Feminist Theater News

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The cast of the Royal Court’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone (Photo: Johan Persson)

Meet the Women Tearing Up the Script
London’s Royal Court Theatre has often helped to create theatrical history by premiering the work of amazing playwrights who have gone on to be critically successful in the UK and the US.  Under the tenure of relatively new artistic director Vicky Featherstone (the first woman artistic director in the company’s 60-years), the theater is making history again – this time by producing a season with a majority of female playwrights.  The Royal Court’s 2016 season includes work by Anna Jordan, Katie Mitchell, Charlene James, Stef Smith and Suzanne Lori-Parks, as well as a new play by Caryl Churchill featuring four women in their 60’s and 70’s.

One of the other compelling features of the season is that many of the plays feature complex and flawed female protagonists.  Featherstone acknowledges that such characters may require audiences and critics alike to question their assumptions about what women are capable of: ““I think we all, and that includes the critics, need to test our preconceptions more. What sort of protagonists are women able to be in plays in order for them to be successful? I don’t think they are able to behave in quite the same way as male protagonists are. I think we ask different questions of them. It’s to do with what we are used to. Which kind of characters have the authority within a narrative to take us into a flawed, incomplete, tragic, hubristic world? It feels to me that plays where the female protagonist is a victim of a family situation, or of society, are more easily accepted than characters that aren’t necessarily victims but make bad choices – which every single one of our tragic heroes has always done. These men don’t start off as victims – they make bad choices.”

Student Researchers Find Some Good News for Women Playwrights
Women playwrights are seeing more of their work produced in major theatres across the US, according to the findings of students in the “Women Playwrights” class at Chapman University.  The student research was drawn from a review of all the member organizations in the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) – the largest professional theatre association of its kind in the United States. Their statistical review revealed that women represented 27.1% of the playwrights whose work was included in the 2015-2016 season, up from 20.6% in the 2014-2015 season. The class study also demonstrated that theaters are showing more interest in new work by female authors. Single-author premieres written by women rose from 43.1% in the 2014-2015 season to 53.3% in 2015-2016. The course is taught by Nina LeNoir, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Theatre and vice chancellor of undergraduate education, who said this is the second year the course has conducted research, and she plans to have next year’s class continue to see if the trend is solid. “I was really excited about the results this year,” LeNoir said. “The problem is that many people are counting, but they’re all counting different things and I haven’t seen a lot of sustained data.”

Comic WomenWhy Women are Taking Over TV Comedy
There has been a historic absence of female voices in television comedy, but that void is being filled this season by a multitude of new female-driven television shows being produced on both side of the Atlantic. The UK’s Channel 4 will feature several new shows including Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Crashing (about a disparate group of characters living in a disused hospital in east London), Julia Davis’s Morning Has Broken (set on a breakfast television show), and Roisin Conaty’s Game Face (which follows a 30-year-old’s struggle to navigate life.), and also new seasons of here are also Caitlin and Caroline Moran’s Raised by Wolves and Michaela Coel’s recent hit Chewing Gum. The Sky Atlantic channel is adding another new Julia Davis show, Robin’s Test (which follows three couples on a disastrous camping holiday) and continuing several long-running female-driven comedies, including Ruth Jones’s Stella and Sarah Hooper’s Mount Pleasant.

In the US, HBO will feature Issa Rae’s eagerly anticipated show Insecure (which follows the friendship of two modern-day black women), and Sharon Horgan’s Divorce featuring Sarah Jessica Parker (her first major show since SATC wrapped in 2004.) Comedy Central’s will produce Idiotsitter, a show about a wild child under house arrest in her parent’s mansion created by and starring Jillian Bell, and offer a new season of Another Period, created by and starring Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome (which follows a well-to-do New England family at the turn of the 20th century)

Regarding the sudden surge of women writing comedy, UK writer Waller-Bridge says, “I became aware of the lack of women writing sitcoms because there was just this lack of interesting, contradictory, gross-out female parts that I was so desperate to play. I would bemoan the lack of them, then scratched the surface to find out why and realised it’s because there are so few women actually writing them … There are so many kick-ass amazing female playwrights around at the moment, and it still feels like TV is playing catch up.”

Public Theater Joins UN Women’s Movement
From Theater Mania: The Public Theater announced today that it will become the inaugural theatrical partner with HeForShe, the movement for gender equality from UN Women, in partnership with the City of New York. The first HeForShe Arts Week in support of global gender equality will run March 8-15, 2016, in New York, to coincide with International Women’s Day observed globally on March 8. “The theater is a force for democracy, and the core idea of democracy is equality,” said artistic director Oskar Eustis in a statement. ‘The theater is a collaborative form, and the core of collaboration is solidarity. The Public is proud to stand in solidarity with HeForShe and the United Nations as we fight together for a better world.’ Actress and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson adds, ‘The arts both reflect and influence culture. At its best, art shapes how we see the world. So it makes perfect sense for HeForShe to partner with arts institutions like the Public Theater to evolve the behaviors, norms, and perceptions that shapes our cultural view of gender.’”

The Untold Story of America’s Wildest Theatre Company
978-0-472-09863-7-frontcoverRecently published by University of Michigan Press, Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theater offers an inside perspective on the women’s experimental theater scene in New York in the 1980’s.  Co-authored by Carmelita Tropicana and Holly Hughes, two regular performers at the WOW Café whose radical work investigates the intersectionality of female, queer, and ethnic identities, and academic Jill Dolan, whose books about feminist theater criticism have been essential in documenting the movement, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in American theater history from a feminist perspective.  Also check out Helen Eisenbach’s interview with Hughes for the Huffington Post blog.

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