Theatre in Circulation: Performing National Identity on the Global Stage in Cape Verde, West Africa

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This study examines how Cape Verdean theatre artists construct transformative performances of race, gender, language, and colonial history at the Mindelact International Theatre Festival on the Cape Verde Islands. The aim is to understand how international theatre festivals participate in the production and shaping of new social imaginaries about nationhood. Drawing on my sustained ethnographic work with Cape Verdean performers and archival research into the festival's media coverage, I analyze three trends that featured prominently at Mindelact from 2004-06: dramatizations of oral histories about colonial-era rebellions and drought, theatre and dance performances foregrounding Cape Verdean women's labor and sexuality, and adaptations of Western plays. I argue that when Cape Verdean artists circulate this theatre to a festival context, they rewrite central narratives about their country's national identity. By analyzing how festivals operate as mechanisms of circulation, I expand globalization theories that reassess how cultural production functions in an age dominated by increased circulation of people and finance. The Mindelact Festival is a crossroads for Lusophone (Portuguese-language) theatre from Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Drawing on the islands' complex history with Portuguese colonialism, I demonstrate how a festival venue privileging Lusophone theatre is a productive site for performers to interrogate colonialism's legacies of historical bias, restrictive gender roles, and regional formulations of racial identities and linguistic hierarchies. Cape Verde's creolized society is a product of centuries of African and European peoples and traditions intermingling on the islands. I analyze how theatre artists strategically perform facets of this Creole identity at Mindelact in order to situate their islands' local culture within Cape Verde's still emerging national identity. To examine the impact of circulation on these performances, I situate theatre productions within the material and social conditions enabling their circulation to the festival: media discourses, funding, rehearsal tactics, performance training, and audience expectations. I maintain that the convergence of these factors in a festival arena allows locally devised Cape Verdean theatre to become incorporated into a national dramatic canon that helps shape public perception of the islands' national identity.

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  • 09/10/2018
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