Tag: history

Doing Amateur Time & Investing in Sites of Memories

Amateur performance comes up an awful lot in my research these days: the Grand Army of the Republic productions put on by veterans and locals for charity throughout the late-nineteenth century, the efforts of Charles Sager touring the Midwest and staging his spectacle/pageant The Negro in the late 1890s, and – in more recent developments – the work done by Civil War reenactors. I’ve been thinking more about amateur performance as I’ve prepared for the Mid-America Theatre Conference in Cleveland (where I’m presenting later today). For my MATC paper, I attempt to set up a framework for analyzing performance and consumption at the Gettysburg Sesquicentennial.… Read more

Reenactments & Performance: Building a Bibliography

The piles designated as “shelf-overflow” in our small apartment are growing as I begin accumulating more books for my research project on war reenactments. I had to create a one-page works cited for a recent abstract submission on the Gettysburg Sesquicentennial, but it is time for me to start building a more substantial list/Zotero library. The scope of this project will include Civil War and colonial-era war reenactments. I’m hoping to shamelessly crowd-source to help bulk up this bibliography (shout-outs to be included, of course), especially drawing on the expertise of performance studies colleagues. Suggest away.… Read more

Gettysburg Sesquicentennial: Day 5

PennMemorial
Pennsylvania Memorial

I parked my rental car along West Confederate Avenue this morning in Gettysburg National Military Park, racing to get to the outdoor amphitheater. I could hear a small horn band playing, and I didn’t want to miss the sermon: my host – Walt Powell, PhD – was the speaker at this inter-denominational service. 1 Walt began his speech by explaining how he had considered using the words of Reverend James Brand, a veteran of the 27th Connecticut, who had delivered a rather political oration at a monument dedication for his regiment in 1885 – wherein he talked about corruption and the “liquor oligarchy.” Instead, Walt discussed the sacred ground of Gettysburg, and what it meant for us today.… Read more

Notes:

  1. Walt and Sue Powell are incredibly plugged in to the Gettysburg community, and as Walt is also a reenactor (though mostly colonial things these days), they have been invaluable resources during this research trip.
  2. I’m not doing the speech full justice here, but suffice to say it eloquently wrestled with the overlap between memory, history, commemoration, and what we should take away from the war and the sesquicentennial.

Gettysburg Sesquicentennial: Day 4

When I arrived at the reenactment at the Redding farm this morning, I was determined to spend more time with the living historians, who had seemed – overall – quite a bit more chatty and willing to engage with the spectators than the reenactors in the camps. This is part and parcel of the division between reenacting and living history though as I understand it: reenactors may engage with the performance for a variety of reasons, but living historians have a pedagogical interest. Yesterday, tintype photographer Rob Gibson suggested the main reason people began re-enacting was “99% fun” from what he’s gathered in his many encounters.… Read more

Gettysburg Sesquicentennial: Day 3

It was the second day of the official reenactment at the privately-owned farm, but I did not sally forth to witness another battle today. Instead I went downtown to get a sense of the local market: some of the museums, the businesses, the institutions and individuals that profit from and cater to the visitors to Gettysburg. While I did get a sampling of the wares, I also finally found a way into the big issue that had been looming – largely unspoken – over the past couple of days. Slavery, finally, was front and center in the narratives and places that I encountered today.… Read more

Gettysburg Sesquicentennial: Day 2

Yesterday I watched the close of a commemorative march tracing the steps of the Confederate troops during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd: thousands participated and watched, marking the space where these troops moved, on the very ground this assault took place. Monuments to the charge and its participants littered the field, providing shade for people and reminding us that this is, in fact, sacred ground. Edward Tabor Linenthal called Gettysburg – along with land of other seminal American battles (Lexington & Concord, Little Bighorn, etc.) – “sacred patriotic space,” or “pilgrimage sites,” where “memories of the transformative power of war and the sacrificial heroism of the warrior are preserved,” and those who visit “seek environmental intimacy in order to experience patriotic inspiration.” 1

In his chapter on Gettysburg, Linenthal goes on to describe the centennial Gettysburg celebrations, contextualizing it in terms of race relations in 1963.… Read more

Notes:

  1. Edward Tabor Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 3.
  2. Ibid., 99.
  3. Ibid., 100.

Charles Sager’s The Negro; or, a Largely Overlooked Turn-of-the-Century Pageant

Researching black performance in the late nineteenth century poses a host of problems for a theatre historian. The archive is, at best, spotty, though there have been many excellent recent attempts to redress these gaps. In my efforts to find plays and productions speaking to slavery and Civil War memories staged by black performers in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, I found a short but tantalizing bit about Charles Sager’s production The Negro (1899) in Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch’s A History of African American Theatre. 1 I decided the production merited a bit more digging, as it was a rare example of black history staged for a larger audience around the turn-of-the-century, when touring plantation shows were the most popular modes of black performance.… Read more

Notes:

  1. See Errol G. Hill, “New Vistas: Plays, Spectacles, Musicals, and Opera,” A History of African American Theatre, eds. Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch’s (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 140.