Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Daniel H. Magilow

Committee Members

Stefanie Ohnesorg, John Sipes, Maria Stehle


This dissertation explores the political and ideological work done by what I call "insurgent spectacles," which comprised a historical episode of American theater occurring primarily from 2006 to 2008. The spectacles had liberatory and redemptive potential not in spite of their identity as mass culture, but indeed precisely because of it. They functioned in a contested political and ideological space within the schema of mass culture. The insurgent spectacle is so-called because it superficially resembled other bits of Broadway fluff with its glitziness, over-production, and ham-fistedness that allow the audience to be intellectually disengaged. During this episode, it persisted (often unexpectedly) in delivering a subversive political or ideological message to the audience, both in its content and in its mode of expression. This mode of spectacularity did not conform to prevailing pessimistic notions of what a Broadway spectacle is, and the dissertation theorizes terms under which mass culture is not reduced to capitalist instrumentality, historicizes it, and offers readings of works that exemplify this mode of spectacularity from three revolutionary dramatists who are regularly discussed in the same critical breath: Frank Wedekind, Georg Büchner, and Bertolt Brecht. Works by these playwrights are the primary examples that stood at the center of the movement toward insurgent spectacles. In particular analysis of the 2006 productions of Spring Awakening and Mother Courage and her Children and the 2008 production of Woyzeck add nuance to popular critical approaches to mass culture in current scholarship.

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