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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

The Empire of Theatre: Cultural Aspirations and Racial Tensions

11th November 2014, 17:00, A56, Elvet Riverside I, Dr. Lauren Clay, Vanderbilt University

This lecture is presented by The Transnationalism Research Group, School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

As city-dwellers throughout France became thoroughly stagestruck during the final decades of the Old Regime, those residing in France’s colonies—provided they were not enslaved—proved to be no exception to this trend. Between 1762 and 1789, at least ten cities in Saint-Domingue [modern-day Haiti], Martinique, and Guadeloupe celebrated the inauguration of their first dedicated playhouse open to a paying public. Gathering large and diverse crowds, theatres became key sites for policing racial difference. Yet even as prejudice against mulattos and free blacks mounted outside of the playhouse, in the early 1780s the director of the Port-au-Prince theatre decided to break with convention by hiring a young singer named Minette who was known to be a woman of colour. The paradoxical result— segregated audiences and increasingly integrated troupes—provides a means to analyze the irreconcilable conflict between colonial cultural aspirations and the mounting racism that ruled everyday life on the eve of the Haitian Revolution.

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