doesn't have a book
is being a stick-in-the-mud. Its story is clear; its characters complex; its
emotions true."5t
The narrative, however, is not the only choreographically-dictat-
ed and complicated component of Movin' Out, for Tharp also compiled
and controlled the score, choosing works from Joel's popular canon to
suit her theme, concept, libretto, and movement. In a 2002 interview with
Playbill's Mervyn Rothstein, Tharp recounted a process eerily redolent of
her Catherine Wheel "collaboration" with Byrne, stating that after she
thought of using Joel's music, she tried it out with several of her dancers
to see "if it was a doable idea." Only then did she "call Billy."52 Ultimately,
the Broadway production's musical component consisted of a "piano
50 Michael Riedel, "Eye on the Prize," New York Post Online Edition, 7 March
2003. http:/ / cgi-bin/ (accessed 7 March 2003).
51 Ibid.
52 Quoted in Rothstein, "Mutual Admiration Society," 14.
man" (Michael Cavanaugh in the original cast) and a band of nine musi-
cians who performed the Joel numbers. Yet, this "live" musical compo-
nent did not seemingly veer that far from a "canned" score, in that the
pianist/vocalist most often replicated, in style, tone, and interpretation,
Joel's recorded versions of the songs. This phenomenon was not missed
by many critics. In 2004, Ethan Mordden described Cavanaugh, at the
piano on an upper platform, as "performing the numbers with the sharp
attack and confidence of the Piano Man Ooel] himself;"53 Singer some-
what disparaged Movin' Out's overall musical element as one comprised
of "reconstituted Billy Joel hits performed by a Billy Joel imperson-
Such a musical construct and strategy-often termed "juke-
box"-has become a staple on Broadway in recent decades. No doubt,
one can see the populist and commercial appeal of a compiled score
which is immediately familiar, exploits nostalgia, and brings to the work
a built-in audience. Yet, I also submit that the danced illustration of a pop
hit, in "canned" form (i.e., an aural absence of "live" performance), is
evocative of one of the most ubiquitous popular music/ dance/ media
forms today: the music video. Significandy, in addition to replicating the
recorded sound of Joel hits, the Broadway production placed the "piano
man" and his band on an upstage platform, physically separate from the
dancing action. This resulted in the musical element being relegated to
the background, while the dancers viscerally ruled the central downstage
performance space. Thus, an audience member was often required to
split his focus, a reception paradigm suggestive of video's quick-cut edit-
ing. And with its downstage advantage, the dance/ action dominated the
proceedings, while each pop hit simply underscored the expressive move-
ment, providing a toe-tapping soundtrack. Such an MTV paradigm was
further implied by Tharp's choreography, her signature incorporation of
"street dance" idioms and pop culture references. For instance, Dorris
specifically lauded Tharp's appropriation of "rough-and-tumble break-
dance moves" to depict Eddie's alienation and descent into violent sex
and drugs.55 Concurrendy, Brantley cited Tharp's "wide-ranging" chore-
ographic quotations which ranged "from Swan Lake to Michael Jackson's
53 Ethan Mordden, The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen: The Last Twenry-Five Years
of the Broadwtry Musical (New York: Palgrave, 2004), 256.
54 Singer, Ever After, 258.
55 Dorris, "Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out," 31.
Interestingly, most critics were completely accepting of the juke-
box and/ or MTV character of Mavin' Out, lauding the production's musi-
cal component. Brantley went so far as to insist that the production did
not rely upon "what might be called the karaoke quotient." Although he
described Cavanaugh as a "Billy Joel-soundalike," he also deemed him to
be a "remarkably accomplished pianist" whose singing contains "a self-
contained polish ... that does not encourage theatergoers to join in."57
In addition, many applauded the autonomy and musical theatre facility of
Joel's pop compositions; specifically, Barnes claimed that the music was
"essential to Tharp's concept."58 Jowitt not only agreed with Barnes but
also elaborated: "Joel's songs ... are the launching pad for Tharp's story
and provide the evening's only words, igniting details that
good at emotional   deal with."S9
Of course, these songs were still hand-picked by Thar p and
compiled/ configured to suit her choreographic narrative. GO Further, given
the jukebox score, she was able to provide the original and, thereby, most
significant content. This content (her choreography I dance) was often
cited as the music's embodiment and extension, ultimately being credited
for the score's communicative power and efficacy. Significantly, Barnes's
Mavin' Out review headline read: "Tharp's Choreography Takes Center
Stage."Gt Kisselgoff expounded:
56 Brantley, "In a Top 40 State of Mind," El.
57 Ibid.
58 Barnes, "A Movin' Ballet," 4 7.
59 Jowitt, "Showcasing Heroes," 61.
60 Although published accounts of Movin' Outs creation cite Tharp as the pro-
duction's visionary architect and driving force, one should not discount the import of the
Joel song catalogue. Billy Joel, himself, may not have played a dominant role in Movin'
Oufs development and theatrical realization, but the pop resonance of his music, espe-
cially in the Tri-State Area, was a likely factor contributing to the work's Broadway popu-
larity. Giving credence to this argument is the fact that when Movin' Out debuted on the
West End in 2006 (at the Apollo Victoria Theatre), it ran for less than two months.
Although the reviews were no less positive than those in the United States, the ticket sales
were lackluster and the show closed quickly. While the venue was not ideal (overly large
and a bit remote), it is also probable that the Joel songbook did not have the same reso-
nance and popular/ cultural significance in Great Britain as in the States.
61 Barnes, "A Movin' Ballet," 47.
The best choreographers have repeatedly revealed new
dimensions to composers in their own music. . . . Ms.
Tharp's genius is to give the public a recognizable Billy
Joel; . .. but her virtuosic and emotionally charged
dances are anything but a mere visualization of his lyrics
or rhythms. The dancing dominates the show.6
Such sentiments affirm my characterization of the dansical as a
musical theatre work that is both dance-defined and dominated by a self-
expressive choreographer. In the case of Tharp and Movin' Out, these
defining qualities were not only revered by many in the dance and theatre
communities but also reverentially reinscribed. In the process,
theatre/ dance "authorities" preempted potential "diversion/ entertain-
ment" complaints or accusations, bestowing "artistic" merit to Broadway
dance, as well as the jukebox musical. Prior narrative/ character ballets by
Tharp (e.g., Deuce Coup and Catherine   h e e ~ were often cited by critics as
Movin' Out templates, while many authoritative voices in the media alert-
ed audience members to the concert history and signature stamp of the
work's auteur. For example, Kisselgoff denoted Tharp's "customary''
blending of "the classical and the vernacular," asserting:
The vocabulary, however, is pure Tharp .. .. Here is the
old Tharp signature style, full of spirals and swinging
arms .... Nobody but classically trained dancers could
even begin to cope with the superhuman partnering and
stamina required by this choreography.63
Of course, it may be expected that the leading New York Times
dance critic would spotlight and address this aspect of Movin' Out, yet,
theatre critics also found themselves describing and referencing the cho-
reography and career of Tharp. For instance, the Dai!J News' Howard
Kissel wrote that Movin' Out's movement often veers "from the lyrical
classical style into the angular, libidinal, athletic movements for which
62 Kisselgoff, "The Story Is in the Steps," El.
63 Ibid. Kisselgoff was not alone in her allusion to the "classical" credentials of
Movin' Oufs cast members. For the original Broadway production, Tharp recruited ABT's
John Selya and Keith Roberts to play, respectively, Eddie and Tony; Elizabeth Parkinson
(having formerly danced with Jaffrey Ballet, Feld Ballet, and Donald Byrd) portrayed
Brenda; while ABT's Ashley Tuttle and NYCB's Benjamin Bowman were cast as Judy and
James. Along with Tharp's concert resume, the aforementioned classical company affilia-
tions of these dancers were almost always cited in media reviews.
Tharp is known."6
Further, Mordden specifically detailed Tharp's
Broadway dance achievement:
Twyla Tharp is an outstanding name in ballet, but this is
Broadway's first experience of what Thar p does when
she is free to do it .... Many have failed to appreciate
how sleekly Tharp has blended ballet with the thing we
have no word for yet that denotes what happened to
hoofing after Balanchine, de Mille, and Robbins adopt-
ed it.6S
In short, most critics and scholars from the musical theatre and concert
dance arenas unreservedly applauded the self-expressive choreographic
domain (and diversion) asserted by Tharp on Broadway, that is, the limi-
nal paradigm of the dansical. Given Mavin' Out's dance dominance and
self-expressive authority/ authorship, one must continue to question,
however, whether the production represents the musical theatre
Gesamtkunstwerk. Did Mavin' Out (and the dansical, as a whole) truly
embody this conventional, popular ideal of the musical theatre genre?
Most critics, noting the work's overall dance aesthetic and constitution,
would answer, "no." In the same breath, however, they celebrated Mavin'
Out's choreographic redefinition and reconfiguration of the traditional
musical archetype. Brantley came closest to fully according Tharp's
domain a dramatic, integrationist status, writing that her Mavin' Out num-
bers "internalize the score," as her dances "become shaded personality
sketches, expressing individual reactions to mass-marketed music."66
Others were more ambivalent. While lauding Mavin' Out's dance, Dorris,
nonetheless, offered a judicious criticism:
My reservations stem from the difficulties of establish-
ing full characters and plot through movement alone,
since the music sets the mood rather than revealing
these people through song .... The story becomes pri-
marily an occasion for hearing these songs and watching
the dances. Fortunately, Tharp's choreography and her
splendid dancers take us to a level where these other
Howard Kissel, "A B'way State of Mind," Dai(y News, 25 October 2002, 61.
65 Mordden, The Happiest Corpse, 256.
66 Brantley, "In a Top 40 State of Mind," El.
concerns scarcely matter.67
All of which leads back to a "dansical" reception paradigm in
which the application of the term "musical" to a dance-theatre work on
Broadway may sell more tickets but also causes confusion, contempla-
tion, and controversy amongst its readers. Yet, Tharp, again, found a way
to defuse such "moniker" angst. Although the production was created,
positioned, and marketed as a Broadway musical, she opted to remove
and/ or redraft any terminology which could possibly call attention to the
inherent contradictions and complications of a ballet redefined and repo-
sitioned as a musical. Specifically, during the Chicago tryout, Tharp short-
ened the production's original title of Movin' Out: The Musical to Movin'
Out. Tharp recounts that the word "musical" was "causing a lot of con-
fusion;" so she decided to "just forgo any categories," preferring the
abbreviated title because "in terms of genre ... it's going to follow new
rules."68 Regardless, the labeling dilemma continued to inform reviews of
Movin' Out. For instance, Jowitt reported that Movin' Oufs audiences
cheered "this ... what? Dansical?"
Countering the production's "musi-
cal" categorization, Barnes bluntly declaimed: "If it looks like a ballet,
sounds like a ballet, feels like a ballet and dances like a ballet-it is a bal-
let."?O Kisselgoff concurred, definitively declaring that Movin' Out is not
"a musical, newfangled or otherwise .... There is no dialogue, the dancers
don't sing and the lyrics are sometimes irrelevant to the dancing."?!
Finally, Richard Zoglin devoted a significant portion of his Time review
to the production's liminal and paradoxical nature:
You can spend a lot of time trying to decide exactly
what to call Movin' Out . ... It's not a traditional musical
because none of the main characters say a word-or
even sing .... Maybe just compare it with previous dance
pieces Tharp has done to popular music .... But then
what's it doing on Broadway?72
67 Dorris, "Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out," 31.
68 Quoted in Roberts, "How Twyla Tharp Learned to Tell a Tale," ARlO.
69 Jowitt, "Showcasing Heroes," 61.
70 Barnes, "A Movin' Ballet," 47.
71 Kisselgoff, "The Story Is in the Steps," El .
72 Quoted in Singer, Ever After, 295.
In response to Zoglin, Movin' Out was on Broadway because
Twyla Tharp put it there. And, yes, one should compare the production
with Tharp's previous dance pieces, while making a crucial distinction:
Movin' Out is a not another "ballet," but a "musical." Why? Because Tharp
said so ... and, equally important, because audiences overwhelmingly
concurred. Movin' Out finally closed three years after its Broadway debut,
and in the final analysis, the contentions and criticisms incited by the pro-
duction's paradigm of ballet/ musical amalgamation proved somewhat
toothless.73 The critical and popular "pass" given its dance-driven muta-
tion of the musical theatre genre signified a new era of legitimacy and
potentiality for dansical. Accordingly, Barnes asserted in 2004 that Movin'
Out set a "new benchmark" for the dance musical, while alluding to its
broader implication: "These are great days for-might we call it?-the
While Barnes may have been a bit premature in heralding a new
age for the form, after all no dansical has succeeded on Broadway since
Movin' Out, his sentiment may still prove to be prescient and portent.
Given the tremendous critical and box office success of Movin' Out (as
well as contemporaries Fosse and   it is reasonable to predict that
the dansical will soon reemerge on Broadway. Further, in regards to the
current popularity of reality-based television dance programs, one sees
the cultural significance and influence of the dansical moving beyond the
musical theatre stage. For instance, the critically acclaimed and widely
popular So You Think You Can Dance not only features Broadway dance
but also showcases a "dansical" character of liminality, featuring compet-
73 Since its Broadway run, Movin' Out has also enjoyed numerous successful
national and international tours.
Barnes, "Attitudes," 98. It should be noted that Tharp provided somewhat of
a follow-up to Movin' Out in 2006: The Times Thry Are A-Changin'. Although this Broadway
production vaguely resembles Movin' Out in that it again features a song catalogue by a
contemporary musician (this time, Bob Dylan) and represents a self-expressive archetype,
having been directed/ choreographed/ conceived by Tharp, it is not a dansical. Specifically,
The Times uses dialogue to convey narrative and its characters are required to sing, as well
as dance. Another major difference is that the show proved to be a disappointing failure
for 'Tharp, closing after just 28 performances. As this article goes to press, Tharp's newest
venture Come Ffy All>try has recently opened at Broadway's Marquis Theatre (opened on 25
March 201 0). Once again, Tharp serves as the production's conceiver, librettist, choreog-
rapher, and director, having compiled a jukebox score consisting of Frank Sinatra stan-
dards with which to thematically frame the work. In addition to the prominent dance com-
ponent, the production spotlights its live music element, as it showcases a stage band with
Sinatra vocal specialists performing the signature songs. Whether or not the production
will match the success and significance of Movin' Out, however, remains to be seen.
ing dancers of different idioms moving beyond defining strictures to
engage all genres, from Broadway to ballroom to contemporary to street.
And when the concert voice of contemporary dance choreographer Mia
Jlvlichaels sounds in both harmonic and dissonant chorus with that of
Broadway dance legend Debbie Allen, the two panelists/ choreographers
of So You Think You Can Dance constitute the latest representation of
amalgamated concert and Broadway danceJS Such a merged dance para-
digm of "art" and "entertainment" has been, no doubt, informed and
exemplified by Tharp. In short, Twyla Tharp provided the prototype, that
is, the hybrid domain of "serious" dance and "populist" divergence,
while her authoritative and meditative voice proclaimed and positioned
the dansical (that "genre-transgressive" site of high art/low art conver-
gence) as a potent, provocative, popular, and proven musical form on the
American stage.
75 In addition to serving as a semi-regular panelist/judge and contemporary
dance choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance, Michaels' resume includes works for
the stage, screen, and concert arena. She is also the founder, artistic director, and chore-
ographer for the New York-based concert dance company, RAW AJlen is a renowned
artist of the musical theatre stage (as well as film and television), having Broadway cred-
its as director, choreographer, actor-singer-dancer, as well as Tony winner for her role as
Anita in the 1980 revival of West Side Story.
David Carlyon is author of the award-winning book Dan Rice: The Most
Famous Man You've Never Heard Of His essays have appeared in New
England Theatre Journal, South Atlantic Review, Theatre Symposium, and Theatre
Topics. An Army veteran and former Ringling Brothers and Barnum &
Bailey Circus clown, with a Northwestern PhD and a UC-Berkeley J.D.,
Carlyon has taught at Northwestern and the University of Michigan-
Flint, plus history seminars and acting workshops around the country.
Bethany Holmstrom is a doctoral student in the Theatre program at
CUNY Graduate Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the College
of Staten Island. She has published in Youth Theatre Journal and as a co-
author in Theatre Journal. She is currently researching performances of
Civil War memory in U.S. culture.
Amy E. Hughes is Assistant Professor of Theater History & Criticism
and Deputy Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department of Theater at
Brooklyn College (CUNY). Her articles and reviews have appeared in
New England Theatre Journal, Theatre Journal, Theatre Research International,
and Theatre Topics; and her essay on depictions of hypocritical Christians
in abolitionist drama is featured in the collection Interrogating America
Through Theatre and Peiformance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), edited by
William Demastes and Iris Smith Fischer. She is currently developing a
book manuscript based on her dissertation, which explores the role of
sensationalism and spectacle in mid-nineteenth-century American reform
Tamara Smith is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.
Her current research focuses on the combined role of theatre and news-
papers in the production of national identity in the nineteenth-century
United States.
Pamyla A. Stiehl serves as Adjunct Faculty for University of Colorado
at Boulder, with a specialization in musical theatre. She has published arti-
cles in Studies in Musical Theatre, Journal of Religion and Theatre, Texas Theatre
Journal, and Quarto and is currently working to publish the book version
of her dissertation, The Dansical, which garnered the 2007-08 George K.
Reynolds Fellowship. A long-time member of Actors Equity, Pamyla has
performed award-winning roles in Seattle, Toronto, and Denver, while
also working regionally as a professional director and choreographer.
Barcelona Plays: A Collection of New Works by
Catalan Playwrights
Translated and edited by Marion Peter Holt and Sharon G. Feldman
The new plays in this collection represent outstanding
playwrights of three generations. Benet i Jornet won his
first drama award in 1963, when was only twenty-three
years old, and in recent decades he has become
Catalonia's leading exponent of thematically challeng-
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been performed internationally and translated into four-
teen languages, including Korean and Arabic. Sergi
Belbel and LluYsa Cunille arrived on the scene in the late
1980s and early 1990s, with distinctive and provocative
dramatic voices. The actor-director-playwright Pau Mir6
is a member of yet another generation that is now
attracting favorable critical attention.
}osep M. Benet I }ornet: Two Plays
Translated by Marion Peter Holt
Josep M. Benet i Jornet, born in Barcelona, is the author of
more than forty works for the stage and has been a lead-
ing contributor to the striking revitalization of Catalan the-
atre in the post-Franco era. Fleeting, a compelling
"tragedy-within-a-play," and Stages, with its monological
recall of a dead and unseen protagonist, rank among his
most important plays. They provide an introduction to a
playwright whose inventive experiments in dramatic form
and treatment of provocative themes have made him a
major figure in contemporary European theatre.
Price US$2o.oo each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The CUNY
Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
Visit our website at: http:/ / Contact: or 212-817-1868
Czech Ploys: Seven New Works
Edited by Marcy Arlin, Gwynn MacDonald, and Daniel Gerould
Czech Plays: Seven New Works is the first English-tan·
guage anthology of Czech plays written after the 1989
"Velvet Revolution." These seven works explore sex and
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society brought on by democracy and globalization with
characteristic humor and intelligence.
Price US$2o.oo plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
}on Fabre: I Am A Mistake. Seven Works for the Theatre
Edited and forward by Frank Hentschker
Flemish-Dutch theatre artist Jan Fabre is considered one of
the most innovative and versatile artists of his day. Over
the past twenty-five years, he has produced works as a
performance artist, theatre maker, choreographer, opera
maker, playwright, and visual artist. This volume repre·
sents the first collection of plays by Jan Fabre in an English
translation. Plays include: I am a Mistake (2007), History
of Tears (2005), je suis sang (conte de fees medieval)
(2001), Angel of Death (2003) and others.
Price US$15.00 plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The CUNY
Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10o16-4309
Visit our website at: http:/ / Contact: or 212-817-1868
roMANIA After 2000
Edited by Saviana Stanescu and Daniel Gerould.
Translation editors: Saviana Stanescu and Ruth Margraff.
This volume represents the first anthology of new
Romanian Drama published in the United States and
introduces American readers to compelling playwrights
and plays that address resonant issues of a post-totali-
tarian society on its way toward democracy and a new
European identity. includes the plays: Stop The Tempo
by Gianina Carbunariu, Romania. Kiss Me! by Bogdan
Georgescu, Vitamins by Vera I on, Romania 21 by ~ t e f   n
Peca and Waxing West by Saviana Stanescu.
This publication produced in collaboration with the
Romanian Cultural Institute in New York and Bucharest.
Buenos Aires in Translation
Translated and Edited by Jean Graham-Jones
BAiT epitomizes true international theatrical collabora-
tion, bringing together four of the most important contem-
porary playwrights from Buenos Aires and pairing them
with four cutting-edge US-based directors and their
ensembles. Throughout a period of one year, playwrights,
translator, directors, and actors worked together to deliv-
er four English-language world premieres at Performance
Space 122 in the fall of 2oo6.
Plays include: Women Dreamt Horses by Daniel Veronese;
A Kingdom, A Country or a Wasteland, In the Snow by Lola
Arias; Ex-Antwone by Federico Leon; Panic by Rafael
Spregelburd. BAiT is a Performance Space 122 Production,
an initiative of Salon Volcan, with the support of lnstituto
Cervantes and the Consulate General of Argentina in
Price US$2o.oo each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The CUNY
Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016· 4309
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Witkiewicz: Seven Plays
Translated and Edited by Daniel Gerould
VV I   h • C \nJ I f' Z.
This volume contains seven of Witkiewicz' s most impor-
tant plays: The Pragmatists, Tumor Brainiowicz, Gyubal
Wahazar, The Anonymous Work, The Cuttlefish, Dainty
Shapes and Hairy Apes, and The Beelzebub Sonata, as
well as two of his theoretical essays, "Theoretical
Introduction" and "A Few Words About the Role of the
Actor in the Theatre of Pure Form."
Witkiewicz . . . takes up and continues the vein of dream
and grotesque fantasy exemplified by the late Strindberg
or by Wedekind; his ideas are closely paralleled by those
of the surrealists and Anton in Artaud which culminated in
the masterpieces of the dramatists of the Absurd . ... It is
high time that this major playwright should become better
known in the English-speaking world. Martin Esslin
Price US$2o.oo plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Four Works for the Theatre by Hugo Claus
Translated and Edited by David Willinger
Hugo Claus is the foremost contemporary writer of Dutch
language theatre, poetry, and prose. Flemish by birth and
upbringing, Claus is the author of some ninety plays, nov-
els, and collections of poetry. He is renowned as an enfant
terrible of the arts throughout Europe. From the time he
was affiliated with the international art group, COBRA, to
his liaison with pornographic film star Silvia Kristel, to the
celebration of his novel, The Sorrow of Belgium, Claus has
careened through a career that is both scandal-ridden
and formidable. Claus takes on all the taboos of his times.
Price US$15.00 plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The CUNY
Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
Visit our website at: http: //web.gc. mestc/ Contact: or 212-817-1868
Theatre Research Resources in New York City
Sixth Edition, 2007
Editor: jessica Brater, Senior Editor: Marvin Carlson
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Theatre Research Resources in New York City is the most
comprehensive catalogue of New York City research
facilities available to theatre scholars. Within the
indexed volume, each facility is briefly described includ-
ing an outline of its holdings and practical matters such
as hours of operation. Most entries include electronic
contact information and web sites. The listings are
grouped as follows: Libraries, Museums, and Historical
Societies; University and College Libraries; Ethnic and
Language Associations; Theatre Companies and Acting
Schools; and Film and Other.
Comedy: A Bibliography
Editor: Meghan Duffy, Senior Editor: Daniel Gerould
This bibliography is intended for scholars, teachers, stu-
dents, artists, and general readers interested in the theo-
ry and practice of comedy. The keenest minds have been
drawn to the debate about the nature of comedy and
attracted to speculation about its theory and practice. For
all lovers of comedy Comedy: A Bibliography is an essen-
tial guide and resource, providing authors, titles, and pub-
lication data for over a thousand books and articles devot-
ed to this most elusive of genres.
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Price US$to.oo each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The CUNY
Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY1oot6-4309
Visit our website at: Contact: or 212-817-1868
Four Ploys From North Africa
Translated and edited by Marvin Carlson
This volume contains four modern plays from the
Maghreb: Abdelkader Alloula's The Veil and Fatima
Gallaire's House of Wives, both Algerian, )ulila Baccar's
Araberlin from Tunisia, and Tayeb Saddiki's The Folies Ber-
bers from Morocco.
As t he rich tradition of modern Arabic theatre has recently
begun to be recognized by the Western theatre community,
an important area within that tradition is still under-repre-
sented in existing anthologies and scholarship. That is the
drama from the Northwest of Africa, the region known in
Arabic as the Maghreb.
The Arab Oedipus
Edited by Marvin Carlson
This volume contains four plays based on the Oedipus leg-
end by four leading dramatists of the Arab world. Tawfiq
AI-Hakim's King Oedipus, Ali Ahmed Bakathir's The
Tragedy of Oedipus, Ali Salim's The Comedy of Oedipus
and Walid lkhlasi's Oedipus as well as AI-Hakim's preface
to his Oedipus on the subject of Arabic tragedy, a preface
on translating Bakathir by Dalia Basiouny, and a general
introduction by the editor.
An awareness of the rich tradition of modern Arabic the-
atre has only recently begun to be felt by the Western the-
atre community, and we hope that this collection will con-
tribute to that growing awareness.
Price US$2o.oo each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to : Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The CUNY
Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY1oo16·4309
Visit our website at: http:/ /web.gc. mestc/ Contact: or 212-817-1868
The Heirs of Moliere
Translated and Edited by Marvin Carlson
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This volume contains four representative French comedies
of the period from the death of Moliere to the French
Revolution: The Absent-Minded Lover by
Regnard, The Conceited Count by Philippe Nericault
Destouches, The Fashionable Prejudice by Pierre Nivelle de
la Chaussee, and The Friend of the Laws by Jean-Louis Laya.
Translated in a poetic form that seeks to capture the wit
and spirit of the originals, these four plays suggest some-
thing of the range of the Moliere inheritance, from comedy
of character through the highly popular sentimental come-
dy of the mid-eighteenth century, to comedy that employs
the Moliere tradition for more contemporary political ends.
Pixerecourt: Four Melodramas
Translated and Edited by Daniel Gerould & Marvin Carlson
This volume contains four of Pixerecourt's most important
melodramas: The Ruins of Babylon or }afar and Zaida, The
Dog of Montargis or The Forest of Bondy, Christopher Colum-
bus or The Discovery of the New World, and Alice or The Scot-
tish Gravediggers, as well as Charles Nodier's
"Introduction" to the 1843 Collected Edition of Pixerecourt's
plays and the two theoretical essays by the playwright,
"Melodrama," and "Final Reflections on Melodrama."
Pixerecourt furnished the Theatre of Marvels with its most
stunning effects, and brought the classic situations of fair-
ground comedy up-to-date. He determined the structure of
a popular theatre which was to last through the 19th centu-
ry. Hannah Winter, The Theatre of Marvels
Price US$2o.oo each plus shipping ($3 within the USA, $6 international)
Please make payments in US dollars payable to: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.
Mail Checks or money orders to: The Circulation Manager, Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The CUNY
Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY10016-4309
Visit our website at: http:// mestc/ Contact: or 212-817-1868