Reenactments: Embodied Encounters with the U.S. Southern Past

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Between 2015 and 2019, U.S. Americans began attending to the lingering divisions, memorials, and legacies of the Civil War with a renewed sense of urgency. What is it about this moment in our politics and culture that draws our attention back to the Civil War and the post- Reconstruction South? These memorials, regional affinities, and legacies have always been with us: why address their longevity and abundance now? Working at the intersection of theatre studies, performance studies, cultural studies, and American studies, this dissertation responds to contemporary national conversations around race, region, cultural memory, and political ideology through an examination of four distinct performance practices that “reenact” the South. Reenactments explores the multiple historic and contemporary U.S. Souths evoked by Civil War battle reenactment, lynching protest performance, plantation tourism, and contemporary theatre. Drawing on the anthropology-inflected methodology of performance studies, this dissertation is informed by my field research on each of these case studies as a participant-observer, or, in the words of activist theatre practitioner Augusto Boal, a “spect- actor.” This thesis examines how the chosen case studies remember and reanimate different U.S. Southern histories in the present, engaging their participants physically and affectively. As performance practices, the case studies also re-member the past: participants use embodied performance to make the past real in the present and to bring the purportedly dead past into relation with living bodies. Reenactments argues that these Southern reenactments, though often deployed in the service of preserving hegemonic memory and meaning-making, in their liveness have the capacity to upend that preservation and produce new, potentially radical meanings. Building on the work of performance studies scholars such as Rebecca Schneider, who have written about reenactment as a performance practice, this dissertation intervenes in the undertheorized gap between the fields of U.S. Southern Studies and performance studies and posits and theorizes reenactment as specifically a Southern performance practice. Moreover, this project, in response to the New Southern Studies field, examines how national monolithic images of the South are produced and reproduced, investigating not just the region in its own context, but in the context of the national imagination.

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South; reenactment; Regional studies; embodiment; theater; Performance; Performing arts


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Gainor, J Ellen

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Richardson, Riche D.
Warner, Sara L.
Samuels, Shirley R.

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Theatre Arts

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Ph.D., Theatre Arts

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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