The American Pipe Dream: Drug Addiction on Stage, 1890-1940
Abstract: This dissertation examines the representation of drug addiction and
drug use in U.S. theatre from the 1890s to the start of the Second World War. In this, it
engages with the decades in which the nation first formulated its conceptions of addiction.
It is in the 1890s that addicts first appear on stage and assume a significant place in the
national imaginary. Over the next fifty years, ... read morethe theatre becomes an integral part of a
cultural process that shapes the characterization, treatment, and legislative paradigms
regarding addiction. In many cases, these paradigms that appear during the Progressive Era,
Jazz Age, and Depression persist today. This study examines this history by looking at a
variety of performance formats, including melodrama, vaudeville, and Jazz club acts.
Ranging from the "elite" theatres of Broadway to the "lowbrow" variety stages, this
research establishes connections between representational practice and an array of sources.
These include the medical, legal, and literary histories related to drug use in the period.
Up till now, these are the histories that scholars have recorded, but they have yet to take
into account the importance of performance as it both formed and reflected other elements
of culture related to drug use. It was the stage that helped push through reforms on part
of the Prohibition Era activists; it was also the stage that disseminated the rapidly
changing medical etiologies of addiction to the general populace. Extending beyond these
regulatory and diagnostic concerns, this dissertation moves to examine addiction as a
defining condition of modernity, a concept that stems from a literary legacy connected to
Thomas De Quincey, Charles Baudelaire, and the Decadent writers of the fin de siècle.
Throughout this history, the stage-addict served to test the limits of U.S. imagination
while formulating the parameters of normal and abnormal, natural and
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2016.
Submitted to the Dept. of Drama.
Advisor: Laurence Senelick.
Committee: Monica Ndounou, Barbara Grossman, and Derek Miller.
Keywords: Theater history, American studies, and American history.read less