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Staging America

Staging America

Cornerstone and Community-Based Theater

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Sonja Kuftinec


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
6 x 9, 21 illustrations

Theater in the Americas


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About the Book

This captivating studymaps a history and theory of community-based theater in the United States through the Cornerstone Theater Company. Detailing how the performance-making process contributes to an ongoing negotiation of American identity, Sonja Kuftinec investigates community-based theater to trace the historical affiliations of the form and critically examines how community-based theater both enables community and challenges the very notion of “community” as a stable site.

The process of making and unmaking community is vividly illuminated in the work of the Cornerstone Theater Company, a Los Angeles-based ensemble founded in 1986. From 1986 to 1991, Cornerstone toured nationwide, working mainly with rural towns to create adaptations of classical texts. A Wild West musical Hamlet was performed with residents of Marmarth, North Dakota (population 190), and The House on Walker River, an adaptation of the Oresteia trilogy, was developed with a Native American reservation in Nevada. Since 1991, Cornerstone has performed with urban communities, developing original shows and adaptations of Western and non-Western texts incorporating local histories and community players. These performances rearticulate distinctions among various urban group and between amateur and professional theater.

While Cornerstone’s contemporary work can be contextualized within a historical tradition of grassroots performance, it also complicates this tradition, suggesting that identity may be more dynamic than rooted. By using Cornerstone as a case study, Kuftinec’s analysis of community-based theater’s impact upon rural, urban, and professional sites across the United States proposes that “community” and “America” are vital terms of negotiation rather than fixed entities.


Sonja Kuftinec is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota where she teaches courses in theater historiography, performance, and social change. She has published several articles on the Cornerstone Theater Company and on her own community-based work in the Balkans.


“[I]nsightful and astute. I emerge from the experience of reading Staging America: Cornerstone and Community-Based Theater appreciating the complexity of the genre, the wonderful creativity and deep thoughtfulness of Cornerstone members in responding to the issues that come up, and the utter applicability of serious theoretical thinking to this field.”—Jan Cohen-Cruz, editor of Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology