In the Company of Women

Article excerpt

A conference in Greece attempts to advance women playwrights

When some 200 women play wrights and allied the atremakers gathered in Greece Oct. 1-7 for the Fifth International Women Playwrights Conference, the term "Greek drama" was given a contemporary redefinition. Averting a Greek tragedy became the unanticipated collective mission of the group, which, faced with schedule changes, communications glitches and taxi strikes, found itself taking a crash course in the realities of feminist organizing on an international scale.

Under the title "Eros Theatrou," the conference offered an ambitious and at times uneven program of keynote speakers and panels, juried readings of scripts by women from around the world, workshops, and formal and informal performances. The conference organizers, artistic director Aliki Bakopoulou-Halls, a theatre scholar from the University of Athens, and Maria Triantopoulou-Capsaskis, a lawyer and independent arts consultant, amplified previous conference programs that have featured playwrights, directors, critics and scholars. In addition to noted playwrights and directors such as Timberlake Wertenbaker of the U.K. and Ellen Stewart of the U.S., and theatre critics and specialists such as Renate Klett of Germany and Eleni Varopoulou of Greece, the conference included people in related professions, most notably filmmaker Deepa Mehta, an Indian citizen residing in Canada, and Gordon House, director of radio programs for the BBC.

House's remarks to the attendees marked the first time a man had addressed the conference since it began in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1988. His inclusion on a panel entitled "Do We Still Need a Women-Only Conference?" reflected the conference director's political position that women's theatre must include male allies. Delicately sidestepping the potential role of gender provocateur, House chose instead to focus on practical suggestions about play readings that he had attended. Failing to spark controversy, the panel paled in comparison to other all-conference events, particularly a panel entitled "Freedom of Expression" featuring playwrights Ratna Sarumpaet of Indonesia and Bilgesu Erenus of Turkey and Cypriot director Monica Vassilou. All had been imprisoned for their political activism. Sarumpaet spoke of the support she felt from women worldwide who brought attention to her plight through a grassroots series of "Readings for Ratna."

Timberlake Wertenbaker, who noted that her first professional production was in Greece, not in Britain, engaged both the Greek location and cultural context of her remarks, examining the role of women in Greek drama. She urged her listeners to reexamine the narratives of "unresolved women" who continue to haunt us. She asked, "What happens to us, the women playwrights of the 21st century? Where do we go, and how do we listen to the calls of these women? What can we bring that the playwrights of Athens could not? What is the condition of an age where women seek self-knowledge and often attain it?"

AMERICAN ACADEMIC ROSEMARY KEEFE astutely observed that there appeared to be two conferences running simultaneously: the "big" conference, which occurred in the main lecture hall featuring prominent speakers and academics, and the "little" conference of readings by the women attendees, which took place in classrooms and ran long into the evening. This type of hybrid conference--of intimate participation, performances, lectures and hands-on workshops--can be a tricky affair, both logistically and philosophically. The performance component seemed almost an afterthought, with international companies from New Zealand, the U.S., Greece and Korea valiantly adapting to minimally supported and informal spaces.

Still, the performances offered some of the week's most inspired moments. Greek actress Lydia Coniordou gave a mesmerizing performance in her solo work Victim and Victimizer, which looked at the irony of how people who have been victimized in turn become victimizers. …