Dramaturgies of School Shootings: An Affectual Analysis of American Trauma in Performance
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In the United States, school shootings have become commonplace, their existence traumatic to communities but no longer shocking to the country. “Dramaturgies of School Shootings: An Affectual Analysis of American Trauma in Performance” is an MA thesis which addresses how school shootings have been portrayed through theatrical methods and the resulting impact on spectatorship. This thesis asks: How do different dramaturgical approaches to staging school violence in theatre construct affect in spectatorship? I study the following three case studies, each which portrays school shootings in a different way: Bang Bang You’re Dead by William Mastrosimone, 5° of Separation by Peyton Smetana, and On The Exhale by Martin Zimmerman. Using a foundation from Elinor Fuchs “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play” through Maaike Bleeker’s dramaturgical lens in “A Dramaturgical Mode of Looking,” I identify specific dramaturgical elements in each case study which work to construct spectatorship including: the perspective from which the narrative is told, the composition of the spoken text, and how the shooting itself is represented onstage. I explore how these dramaturgical choices engage in a transfer of affect, evoking emotional engagement and critical thinking in the spectator. Utilizing arguments from Silvan Tompkins and Gilles Deleuze in Claire Hemmings “Invoking Affect”, the analysis enters the debate on biological versus experience-informed affect, settling between philosophies in application to performance. Evidence from affect theory texts on art and performance such as Ernst Van Alphen’s “Affective Operations of Art and Literature” and Miriam Felton-Dansky’s Viral Performance inform my perspective as I investigate how affect can be both advantageous and problematic in theatre on school violence. Through this investigation, I assess how performances on school shootings demand emotional investment from the spectator, activating affective operations to place the spectator in a role which requires critical thinking, reflection, and empathy.