ALTERNATIVE CANON TO 1945
Non-Western plays, plays by Black, Indigenous, people of color, by women and by queer writers from before 1945.
Table of Contents
2. Donate to These Organizations!
3. Listing of Plays
9. Cote D’Ivoire
27. K’ich’e People
30. Nahua People
36. Quechua/Kichwa People
40. South Africa
42. Sri Lanka
49. Yiddish Theater
4. Further Reading: Anthologies and Anthologists
5. Further Reading: Secondary Sources on Non-Literary Traditions
6. Further Reading: Plays After 1945
7. Contributors - Please add your name here if you contribute and would like to be credited!
8. Acknowledgments & Shared Lineage
9. Source Wish List
The genesis of this idea emerged in 2016 from an anonymous, ad-hoc feminist collective inspired by Guerrilla Girls (Preying Womantis). At first, the list was intended to be representative, not exhaustive. Since then, the list has steadily expanded, as more and more material came to light and our list of collaborators grew and grew.
The goal of the list in its current form is twofold: 1) to create a list of plays for living theater artists to read, discuss, adapt, and produce, and 2) to provide scholars and teachers with plays that will introduce new perspectives into theater history research, syllabuses, and curricula. We’re explicitly not looking to create a new canon of texts upheld as the highest order of The Dramatic Imagination, but rather to study and value writers and texts that traditional theater history would rather sweep aside. We’ve all heard the tired fictions that prop up all-white, all-male theater history syllabuses and seasons (“We’d love to do a classical work by a Black writer, but there just aren’t any!” “We’ve got to teach Strindberg–how else will our students learn about Symbolism?” “I don’t know where to find any plays by Indigenous playwrights!” “We already have a Japanese play in our theater history survey course.”). Hopefully, this list will help blast these lazy, ignorant excuses into oblivion.
The plays are organized in a rough chronology within each country or culture of origin, which are in turn listed alphabetically. Generally, playtexts that are in the public domain have a link; if you’re interested in reading something on this list that doesn’t have a link attached to it, please post an inquiry; someone in our community should be able to help you track down a copy!
The list skews heavily towards Europe, the US, and other Western states–the consequence of survival bias and colonial erasure. Within these countries, many works, such as The Drama of King Shotaway and other original scripts performed at the African Grove Theatre, didn’t survive because a racist society wasn’t looking out for their preservation. Many cultures have rich, powerful traditions of live performance, narrative dance, poetry, and collaborative storytelling that have never been recorded on paper in a script. The guiding principle is to meet these limitations as best as possible , include as many titles as possible, and incorporate an appendix of secondary resources on non-literary performance traditions.
Furthermore, many of these plays are records of the violent social structures and prejudices of their times. Plays by white women in imperialist-settler societies, like Susanna Rowson in the US or Olympe de Gouges in France often feature racist characters and tropes, while the Nō and Sanskrit theaters are elite traditions that often erase or elide the experience of the lower classes. They should be taught and understood carefully and in context.
Because no list is perfect or complete, there are numerous gaps here that need to be filled—including, among others, modern China, Japan, India and Mexico, Korea, Latin America, eastern and southern Europe, Africa, southeast Asia, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Oceania, and Indigenous cultures around the world. There are very few queer playwrights listed here, because of the persistence of historical homophobia and transphobia. Only two playwrights listed here (Teresa Deevy and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón) had documented disabilities.
So please help if you like and as you are able, by contributing edits, additions, captions, corrections, concerns, thoughts and questions as comments to this document and introduction. Hopefully, we can build a non-hierarchical, open-source community for dialogue and play that expands our collective scope of what dramatic texts are available for performance and study.
It should go without saying that hate speech of any form won’t be tolerated.
Thanks for reading. Let’s write better, more complete, and more inclusive theater histories together.
-The Alternative Canon Community
THE REAL MVPs
Many scholars, archivists, critics, and historians have spent far more time than I have assembling, translating, and writing about these plays. They, and other organizations working to empower and build solidarity for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and female playwrights and theatermakers, deserve your attention and dollars. If this canon has helped you somehow, and you feel in a position to do so (especially if you’re the beneficiary of systemic bias in theater and in life), please check them out, support their work, and give generously.
Black Theatre Network: http://www.blacktheatrenetwork.org/donate-1
Latinx Theatre Commons: https://secure.touchnet.com/C20723_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=281&SINGLESTORE=true
Consortium of Asian-American Theaters and Artists: https://caata.net/about/
Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance (Canada): https://ipaa.ca/
Arts Administrators of Color Network: https://aacnetwork.org/
The Kilroys: https://thekilroys.org/support/
The International Center for Women Playwrights: https://www.womenplaywrights.org/
Women of Color in the Arts: http://www.womenofcolorinthearts.org/support-us/
First Peoples’ Fund: https://firstpeoplesfund.kindful.com/
BIPOC List of Demands for the White American Theater: https://www.weseeyouwat.com/
Levon Shant, Ancient Gods (1908)
Symbolic drama of inner dreams and desires, lofty stubborn idealism and stormy, soul-searching upheaval.
Hagop Baronian, Honorable Beggars (1880)
Satire about greed and human vanity.
José Podesta, Juan Moreira (1886)
High melodrama and true crime--with gauchos! Sometimes performed in circuses! What’s not to love??? 1920 Translation by Jacob S. Fassett
Armando Discépolo, Mustafa (1921) Babilonia (Babylon, 1925)
A prolific Argentine playwright credited with developing that country’s version of the aesthetic known as the “Creole Grotesque.” These plays deal with Argentina’s urban migrant poor.
Alfonsina Storni, Polyxena y la cocinerita (Polyxena and the Little Cook, 1932) Cimbelina en 1900 y pico (Cymbeline in 1900 and a Bit, 1932)
Storni dubbed these two plays her “Pyrotechnic Farces”; they are revisions of classic works inspired by the Spanish avant-garde. Storni was also a prolific writer of children’s theater.
Australia: (THIS SECTION UNDER CONSTRUCTION)[a]
An excellent source for pre-1945 Australian works is australianplays.org
Edith Susan Gerard Anderson (?)
Katherine Susannah Pritchard, Brumby Innes (1927)
Written in the 1920s by a white Australian, Brumby Innes is one of the first plays to portray Aboriginal Australians onstage, well before a play by an Aboriginal author ever found success in Australia (that would be Kevin Gilbert’s The Cherry Pickers, in 1968). https://catalog.lib.uchicago.edu/vufind/Record/57087
Henrietta Drake-Brockman, Men Without Wives (1938)
Betty Roland, A Touch of Silk (1928)
Mirza Fath’ali Akhundzadeh/Akhundov
Anonymous, The End of Atau Wallpa (c. 1535 - 1555)
José de Anchieta, Na Festa de São Lourenço (Play for the Feast of Saint Laurence); Auto de Santa Ursulá, Play for the Reception of Provincial Superior Marçal Beliarte (1550-1600)
Anchieta was a Jesuit priest who wrote instructional pageants in both Portuguese and Tupi to be performed by his congregants, colonial settlers and natives alike. These plays resemble medieval pageant festivities and autos sacramentales, providing an example of Jesuit educational drama used as colonial indoctrination in the New World.
Luis Carlos Martins Pena, The Jealous Officer, or The Fearsome Slave Catcher (1845)
A nineteenth-century melodrama—or perhaps a parody of a nineteenth-century melodrama (!) (?)
Gonçalves de Magalhaes,
Gonçalves Dias, [b]
Machado de Assis, Hoje Avental, Amanhã Luva (1860), Desencantos (1861), O Caminho da Porta (1863) O Protocolo (1863) Quase Ministro (1864) As Forcas Caudinas (1865/1956) Os Deuses de Casaca (1866) Tu, só tu, puro amor (1880) Não Consultes Médico (1896) Lição de Botânica (1906)
Júlia Lopes de Almeida, A Herança (The Heritage, 1908) [no English trans.]
Oswald de Andrade, O Homem e o Cavalo (The Man and the Horse, 1933) and O Rei da Vela (The Candle King, 1933)
De Andrade was a modernist poet and radical in dialogue with the European avant-garde of the early twentieth c