Re-Imagining Citizenry: National Identities in Canadian and Australian Multicultural Drama

Tricia Hopton (2011). Re-Imagining Citizenry: National Identities in Canadian and Australian Multicultural Drama PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Tricia Hopton
Thesis Title Re-Imagining Citizenry: National Identities in Canadian and Australian Multicultural Drama
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-12
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Joanne Tompkins
Dr Diana Looser
Total pages 273
Total black and white pages 273
Language eng
Subjects 190404 Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
Abstract/Summary This dissertation explores the dramaturgical and theatrical methods employed by playwrights of multicultural plays in Canada and Australia. These plays work to complicate ideas of the nation as uncomplicated examples of postcolonial, cosmopolitan, and multicultural nations. While the plays suggest that there exists an imagined version of the nation that upholds a white, English-speaking hegemony, the characters present counter-discursive readings of the nation. I assert that while multiculturalism remains a prominent ideology in the definitions of Canadian and Australian national identities, the reality of lived experiences in these multicultural nations do not always align with the idealised social narratives of the imaginary citizenry. Building on the body of research about multicultural theatre in Canada and Australia by scholars such as Helen Gilbert, Ric Knowles, Jacqueline Lo, Marc Maufort, Anne Nothof, Joanne Tompkins, and Jerry Wasserman, I examine the strategies playwrights are using to contend with over-simplified determinations of cultural and national identities. This dissertation moves into terrain that has been less explored through its determination of what I call the “imaginary citizen” templates: using Ghassan Hage’s White Nation as the guide for my categorisations has enabled a reading of multicultural drama which locates implicit, oversimplified expectations of identity as they exist in the imaginary nations on stage. These plays undermine such prescriptive identities, as their characters seek out alternative, individually constructed identities. For this reason, I contend that many multicultural plays from Canada and Australia can be understood to contribute productively to the project of upsetting western, hegemonic norms and expanding the range of signifiers through which audience members construct meaning for the nation and its citizenry. Through a consideration of Ric Knowles’s notion of the “dramaturgy of the perverse,” I read these plays as “foreground[ing] and denaturaliz[ing] their inherited structural principles, together with their ideological weights” to rupture western expectations of naturalism; these plays offer a “genuinely productive cultural intervention” (Knowles 52). This perversity, I argue, is achieved centrally by two means: self-narration and split subjectivity. Applying the lens of Paul Ricoeur’s theory of “narrative identity” provides the plays’ characters with the agency to determine individuated versions of themselves, and, thereby deny the simplified identities of the imaginary citizenry. This process of self-narration becomes an embodied, visceral experience for the audience as the characters’ subjectivities are shifted and altered when they shift into younger selves, family members, friends, or even strangers. The doubling or splitting of roles provides the characters with insights that allow them to productively determine their own identities, as opposed to being assigned an externally created identity to maintain a strategic balance within the nation, in place to keep a white, English-speaking hegemony in control of an “ideal homely nation” (Hage 71). Other theatrical strategies, such as undermining linguistic hegemony, varying cultural signifiers, and self-consciously employing metatheatre and satire, also enable these plays to do important cultural work to refuse the imaginary versions of these multicultural nations as they exist on Canadian and Australian stages. This dissertation asserts that the theatre is a space and place where identities can be challenged, disrupted, interrogated, and destablised in officially multicultural Canada and Australia. Theatre is, therefore, a place where a “deeper commitment to a more far-reaching multiculturalism” can be achieved (Hage 26).
Keyword theatre, multiculturalism, drama, Canada, Australia, identity, “White multiculturalism”, “narrative identity”, split subjectivity, “imagined communities”, performative, “dramaturgy of the perverse”, satire, metatheatre, imaginary citizenry

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Created: Wed, 13 Jun 2012, 21:14:05 EST by Ms Tricia Hopton on behalf of Library - Information Access Service