The Western Genre and Gun Violence in United States Culture: Using Theatre as a Laboratory for Social Critique
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The contemporary theatre director has the opportunity to encourage socially critical thought during the production process and in theatergoing audiences. This study seeks to demonstrate how the Western genre, which has mythicized the way of life on the United States frontier during westward expansion, can be used as a framework to understand the prevalence of gun violence in the contemporary United States. Moreover, the project endeavors to explore the theater as a forum to address this issue. This paper’s methodology incorporates an application of my synthesis of Bertolt Brecht’s dialectical theatre to my direction of Afterlife, a Western genre play by Nicholas J. Maurer. The play suggests parallels between the issues of gun violence in the Western genre and present concerns regarding gun violence in our contemporary society. Following each performance I conducted post-show discussions with audience members to qualitatively assess how they critically engaged with the cultural norms of gun use and gun violence. This study presents an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on theatre directing theory, performance studies, history and sociology. This thesis’ central argument is that a socially conscious approach to theatre directing—drawing attention to how characters’ choices impact their environment and providing the impetus for critical reflection—will encourage audiences to engage cultural questions and recognize their ability to transform society. This research hopes to contribute to ongoing investigations that articulate the significance of theatre as a tool for social critique and social change.