Remaking Pacific Pasts: History, Memory, and Identity in Contemporary Theater from Oceania

Hardback: $55.00
ISBN-13: 9780824839765
Published: October 2014
Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824897857
Published: December 2023

Additional Information

324 pages | 19 illustrations


  • Winner of the ADSA Rob Jordan Prize, 2016
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  • About the Book
  • Since the late 1960s, drama by Pacific Island playwrights has flourished throughout Oceania. Although many Pacific Island cultures have a broad range of highly developed indigenous performance forms—including oral narrative, clowning, ritual, dance, and song—scripted drama is a relatively recent phenomenon. Emerging during a period of region-wide decolonization and indigenous self-determination movements, most of these plays reassert Pacific cultural perspectives and performance techniques in ways that employ, adapt, and challenge the conventions and representations of Western theater.

    Drawing together discussions in theater and performance studies, historiography, Pacific studies, and postcolonial studies, Remaking Pacific Pasts offers the first full-length comparative study of this dynamic and expanding body of work. It introduces readers to the field with an overview of significant works produced throughout the region over the past fifty years, including plays in English and in French, as well as in local vernaculars and lingua francas. The discussion traces the circumstances that have given rise to a particular modern dramatic tradition in each site and also charts routes of theatrical circulation and shared artistic influences that have woven connections beyond national borders.

    This broad survey contextualizes the more detailed case studies that follow, which focus on how Pacific dramatists, actors, and directors have used theatrical performance to critically engage the Pacific’s colonial and postcolonial histories. Chapters provide close readings of selected plays from Hawai‘i, Aotearoa/New Zealand, New Caledonia/Kanaky, and Fiji that treat events, figures, and legacies of the region’s turbulent past: Captain Cook’s encounters, the New Zealand Wars, missionary contact, the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, and the Fiji coups. The book explores how, in their remembering and retelling of these pasts, theater artists have interrogated and revised repressive and marginalizing models of historical understanding developed through Western colonialism or exclusionary indigenous nationalisms, and have opened up new spaces for alternative historical narratives and ways of knowing. In so doing, these works address key issues of identity, genealogy, representation, political parity, and social unity, encouraging their audiences to consider new possibilities for present and future action. This study emphasizes the contribution of artistic production to social and political life in the contemporary Pacific, demonstrating how local play production has worked to facilitate processes of creative nation building and the construction of modern regional imaginaries.

    Remaking Pacific Pasts makes valuable contributions to Pacific literature, world theater history, Pacific studies, and postcolonial studies. The book opens up to comparative critical discussion a geopolitical region that has received little attention from theater and performance scholars, extending our understanding of the form and function of theater in different cultural contexts. It enriches existing discussions in postcolonial studies about the decolonizing potential of literary and artistic endeavors, and it suggests how theater might function as a mode of historical enquiry and debate, adding to discussions about ways in which Pacific histories might be developed, challenged, or recalibrated. Consequently, the book stimulates new discussions in Pacific studies where theater has, to date, suffered from a lack of critical exposure. Carefully researched and original in its approach, Remaking Pacific Pasts will appeal to scholars, graduate students, and upper-level undergraduate students in theater and performance studies and Pacific Islands studies; it will also be of interest to cultural historians and to specialists in cultural studies and postcolonial studies.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Diana Looser, Author

      Diana Looser is associate professor of theater and performance studies at Stanford University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • This 28th entry in the Pacific Islands Monograph series blends theater and performance studies approaches with historiography as well as the perspectives of Pacific studies and postcolonial studies. Diana Looser’s work is a significant addition that fills a void the discipline of theater did not realize existed until the early twenty-first century. Remaking Pacific Pasts is both a primer on Pacific Island identity and postcolonial theory as well as a foundational work in the field of Pacific Theater. . . . In her vision for future pathways for research, [Looser] sees both a corpus more centered on Pacific viewpoints rather than through colonial filters, as well as theater and drama conversing with the other art forms with a new sense of indigenous authority. Her thorough and thoughtful work sets forth an ambitious model for future scholars to follow.
      —Troy McVey, University of Guam, Pacific Asia Inquiry
    • Diana Looser maintains an admirable equilibrium between breadth of horizon and depth of detail, and between theoretical sophistication and accessibility. Carefully taking into account the genre-specific differences between performance and scripted drama, and mixing widely acclaimed plays with lesser-known ones to avoid the traps of canonization, she skillfully—the metaphor be forgiven in this context—navigates the waters of Oceanic drama and theater amidst all kinds of regional, national, and historical lines of tension and debate. In terms of practical use, the highly informative historical overview is complemented by a list of plays and productions; and an index of names and subjects also allows for succinct uses of the book as a work of reference. As a highly readable work, Remaking Pacific Pasts is thus the perfect addition to the bookshelves of students, teachers, and researchers alike.
      —Birgit Däwes, Recherche littéraire/Literary Research
    • Colonial narratives typically characterized the Pacific as a vast ocean interspersed with exotic South Seas islands, to be consumed by the Western gaze. Contemporary perspectives frame this geopolitical area as a diverse but interwoven web of cultural and kinship ties, connected by the ocean of which its people are guardians, thus marking it as a ‘sea of islands’ rather than ‘islands in a far sea’ (Hau‘ofa quoted at p. 6). Diana Looser’s excellent and timely book charts theatrical developments in this complex and dynamic arena.
      —Hilary Halba, University of Otago, Theatre Research International, 42:1 (March 2017)
    • Diana Looser’s Remaking Pacific Pasts is both a charting and re-mapping of historiographic theatre in sites across Oceania. Just as the region’s history is largely ignored in global surveys, the discussion of Oceanic drama has had little attention paid in discourse; as Looser states, it is generally absent from major anthologies of ‘World’ theatre and primary theatre textbooks. . . . Looser establishes a dialogic methodology, weaving between Western and Indigenous theory to support the notion that theatre can itself be seen as a legitimate historical resource—a contributor to, and in some cases troubleshooting, the ‘problems’ of the past.
      —Nicola Hyland, Victoria University of Wellington, Australasian Drama Studies, 67 (October 2015)
    • Looser neatly lays out the parameters of the book, which primarily offers an analysis of fourteen key examples of historiographic theatre in four regional sites (Hawai'i, Aotearoa/New Zealand, New Caledonia/ Kanaky, and Fiji), introduced via a helpful survey chapter of theatre and performance in Oceania more broadly (including Papua New Guinea, Western Melanesia, Guam, Tahiti, and diasporic Pacific Islands theatre in Aotearoa and beyond). The book's key strengths lie in Looser's detailed and richly contextualized readings of the case studies. . . . In each chapter Looser clearly and carefully evokes details of the texts and performances, including a consideration of performance ephemera, reviews, and interviews.
      —Catherine Silverstone, Queen Mary University of London, The Theatre Annual, Vol. 68 (2015)
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