Paige McGinley

Associate Professor of Performing Arts​
Director of Graduate Studies for Theater and Performance Studies
PhD, Brown University
research interests:
  • 20th-century Theater and Performance
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Performance
  • American Studies
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contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • CB 1108
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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​Professor McGinley’s research and teaching examines histories of American theater and performance in the twentieth century, with a particular focus on African-American theater and popular entertainment.

Professor McGinley’s research and teaching examines histories of American theater and performance in the twentieth century, with a particular focus on African American theater and popular entertainment. Professor McGinley’s first book, Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism (Duke University Press, 2014) is an exploration of the theatrical histories of blues performance; it was awarded the John W. Frick Book Award from the American Theater and Drama Society. Her current project, Rehearsing Civil Rights: Practicing the Law, 1938-1964, examines legal performance during the long civil rights era, and places paradigms of practice and rehearsal at the center of a study of court cases, nonviolent direct action, and theatrical events. With Dominika Laster, she edits the “Books” section of the journal TDR. 

Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism

Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism

Singing was just one element of blues performance in the early twentieth century. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and other classic blues singers also tapped, joked, and flaunted extravagant costumes on tent show and black vaudeville stages. The press even described these women as "actresses" long before they achieved worldwide fame for their musical recordings. In Staging the Blues, Paige A. McGinley shows that even though folklorists, record producers, and festival promoters set the theatricality of early blues aside in favor of notions of authenticity, it remained creatively vibrant throughout the twentieth century. Highlighting performances by Rainey, Smith, Lead Belly, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee in small Mississippi towns, Harlem theaters, and the industrial British North, this pioneering study foregrounds virtuoso blues artists who used the conventions of the theater, including dance, comedy, and costume, to stage black mobility, to challenge narratives of racial authenticity, and to fight for racial and economic justice.