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The Little Art Colony and US ModernismCarmel, Provincetown, Taos$
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Geneva M. Gano

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474439756

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474439756.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 20 September 2021

Eugene O’Neill: Superpersonalisation and Racial Spectacularism

Eugene O’Neill: Superpersonalisation and Racial Spectacularism

(p.128) Chapter 4 Eugene O’Neill: Superpersonalisation and Racial Spectacularism
The Little Art Colony and US Modernism

Geneva M. Gano

Edinburgh University Press

Playwright Eugene O’Neill jumpstarted his career and had his first major successes in and from the little art colony in Provincetown; this chapter focuses on O’Neill, the Provincetown Players’ most prominent member, who lived and worked there between 1916 and 1922. The chapter shows how the compressed scale and distinctive mobility of Provincetown’s creative community was crucial to O’Neill’s success. There, O’Neill was exposed to the art colony’s distinctive amalgamation of modern and experimental theatre practices, including those dealing with writing, staging, and promotion. His own work built upon these: he was especially adept at harvesting, adapting, and exporting these practices from the rural outpost to the metropolitan hub of modernist activity in New York. This chapter argues that the formal and topical elements of O’Neill’s notorious play The Emperor Jones (conceived and written in Provincetown), along with its production and promotional strategies, were distinctive to the little art colony. There, O’Neill cultivated and marketed to a ‘special audience,’ drew topical inspiration from long-simmering racial anxieties in the region, and expanded upon the Provincetown Players’ theatrical practice of superpersonalization: a writing and staging strategy that amplifies the bleed between character and actor in order to heighten the audience’s engagement in the play. These strategies kindled his white audience’s ‘racial feelings’: a move that brought the relatively unknown O’Neill into the national and international public consciousness and created a still-resonant sensation about his work.

Keywords:   Eugene O’Neill, Charles Gilpin, The Emperor Jones, Provincetown, Modern Drama, Little Theatre, White Supremacy, Primitivism, Racial Trauma, Spectacle

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