Radical street theatre and the yippie legacy : a performance history of the Youth International Party, 1967-1968

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Shawyer, Susanne Elizabeth

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In 1967 and 1968, members of the Youth International Party, also known as Yippies, created several mass street demonstrations to protest President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s handling of the United States’ military involvement in the war in Vietnam. The Yippies were a loose network of hippies, anti-war activists, and left-wing radicals committed to cultural and political change. This dissertation investigates how the Yippies used avant-garde theories of theatre and performance in their year of demonstrating against the Johnson administration. The Yippies receive little attention in most histories of American performance, and theatre remains on the margins of political and social histories of the 1960s; therefore this dissertation places performance and political archives side by side to create a new historical narrative of the Yippies and performance. The Yippies created their own networked participatory street performance form by drawing on the political philosophy of the New Left student movement, the organizational strategies of the anti-war movement, and the countercultural values of the hippies. They modified this performance form, which they termed “revolutionary actiontheater,” with performance theories drawn from New York’s avant-garde art world, the concept of guerrilla theatre outlined by R. G. Davis of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and the notion of Theater of Cruelty created by Antonin Artaud. Using performance theory and cultural history as primary methodologies, this project traces the Yippies’ adoption of revolutionary action-theater with three examples: the 1967 “March on the Pentagon” where future Yippie leaders performed an exorcism ritual at the Pentagon; the 1968 “Grand Central Station Yip-In” event that advertised for the Yippie movement; and the 1968 “Festival of Life” at the National Democratic Convention in Chicago where the Yippies nominated a pig as presidential candidate. The final chapter on the recent phenomenon of flash mobs argues that the Yippies’ legacy lives on in this participatory street performance form, and suggests that revolutionary action-theater can still serve as a model for political action.