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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

First Advisor

William Moebius

Second Advisor

Jenny Spencer

Third Advisor

Catherine Portuges

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Theatre and Performance Studies


In this dissertation, "Transgressing Space and Subverting Hierarchies: A Comparative Analysis of Street Theater Groups in Sri Lanka, India, and the United States," I explore how street theater artists in three different national contexts make innovative use of space, performance traditions, language, and audience in order to question economic, political, and cultural power structures. My study involves a comparative analysis of the work of The Wayside and Open Theater in Sri Lanka, People's Theater Forum (Janam) in India, and Bread and Puppet Theater in the United States. I study the ways in which these groups appropriate spaces and, through their performances, transform them into transgressive sites where existing power hierarchies are questioned and subverted. I examine their use of hybridized forms of aesthetics - a combination of traditional formal performance methods and western performance traditions - as well as language to create a dialogic relationship with diverse audiences. While the study of Sri Lankan and Indian street theater groups interrogates the dynamics of space as it manifests itself in postcolonial contexts, my analysis of Bread and Puppet Theater provides material for comparison and contrast by examining the workings of space and power in a "first world" context. My investigation is informed by Ngugi wa Thiong'o's and Safdar Hashmi's work on space, performance, and power as well as theories of national culture and identity elaborated by Frantz Fanon and Homi Bhabha. I will likewise refer to Jacques Derrida's arguments about language and play and André Lefevere's ideas concerning translation and rewriting in order to examine the language used in the plays. While prior studies of street theater focus primarily on its status as a political or cultural event, I propose to engage in an in depth analysis of the performance texts - both written and visual - and examine the nuances in language and the particular performance techniques used by the groups in specific locations.