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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Transnationalism Research Group Seminar: Lauren Clay, Vanderbilt University 'The Empire of Theatre: Cultural Aspirations and Racial Tensions in French Colonial Playhouses during the Late Old Regime'

11th November 2014, 17:00, A56, Elvet Riverside I, Durham University

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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