Book cover
Northwestern University Press

Occupying the Stage: the Theater of May '68 tells the story of student and worker uprisings in France through the lens of theater history, and the story of French theater through the lens of May '68. Based on detailed archival research and original translations, close readings of plays and historical documents, and a rigorous assessment of avant-garde theater history and theory, Occupying the Stage proposes that the French theater of 1959–71 forms a standalone paradigm called "The Theater of May '68." 

The book shows how French theater artists during this period used a strategy of occupation-occupying buildings, streets, language, words, traditions, and artistic processes-as their central tactic of protest and transformation. It further proposes that the Theater of May '68 has left imprints on contemporary artists and activists, and that this theater offers a scaffolding on which to build a meaningful analysis of contemporary protest and performance in France, North America, and beyond.

At the book's heart is an inquiry into how artists of the period used theater as a way to engage in political work and, concurrently, questioned and overhauled traditional theater practices so their art would better reflect the way they wanted the world to be. Occupying the Stage embraces the utopic vision of May '68 while probing the period's many contradictions. It thus affirms the vital role theater can play in the ongoing work of social change.

Finalist, TLA George Freedley Award

Reviewed in: Theatre History Studies (2021), Theatre Survey (September 2020), TDR (Spring 2020), Modern Drama (Winter 2019), This Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory (2019).

Related article: "From Watching to Participating: Kate Bredeson and Lars Jan Discuss 1968 and Jan's Stage Production of Joan Didion's 'The White Album'"
Los Angeles Review of Books. August 16, 2018.


“Kate Bredeson’s outstanding book puts the ‘story’ back in theatre history. Meticulously researched and vividly told, her history of theatre artists and performances during the events of May 1968 offers insights into the past and suggests the potential for theatre’s political and social future. An engaging and necessary read that comes at just the right time.”

—Sarah Bay-Cheng, author of Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field

"Bredeson’s book recalls the power of embodied protest and the lived potential of imagination by refusing boundaries between theatre and activism. Passionately argued, richly detailed, and exhaustively researched, Occupying the Stage gives us hope again, for theatre and for society, by memorializing the innovations and utopian promise of the past.

—Jill Dolan, Princeton University, author of Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre.

"Bredeson provides multiple points of entry into her story, and to an impressive degree. As a scholar of French cinema and militant video of the same period, I found myself learning on diverse fronts, ranging from specific theater history to information regarding cultural policy and cultural politics that filmmakers and film actors also faced. The book is written simultaneously for the layperson and a fellow expert, almost magically so. Bredeson has accomplished an important feat in 1968 scholarship."

—E. Grace An, Associate Professor of French and Cinema Studies, Oberlin College