Jill Soloway, the creator of Transparent, gave a master class keynote at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival entitled “The Female Gaze.”
Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” was first published in the film journal Screen (vol.16, no.3) in 1975 and is canonical in film and visual studies. It is genuinely shocking to think no one has written a counterpoint argument to articulate what the Female Gaze might include. Perhaps fear of essentializing male and female ontologies prevented such a project.
There is definitely some essentializing going on in Soloway’s talk. Nevertheless, I’m posting it here because it offers a lot to consider and certain excerpts could be a great teaching tool to help students think about how nearly all mainstream cinema forces the viewer to either take up the male gaze or not enjoy the movie.
George Brant’s new play (jukebox musical?) Marie and Rosetta at the Atlantic Theater Company stars Rebecca Naomi Jones as the young Marie Knight and Kecia Lewis as the gospel and rock n’ roll legend Rosetta Tharpe.
This was an excellent show and I highly recommend it. If you’ve ever stood in a room full of coffins, you know it is indeed dramatic. I appreciated the bold choice that quickly became normalized as the audience became more and more drawn into the characters. Both women give charismatic and affecting performances, staying on stage the whole time in constant dialogue or song that flowed organically. A great night of live theatre.
I’ve been following Rebecca Naomi Jones since Passing Strange and enjoyed her vivacious presence in Charles Mee’s Big Love at Signature Theatre. The Interval conducted this great interview with Jones and Lewis.
This is an account of one lesson plan’s pivot from slide presentation to real time research.
I wanted to make a slide show of production stills from the 1922 production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape. I imagined the students being brought into the creative decisions made by the Provincetown Players as we looked at the New York Public Library’s digital collection of slides together. We would analyze set design and lighting choices, as well as the gesture and physicality of the actors. It would be a great way to show students what the NYPL’s massive digitization project has made available.
Then I stopped myself. If I showed students the production stills in an assembled slide show, it would continue to obscure the process of using digital tools to find archival materials. Wouldn’t it be better if students located the images themselves?
They already had their laptops in class since we read the freely available script from eOneill.com. We spent a good portion of class discussing the episodic structure, the specificity of O’Neill’s stage directions, his use of language to mark ethnicity and class, and the staging of white working-class masculinity in contrast to Mildred’s white-dress wealth.
Then we discussed production options and the dilemma of the gorilla. How would they stage Scene VIII at the zoo? Is the gorilla meant to be a mirror or a contrast to Yank? Therefore, should the two figures be close in size or quite different? What are the aesthetic and political risks in staging the gorilla? Students identified a variety of problems with using a gorilla suit, including it becoming humorous and disrupting the pathos of Yank’s existential alienation. “Too literal / realistic” was another problem.
Finally, I asked students to get in pairs and google “NYPL Digital Collections.” They quickly chose the most obvious search phrase, the title of the play, and were amazed to see 21 actual production stills, like precious messages from the Provincetown Players from 94 years ago. In pairs, students clicked through the images, selected their favorite, and then did a low-stakes freewrite about the image: what they saw, what they liked about it, and what it told them about the original production. We then discussed several teams’ responses while looking at their chosen image projected on the screen at the front of the classroom.
This exercise brought the material to life, energized the classroom with visual culture and production discussions, and fostered community building among students who collaborated to analyze the production stills. Crucial to my learning goals, it introduced the process of digital research to students in a low-stakes atmosphere.
History Matters – Celebrating women’s plays of the past
The Interval -billed as “The smart girl’s guide to theatricality”
The Kilroys – “The List” – first annual industry survey of excellent new plays by female-identified playwrights
The Killjoys – Response to “The List” comprised of playwrights identifying as trans or trans allies
50/50 in 2020 – The League of Professional Theatre Women’s initiative working to achieve parity for professional women theatre artists
The Feminist Spectator – reviews and ruminations on how theatre, film and television shape and reflect our lives, blog by Jill Dolan
Works by Women: Supporting theatrical work written, directed and/or designed by women.
The Women’s Project Theater in New York
Support Women in Arts Network
The Magdalena Project – an international network of women in contemporary theatre
Guerrilla Girls On Tour – feminist artists using smart humor to address sexism with performance art
Some progressive educators go all in and have their classes collaboratively develop the reading list for a course. Traditionalists usually hand out the syllabus, ask if there are any questions, and then find themselves saying “It’s on the syllabus!” many times throughout the semester. I’m always aiming for a dynamic that responds to most of my students’ requests for clear structure, while also framing the process as a discourse-based exchange rather than a top-down transmission of ironclad facts.
This year, I greeted students with a very built-out syllabus. I did not read it to them in the rushed pace of a pharmaceutical warning. Instead, they took 15 minutes to read through it with a neighbor with the following prompts in mind:
- What do you like the most?
- What do you dislike the most (or have questions about)?
- What do you think is missing?
How did students feel about being asked to critique their professor on the first day of class? Fine! It seemed to create an atmosphere the students and I both felt comfortable with. They were vocal about the positives (always a good feeling) and I was able to clarify certain details (like that the workload description wasn’t the only description of assignments they’d be getting).
I’ll keep making space for check-ins about learning goals, assignment schedules, and reading load throughout the semester. My hope is that, having had this initial conversation, students will feel more comfortable being open about how things are going as we chug along into the chills of October and November’s inevitable craze.
“50 Women in New York Theater You Should Know About (Part One: 1-25)” theculturetrip.com (Dec. 4, 2017)
“Where Are the Women? Parity Productions is Keeping a List” by Allison Considine (American Theatre, November 2, 2017)
“Black Female Playwrights Want You to Face Facts. The Harsh Ones.” by Charles Isherwood (New York Times, September 16, 2016).
“Internet Outcry Over Diversity Leads Manhattan Theater Club to Announce Season Details Early” by Laura Collins-Hughes (New York Times, August 20, 2015)
“Women Push for Equality On and Off Stage” by Suzy Evans (American Theatre, October 2014)
“The Sexist Reality That the Tony Nominations Just Highlighted” by Michele Willens (The Atlantic, April 29, 2014)
The following is a collection of articles on women/gender and/in/or theatre we gathered for the fantasyfeminisms.com website, which was built to sustain discourse for two Women and Theatre Program roundtables at the annual conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education in 2013 and 2014.