Saturday, October 3, 2009

Someone else's words

On Alison Croggon's blog, Theatre Notes, a commenter titled simply, "Eileen" has put a very particular (and I believe, important) line of discourse regarding this issue, much (not all, but much) of which I agree with - to the extent that I felt it pertinent to re-post here. I don't think that this is a dilution of the issue at hand, so much as an important take on it, and one that must be read, quoted, articulated, and even disagreed with clearly because, of course, as artists, our politics are never only about the power/equity dichotomy, but also practice, aesthetic, and how we must live.

Eileen said...
One thing strikes me in all of this: increasing the presence of women playwrights and directors in flagship companies doesn’t guarantee a blossoming of feminist discourse in the work, nor the development of feminist performance languages . At best it increases the chances of such. It seems to me this is a good fight but a very limited one. If the debate doesn’t include questions of representation and aesthetics in the work itself it runs the risk of being a campaign about supporting the careers of a small group of women with the promise that this will pay off for all women and that is a very familiar but false promise.

The totalising effects of global capitalism have delivered a defeat for feminism in general (even liberal feminism of the “we have a female deputy prime minister” variety has made only marginal gains), not least because it’s been appropriated by it. It seems to me this is why theatre at the level under scrutiny appears to have shored up its strength as a male bastion and women are still relegated to handmaidens and managers (where we get to really show our mettle) and, as makers, to the occasional theatre version of the “chick-flick”. Exceptions? yes I know they exist.

If I was to try to articulate one possible way forward it would be to the laboratory. Explorations of language, semiotics, acting approaches, spatial relations, design and so on organized around what we know of the nature of women’s oppression in late and seemingly totalising capitalism. And to use the tools of the most developed feminist theoretical discourses around. Some women theatre artists are doing this. The women whose work is regularly critiqued on these pages who are innovators in seeking a synthesis of theatre practice and feminist discourse-Caryl Churchill and Ariane Mnouchkine are two obvious examples-didn’t begin their projects in a vacuum or because they adhered to some essentialist category of “woman”, or because they wanted to be employed by Sydney Theatre Co. It’s pertinent that the social processes involved in their work challenge those reflected in mainstage theatre, attempting to make a break with patriarchal power relations inherent in the General manager/Director/Writer paradigm and the”great man” ideology that goes with it. Feminist artists haven’t gravitated towards collaborative theatre practice because they’re inherently soft and mushy but because of a belief that their liberation is bound to discovering horizontal and pluralist social relations in the making of their art. And the results are often big and speccy. Whether the processes used can be incorporated into mainstage institutions is another question-theoretically it’s not impossible, but it would seem there’s a mammoth struggle ahead.

Big topic, said enough.


  1. "liberation is bound to discovering horizontal and pluralist social relations in the making of their art"

    I can't help thinking we are talking about social change at deep level, a revolution as we move into a world that has changed so drastically since the industrial revolution and then the technological revolution.

    I have been thinking lately that the era of patricay must at some time shift, just as any empire must.

    I find the Internet such a strong reflection of how society functions, how we live and how we as women make work. The interactions are much more "collaborative", everyone is allowed to contribute. The Hierarchies are much less clear, yet they are there...not a fully formed thought but my 2 cents.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the post from Eileen and thank Alison for re-posting it here. Just a couple of points in response ... when taking a broad look at inequity in employment and professional developement opportunities for women, issues such as the development of feminist discourse and feminist performance languages, while a possible outcome, are not the focus. Male directors are not expected, as a result of their gender, to adopt a particular language, aesthetic or approach to their work. Although Eileen suggests that if we exclude questions of representation and aesthetic from the debate, our fight is somehow "limited" to a "campaign about supporting the careers of a small group of women", I argue that speaking out on equal opportunity does not assist the career of she who opts to speak out in any capacity. In fact there are few willing to be visible / vocal advocates. The AWDA eventuated out of the Australian Theatre Forum, where many experienced theatre makers/directors/educators and administrators were part of the conversation. Since then the group has gained enormous support across the industry. Membership grows daily, and as such this is not the fight of a small group of women about their careers, but an action to raise awareness, create change in policy and process and is in fact about long term change that impacts a large group of practitioners (now and in the future)regardless of their preferred aesthetic, process and politics.