• Dara Beth

Theatre and Feminism: One Less Google

There’s a lot going on right now. I mean: a lot, a lot. What even is 2020? Were the catastrophic wildfires in Australia this year? What ever happened to those murder hornets? And, oh yeah, there’s a monumental pandemic which has caused our world to turn upside down. But, in the wake of these catastrophic events, there is an evermore persistent crisis : Gender-Based Violence.

Often, we ask ourselves: What can we do? How can we help? And we begin to feel overwhelmed, inundated with all the news around us and the limitations within our lives that stop us from tangible change in our worlds.

I sit with it every day. I ask myself: “Why on earth did I go into theatre? Why didn’t I pursue public policy? A degree in social work? Something that was worthwhile to the people around me and beyond. I wanted to do so much, and make a difference. How did I get here?

And then, I inevitably fall down a long, dark rabbit hole about asking myself what theatre is even good for. Once I hit the bottom I give myself a minute and then I get honest.

We know what theatre is good for. It’s a salve in the dark days, a voice above the chaos. A home. A safe space to explore. It’s a spaceship to a different world. And a whole lot of other things articulated far better by others. And for all these reasons, theater is a valid space to be in, to work in, to grow in, and to fight in.

We need people, in different fields, who possess different skills, to move us forward as a society. We don’t just need people on the frontline, we need them everywhere. And while we’re at it, we need people to keep us in check, to keep track of where we are, to see us, and to record us, to tell our stories. And that’s where theatre comes in.

So when we–well, when I–ask ourselves: what's the point? It’s to show up. To articulate the narratives, to capture the stories, so that the next person who asks “what’s the point” has something to hold onto, to be reminded: oh yeah, that’s it.

Right now, in a country riddled with gender-based violence, how do we begin, as theatremakers, to contribute? By telling stories and sharing narratives from voices that have been pushed to the margins. And that’s where intersectional feminism comes in (this is a deep concept, so rather than unpacking it here, click on the link to find out more).

Why? Because we know that theatre, like most artistic industries, is a male-dominated field, and in order to move towards a place of greater understanding and empathy for everyone across the gender spectrum, first we need to see them. But access to the spaces in which we create work is often negated by patriarchal structures and prejudice.

When we educate ourselves on feminist theories and feminist practices, we change the way we think about creating theatre, sharing theatre, and accessing theatre.

In theatre, feminism helps us to examine sex and gender roles; it helps us share the stories of those who have been ignored or sidelined; and it increases opportunities for marginalised voices to tell their stories. Feminism helps us unpack ideas and stereotypes we possess about different gender roles, and pushes us to ask ourselves why we assume these are the norm. It gives us the tools and vocabulary to ask more questions, have deeper conversations, and analyse honestly.

But just saying “intersectional feminism” doesn’t magically redress the crisis we find ourselves in. We need to do the work, and in order to do that work we need a little help.

When it comes to theatre and feminism, there is a well of knowledge, and it is a deep and never-ending well. Just when you think you’ve hit the bottom, it opens up to more (I know, my metaphor is a mess). Accepting that reality, this blog is in no way an attempt to cover all the bases or even some of the bases. This is just meant to be a starting point. But, also, you should know that this is a collection of suggestions that stem from my personal biases and opinions, and that so many other great theorists are out there making work on this subject. So, if I’ve forgotten someone crucial (I definitely have), feel free to drop some names in the comments section. Let’s keep this thread of theorists alive.

There are a lot of names that have gotten us to where we are today when we think, and talk, about feminism and theatre. And they’re good names, so I’ll list a few of them (these are literally just the easiest names to start with when diving into critical feminist theory):

Judith Butler

Peggy Phelan

Elaine Aston

Sue-Ellen Case - she literally wrote the book on feminism and theatre.

Elin Diamond

Jill Dolan

Laura Mulvey - whose work centres on feminism in film, but easily translates to the nature of theatre work.

But these writers can be, at the best of times, inaccessible. From the language they use, to the places where you could even find their work. You probably won’t find many copies of “Feminism and Theatre” at your local library, and not everyone has a JSTOR account (although I’ve just discovered that you can sign up and get 100 articles for free, as long as you read them online). So, the real question is how do we begin the work from where we are?

It’s a balance of engaging with theory and being exposed to content. So here are some great websites to start on:

Women in Theatre (WIT): an online publication founded and supported by the League of Professional Theatre Women. WIT covers the ways in which women enrich and think critically about theatre and boasts an archive of works written by women in theatre, exploring various aspects of theatre that are relevant to artists and audience alike

The Kilroys: Although based in the states, this is an excellent yearly-updated archive of works produced by women, trans, and non-binary playwrights. It collates unproduced and underproduced theatre pieces for public access, and honestly I’m tempted to start one for South Africa because we have so much work that flies way too far under the radar.

Howlround Theatre Commons: This platform is amazing. It is a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide that amplifies progressive, disruptive ideas about the art form and facilitates connection between diverse practitioners. On Howlround, you’ll find a surplus of writings on gender politics in theatre, and so much more. I’m actually too excited about this discovery to articulate it well so head on over and see for yourself. (If they seem awesome but you simply don’t have the time to stop and read, give Howlround’s podcast a listen!)

And if reading doesn’t do it for you, here are two excellent podcasts which tackle feminism in the theatre industry:

Bechdel Theatre Podcast: This podcast unpacks gender representation on stage with a different special guest each episode.

Women & Theatre: Launched by the company Women & Theatre, this podcast is a great alternative to reading and shares work written and performed by women.

Alright, I’ve done enough talking and listing for now. It might seem like a short list to start off with, but you can’t begin everywhere. So let’s start here.

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