Paige McGinley

Associate Professor of Performing Arts​
Director, Program in American Culture 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
    • MSC-1108-193-312
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor McGinley researches and writes about theater and performance in the U.S., mostly of the last hundred years. Her written works, both published and in-process, document and highlight the contributions of Black performing artists, among them musicians, actors, and playwrights, and underscore the centrality of Black cultural production to American theater and popular entertainment more generally. Her first book, Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism (Duke University Press), offers an interdisciplinary account of blues’ roots in theatrical performance and popular entertainment, and the enduring presence of theatrical techniques in later-twentieth-century blues. Staging the Blues was recognized with the John W. Frick Book Award from the American Theater and Drama Society and the American Society for Theatre Research’s Errol Hill Award for outstanding scholarship in African American theater and performance. McGinley’s work also explores the ways the racial logics and hierarchies in the U.S. have been constituted and contested through embodied performances in and of everyday life. Such questions are at the center of her book-in-progress, Rehearsing Civil Rights, an in-depth examination of an ethos and culture of rehearsal embedded within the Black freedom struggle in the form of improvisational exercises, role-playing scenarios, and large-scale simulations from the early 1930s to the late 1960s.

    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.