Theatre and its Contribution to US History
Theatre has a strong connection to U. S. history through the different immigrated racial groups in America. There are two in particular that demonstrate the different contributions to theatre and its relation to history; African-Americans and Anglo-Americans. There are many plays in existence that help support the history of each race in America. Through examination of these plays, the contributions of each race throughout the history of the U. S. will be revealed.
There is a great representation of African-Americans in the history of the U. S. s well as in theatre repertoire. Robert Takaki, author of “A Different Mirror”, gives many examples of the hardship African-Americans were put through since their arrival to the states. He mostly talks about the division between the north and the south. The north gave the African-Americans their freedom, but didn’t treat them as respectably as needed. The south enslaved the African-Americans and thought of some of them as “The Sambo” (Takaki 112). This is a word to describe a person who is childlike, irresponsible, lazy, affectionate, and a happy slave.
They called them this because they knew slaves were seen as treated unfairly, so they made it fairer by calling them “Sambo”. All of this stereotyping was a disgrace to their culture, so it forced them to lash out. They made the whites feel a constant insecurity towards them (Takaki 115). This resulted in more stereotypes for the African-American race in the U. S. There are many more examples of African-Americans in history, but these examples are very prevalent in many theatrical plays. One play in particular is “Day of Absence” by Douglas Turner Ward.
This play shows how unfairly African-Americans were treated, and what they did to lash out. This directly relates to history when seventy African-American slaves joined together with Nat Turner to get back at the whites by killing (Takaki 116). This play represents a group of African-Americans that decided they had enough abuse from their white bosses. One morning all of the African-Americans in the town disappeared. Their places of work remained empty and they were nowhere to be found. The statement they made by not working forced a white man to his pleading knees.
This play is historical because of how relevant it is to the life of an African-American at that time. This made a statement for African-Americans by demonstrating how wrongly they were treated. Theatrical plays have a chance to relive a piece of the past, and in this case it preaches a message of discrimination into defeat (Ward). “Crimes of the Heart” by Beth Henley, also shares a relation to the play “Day of Absence”. Although the main concentration was on the troubles in the African American culture in “Day of Absence”, in “Crimes of the Heart” it is more of an underlying part of the play.
As a matter of fact, the African American character in this play doesn’t even have a role. His name is Willie Jay and he slept with one of the main Caucasian characters, Babe. In turn Babe shot her actual husband. This created an uproar that forced Willie Jay into hiding (Henley 61). He did nothing wrong, it was a mutual relationship between him and Babe, but he is in risk of danger because of his race. This seems so unfair and is definitely overlooked in this play. I think this play is a good example only because it demonstrates the racial discrimination from a different point of view, rather than from the African American standpoint.
It also shows that African Americans had a lot of rules and regulations to follow even when they weren’t enslaved, because of the scare that Caucasian Americans placed on them (Henley). “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry is a play that captures the stereotypes of an African American as well, but it also shows how much pride they have for their culture. The story is about an African American family who came into some money and decided to move out of their tiny apartment into an all white neighborhood where they could own their first house.
A problem arose when one of the neighbors went to their apartment and told them that they didn’t want to ruin the neighborhood, and offered them more money than they spent on the house to move to a different neighborhood. With respect for themselves they turned the offer down. By demonstrating their pride they took a risk, but without risk African Americans would not be where they are today in society. Although African-Americans have a strong past in the U. S. , Anglo-Americans have also formed their own dramatic history (Hansberry).
There are many plays that provide examples of the way Anglo-Americans were treated in plays. After reading two plays by Louis Valdez I have gained a clearer understanding of the circumstances that came with the title “Anglo-American” in the U. S. In the play, “Zoot Suit” by Louis Valdez, there is a consistent injustice that occurs. The Anglo-Americans are stereotyped by their appearance and accused of wrongs they did not commit. I believe Valdez brought this injustice forward, because he felt it was something that was completely overlooked by society.
The stereotypes that were apparent for Anglo-Americans in the 1940’s were rarely realized. Since Valdez had created El Teatro Campesino, I feel he was such an influence to the idea of diminishing known stereotypes and also bringing attention to them for awareness. “Bandido! ” is another play that Valdez wrote that demonstrates these same problems. Tiburcio Vasquez, one of the main characters, uses his knowledge of how American people react towards famous people by selling his photographs while he was in prison.
In this matter, the reader acknowledges that he does carry some typical American characteristics even though at the time, most Americans thought “Mexicans lacked the enterprise and calculating mentality that characterized Americans” (Takaki 171). He defied the stereotypes by portraying an American way of life. Tuburcio makes it clear how well he understands the American way of life when he says, “The purpose is to steal, not to kill. It always hurts the gringo more to lose his money than his life” (Valdez 116).
This allows him to get ahead of his fellow race and be more respected by Americans. This play definitely provides hope to those who suffer from being accused of a stereotype because it gives a true understanding of the Anglo-American culture, as well as a demonstration as to how it is possible to use knowledge of American society and culture for their advantage. There are many stereotypes that came with the titles African-American and Anglo-American in the United States. Theatre has created many plays to contribute to the awareness of these stereotypes.
Every author mentioned has written these plays to bring out a specific cultural identity as well as demonstrate the way they are viewed in society. They show how African Americans and Anglo-Americans are treated within their community, outside their community, inside their own homes, and also by society as a whole. Theatre brings topics like this forward and gives them opportunities to be seen and experienced by others. Without the influence of theatre in America, it would be lacking a true form of art which clearly demonstrates different cultures that relate to any American citizen.
All of the authors confirm the way African Americans and Anglo-Americans have been treated throughout history. This connection between Theatre and history makes these plays very relatable to many different audiences. It brings support to races that the plays are about, and it brings awareness to the other races. Overall, theatre and history, when tied together, create a part of theatre that highlights the contributions each race has given the U. S. , as well as demonstrate its power to reveal historical instances.
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