Hearing voices in the dark : deploying Black sonicity as a strategy in dramatic performance
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Despite the apparent hegemony of vision in racial categorization, historically vocality has borne the brunt of as much racial presumption as physical appearance. This project explores ideas about Blackness, and how the voice in performance engenders conversations on racial authenticity within the United States. Broadly, the work examines how “sounding Black” functions within dramatic performance, and how wider concerns of racial identity adhere to a performer’s vocal choices. The contextualization of racialized sound presented in this project begins with an historical overview of how a “Blackness of tongue” has been framed in U.S. theatrical performance from the early 1800s through the 1960s. It then addresses the dynamics of voice and racial authenticity through two performance case studies: August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro. These cases will be used to explore how issues of racial authenticity thrive in the space between vocal sound production and perception. As case studies based on specific productions of these two plays, text, directorial choices, and the vocal characteristics of the actors themselves occupy equal space at the center of each analysis. At a deeper level, this research seeks an understanding of the cultural assumptions that support the idea of a uniquely Black vocal sound, and what that sound purchases within American societies. In addressing both the phonological and the interpretive qualities of these performances, the central research concerns of this project attempt to pinpoint with more accuracy how voice, fore-grounded in performance, triggers different sets of assumptions that have been commonly identified as a significant component of Blackness
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