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Working in the Wings

Working in the Wings

New Perspectives on Theatre History and Labor

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Edited by Elizabeth A. Osborne and Christine Woodworth


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
264 pages, 6 x 9, 9 illustrations

Theater in the Americas


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About the Book

Theatre has long been an art form of subterfuge and concealment. Working in the Wings: New Perspectives on Theatre History and Labor, edited by Elizabeth A. Osborne and Christine Woodworth, brings attention to what goes on behind the scenes, challenging, and revising our understanding of work, theatre, and history.

Essays consider a range of historic moments and geographic locations—from African Americans’ performance of the cakewalk in Florida’s resort hotels during the Gilded Age to the UAW Union Theatre and striking automobile workers in post–World War II Detroit, to the struggle in the latter part of the twentieth century to finish an adaptation of Moby Dick for the stage before the memory of creator Rinde Eckert failed. Contributors incorporate methodologies and theories from fields as diverse as theatre history, work studies, legal studies, economics, and literature and draw on traditional archival materials, including performance texts and architectural structures, as well as less tangible material traces of stagecraft.

Working in the Wings looks at the ways in which workers' identities are shaped, influenced, and dictated by what they do; the traces left behind by workers whose contributions have been overwritten; the intersections between the sometimes repetitive and sometimes destructive process of creation and the end result—the play or performance; and the ways in which theatre affects the popular imagination. This collected volume draws attention to the significance of work in the theatre, encouraging a fresh examination of this important subject in the history of the theatre and beyond.


Elizabeth A. Osborne is an associate professor of theatre studies at Florida State University and the author of Staging the People: Community and Identity in the Federal Theatre Project. She has also published articles in Theatre History Studies, the Journal of American Theatre and Drama, and Theatre Symposium.

Christine Woodworth is an assistant professor of theatre at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She has written essays for Theatre Symposium, Theatre History Studies, and Theatre Annual, among other journals.

Contributors include Rosemarie K. Bank, Jonathan Chambers, Dorothy Chansky, Tracey Elaine Chessum, Chrystyna Dail, Jerry Dickey, Sara Freeman, Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix, Melissa Rynn Porterfield, Tom Robson, AnnMarie T. Saunders, and Max Shulman.


“The decline of industrial labor unions, the turmoil among public workers’ associations, the economic collapse of 2007–8, the marketing of ‘right to work’ as a positive benefit, and the increased salary discrepancy between workers and executives have all coalesced to ignite a reconsideration of ‘work’ across labor sites and academic disciplines. Working in the Wings injects theatre and performance into this discourse by foregrounding the work of backstage laborers and assessing how theatre work contributes to cultural myths in the public imagination. Working in the Wings is not only a timely book; it is an important one.”—Barry B. Witham, professor emeritus, University of Washington