Oklahoma! to Hamilton: Race and the "American" Musical

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2015 smash-hit musical _Hamilton_ broke records not only for its genre-busting lyrics and score, but also for its deliberate casting of Black and Brown actors to play the nation's founding fathers. Premiering during the Obama presidency, the show set off national conversations about race, history, and the concept of what it means to be "American." This course uses the Broadway musical as the primary lens through which to study how the concepts of race and nation have been constructed in American popular culture. By studying performances in-depth and with appropriate historical context, this course aims to provide students with foundational understandings of key moments in American history with a focus on race and ethnicity alongside the development in the history of American musical theatre. In contextualizing the musicals, students will gain proficiencies in cultural studies and critical race theory as they disentangle the relationships between race and citizenship in the U.S. context. Key questions of the course include: what is the relationship between politics and theatre? How does Broadway reflect or establish cultural norms around race and ethnicity? How do representations of race/ethnicity onstage affect the communities being represented? What can Broadway musicals teach us about the concepts of Americanness and citizenship?

This course uses performance analysis, performance historiography, and cultural studies to hone in on questions of race and national identity through the Broadway musical. The first section of this class will ground students by giving them some foundational history about the creation of Broadway and its precursors. Students will, for example, visit the Hay library to see archival material about minstrel shows and learn about its legacies in American musical theater. We will study the following performances: Cabin in the Sky (1940), Oklahoma! (1943), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), West Side Story (1957), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), the Whiz (1975), The Scottsboro Boys (2010), and Hamilton (2015). For each of these performances, students will learn key context about the development and production of the performances themselves, the appropriate historical context for each performance, and learn how to conduct performance analysis through attention to lyrics, dance, music, and costuming. In addition to readings about the performance and their historical contexts, students will be asked to do short written assignments including reading responses and a 4-6 page paper analyzing a musical not discussed in class. Class time will be divided between lectures and seminar discussions and students will also have the opportunity to give group presentations on exercises completed within the class period. The course will provide students with background knowledge in United States history, cultural studies, critical race theory, and performance studies methods. Given the instructor's background as a performer (former dancer) and as a performance scholar with an MA in History, the course will be interdisciplinary and rich with textured analysis. Students will also attend a musical event on campus or in the Providence area as part of their coursework in order to gain understanding about concepts like spectatorship, audience participation, and live performance.

In this course, students can expect to ...
• learn about broad trends in histories of musical theatre and performance in the 20th century through selected case studies.
• understand how the body and performance are critical to the study of histories of race and ethnicity, American history, and American performance genres
• become familiar with tools and strategies to work with primary sources and to interrogate the roles of archives.
• develop their critical thinking and writing skills, as well as their ability to engage in thoughtful, intentional discussions of potentially sensitive topics through public presentation and discussion.

Prerequisites: Students of any academic background are welcome in this course. No performance or academic training is expected or required. Student will have to have proficiency in reading and writing in English and the ability to study primary sources in English.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CETA0904
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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