The space stage and the circus: E.E. Cummings's Him and Frederick Kiesler's Raumbühne

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Supported by archival research, this essay investigates E.E. Cummings's conception of experimental theatre as it informs his understudied play Him, which the Provincetown Players produced in 1928 under the direction of James Light but which critics have dismissed alternately as a distraction from Cummings's poetry or as an example of a failed closet drama. The essay argues for the importance of theatre - and of the production of Him in particular - to Cummings's literary career. In turn, it makes a case for Cummings's relevance to the field of modern drama. More pointedly, the essay reveals the twin influences on Cummings's dramatic work of, on the one hand, circus and burlesque performers and, on the other, Bauhaus-trained set designer Frederick Kiesler. As articulated especially in his so-called "space stage," Kiesler's vision for an avant-garde theatre modelled on popular subcultures like the circus shaped Cummings's own speculative theatre.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-481
Number of pages24
JournalModern Drama
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Burlesque
  • Carnivalesque
  • Closet drama
  • E.E. Cummings
  • Frederick Kiesler
  • Poets' theatre
  • Provincetown Players
  • Raumbühne
  • Space stage
  • Theatre of cruelty


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