The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival as a Theatrical Event

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Bain, Carolyn
Hildy, Ph.D., Franklin
On December 29 of 1938, Tennessee Williams (Thomas Lanier Williams), little known American playwright, encountered the city of New Orleans. Through his engagement with the city's culture of multiple morés, Williams discovered in himself a personal freedom and theatrical productivity that changed the landscape of dramatic literature for the twentieth century. The phenomenon associated with Williams's identity and his experience with New Orleans as participant and spectator did not end with Williams's death, February 23, 1983; it continues today through the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, drawing thousands of attendees and celebrating its 21st-anniversary March 28 through April 1, 2007. This dissertation consists of six chapters accompanied by three integral videotexts that evidence a framework for understanding the theatrical contexts that inform the festival's processes and outcomes. The dissertation investigates the festival as a case study of the notion of theatrical eventness. The concept of eventness emerged in theatre studies discourse through an international colloquium, the Theatrical Event working group, within the International Federation for Theatre Research (FIRT/IFTR). This dissertation represents an approach to bringing the study of festival into theatre studies through a discussion of its multi-layered communications and its creative outcomes. Chapter One situates the object of study as the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and questions how theatricality frames communication among attendees while it informs the identity of the festival. Accompanying Chapter One is a videotext summarizing the festival's origins and events. Chapter Two reviews the extra-theatrical influences on theatre studies and the development of the concept of festival as a theatrical event. Chapter Three examines the theatrical context of Williams's encounter with New Orleans. In Chapter Four, the "Stella Shout-off" contest mediates the past and present by eventifying a moment from theatrical history. A videotext evidences the theatricality of the contest. Chapter Five looks at performance and theatrical communications evident in the panels and the master classes. Accompanying the text, a video substantiates the theatricality of Williams's legacy through his relationship with Maria St. Just. In Chapter Six, the dissertation concludes by focusing on the festival's outcomes as the result of the festival's theatrical eventness.