Using Psychological Motivation to Resolve the Performative Conundrum in the Musical Genre
Mentor:Broderick Fox, Associate Professor of Art History and the Visual Arts, Occidental College
Two established forms dominate the structure of the Hollywood musical: the backstage musical and the integrated musical. In the former, the plot revolves around the stage production of a musical, yet extends beyond the set and integrates musical numbers into the characters’ lives outside of the theatre. In the latter, numbers arise through whim, the characters usually incorporate props to create the guise of spontaneity. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), interestingly, transcends such scholarly distinctions. Director John Cameron Mitchell combines these traditions with a heavy emphasis on Hedwig’s inner subjectivity, to generate a new form of psychological musical distinctly rooted in notions of queer theory and performativity. Through the relation between Hedwig’s interior world and her performances, Mitchell’s use of the genre is not simply self-reflexive, but song and dance serve as a self-reflective vehicle for Hedwig to examine and articulate her interior state. In this way, Hedwig and the Angry Inch perhaps comes closer than ever to resolving how producers of the genre can make the audience dispel its disbelief and become immersed in the experience, rather than question its veracity. Ironically, at the same time that Hedwig and the Angry Inch creates a newfound level of musical integration, it is also highly critical of the genre, demythologizing its central myth of song and dance that serve as the mechanism for heterosexual coupling and the completion of self in another.