The Unfinished Art of Theater

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3741-7

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3740-0
Publication Date
July 2018
Page Count
312 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Unfinished Art of Theater

Avant-Garde Intellectuals in Mexico and Brazil
Sarah J. Townsend

A certain idea of the avant-garde posits the possibility of a total rupture with the past. The Unfinished Art of Theater pulls back on this futuristic impulse by showing how theater became a key site for artists on the semiperiphery of capitalism to reconfigure the role of the aesthetic between 1917 and 1934. The book argues that this “unfinished art”—precisely because of its historic weakness as a representative institution in Mexico and Brazil, where the bourgeois stage had not (yet) coalesced—was at the forefront of struggles to redefine the relationship between art and social change.

Drawing on extensive archival research, Sarah J. Townsend reveals the importance of projects and texts that belie the rhetoric of rupture and immediacy associated with the avant-garde: ethnographic operas with ties to the recording industry, populist puppet plays, children’s radio programs about the wonders of technology, a philosophical drama about the birth of a new race, and an antifascist spectacle written for (but never performed at) a theater shut down by the police. Ultimately, the book makes the case that the very category of avant-garde art is bound up in the experience of dependency, delay, and the uneven development of capitalism.

About the Author

SARAH J. TOWNSEND is an assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Penn State University.

"The Unfinished Art of Theater provides a valuable contribution to theater studies, Latin American studies, as well as to studies of the global avant-gardes. Drawing from impressive archival research, the book expands our understanding of the avant-gardes in Mexico and Brazil through the study of little- or unknown experiments with theater." Ericka Beckman, author of Capital Fictions: The Literature of Latin America’s Export Age

“Sarah J. Townsend’s The Unfinished Art of Theatre is a tour de force. It reveals that theatrical experiments were key to the development of twentieth century Brazilian and Mexican aesthetic and political philosophies, rather than only playing at their margins. Townsend’s meticulous research and careful theorizing recasts our understandings of nationalism, avant-gardism and transnational influence, with a light hand and wry humor throughout.” –Patricia A. Ybarra, author of Latinx Theater in the Times of Neoliberalism

“Sarah J. Townsend’s The Unfinished Art of the Theater offers a rich, layered account of experimental theater in Mexico and Brazil that reconsiders and enlivens the concept of the avant-garde. Foregrounding the materiality and incompleteness of theater as integral to our notions the avant-garde, Townsend’s book is a compelling addition to theater and performance studies.” –Sarah Bay-Cheng, author of Mama Dada: Gertrude Stein’s Avant-Garde Theater