FTT professor wins theater society prize for essay on adaptations of ‘The Wiz’

by

 

La Donna Forsgren, an associate professor in the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television and Theatre, has won the American Society for Theatre Research's Oscar G. Brockett Essay Prize.

The award, given annually to the best essay of theater research in a scholarly English-language publication, honored Forsgren’s “'The Wiz' Redux; or Why Queer Black Feminist Spectatorship and Politically Engaged Popular Entertainment Continue to Matter,” which appeared in Theatre Survey.

Her essay explores three different versions of “The Wiz” — a musical reimagining of “The Wizard of Oz” that features an all-Black cast — and analyzes how queer Black feminist spectators would have perceived each adaptation. 

In studying the original 1975 Broadway production, the 1978 film adaptation and a 2015 TV special, she found that Dorothy consistently creates an Oz brimming with queer Black cultural references and visions of queer Black womanhood. Forsgren’s article also celebrates the pleasure that queer Black feminist spectators might experience from the critical moments wherein heterocentrism, sexism and white cultural hegemony are, intentionally or not, subverted. 

“My research builds on the efforts of previous generations of Black women intellectuals who preserved and disseminated African American history and culture,” Forsgren said. “Unfortunately, many of these pioneering scholars and artists have yet to receive the recognition they deserve. Receiving this prize not only attests to the importance of queer black feminist spectatorship, but also honors the legacy of my foremothers.”

La Donna Forsgren Astr Award
Forsgren, holding the Brockett Essay Prize.

Forsgren, a concurrent faculty member in the Gender Studies Program and an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Africana Studies, focuses her research on on African American theater and performance, dramaturgy and Black feminist theories.

She was also appointed this month as associate editor of Theatre Survey, which will lead to her becoming editor of the journal in two years. In that position, she said, she will strive to empower authors and amplify the works of previously marginalized voices in the field.

“As a Black woman and first-generation college student, I am intimately acquainted with the institutional barriers that impede the intellectual growth of marginalized communities,” she said. “I am incredibly honored that I was selected to serve as associate editor of this prestigious international journal.”

Forsgren’s latest book, “Sistuhs in the Struggle: An Oral History of Black Arts Movement Theater and Performance,” published last month by Northwestern University Press, is the first oral history to fully explore the contributions of Black women intellectuals to the Black arts movement. 

Forsgren documents this vital yet under-researched chapter in African American, women’s and theater history through interviews with Black women theater artists and activists about how they disseminated the Black aesthetic and emboldened their communities. 

“These women made profound contributions to Black art and helped galvanize Black Americans into action,” she said. “They produced amazing plays, but many of them were never published. So my work is recuperative — I go out and speak to these women and I ask them what their purpose for creating art was, and I put that into conversation with their activism. Because they weren’t just artists — they were activists as well.”

Originally published by Arts and Letters at al.nd.edu on Nov. 18.