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Swim Pretty

Swim Pretty

Aquatic Spectacles and the Performance of Race, Gender, and Nature

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Jennifer A. Kokai


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
18 illustrations

Theater in the Americas


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About the Book

Drawing on cultural associations with bodies of water, the spectacle of pretty women, and the appeal of the concept of “family-friendly” productions, performative aquatic spectacles portray water as an exotic fantasy environment exploitable for the purpose of entertainment. In Swim Pretty, Jennifer A. Kokai reveals the influential role of aquatic spectacles in shaping cultural perceptions of aquatic ecosystems in the United States over the past century. 

Examining dramatic works in water and performances at four water parks, Kokai shows that the evolution of these works and performances helps us better understand our ever-changing relationship with the oceans and their inhabitants. Kokai sorts the regard for and harnessing of water in aquatic spectacles into three categories—natural, tamed, and domesticated—and discusses the ways in which these modes of water are engaged in the performances throug an aesthetics of descension. Ultimately, this study links the uncritical love of aquatic spectacles to a disregard for the rights of marine animals and lack of concern for the marine environment.


Jennifer A. Kokai is an associate professor and the theatre program coordinator at Weber State University. She has published articles in the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Theatre History Studies, the Journal of American Drama and Theatre, and other journals and anthologies.


“This book charts the development of aquatic spectacle performances from the 1939 World’s Fair to the recent death of a trainer at Sea World, discussing the performances in terms of an ‘aesthetics of descension.’ While the 1939 Fair has received much scholarly attention, the broader story of aquatic spectacles has not. This book brings its diverse examples together in a lively and original manner.”—Michael Peterson, author, Straight White Male: Performance Art Monologues
Swim Pretty argues that aquatic spectacles perform ideological positions around race, gender, and ecology. With rigorous historical analysis and keen contemporary observations, Kokai constructs an acute understanding of the uneasy cohabitations of capitalism and nature; animal and human; and tourism, pedagogy, and entertainment. She dives beneath the surface of unexplored cultural waters and comes up with a treasure trove of information and insights about these ubiquitous spectacles. Readable and fascinating.”—Jill Dolan, author of Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater