The South is a region of mystery, of tradition, of shifting identity. As a cultural region within the United States, the South has always defined (and redefined) itself in such a way that it remains distinctive from, even oppositional to, mainstream American culture. All too often, however, this identity redefinition casts the South as an outsider culture, a comic extreme, or a tradition-bound cultural backwater. In recent years, this process has stagnated within Southern culture and the theatrical arts that simultaneously shape and reflect Southern identity.
This dissertation reinvigorates the South’s historical process of redefinition in the face of the postmodern complexity facing the region. As dramatic representations of the region are limited to a select historical canon, the first element of this reinvigoration is the need for contemporary representations of Southernness in the theatre and festivals of the region. Thus, this dissertation identifies several new Southern playwrights (including Hilly Hicks, Steve Murray, Shay Youngblood, Elizabeth Dewberry, Bob Devon-Jones, Glenda Dickerson, and Breena Clarke) and their plays’ construction and reconstruction of Southern culture. These plays are then examined through framework of the New Southern Gothic (NSG) mode, a model of community representation that places seemingly contradictory or oppositional elements in a flexible structure of community and potential for social, cultural, and political development
The characteristics of this NSG genre are then looked at in the larger cultural context of Southern history and the issues facing the region today. They are used to evaluate the limited potential of existing Southern representations (such as that put forth by the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival.) Then, newer, more flexible models of Southernness are drawn from NSG plays. These NSG models provide the basis for envisioning a future cultural identity for the South that preserves its distinctiveness while avoiding the trap of homogenization, fetishization, and historicization that characterize traditional representations of the region. These new models also provide a communal basis for Southerners to join forces while acknowledging their differences. From the stage to regional festivals to the public arena, these models can then be used to enact social and cultural change within the region.