Feathers and Face Paint: The Making of Redface in American Theater

Nov 27, 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Across the 19th century, American theatre artists and audiences turned to the "Indian" to tell stories of drama, tragedy, comedy, and history. From these diverse but popular plays a recognizable and racialized figure developed, the Stage Indian. This talk tracks the material elements used to create "Indian" characters to explore how theatrical techniques and dramatic repertoires worked with and through settler colonial logics resulting in a recognizable and racialized figure. The Stage Indian is more than feathers and face paint, however. It is an embodied figure whose legibility as an "Indian" is co-constructed with its audience. Tracing instantiations of the "Stage Indian" across the 19th century reveals the saturation, flexibility, and persistence of redface as a tool of U.S. control over Indigenous nations and peoples.

Bethany Hughes (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan. A performance scholar and cultural historian, her work focuses on the representation of Native Americans in theatrical performance and contemporary Indigenous performance. Hughes has taught classes on Native American Studies, Indigenous performance, race and musical theatre, and American performance. Her writing can be found in Theatre Journal, American Periodicals, Theatre Survey, Mobilities, and Theatre Topics. Her book on redface in American theatre, forthcoming with NYU Press, articulates the aesthetic, racial, and political implications of the “Indian” in live theatre.