New Theatre Quarterly



Towards a Genealogy and Taxonomy of British Alternative Theatre


Sara Freeman 

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Abstract

In the third volume of The Cambridge History of British Theatre (2004), editor Baz Kershaw initiates his chapter ‘Alternative Theatres, 1946–2000’ with a short discussion of ‘contesting terms’ used by commentators to describe theatre outside the mainstream in the second half of the twentieth century. Kershaw's discussion serves as a necessary preface to ground his use of multiple historiographical strategies to address the subject with necessary brevity. But teasing out the terminology used to describe alternative theatre remains a fascinatingly complex task, constitutive of precisely the issues at stake in the variant historiographical approaches to the post-war period. Using a genealogical approach inspired by Foucault, and drawing on first-person interviews with artists who worked with alternative theatre companies such as Joint Stock/Out of Joint, Gay Sweatshop, and Women's Theatre Group/The Sphinx across the closing decades of the twentieth century, Sara Freeman analyzes the branching relationships of these terms, arguing the need to develop useful rather than funerary or bewildered historiographical approaches to the 1980s and 1990s. Sara Freeman is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Illinois Wesleyan University. Her research focuses on contemporary women playwrights and British alternative theatre, and she has published articles and reviews in Theatre Survey, Modern Drama, Comparative Drama, New England Theatre Journal, and Theatre Journal. Work on this article was supported by an Artistic and Scholarly Development Grant from Illinois Wesleyan University.

(Published Online October 20 2006)