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Palgrave Macmillan

Public Theatre and the Enslaved People of Colonial Saint-Domingue

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  • © 2023

Overview

  • The first book-length study of the underexplored relationship between public theatre and the enslaved population
  • The fullest account to date of the local, Creole theatre tradition
  • Foreign language quotations are in French or Creole and in English translation

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About this book

The French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was home to one of the richest public theatre traditions of the colonial-era Caribbean.  This book examines the relationship between public theatre and the enslaved people of Saint-Domingue—something that is generally given short shrift owing to a perceived lack of documentation.  Here, a range of materials and methodologies are used to explore pressing questions including the ‘mitigated spectatorship’ of the enslaved, portrayals of enslaved people in French and Creole repertoire, the contributions of enslaved people to theatre-making, and shifting attitudes during the revolutionary era.  The book demonstrates that slavery was no mere backdrop to this portion of theatre history but an integral part of its story.  It also helps recover the hidden experiences of some of the enslaved individuals who became entangled in that story.

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Table of contents (7 chapters)

Reviews

“Prest has written the definitive book on the colonial theater of Saint-Domingue and she has reinserted the island’s most marginalized group into a dynamic and impressive cultural scene.” (Logan J. Connors, The French Review, Vol. 97 (3), March, 2024)

“The book not only shines a light on the mere existence of this theater, but also on the fact that 'enslaved people—mostly enslaved urban domestics—were an integral part of the story of public theatre in Saint-Domingue and not merely a part of the uncomfortable backdrop against which that story unfolded' ... . This fragment of an existence, told in passing, blooms into a rich and complex story, a painstakingly researched and detailed monograph.” (Jennifer E. Row, H-France Forum, Vol. 19 (5), 2024)

“Public Theatre and the Enslaved People of Colonial Saint-Domingue makes this case convincingly and provides a grounding for further study that rigorously takes into account the significance of people of color in the making and viewing of theater in Saint-Domingue.” (Olivia Sabee, H-France Forum, Vol. 19 (5), 2024)

“The author’s concluding sentence explicitly invites future research, which her book will surely inspire ... . In this groundbreaking book, Prest has discovered unknown content, expanded knowledge of understudied sources, and made innovative meaning from established material, ultimately expanding French and francophone studies in important new directions.” (Ashley M. Williard, H-France Forum, Vol. 19 (5), 2024)

“[The book] is an exciting and impressive project that presents the first study of public theatre and slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haïti), attending not only to representations of enslaved people on stage, but also the real presence and relationship between enslaved people of Colonial Haïti and the theatre. Prof. Prest brings to bear a remarkable corpus of sources, from notarial records and eyewitness accounts to newspaper adverts, published treatises, and the texts of plays, to advance a series of significant, groundbreaking findings.”

—Christy Pichichero, George Mason University, Fairfasx, USA

“Un-silencing” the enslaved Haitians who built the theaters, changed the scenery, and played the accompaniments, Julia Prest discovers new worlds backstage in the theaters of eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue—an exemplary study in the method and imagination required of voicing muted histories.

—Joseph Roach, Yale University, Connecticut, USA

“From the creator of the indispensable performance database ‘Theatre in Saint-Domingue, 1764-1791’, the first large-scale synthesis of information concerning enslaved people in one of the world’s major centers of theatrical performance. Prest presents playhouses, their audiences, the lives and labor of enslaved domestics, musicians, and craftsmen, and the transformative effects of the Haitian Revolution.”

Kate van Orden, Harvard University, USA

Authors and Affiliations

  • University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK

    Julia Prest

About the author

Julia Prest is Professor of French and Caribbean Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK. She has published widely on early-modern French and Caribbean theatre, opera and dance, and is the creator of the trilingual (English-French-Kreyòl) Theatre in Saint-Domingue, 1764-1791 performance database: 'theatreinsaintdomingue.org'.  She has collaborated with theatre-makers to create new works that bring colonial-era theatre to today’s audiences, and her edited collection, Colonial-Era Caribbean Theatre: Issues in Research, Writing and Methodology is forthcoming in 2023.

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