The act of a performer purposefully whitening or lightening their skin tone, adopting or performing gestures, language, clothing, and depicting certain “social entitlements” that are identified with whiteness to be perceived as white onstage or portray ideas of whiteness. As scholar Dr. Marvin McAllister suggests, whiteface performance is tied to class and race and often attempts to mimic “elite representations of whiteness” (15), and can be used to comment on various aspects of white supremacy in Western society. In Daniel David Moses’s play Almighty Voice and His Wife, the use of whiteface alludes to the offensive practices of blackface minstrelsy and redface performance to interrogate colonial narratives. In this play, whiteface acts as a mask and a barrier for the Indigenous characters to overcome on their journey to reclaim and embrace their Indigenous identity. For more, please see Galella, McAllister, Wright.
The following are terms coined by Dr. Faedra Chatard Carpenter in her book Coloring Whiteness: Acts of Critique In Black Performance (2014):
“Linguistic Whiteface” is the purposeful manipulation of a performer’s voice in an attempt to imply that the person speaking is white, or to attempt to portray whiteness. Qualities such as grammar, tone, choice of words, and flow can be manipulated and exaggerated to achieve this effect (24).
“Naturalized Whiteface” refers to a type of whiteface performance where an individual purposefully lightens their skin using medical procedures like plastic surgery or the exaggerated use of makeup and special effects. As Carpenter explains, this may not produce an authentic image, though the effort to acquire the social privileges associated with whiteness was purposeful (24).
“Nonconforming Whiteface” refers to a type of whiteface performance that does not rely on obvious forms of mimicry such as the use of makeup or face paint, “nonconforming whiteface” relies on the use of symbolic props or costumes as well as accessories to portray a character’s whiteness (24).
“Optic Whiteface” describes whiteface makeup that is bright white, opaque, “paintlike”, and is not worn to attempt to resemble any hue of a realistic skin tone. This kind of whiteface can be used to critique ideas of whiteness by creating a mask-like white appearance with white face paint (24).
PRESUMED AURAL WHITEFACE:
“Presumed Aural Whiteness” is used to describe a type of speech associated with whiteness, or “sounding white” (25). This concept is less concerned with the intention behind the speaker’s voice and more with audience perception. Carpenter uses this term when speaking to the ways “racialized personae” are interpreted by audiences, focusing on how specific individuals sound and how certain speech patterns are interpreted as sounding “white” or “racialized” (196).
“Tinted Whiteface” describes a type of whiteface performance where the subject’s face is purposefully “tinted” with white makeup instead of being painted to look completely white. As scholar Dr. Faedra Chatard Carpenter notes in her book Coloring Whiteness: Acts of Critique in Black Performance, “[t]he unnatural aspect of tinted whiteface underscores the possibility of racial mixture and/or the impossibility of racial purity” (24).
Sources and Further Reading:
Carpenter, Faedra Chatard. Coloring Whiteness: Acts of Critique in Black Performance. University of Michigan Press, 2014, https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/10.3998/mpub.5262413.
Fricker, Karen. “‘Almighty Voice and His Wife’ is a Big, Bold Play, Realized Through Restraint, at Soulpepper.” The Toronto Star, 18 Oct. 2019, www.thestar.com/entertainment/stage/review/2019/10/18/almighty-voice-and-his-wife-is-a-big-bold-play-realized-through-restraint-at-soulpepper.html.
Galella, Donatella. “Artists of Color/Cross-Racial Casting.” Casting a Movement : The Welcome Table Initiative, edited by Claire Syler and Daniel Banks, Routledge, 2019, pp. 190-199, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429488221.
Gilbert, Helen. “Black and White and Re(a)d All Over Again: Indigenous Minstrelsy in Contemporary Canadian and Australian Theatre.” Theatre Journal, vol. 55 no. 4, 2003, pp. 679-698. Project MUSE, https://doi.org/10.1353/tj.2003.0164.
McAllister, Marvin. “Late-Night Pleasure Garden for People of Color: Noah’s African Grove.” White People Do Not Know How to Behave at Entertainments Designed for Ladies and Gentlemen of Colour: William Brown’s African and American Theater, The University of North Carolina Press, 2003, pp. 11-37. HeinOnline, https://heinonline-org.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/HOL/P?h=hein.blasports/wpdnk0001&i=1.
Wright, Kailin. “Performing Cultural Crossroads: The Subject-Making Functions of ‘I am’ Declarations in Daniel David Moses’s Almighty Voice and His Wife.” Theatre Research in Canada, vol. 35, no. 2, 2014, pp. 185-202. UNB Libraries Journals, https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/tric/article/view/21958/25460.