The theatre of settler colonialism: Waylon Lenk, Durable Whiteness: Structural Settler Colonialism in California and Southern Oregon Theatre, 1849-1860 and 2018-2019, PhD dissertation, University of Oregon, 2021


Abstract: Theatre and Performance Studies have studied the ways in which theatre and performance act as auxiliaries of hegemonic state power at least since Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed explored the ways in which classical Greek dramaturgy coerced its audiences into pro-state behavior. Meanwhile, the theatre industry often makes interventions into the White racial hegemony that dominates the United States while in some ways reinstating the very dramaturgies that serve to oppress Indigenous Peoples, Black People, and other People of Color (Holledge & Tompkins, McDonnell). Professional theatre would be well served by looking to the critiques of scholars like Boal as well as Diana Taylor, Jisha Menon, and Rustom Bharucha. These scholars critique theatre outside the United States and since, as Laura Pulido observes, race is experienced locally, a regional analysis of theatre as an auxiliary of White hegemonic state power in the United States is needed. My dissertation focuses on the region directly affected by the California Gold Rush, which includes all of California as well as southwestern Oregon, to demonstrate how theatre participated and continues to participate in the establishment of power that oppresses Blacks, Indigenous Peoples and People of Color. I do so by using eventful historical-sociology (Sewell) to describe the Gold Rush as an event that restructured race in the Gold Rush region, and Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) to compare indicators of white hegemony in Gold Rush plays with plays produced in the same region in 2019. I conclude by offering policy recommendations which range from the industry-specific like emphasizing dramaturgies that highlight non-white histories and increasing access for non-white labor in professional theatre to broader reaching interventions concerning minority language rights for local tribal languages and Spanish.

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