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Humanities LibreTexts

7.6: Feminist Theatre

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  • Another group of artists rejected realism but wanted to do it in a way that was engaging and accessible while maintaining a critical and (sometimes) satirical edge. With its roots in the civil rights and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s, feminist theatre addressed the underrepresentation of women in the American theatre. Feminist critics and artists argued that traditional theatre practice —specifically that which was derived from Aristotle’s ideas —focused on stories, characters, and linear plot structures that were customarily considered “masculine” and failed to provide an arena for women’s voices. Playwrights like María Irene Fornés, Paula Vogel, and Wendy Wasserstein wrote scripts that addressed the issues confronted by women on a daily basis. Some of the scripts, like Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, employed traditional dramaturgy (i.e., a linear plotline, individual protagonist, and realistic characters) to tell the story of a woman’s personal and political growth over a twenty-year period. Others, like Fornés’s Fefu and Her Friends, which was influenced by the women’s collective theatre movement of the 1970s, deal with a community of women’s treatment within a patriarchal society using a nonlinear narrative structure.

    Another important element of feminist theatre is how it deals with mimesis or imitation. While Aristotle said that theatre (tragedy specifically) should be an “imitation of an action,” feminist critics believed that mimesis was limiting and oppressive, arguing that theatre and performance should be more abstract to fully illustrate the female experience. An example of this style of theatre is Holly Hughes’s The Well of Horniness, which uses the style of a 1940s radio drama for a campy, eomie, and decidedly nonrealistie exploration of female sexuality.

    A vital element of feminist theatre is directly addressing gender inequities in a direct manner. One example is The Guerrilla Girls, artists and activists whose performances address issues of sexism in theatre and the visual arts. And they do it while wearing gorilla masks.

    A famous quote states that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” While that may seem like an absurd statement at first, it sueeinetly frames the issue that defining and criticizing art is a subjective undertaking. Combine this problem with the inherent fact that theatre is all about reinterpretation, and you have a daunting proposition. Generic criticism is an art, not a science. It is fluid and based on numerous variables, such as style, script, and the intent of the artists that produce it. Even so, understanding genres and how they function helps us understand both scripts and productions from multiple perspectives.

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