“It’s a common story”: Staging Animatedness in Plays by Amiri Baraka and Jackie Sibblies Druryk

Ondřej Polák



This article explores three plays, Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman (1964) and The Slave (1964), and Fairview (2018) by Jackie Sibblies Drury, through the lens of animatedness, the process of controlling and manipulating an identity via its representation, introduced by Sianne Ngai in Ugly Feelings (2005). While the term itself arises from contemporary affect theory, the processes that comprise it have played a crucial role in the assembly of African American theatre and the conceptualization of African American plays, from the narrativization of blackness, to minstrelsy, to plays that approach the American mainstream. What is more, even though playwrights and scholars have been aware of the processes of manipulative representation, these have been rarely addressed in performance. The three plays discussed here represent a break from this tendency. The primary concern of the article is therefore to consider the workings of animatedness, to retrospectively trace its relationship with the history of African American theatre, and explore how the respective playwrights – separated by decades but connected by this topic – reveal this otherwise unseen metatheatrical process, “reanimate” it, and make it an active part of the assembly as a measure of counteraction, since as Ngai argues, animatedness is sustained by passivity “and the allegorical significance it transmits to the ugly feelings that both originate from and reflect back upon it.”


African American theatre, animatedness, affect theory, narrativization, blackness.




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