Feminism and Theatre

This class will question if feminism is still relevant for theatre studies, demonstrate how feminist theory has shaped the theatre, and investigate possible points of connection in the past and present moments. Within these endeavors, we will interrogate the shift between theatre and performance, between textuality and embodiment, and between theory and practice. We will focus on key issues such as the historical prostitutionalization of women performers, the complex definitions of various types of feminisms, challenges posed by feminists of color such as the relevance of the body, and being in a “post feminist moment.” The class will dialectically engage the perils of performance for women, as well as the potential for empowerment through feminist theatre.

Contact  Gwen Alker at ga41@nyu.edu.

Alker_Feminism and Theatre

4 thoughts on “Feminism and Theatre

  1. I really loved this syllabus. I look forward to hearing about your experience of it. For clarity and brevity’s sake, I divided my comments into “That’s Awesome” and “I Wonder.”

    Oh-That’s Awesome (and why!):
    • I love that your students read so many plays and that they attended (at least) two live performances. I think attending live performance is key for them to start thinking about these issues while they are in rehearsals
    • I love the way you start the class: that bell hooks reading is great, and I also love that you required websites about being a working woman in theatre. Helps make it relevant for them (and I will steal these links!)
    • I also love that you linked to Jill Dolan’s blog. I think blogs are a great and under-used tool in the classroom and Jill’s is so accessible and relevant.
    • How wonderful that Deb Margolin could come to your class!
    • I love how you make them responsible for looking up the assignment handouts
    • I love your performance assignment as well (and I think I will steal your précis assignments too!)

    I wonder about this…:
    • Because the first verb clause in the course description (“question if feminism is still relevant for theatre studies”) is a yes/no question with value implied, I would rephrase. If you are teaching a class on feminism and theatre, you probably think it is relevant, and your students will know that.
    • When you use 2 class periods to cover a play, do they read the whole play in time for the first discussion, or do you ask them to read one act/half at a time?
    • Why are they only reading selections from For Colored Girls and Venus instead of the whole play?
    • I take your point about embodiment and feminists of color, but something about that unit unsettles me. Perhaps it because it may be misconstrued as an argument that issues of embodiment exclusively affect bodies of color. (I am probably being overly cautious here.)
    • I wonder how you are addressing queerness in this class. (With Deb right there, I wonder why they didn’t read or watch any Split Britches’ work.)
    • Do you think there could be benefit to including male playwrights in this course?

    • Hello respondents! I am sure we can get into more of the specific questions in person, but for now a few quick responses to your questions above…

      Yes the first line of the syllabus does trap us into a false binary. I think I added this after many years of having taught the class (with a different opening line) and having to always defend the subject matter to students who took the class but didn’t really believe that feminism was still relevant. Now I just foreground this and we talk about it on the first day of class. I think a lot of this has to do with who your students are, and who is taking the class–is it required? Totally optional? Somewhere in between? As my class is the last of those options, I get some people who need to have the “why feminism” discussion up front. But I feel it is super important so that they can rehearse a response to people who aren’t in the class and will inevitably challenge them on this same point.

      I’ve just found a good article on this point that I am going to share with you all at ATHE.

      Again, many of these questions also connect to who are the students we are teaching. I’d say 95% of my students are actors and generally all of them are in a BFA program in theatre. I suspect this is a different student body than most people are teaching. There is also a ver differing relationship to acting, performing, and being embodied.

      We read selections of the longer plays (including Vagina Monologues, the two you mention above and one or two others. It really has to do with length of the plays, and the way that the play is being used within the syllabus).

      Not quite understanding the question on the “unit” on feminists of color and embodiment. All the “key issues” listed come from specific readings that will be read. As the students learn, the comment on embodiment and feminist of color harkens to This Bridge Called my Back, an important collection that signaled the centrality of third wave feminism, as we all know. I do feel that Moraga and Anzaldua were some of the earlier (and more sophisticated) voices in bringing questions of embodiment into the feminist movement. As theatre folks, I think this is crucial. Happy to discuss that further!

      I am interested to hear about the student bodies that other people are teaching and how this impacts people’s pedagogy!

      See you al soon…GA

  2. I find this syllabus to be very inspiring. I admire the tightly woven combinations of dramatic literature and theory/criticism within thematic sections that seem to make great organic sense. I hope there is time for you to share what the students’ performances are like. I find these types of assignments can take issues that seem abstract and make them very real.

    Do you spend much time doing any kind of body awareness/ performance training? –I feel like I spend so much time doing simple body awareness exercises just to help students’ increase their awareness of performative gender norms (like crossing legs, jutting hips, sitting extra wide or extra compact)… I’m wondering if others think such work is something beyond the scope of a seminar class…

  3. The combination of theory, plays, performance analysis in this syllabus is great! I too am compelled by your group performance assignment, and I would like to hear anecdotes about what texts students chose and how the theories manifested in the performances. I find this to be such a smart means of getting students to experience how feminist theory might be put into theatre practice. (I imagine this might be particularly empowering for actors in the class.) The questions you pose for the students’ final papers are excellent; they frame the central issues of the course so well. Building on Megan’s thoughts on your syllabus’s opening question: I am curious, do you have students who resist feminism and argue, in class or in their papers, that it is not relevant to theatre today? If so, how do you respond to that kind of push-back?

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