From Winning the Vote to Directing on Broadway: The Emergence of Women on the New York Stage, 1880-1927

From Winning the Vote to Directing on Broadway: The Emergence of Women on the New York Stage, 1880-1927

From Winning the Vote to Directing on Broadway: The Emergence of Women on the New York Stage, 1880-1927

From Winning the Vote to Directing on Broadway: The Emergence of Women on the New York Stage, 1880-1927

Synopsis

This book examines how women shaped theater and how theater shaped women during the most explosive time in American women's history: from pre-enfranchisement through 1920, when women won the right to vote. In 1880, women had no place in public life and, likewise, few opportunities in theater beyond acting. Fifty years later women were both voting and directing on Broadway in numbers that had never before been matched--and most likely never will be. Women's involvement in suffragist parades, drama clubs, the Little Theatre Movement, and Broadway productions created a dialogic relationship between public performance and the sociopolitical environment. This study asks readers to reconsider our current understanding of history, specifically, the way in which that history has shaped our current understanding of the early twentieth-century American woman and by implication how the early twentieth-century woman shaped contemporary theater. Pamela Cobrin is Director of the Speaking and Writing Programs at Barnard College, where she also teaches in the English and Theatre Departments as Senior Lecturer.

Excerpt

The real politics of the performance space may well lie in the
field of its external relations, in its actual or potential conflictual
engagement with all the other shrines of power, and in particu
lar, with the forces which hold the key to those shrines.

—Ngügï wa Thiong’o
Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams

PERFORMANCES ARE ALWAYS UPSETTING SOMETHING OR SOMEONE. Ngügï wa Thiong’o sacrificed his freedom for his art, spending a portion of his life in a Kenyan prison, sentenced for the drama he created both inside the theater and out. The theater—any real or imagined structure that houses performance—can be a dangerous place, especially when the mise en scène leads to a disruption of the status quo. By its very nature, performance challenges beliefs: political, social, moral, religious, aesthetic. Although this may be an obvious quality of political theater, all theater asks its audience to reconsider previously held beliefs. Even the most benign musical offers something new, and it is this novelty that attracts audiences: the chance to be surprised, shocked, amused, or intellectually challenged. Theater has the potential to instigate a range of reactions in spectators and performers, from reconsidering the components of aesthetic beauty to bringing about a social revolution. Women at the turn of the twentieth century, finding themselves at a turning point of self-definition, used performance as a means to radically disrupt the status quo, both intentionally and unwittingly.

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, women, specifically white middle- and upper-class women, both created and were caught within performances of contradiction. Culturally, women were still tied to Victorian values, still tied to the traditional “feminine” (read: silent, passive) roles of . . .

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