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American Theatre

History, Context, Form

Theresa Saxon

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This book provides a brief yet informative evaluation of the variety and complexity of theatrical ventures in the United States. It embraces all epochs of theatre history, from pre-colonial Native American performance rituals and the endeavours of early colonisers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to the end of the twentieth century, situating American theatre as a lively, dynamic and diverse arena.

Theresa Saxon examines the implications of political manoeuvrings, economics - both state funded and commercial - race and gender, and material factors such as technology, riot and fire as major forces determining the structure of America's playhouses and productions.

She investigates critical understandings of the term 'theatre,' and assesses ways in which the various values of commerce, entertainment, education and dramatic production have informed the definition of theatre throughout America's history.


Introduction: Critical Heritage
1. Defining American 'Drama'
2. European Forms
3. Performance and Strife in Eighteenth-Century Theatre
4. Politics and Plays in the Nineteenth Century
5. 'Modern' American Theatre and the Twentieth Century
Works Cited/Consulted

About the Author

Theresa Saxon is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire.


In this compact and highly readable volume, Theresa Saxon introduces readers to a wide breadth of over four hundred years of American theatre and performance history. Given that mandate, Saxon's choice to draw upon a wide range of sources not generally available in theatre history texts and to highlight the early performance histories of Native Americans and African Americans is particularly noteworthy and commendable.
- Lisa Merrill, Ph.D., Professor of Performance Studies, Hofstra University, USA

‘In the title of this review I called Saxon’s book a "multipurpose theatre history" because besides reviewing over 2000 years of performance history in the Americas––an awe-inspiring accomplishment in itself––it challenges received views of that history and highlights histories of diverse regions, focalizing political changes that affected theatre and drama over these centuries. Saxon’s history is remarkable not simply for its scope and systematically maintained focus, but also because it insists on demonstrating that theatre has not simply been responding to social change through its long history but has also actively served as a "platform" (1) to examine shifting gender, racial, class, and ethnic identities. It is also a special merit of American Theatre that it consistently foregrounds the story and contribution of marginalized and minority groups to theatre and ritual as well as the overall cultural landscape of the Americas. The book certainly is multifunctional as an ideal source of criticism of American drama and theatre, a superb guidebook for central events in American theatre and drama history, and a review of forgotten facts and figures in that narrative.’

- Gabriella Varró, University of Debrecen, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies
- Gabriella Varró, University of Debrecen, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies

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