Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Dramatic Arenas for Ethical Stories

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Dramatic Arenas for Ethical Stories

Article excerpt

In this discussion paper, the author weaves a thread between three kinds of feminist critical projects: theatre, education, and research. Using feminist performances of plays, ethnographic research, and pedagogical spaces in drama classrooms, the paper explores the terrain of the re-imagined by challenging existing aesthetic and discursive representations of self/other on the stage and in the everyday.

In his sixth letter to "those who dare teach," Paulo Freire (1998) claimed that ethics and aesthetics are intimately tied together. I would like to make a start from his claim in this short discussion paper, and reflect upon three kinds of feminist critical projects: theatre, education, and research. "A feminist approach to anything", says Gayle Austin (1998), "means paying attention to women":

It means paying attention when women appear as characters and noticing when they do not. It means making some 'invisible' mechanism visible and pointing out, when necessary, that while the emperor has no clothes, the empress has no body. It means paying attention to women as writers and as readers or audience members. It means taking nothing for granted because the things we take for granted are usually those that were constructed from the most powerful point of view in the culture and that is not the point of view of women. (Austin, p.136)

My world inhabits the domains of theatre, of education, and of research and these arenas inform one another in very specific ways. Drama education in the lives of young women has been central to my conceptions of inquiry and research for several years, that is, the possibilities afforded girls when they construct realities through dramatic roleplay. In the summer of 2000, at Ohio State University, I had the distinct pleasure of engaging with Patti Lather's feminist ethnographic research of women living with HIV/AIDS (a collaboration with feminist psychologist Chris Smithies), as respondent to her keynote address made to the International Drama in Education Research Institute. The enabling crossroads of research, praxis, and aesthetic experimentation have occupied me since that time.

Playwriting and "Other" Narratives

Aphra Behn (1640-1689), it is said, was the first woman to earn her living as a writer, the first woman to insist upon a literary identity of her own and cast aside the claim that she merely scribbled to amuse herself in private hours (Goreau, 1980). The fops, critics, and writers did not, at first, know what to make of this "She-author." As a "real life" character, then, she makes an interesting subject for Canadian feminist playwright Beth Herst. Herst first workshopped her play, "A Woman's Comedy," on the life and artistic contributions of Aphra Behn in 1991. It was nearly impossible, in seventeenth-century London, to earn a living as a woman writer operating without a pseudonym, but to speak a reality unwelcome by most, a reality that was antagonistic to dominant views of social life was a particular hazard for Behn. In the following exchange from Herst's play, her dear friend, actress Betty Lacy, tries to persuade Aphra to "give the audience what they want" and not some other version of "truth":

Betty: He'll read it, you know. But he won't put it on.

Aphra: You don't think it's any good.

Betty: Of course it's good. That's not the point.

Aphra: He helped me before.

Betty: And he will again, as best he can. You can trust him for that. But he can't risk the profits or we'll all go hungry.

Aphra: Would it be such a risk?

Betty: That's not what the public wants. They want fans, and masks, and weddings in the last act.

Aphra: Comedy.

Betty: Or if it is tragedy, then on the grand scale. Not angry, or miserable, or desperate.

Aphra: Is that what my play is?

Betty: Your heroine isn't even an Indian princess. …

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