I’m Everywoman

“I pray you all, give your audience and hear this matter with reverence by figure of a moral play. The Unifying of Woman called it is. The story says: Woman, in the beginning rise up and fight ‘til the end. But be warned. Take no vanity when you march in unity or all will be forlorn. Here shall you see how Privilege, Prejudice, Power, Ignorance and Color will fade from thee as flowers in May. For ye shall hear how Intersectionality calleth Women to a general reckoning.”

So speaks the Narrator at the opening of a feminist adaptation of Everyman by two students for a final project in my Fall 2014 Introduction to Contemporary Performance course. The class covers American alternative theater and performance from the period between 1960 and the present and often includes work by companies and artists such as the Living Theatre, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Adrienne Kennedy, Chris Burden, Marina Abramović, Anna Deveare Smith, the Wooster Group, and Mabou Mines. I am drawn to this genre of theater and performance because the work often emphasizes staged representations of gender roles and relationships, which encourages students to engage critically with questions of gender and sexuality as well. I suspect it becomes apparent to them quickly that I want them to do so.

An allegorical figure from Everywoman

An allegorical figure from Everywoman

For the final project, students may choose between writing a research paper and creating and performing an original scene. The scene assignment requires them to draw inspiration from the work of one or more of the theatrical and performative strategies we have studied in class. In this case, the students successfully used the technique of adaptation (which we had looked at in Split Britches and Bloolips’ Belle Reprieve and The Rude Mechs’ The Method Gun) to convey their own feminist ideals.

Another allegorical figure

Another allegorical figure

Whenever possible, as part of my feminist pedagogy I promote a pro-choice approach to final course projects. That is, I want students to choose the medium they feel they can best manipulate to communicate their individual perspectives about the material we have studied. The Everyman adaptation, Woman, was particularly exciting to me because it fulfilled that proposition. Furthermore, without my having explicitly told them to do so, these students appropriated a foundational text from the traditional theater history canon for their own feminist purposes. It must have been all that Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver they watched. As the Woman says at the end of their adaptation, “I want to be a good feminist. I want to be a good feminist. And if that means I have to start thinking intersectionally to keep moving forward, then so be it.”

Intersectionality wins the day!

Intersectionality wins the day!

Woman script

Woman program note

6 thoughts on “I’m Everywoman

  1. Jessica, I love that your students created a feminist Everyman. I may need to adopt a version of this assignment! I wonder about the productive potential but also limitations of allegorizing a structure like patriarchy versus something more individual like prejudice as single characters.

  2. Jessica, Thank you for this intriguing synopsis! –And, in particular, thank you for posting the artifacts of the play text and program note. They helped answer a few questions but also inspired new questions. I would love to hear how a canonical text like Everyman was introduced in a class dedicated to alternative performance practices of the 20th century. Additionally, I would love to hear how the students came to the decision to adapt the text without you “having explicitly told them to do so.” –How did the idea come about, what did that process look like, and how long did it take? Was it done in class or as outside work and was it the entire class together or a few students in a group? This is reminding me of your contribution last year regarding the implicit politics of your History of Directing class. I’m really looking forward to your presentation.

  3. Jessica, I love seeing the exploration of older works through a new lens and the script of Everywoman your students wrote is a lot of fun. I can tell they integrated the questions discussed in your course into the script. I’m wondering how you talked about the original production values of material and how you discussed the analysis of those production values? I’m also struck by the development of the voice in the piece your students wrote. Did you talk about the use of language and the ways in which language has been formulated? Did students purposefully try to capture those ideas in the script? I look forward to hearing about how the discussion of production and sound were addressed in your class.

  4. Jessica – thank you for posting the script. Wow! An impressive creative/academic accomplishment. Your students – quite simply – get it. They get the issues, etc. They also express a sense of humor – something so hard to hold onto at times. I’m curious to know how well they understood the “intent” and historical context of the original text given the more contemporary focus of your class.

    Your post has also got me to thinking about how frustrated I get sometimes when colleagues and students refer to themes in historic texts as “timeless” or “universal” – two problematic assumptions that often blind us to what’s really being implied by a text and how we inadvertently perpetuate patriarchy, misogyny, racism etc. because we too quickly assume it’s “universal.” Your students have impressively avoided this by, quite simply, changing the title. Everyman is, well, about men. A case in point – I recently saw an adaptation of Everyman at the National Theatre in London. While there is much that I could say about it that is positive, one thing that irked me was that even though the production cast god as a woman, this female god still referred to “mankind” and “man” instead of “human kind” etc. The perpetuation of these old gendered terms detracted, I thought, from the wonderful casting of god as a woman – if anything it made the perpetuation of these limited, though accepted as unifying, terms all the more acceptable. Given my crushing disappointment in London! I was thrilled to read the title of this piece and to read its much more ambitious approach to the old material.

  5. Jessica, I love your “pro-choice” approach to the final project (and your naming it such), and I am deeply impressed with your students’ Everywoman. It does more than just than adapt a canonical text for a feminist purpose, it makes a powerful argument for the necessity of intersectionality, which must be at the core of contemporary feminist politics if they are going to accomplish anything. This passage, in particular, stands out to me:
    “Just because some of you unite does not mean all of you stand united. You have to take each other’s narratives into consideration. You can’t belittle and invalidate the truths of others just because they aren’t your truths. You all shout, ‘I want to be a good feminist.’ But do y’all even know what that means anymore?”
    I am wondering if you emphasized intersectional politics in your course, and if so, with which texts?

  6. I am so impressed by your students! I Iove the idea of using adaptation as feminist practice–I’d like to find a way to incorporate this into my acting classes. I’m curious to hear more about how you structured the course and how that related to the different “strategies” you were looking at in contemporary performance. I’m also eager to hear more specifically about what kinds of conversations arose in your work around adaptation and Split Britches.

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