Published in:
Theatre Journal 62.2 (2010): 191-207.

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“The lights are dim at the Belasco Theatre. Four members of The Negro Problem cross the stage and take up their instruments. Enter Stew, the band’s front man and the Narrator of Passing Strange. Short, stout, sporting a well-groomed goatee, he struts out in uniform: black pants and sport jacket with the sleeves pushed up onto his forearms over the French cuffs of his bright, fire-engine-red collared shirt with two buttons open at the neck. Black-and-white Converse All-Stars of course, a black fedora, and funky, thick-rimmed plastic glasses with yellow-tinted lenses. He picks up his Epiphone, glances out to the audience, gives a nod, a coy smile, a count off, and then…the guitar roars.”

Passing Strange Trailer

“This essay maps the varied problems of problematization for which Passing Strange is arguing by charting the piece’s often-contradictory passages and trajectories. I employ a dialectical and diasporic vocabulary to situate Stew in problematic yet productive relation to critical interlocutors like W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Gilroy, among others, in order to articulate the complex relations between racial and national identity that Passing Strange performs. Finally, the essay works to understand Stew where he is most at home, ‘between the clicks of a metronome’: between black and white, between music and theatre, between the US and Europe, between past and present, between fictional representation and lived experience.”

To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word. And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe.

W. E. B. Du Bois

Du Bois is someone who developed the Germanic notions of world citizenship and world history, and I wanted to use that scale of writing as a way of de-provincializing American thought, de-provincializing European thought, and showing their complicity in the production and reproduction of racial hierarchies.

Paul Gilroy

I don’t know what this piece is. One day it’s a rite of passage, the next day it’s a real serious thing about the consequences of being an artist, some of it’s about this illusion of authenticity.