Theatrics of modernity: Incidental, impromptu, and everyday performance in early twentieth-century Manhattan


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Fursland, Rosalind Jane (2018). Theatrics of modernity: Incidental, impromptu, and everyday performance in early twentieth-century Manhattan. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis argues that, catalysed by technological and architectural developments, as well
as by altering moral codes of conduct, by the early twentieth century, Manhattan had become a nexus of spectacle, its culturally distinct districts and numerous heterotopic spaces providing quasi stage-sets for impromptu and everyday performance.

The theatre extended its embrace across the modern metropolis and conceptual stages could be found almost anywhere and everywhere: the subway, the elevated railway, fire-escapes, roof-gardens, shop windows and skyscrapers. These unofficial stages took their place alongside the busy lives of city dwellers. Using examples from literature, as well as elements of magazine culture, cinema, theatre, visual art, photography and music, this interdisciplinary thesis demonstrates the ways in which everyday theatre came to be played out day-to-day in the districts of Greenwich Village, Harlem and the Lower East Side. I explore how performative language and themes infiltrated mass culture, as literary and artistic representations of the city intermingled reality with the theatrical, often providing a smoke-screen for harsher truths.

I incorporate works from a cross-section of writers including Djuna Barnes, Floyd Dell, Nella Larsen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Langston Hughes, Mike Gold and Anzia Yezierska, as well as artists such as John Sloan, Aaron Douglas and Jerome Myers.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Other
Other Funders: British Association For American Studies, The Eccles Centre for American Studies, The British Library, The University of Birmingham
Subjects: F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F001 United States local history
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature


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