Creation of the American Astronaut
Associate Professor in the School of Drama and Director of the Center for Performance Studies at the University of Washington
Monday March 20, 4-5:00pm. Reception follows
Scott Magelssen considers the creation of the American Astronaut, a kind of profession that did not exist until roughly 1959. Since the only spacemen that existed in Americans’ consciousness came from science fiction, and the U.S. needed to hurry to catch up with the Soviets with the launching of the first Sputnik satellite, the American Astronaut needed to be a swiftly but carefully constructed figure.
Part cold warrior, part fighter pilot and all clean-cut American hero, the NASA leadership and governing officials looked to performance, costuming and media to produce and circulate this image of the American Astronaut in order to justify the enormous labor and expense that would be required for human spaceflight.
This presentation is part of a larger project about “performing flight,” from the earliest aviators to the creation of the commercial airline pilot, to space tourism. The astronaut was a work of performance, from the Yeager-style drawl (also heard on commercial airlines from the flight deck) to the fighter pilot-cut of the pressure-suit. This presentation also argues, however, that we can situate the astronaut in a larger trajectory of performances perceived by American audiences as appropriate for Cold War muscling for military might and control of the final frontier.
Scott Magelssen is Associate Professor in the School of Drama and the Director of the Center for Performance Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of “Simming: Participatory Performance and the Making of Meaning” (2014) and “Living History Museums” (2007), and co-editor of “Enacting History” (2011), “Theatre Historiography: Critical Interventions” (2010) and “Querying Difference in Theatre History” (2007). Scott is the editor of Southern Illinois University Press’s Theater in the Americas book series and hosts the website theater-historiography.org with Henry Bial.
Scott Magelssen’s visit is supported in part by the Blaffer Art Museum’s Innovation Series and the School of Theater and Dance in the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts at the University of Houston. Additional support is provided by the Honors College at the University of Houston. Funding, in part, is also provided by the University of Houston’s Student Fees Advisory Committee.