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Doing the Time Warp: Queer Temporalities and Musical Theater

  • Author(s): Ellis, Sarah Taylor
  • Advisor(s): Case, Sue-Ellen
  • Knapp, Raymond
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores queer processes of identification with the genre of musical theater. I examine how song and dance - sites of aesthetic difference within the musical - can warp time and enable marginalized and semi-marginalized fans to imagine different ways of being in the world. Musical numbers can complicate a linear, developmental plot by accelerating and decelerating time, foregrounding repetition and circularity, bringing the past to life and projecting into the future, and physicalizing dreams in a narratively open present. These excesses have the potential to contest naturalized constructions of historical, progressive time, as well as concordant constructions of gender, sexual, and racial identities. While the musical has historically been a rich source of identification for the stereotypical white gay male show queen, this project validates a broad and flexible range of non-normative readings. I employ the aesthetic principles of musical theater to consider the genre's politics, which can cut against the grain of dominant ideology to establish identities and communities in difference. The musical, a bastion of mainstream theatrical culture, supports a fan culture of outsiders who dream themselves into being in the liminal timespaces of song and dance.

Chapter 1, "A Funny Thing Happened ... to the Integrated Musical: Poetics and Politics of Queer Temporality," lays the theoretical foundations for the dissertation by locating the "queerness" of musical theater in the temporally divergent ruptures of the genre's musical numbers. Chapter 2, "Let's Do the Time Warp Again: Performing Time, Genre, and Spectatorship," identifies an affective link across nonrealist, time-warping genres of science fiction / fantasy and musical theater, as well as their dedicated and overlapping fan cultures; by considering reality to be historical and contingent, these anti-quotidian genres explore the limits of what is objectively present, and physicalize a temporally divergent world in the here and now. Chapter 3, "Ragging Race: Spectral Temporality in the American Musical," explores a haunting in American popular culture: the under-acknowledged artistic contributions of African-Americans. Finally, Chapter 4, "`I Just Projected Myself Out of It': Rehearsing Identities in Youth Musical Theater," considers the impact of marginalizing the arts in contemporary US public education systems; teenagers who identify with and participate in the arts are imagined as a community of outsiders, defined by alternative sexualities, races, and geeky differences from the popular jock and cheerleader mold. Throughout these chapters, I explore how alienated subjects find moments of coherence and connection in musical theater's queer imaginaries of song and dance.

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