Vassar College Digital Library
This thesis interrogates the social function of small-town theater in the United States. Through a series of interviews with theater artists working at regional and local theaters in the northeast United States, I demonstrate theater's capacity to both reproduce and resist social inequality. I find that the theaters of my case studies, which feature predominantly white, middle-class artists, students, and audience members, are prone to reproducing the racial and socioeconomic inequality that is found in the surrounding communities and the country at large. Theaters such as those in my study tend to be culturally and economically inaccessible to people who are marginalized along the lines of class and race. I argue that the practices and beliefs of theater artists often serve to further strengthen oppressive social structures. However, many aspects of small-town theater contribute to its high potential to be a socially resistant medium. The process of creating theater in a small town provides personal fulfillment, builds community, and encourages innovation. Theater has the power to foster and spread radical ideas that combat social inequality. I challenge theater artists to question their own practices in order avoid following social norms that unfairly privilege one group over another. By tapping into theater's resistant capacities, theater artists can heighten the quality of their art and help to transcend dominant social structures that attempt to permanently fix social inequality.
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