Drumbeats, Masks, and Metaphor: Contemporary Afro-American Theatre

by Geneviève Fabre
Translated by Melvin Dixon

Harvard University Press | November 29, 1983 | Hardcover

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Contemporary Afro–American theatre is an exciting spectacle of an emerging black identity during a period when blacks have come to the forefront of political activity in the United States. Geneviève Fabre brings us the vast and rich production of black drama since 1945, placing it in historical and cultural context as a platform for political statement. Two strains emerge: the militant theatre of protest, and the ethnic theatre of black experience.

Militant theatre breaks free from dominant white traditions and seeks to mobilize members of the community into common action. Masks and metaphors assume their fullest meaning: when the “white masks” are torn off, “black skins” suddenly appear. At first a shout of anger and of challenge, the militant theatre later becomes an almost visionary world. The Pike of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka rise like clenched fists. Among the other dramatists of militant theatre are Douglas Turner Ward, Ted Shine, Ben Caldwell, and Sonia Sanchez. We see their plays that examine relations between blacks and whites; stories of victims and rebels and traitors; and rituals of vengeance.

In contrast to the didactic speech of the militant theatre, the theatre of experience develops out of a dialogue in the language of blacks about their own experience. It embraces the rituals of daily life: the liturgy of the black church, traditional music, and folklore. This theatre celebrates a vital culture existing outside the boundaries of the dominant society. We hear the voice of the blues and the rhetoric of religion, we see depictions of the family and the street world of the ghetto, as well as the time–honored art of the trickster. James Baldwin, Ed Bullins, Melvin Van Peebles, and Edgar White are among the playwrights shown making extensive use of black cultural traditions.

Fabre is the first to attempt such an ambitious assessment of contemporary black theatre, one that evaluates its development as well as individual authors, plays, and performances, and also defines the growth of a distinctive and thriving theatrical tradition.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 304 pages, 9.12 × 6 × 1.11 in

Published: November 29, 1983

Publisher: Harvard University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0674216784

ISBN - 13: 9780674216785

Found in: Drama History and Criticism, History and Criticism, History and Criticism

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– More About This Product –

Drumbeats, Masks, and Metaphor: Contemporary Afro-American Theatre

by Geneviève Fabre
Translated by Melvin Dixon

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 304 pages, 9.12 × 6 × 1.11 in

Published: November 29, 1983

Publisher: Harvard University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0674216784

ISBN - 13: 9780674216785

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  1. The Historical Precedent
    • Theatre and the Black Community
    • The Pitfalls of Integration
    • Creating a Community Theatre
    • Black Fire
    • The Theoretical Foundations of New Black Theatre
  2. The Militant Theatre
    • LeRoijones/Amiri Baraka: An Iconoclastic Theatre
    • Jones/Baraka: A Revolutionary Theatre
    • Poems like Fists
    • Allegory, jazz, and Race Relations
    • Victims, Traitors, and Rebels
    • Rituals of Vengeance
    • Ideologies of Nationalism and Revolution
    • Model Punishments and Imaginary Games
    • Revolutionary Theatre and Promethean Consciousness
  3. The Theatre of Experience
    • Metaphors in the Titles of Plays
    • Race Relations
    • The Family and the Community
    • Heroes and Rituals of the Street
    • J. F. Gaines and Melvin van Peebles: Humor and Play
    • Ed Bullins: The Language of the Blues
    • Edgar White: The Odyssey of the Picaro
    • Paul Carter Harrison: For a Neo–African Theatre
  4. Theatre and Culture
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Index

From the Publisher

Contemporary Afro–American theatre is an exciting spectacle of an emerging black identity during a period when blacks have come to the forefront of political activity in the United States. Geneviève Fabre brings us the vast and rich production of black drama since 1945, placing it in historical and cultural context as a platform for political statement. Two strains emerge: the militant theatre of protest, and the ethnic theatre of black experience.

Militant theatre breaks free from dominant white traditions and seeks to mobilize members of the community into common action. Masks and metaphors assume their fullest meaning: when the “white masks” are torn off, “black skins” suddenly appear. At first a shout of anger and of challenge, the militant theatre later becomes an almost visionary world. The Pike of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka rise like clenched fists. Among the other dramatists of militant theatre are Douglas Turner Ward, Ted Shine, Ben Caldwell, and Sonia Sanchez. We see their plays that examine relations between blacks and whites; stories of victims and rebels and traitors; and rituals of vengeance.

In contrast to the didactic speech of the militant theatre, the theatre of experience develops out of a dialogue in the language of blacks about their own experience. It embraces the rituals of daily life: the liturgy of the black church, traditional music, and folklore. This theatre celebrates a vital culture existing outside the boundaries of the dominant society. We hear the voice of the blues and the rhetoric of religion, we see depictions of the family and the street world of the ghetto, as well as the time–honored art of the trickster. James Baldwin, Ed Bullins, Melvin Van Peebles, and Edgar White are among the playwrights shown making extensive use of black cultural traditions.

Fabre is the first to attempt such an ambitious assessment of contemporary black theatre, one that evaluates its development as well as individual authors, plays, and performances, and also defines the growth of a distinctive and thriving theatrical tradition.

About the Author

Geneviève Fabre is Professor at the University of Paris.
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