Vol 27 no.2

Introduction (JADT 27.2, 2015)

In its almost 30-year history, the American Theatre and Drama Society (ATDS) has championed the study of theatre and drama in the United States, in all its wide-ranging traditions, numerous histories, and myriad forms. The organization has, along the way, sought to interrogate the constantly shifting notion of what constitutes “America,” both as a place and an idea. Running parallel to the efforts of ATDS has been the Journal of American Drama and Theatre (JADT), itself nearing its 30 year anniversary. As does ATDS, JADT offers a forum for scholars interested in the American theatre, writ large, to exchange ideas, to push the field forward, and to explore and challenge received notions of “America,” “drama,” and “theatre.” Given their corresponding missions, it should come as no surprise that the names comprising the list of authors who have published in JADT is very similar to those found on the membership roll of ATDS, and that the organization and journal have shared in numerous fruitful partnerships. This annual special issue of JADT, guest edited by a member of ATDS, is just one of those many collaborations that have long-defined that symbiotic relationship.

The call inviting submissions for this particular special issue encouraged authors to use as a point of departure Joseph Campbell’s expansive conception of myth, considering specifically the history and continued presence of myth in theatre, drama, and performance in the Americas. Authors were asked to explore how myth—functioning mystically, cosmologically, sociologically, pedagogically, or in some way other way – shaped American theatrical expression, drama, and performance; and, in turn, how theatrical expression, drama, and performance shaped our conceptions of our universe and ourselves. In composing the call, I sought to draw in pieces that would address the idea of “myth” broadly construed. Thus, while I would have gladly welcomed considerations of ancient Greek or Roman myth within the context of historical or contemporary America (a subject I personally find fascinating), I was more keenly interested in exploring the ways in which myth was and is built into “America,” and how theatre, drama, and performance have participated/continue to participate in that process. The four pieces in this issue engage in that type of thoroughgoing investigation in intriguing ways.

In the first, “The Best Actor for the Role, or the Mythos of Casting in American Popular Performance,” Brian Eugenio Herrera reviews multiple conversations about casting, finds a pattern within them, and terms that pattern the “Mythos of Casting.” In turning a spotlight on this aspect of theatrical production that has typically escaped careful examination, Herrera offers a number of thought-provoking observations regarding not only the mythical qualities that drive the casting process in most professional and academic contexts, but also the entire theatre making enterprise. In the two pieces that follow – “Visibly White: Realism and Race in Appropriate and Straight White Men” by Kee-Yoon Nahm, and “Capable Hands: The Myth of American Independence in D. W. Gregory’s The Good Daughter” by Bradley Stephenson – the focus shifts to myths at play in contemporary, American theatre pieces. In the former, Nahm challenges conventional notions of what constitutes realism. Offering rich analyses of two new pieces by emerging playwrights in the field of experimental or avant-garde theatre – Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Appropriate and Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men – Nahm persuasively argues that, despite claims to the contrary and as is evidenced by these pieces, realism has the potential to generate political power and, in so doing, disrupt the traditionally perceived link between realism and whiteness. In the latter essay, Stephenson argues that Gregory’s play disrupts and contests contemporary and historical ways of viewing disabled people as “less than,” “fragile,” or “incapable.” The Good Daughter, thus, represents disabled characters differently than persistent cultural depictions. In the final piece, “Rooting Out Historical Mythologies; or, William Dunlap’s A Trip to Niagara and its Sophisticated Nineteenth Century Audience,” Samuel T. Shanks grants Dunlap – a frequently ignored American dramatist who deserves more attention given the quality and quantity of his work – his much-needed due. But beyond this specific focus on Dunlap, Shanks challenges the community of American theatre scholars to think more deeply and critically about the historiographic biases, assumptions, and mythologies the frequently structure and shape its investigations of the theatrical past. Taken together, then, the four pieces collected here powerfully demonstrate the continued force that myths have on American theatre and on our critical considerations of it.

This issue is the product of many hours of labor on the part of a number of people. First and foremost, I had the good fortune of working with an extraordinarily sharp and responsible editorial board, drawn from the membership of ATDS. Consisting of Amy Brady (Kean University), James Cherry (Wabash College), James Fisher, (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), Fonzie Geary (Lyon College), Megan Sanborn Jones (Brigham Young University), Jennifer Kokai (Weber State University), Ilka Saal (University of Erfurt), and Lisa Jackson-Schebetta (University of Pittsburgh), the board helped shape the call, offered thoughtful and thorough responses to submissions, and gladly lent a hand to the process whenever called upon. Thanks as well to Cheryl Black, President of ATDS, and Dorothy Chansky, Vice President, for their support of this special issue from the start, as well as their willingness to share their expertise. ATDS has the very good fortune of working with an outstanding team in the offices of JADT, including co-editors Naomi J. Stubbs and James F. Wilson, and managing editor Phoebe Rumsey. And extra loud “shout out” goes to Phoebe for her generosity and cheerful spirit while shepherding this issue from start to finish, making sure that all involved stayed on track.

My final word of thanks goes to the four authors whose works are presented in this issue. I hope in reading their pieces you are challenged, as I have been, to think more deeply about the myths that structure our social, political, aesthetic, disciplinary, and personal lives.

 

Jonathan Chambers
Guest Editor
Bowling Green State University

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