Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In this study I discuss the importance of audience selection and response upon the dramaturgies of African American playwrights August Wilson and Ed Bullins. Using the theories and criteria for African American art and theatre as espoused by Alain Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Amiri Baraka, and created by the 1960s and 1970s Black Theatre and Black Aesthetic movements, I discuss the importance of audience selection to Wilson's dramas, especially given his tremendous success on Broadway. I also explore the claimed lack of importance of audience to Bullins's dramaturgy, particularly as demonstrated in those plays written during his brief tenure as Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party and those works comprising his twentieth century cycle in which he discusses the lives of members of what he calls the "black underclass." This study relies on theatre reviews from New York Times theatre critics on both Wilson and Bullins as examples of mainstream audience responses to their works. Moreover, I cite published interviews by both playwrights where they discuss their influences, approaches to drama, and the importance and/or lack of importance of audience to their work. This study concludes with the chapter "Same Subject, Different Audience" in which it is noted that although Wilson and Bullins have both been influenced by Baraka and the Black Theatre/Black Aesthetic movements (also indirectly by the theories of Locke and Du Bois), they offer differing representations of the African American experience. The reason for these different approaches to the same subject is because Wilson and Bullins create their works for different audiences. While Wilson presents an African America that features the "common folk" of the culture, and (indirectly) protests against racism and segregation, he creates this world for mainstream audience members. Conversely, Bullins explores the dark side of the African American experience in his "black America," focusing on issues and characters (the other "common folk"-pimps, prostitutes, etc.) that many mainstream American and middle class African Americans theatre patrons wish to ignore.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

William Demastes