My Brackenridge: Citizenship, Propagandist Theatre, and Queer Representation

This summer, I attempted to find correlations between the productions and popularity of LGBTQ+ centric theatre and homonationalist rhetoric in the American political sphere. This project was primarily secondary research, meaning I worked predominantly with existing works of scholarship and extrapolated from there. At the beginning of the summer, I was concerned that this project would not generate enough independent thought, that it would be a compilation of influential books simply compiled in a book-report-esque essay rather than a new, interdisciplinary analysis of queer theatre and political sentiment. I was shocked by the ways that working through existing literature from a different entry point really allowed me to get the fresh insight I was working towards. I found that reading — reading many works across many disciplines — is an effective method for research and that a work’s scholarly worth is not dependent on the researcher’s ability to conduct first-hand interviews or uncover hidden archives.

For example, I was struck by how much understanding I was able to generate by reading political theory texts. I often view my work in the political science and theatre arts departments as two separate pieces of my educational journey. However, by working through texts on mass communication, democratic rule, and the mechanisms used to garner widespread support, I realized that if I substitute the word “propaganda” with the word “theatre”, many sentiments proved accurate. This exercise in attempting to merge these two disciplines sparked many new avenues of thought; it shifted my focus from establishing homonationalist rhetoric as a cause of queer theatre’s uptick to a focus on finding correlations between these two phenomena and their joint impact on domestic and international perceptions of geopolitical issues. 

The flexibility in the Brackenridge Fellowship was the most important aspect to the project’s success. The ability to work without many specific deadlines or explicit end goals afforded me the freedom to explore these phenomena from many avenues, some more fruitful than others. I felt empowered to try things out, like spending a week with nationalist theatre without a clear connection in sight, without worrying that this would inhibit my ability to generate the “perfect” essay in the end. Throughout the summer, I was able to encounter many more texts across different disciplines that I may not have ventured to work through had I viewed this project in more black-and-white terms. 

Moving forward, I’m continuing to examine other examples of homonationalist theatre usage and hoping to compile more of them into an essay about the preservation of queer theatre’s original intentions, examining issues like the Pulse Night Club Shooting and local revivals of queer classics like the Normal Heart. I’m hoping to fuse this project with my in-depth analysis of queer theatre from last summer’s project and investigate the ways that queer theatre holistically influences the ways that we view citizenship, in the US and globally. Tony Kushner in Angels in America writes about AIDS, progress, and queer people stepping into the forefront of our national consciousness; “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.” I hope this extended project can take a look at this citizenship and ways theatre can be used to ensure it. 

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