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Anna May Wong
Performing the Modern
Shirley Jennifer Lim
Temple University Press, 2019

Finalist for the 2020 Organization of American Historians Mary Nickliss Prize

Pioneering Chinese American actress Anna May Wong made more than sixty films, headlined theater and vaudeville productions, and even starred in her own television show. Her work helped shape racial modernity as she embodied the dominant image of Chinese and, more generally, “Oriental” women between 1925 and 1940. 

In Anna May Wong, Shirley Jennifer Lim re-evaluates Wong’s life and work as a consummate artist by mining an historical archive of her efforts outside of Hollywood cinema. From her pan-European films and her self-made My China Film to her encounters with artists such as Josephine Baker, Carl Van Vechten, and Walter Benjamin, Lim scrutinizes Wong’s cultural production and self-fashioning. Byconsidering the salient moments of Wong’s career and cultural output, Lim’s analysis explores the deeper meanings, and positions the actress as an historical and cultural entrepreneur who rewrote categories of representation.  

Anna May Wong provides a new understanding of the actress’s career as an ingenious creative artist.


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Aztec Antichrist
Performing the Apocalypse in Early Colonial Mexico
Ben Leeming
University Press of Colorado, 2022
In Aztec Antichrist, Ben Leeming presents a transcription, translation, and study of two sixteenth-century Nahuatl religious plays that are likely the earliest surviving presentations of the Antichrist legend in the Americas, and possibly the earliest surviving play scripts in the whole of the New World in any language.
Discovered in the archives of the Hispanic Society of America in New York inside a notebook of miscellaneous Nahuatl-Christian texts written almost entirely by an Indigenous writer named Fabían de Aquino, the plays are filled with references to human sacrifice, bloodletting, ritual divination, and other religious practices declared “idolatrous” at a time when ecclesiastical authorities actively sought to suppress writing about Indigenous religion. These are Indigenous plays for an Indigenous audience that reveal how Nahuas made sense of Christianity and helped form its colonial image—the title figure is a powerful Indigenous being, an “Aztec Antichrist,” who violently opposes the evangelizing efforts of the church and seeks to draw converted Nahuas back to the religious practices of their ancestors. These practices include devotion to Nahua deities such as Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl, and Tezcatlipoca who, in one of the most striking moves made by Aquino, are cast as characters in the plays.
Along with the translations, Leeming provides context and analysis highlighting these rare and fascinating examples of early Indigenous American literature that offer a window into the complexity of Nahua interactions with Christianity in the early colonial period. The work is extremely valuable to all students and scholars of Latin American religion, colonialism, Indigenous history, and early modern history and theater.

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Blood Brothers and Peace Pipes
Performing the Wild West in German Festivals
A. Dana Weber
University of Wisconsin Press, 2019
"Nineteenth-century writer Karl May wrote novels about a fictionalized American Wild West that count among the most popular books of German literature to this day. His stories left an imprint on German culture, resulting in a variety of Wild West festivals featuring Native Americans and frontier settlers. These Karl May festivals are hosted widely throughout German-speaking countries today.
This book, based on years of fieldwork observing and studying the festivals, plays, events, and groups that comprise this subculture, addresses a larger, timely issue: cultural transfer and appropriations. Are Germans dressing up in American Indian costumes paying tribute or offending the cultures they are representing? Avoiding simplistic answers, A. Dana Weber considers the complexity of cultural enactments as they relate both to the distinctly German phenomenon as well as to larger questions of cultural representations in American and European live performance traditions."

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Circus Life
Performing and Laboring under America's Big Top Shows, 1830–1920
Micah D. Childress
University of Tennessee Press, 2018
The nineteenth century saw the American circus move from a reviled and rejected form of entertainment to the “Greatest Show on Earth.” Circus Life by Micah D. Childress looks at this transition from the perspective of the people who owned and worked in circuses and how they responded to the new incentives that rapid industrialization made possible. 
The circus has long been a subject of fascination for many, as evidenced by the millions of Americans that have attended circus performances over many decades since 1870, when the circus established itself as a truly unique entertainment enterprise. Yet the few analyses of the circus that do exist have only examined the circus as its own closed microcosm—the “circus family.” Circus Life, on the other hand, places circus employees in the larger context of the history of US workers and corporate America. Focusing on the circus as a business-entertainment venture, Childress pushes the scholarship on circuses to new depths, examining the performers, managers, and laborers’ lives and how the circus evolved as it grew in popularity over time. Beginning with circuses in the antebellum era, Childress examines changes in circuses as gender balances shifted, industrialization influenced the nature of shows, and customers and crowds became increasingly more middle-class. 
As a study in sport and social history, Childress’s account demonstrates how the itinerant nature of the circus drew specific types of workers and performers, and how the circus was internally in constant upheaval due to the changing profile of its patrons and a changing economy. 
MICAH D. CHILDRESS received his PhD in history from Purdue University and currently works as a Realtor® in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His articles have appeared in Popular Entertainment Studies and American Studies. 

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Claiming Space
Performing the Personal through Decorated Mortarboards
Sheila Bock
Utah State University Press, 2023
Claiming Space examines the growing tradition of decorating mortarboards at college graduations, offering a performance-centered approach to these material sites of display. Taking mortarboard displays seriously as public performances of the personal, this book highlights the creative, playful, and powerful ways graduates use their caps to fashion their personal engagement with notions of self, community, education, and the unknown future.
Claiming the space of these graduation caps is a popular and widespread way that individuals make their voices heard, or rather seen, in the visual landscape of commencement ceremonies. The forms and meanings of these material displays take shape in relation to broader, ongoing conversations about higher education in the United States, conversations grounded in discourses of belonging, citizenship, and the promises of the American Dream. Integrating observational fieldwork with extensive interviews and surveys, author Sheila Bock highlights the interpretations of individuals participating in this tradition. She also attends to the public framings of this tradition, including how images of mortarboards have grounded online enactments of community through hashtags such as #LatinxGradCaps and #LetTheFeathersFly, as well as what rhetorical framings are employed in news coverage and legal documents in cases where the value of the practice is both called into question and justified.
As university administrators and cultural commentators seek to make sense of the current state of higher education, these forms of material expression offer insight into how students themselves are grappling with higher ed's promises and shortcomings. Claiming Space is a meaningful contribution to folklore, cultural studies, media studies, and education.

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Dancing Spirit, Love, and War
Performing the Translocal Realities of Contemporary Fiji
Evadne Kelly
University of Wisconsin Press, 2022
Meke, a traditional rhythmic dance accompanied by singing, signifies an important piece of identity for Fijians. Despite its complicated history of colonialism, racism, censorship, and religious conflict, meke remained a vital part of artistic expression and culture. Evadne Kelly performs close readings of the dance in relation to an evolving landscape, following the postcolonial reclamation that provided dancers with political agency and a strong sense of community that connected and fractured Fijians worldwide.
Through extensive archival and ethnographic fieldwork in both Fiji and Canada, Kelly offers key insights into an underrepresented dance form, region, and culture. Her perceptive analysis of meke will be of interest in dance studies, postcolonial and Indigenous studies, anthropology and performance ethnography, and Pacific Island studies.

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Dancing the Fairy Tale
Producing and Performing The Sleeping Beauty
Laura Katz Rizzo
Temple University Press, 2015
In Dancing the Fairy Tale, Laura Katz Rizzo claims that The Sleeping Beauty is both a metaphor for ballet itself, and a powerful case study for examining ballet and its production and performance. Using Marius Petipa and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's classical dance--specifically as it was staged in Philadelphia over nearly 70 years--Katz Rizzo looks at the gendered nature of women staging, coaching, and reanimating this magnificent ballet, and well as the ongoing push-pull between tradition and innovation within the art form.
Using extensive archival research, dance analysis, and American feminist theory, Dancing the Fairy Tale places women at the center of a historical narrative to reveal how the production and performance of The Sleeping Beauty in the years between 1937 and 2002 made significant contributions to the development and establishment of an American classical ballet. Katz Rizzo highlights not only what women have done not only behind the scenes, as administrators, producers, or directors of ballet companies and schools, but also as active interpreters embodying the ballet's title role.
In the process, Katz Rizzo also emphasizes the importance of regional sites outside of locations traditionally understood as central to the development of ballet in the United States.

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The Day the Dancers Stayed
Performing in the Filipino/American Diaspora
Theodore S. Gonzalves
Temple University Press, 2009

Pilipino Cultural Nights at American campuses have been a rite of passage for youth culture and a source of local community pride since the 1980s. Through performances—and parodies of them—these celebrations of national identity through music, dance, and theatrical narratives reemphasize what it means to be Filipino American. In The Day the Dancers Stayed, scholar and performer Theodore Gonzalves uses interviews and participant observer techniques to consider the relationship between the invention of performance repertoire and the development of diasporic identification.

Gonzalves traces a genealogy of performance repertoire from the 1930s to the present. Culture nights serve several functions: as exercises in nostalgia, celebrations of rigid community entertainment, and occasionally forums for political intervention. Taking up more recent parodies of Pilipino Cultural Nights, Gonzalves discusses how the rebellious spirit that enlivened the original seditious performances has been stifled.


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From Scenarios to Networks
Performing the Intercultural in Colonial Mexico
Leo Cabranes-Grant
Northwestern University Press, 2016

In this innovative study, Leo Cabranes-Grant analyzes four intercultural events in the Viceroyalty of New Spain that took place between 1566 and 1690. Rather than relying on racial labels to describe alterations of identity, Cabranes-Grant focuses on experimentation, rehearsal, and the interaction between bodies and objects. His analysis shows how scenarios are invested with affective qualities, which in turn enable cultural and semiotic change. Central to his argument is Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, which figures society as a constantly evolving web of relationships among objects, people, and spaces. In examining these scenarios, Cabranes-Grant attempts to discern the reasons why the conditions of an intensified moment within this ceaseless flow take on a particular value and inspire their re-creation. Cabranes-Grant offers a fresh perspective on Latour’s theory and reorients debates concerning history and historiography in the field of performance studies.



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Performing the Greek Crisis
Navigating National Identity in the Age of Austerity
Natalie Zervou
University of Michigan Press, 2024
Performing the Greek Crisis explores the impact of the Greek financial crisis (2009–19) on the performing arts sector in Greece, and especially on contemporary concert dance. When Greece became the first European Union member to be threatened with default, the resulting budget cuts pushed dance to develop in unprecedented directions. The book examines the repercussions that the crisis had on artists’ daily lives and experiences, weaving the personal with the political to humanize a phenomenon that, to date, had been examined chiefly through economic and statistical lenses. Informed by the author’s experience of growing up in Greece and including interviews and rich descriptions of performances,  the book offers a glimpse into a pivotal moment in Greek history. 

In Greece, dance (and, by extension, the body) has historically held a central role in the process of national identity construction. When the crisis broke out, artists had to navigate through a precariously fluctuating landscape, with their bodies as their only stable referent. By centering the analysis of the Greek crisis on the dancing bodies, Performing the Greek Crisis is able to examine the various ways that artists reconceptualized their history and reframed ideas of national belonging, race, citizenship, and immigration.

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Performing the Intercultural City
Ric Knowles
University of Michigan Press, 2017
In 1971, Canada became the first country to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism. Performing the Intercultural City explores how Toronto—a representative global city in this multicultural country—stages diversity through its many intercultural theater companies and troupes. The book begins with a theoretical introduction to theatrical interculturalism. Subsequent chapters outline the historical and political context within which intercultural performance takes place; examine the ways in which Indigenous, Filipino, and Afro-Caribbean Canadian theater has developed play structures based on culturally specific forms of expression; and explore the ways that intercultural companies have used intermediality, modernist form, and intercultural discourse to mediate across cultures. Performing the Intercultural City will appeal to scholars, artists, and the theater-going public, including those in theater and performance studies, urban studies, critical multiculturalism studies, diaspora studies, critical cosmopolitanism studies, critical race theory, and cultural studies.


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Performing the Nation
Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania
Kelly Askew
University of Chicago Press, 2002
Since its founding in 1964, the United Republic of Tanzania has used music, dance, and other cultural productions as ways of imagining and legitimizing the new nation. Focusing on the politics surrounding Swahili musical performance, Kelly Askew demonstrates the crucial role of popular culture in Tanzania's colonial and postcolonial history.

As Askew shows, the genres of ngoma (traditional dance), dansi (urban jazz), and taarab (sung Swahili poetry) have played prominent parts in official articulations of "Tanzanian National Culture" over the years. Drawing on over a decade of research, including extensive experience as a taarab and dansi performer, Askew explores the intimate relations among musical practice, political ideology, and economic change. She reveals the processes and agents involved in the creation of Tanzania's national culture, from government elites to local musicians, poets, wedding participants, and traffic police. Throughout, Askew focuses on performance itself—musical and otherwise—as key to understanding both nation-building and interpersonal power dynamics.


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Performing the News
Identity, Authority, and the Myth of Neutrality
Elia Powers
Rutgers University Press, 2024

Performing the News: Identity, Authority, and the Myth of Neutrality explores a problem that is often overlooked in discourse on diversity, equity, and inclusion: Journalists from historically marginalized groups have long felt pressure to conform when performing for audiences. Many speak with a flat, “neutral” accent, modify their delivery to hide distinctive vocal attributes, dress conventionally to appeal to the “average” viewer, and maintain a consistent appearance to avoid unwanted attention. Their aim is what author Elia Powers refers to as performance neutrality—presentation that is deemed unobjectionable, reveals little about journalists’ social identity, and supposedly does not detract from their message. Increasingly, journalists are challenging restrictive, purportedly neutral forms of self-presentation. This book argues that performance neutrality is a myth that reinforces the status quo, limits on-air diversity, and hinders efforts to make newsrooms more inclusive. Through in-depth interviews with journalists in broadcasting and podcasting, and those who shape their performance, the author suggests ways to make journalism more inclusive and representative of diverse audiences.


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Performing the Past
Memory, History, and Identity in Modern Europe
Edited by Karin Tilmans, Frank van Vree, and Jay M. Winter
Amsterdam University Press, 2010

Throughout Europe, narratives about the past circulate at a dizzying speed, and producing and selling these narratives is big business. In museums, in cinema and opera houses, in schools, and even on the Internet, Europeans are using the power of performance to craft stories that ultimately define the ways their audiences understand and remember history.

Performing the Past
offers unparalleled insights into the philosophical, literary, musical, and historical frameworks within which the past has entered into the European imagination. The essays in this volume, from such internationally renowned scholars as Reinhart Koselleck, Jan Assmann, Jane Caplan, Marianne Hirsch, Leo Spitzer, Peter Burke, and Alessandro Portelli, investigate various national and disciplinary traditions to explain how Europeans see themselves in the past, in the present, and in the years to come.


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Performing the Progressive Era
Immigration, Urban Life, and Nationalism on Stage
Max Shulman and J. Chris Westgate
University of Iowa Press, 2019
The American Progressive Era, which spanned from the 1880s to the 1920s, is generally regarded as a dynamic period of political reform and social activism. In Performing the Progressive Era, editors Max Shulman and Chris Westgate bring together top scholars in nineteenth- and twentieth-century theatre studies to examine the burst of diverse performance venues and styles of the time, revealing how they shaped national narratives surrounding immigration and urban life. Contributors analyze performances in urban centers (New York, Chicago, Cleveland) in comedy shows, melodramas, Broadway shows, operas, and others. They pay special attention to performances by and for those outside mainstream society: immigrants, the working-class, and bohemians, to name a few. Showcasing both lesser-known and famous productions, the essayists argue that the explosion of performance helped bring the Progressive Era into being, and defined its legacy in terms of gender, ethnicity, immigration, and even medical ethics.

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Performing The Word
African American Poetry As Vernacular Culture
Brown, Fahamisha Patricia
Rutgers University Press, 1999
Performing the Word offers readers of African American poetry a way of understanding and appreciating body of work that has received little critical attention. While African American literary tradition begins with eighteenth-century poets like Lucy Terry, Jupiter Hammon, and Phillis Wheatley, critical discussions of African American Poetry have been sparse. Aside from a few studies of "major" poets, such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Rita Dove, or period histories of phenomena such as the Harlem Renaissance, there has been little sustained critical inquiry into African American poetry as a body of literature- until now.

Fahamista Patricia Brown examines elements of African American expressive culture- its language practices, both fold and popular. Her book is an excellent introduction to a diverse group of poets and the common basis of their work in language practices and performativity, in the expressive culture of a people. Performing the Word is an important contribution to the understanding of African American culture and American poetry as a whole.

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Performing with the Dead
Trances and Traces
Christopher "Kit" Danowski
Intellect Books, 2024
A methodology for incorporating concepts drawn from ancestor trance in Afrolatinx ritual into Western theatrical training.

In this book, Kit Danowski constructs a methodology called kanga (from the Bantu for tying and untying), using three methods based on aspects of the Afrolatinx ritual and modified for performance contexts: spell, charm, and trance. This methodology enacts and complicates distinctions between performance and ritual, serving as a contribution to respectful and responsible intercultural performance practices. The methodology is bricoleur, drawing from ethnography, psychoanalytic theory, and phenomenology. Kanga in practice leads to a state of consciousness that Danowski calls hauntological. This borrows from Derrida but is redefined to refer to the study of haunted states of consciousness, where reality is coconstituted by the living and the dead and ancestral spirits are invoked to do the work once reserved for characters.

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