Diversities in gender and sexuality

Diversities in gender and sexuality I: Histories of representation of gender in the theatre

In this video Kelsy explains the history of the erasure of women from stages and from theatre history in the West, and inquires as to the ethical realities of having women play in historical drama in the present.

Histories of representation of gender in the theatre, by Kelsy Vivash, performance maker and PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance studies

  1. Kelsy discusses how theatre history has been predominantly recorded by, and about, men. She states that the “current understandings of theatre history rely on texts that are exclusionary, and that tell only a fraction of the story of theatre’s history as it pertains to the populations in any given historical period.” Considering this, how might our understandings of theatre history be skewed or inaccurate?
  2. Aristotle’s Poetics state that, “There is a type of manly valor; but valor in a woman, or unscrupulous cleverness is inappropriate” (15). It is statements such as these that construct a strict gender binary that places women in a position of minority or subservience to men. In doing so, a gender hierarchy is maintained in which generally only men are given certain traditionally masculine traits such as ‘valour.’ How have works such as Iphigenia and Antigone countered these strict gender binaries? Even in their progressive nature, how are they still promoting problematic representations of men and women.
  3. Hrosvitha of Gandersheim was the first recorded female playwright, and “ her works went largely unexamined by theatre historians” who thought that her work was “a mediocre imitation of the works of Roman playwright Terence.” Hrosvitha’s representations of women were radical for the time in which she wrote, serving as they did to counter the problematic representations of women commonly found in Terence’s work. How can taking pre-existing texts with problematic representations, and countering these by giving a stronger voice to female characters, work to challenge strict gender binaries still evident in theatre today?
  4. Shakespeare’s texts include cross-dressing roles that frequently reinforce negative stereotypes of women. How can modern adaptations of these texts help to blur strict gender binaries and give more of a voice to the female characters and women’s experiences in general?
  5. With the eventual allowance of women onto the stage came a rise in the popularity of the “breeches role.”  Instead of giving women a voice on the stage, however, these roles exploited the female body and created a spectacle that further reified the notion of female actors as akin to prostitutes.  In what ways can we continue to subvert binarized perspectives on gender through cross-dressing and thereby give voices to historically minoritized persons?

Arikha, Noga. Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours.  New York: Ecco, 2007.  Print.

Aristotle.  Poetics.  Trans. S. H. Butcher.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1961.  Print.

Case, Sue-Ellen.  “Re-Viewing Hrosvit.”  Theatre Journal 35.2 (1983): 533-542. Print.

Davis, Tracy C.  “A Feminist Methodology in Theatre History.”  Interpreting the Theatrical Past.  Eds. Thomas Postlewait and Bruce A. McConahie. Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1989.

Glenn, Susan.  Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism.

Cambridge; London; Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.  2000.  Print.

Diversities in gender and sexuality II: Gender minoritization in contemporary theatre practice

This video features Kelsy’s exploration of gender inequity in contemporary Canadian theatre practice and performance, including discussions of 1) the realities of LGBTQ theatre practitioners, 2) the absence of critical appraisal of historical plays when staging gender in the present, and 3) the need to make our places of learning and training open to the realities of gender ‘non-conforming’ persons.

Histories of representation of gender in the theatre, by Kelsy Vivash, performance maker and PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance studies

  1. Contemporary representations of historical texts have the ability to subvert problematic gender minoritization practices, but without careful attention, one may instead easily promote stereotypical prejudices. How can contemporary theatre practices promote positive (and thus diverse) representations of gender, and how might companies include in such stagings actors that do not identity with traditional gender binaries?
  2. Kelsy suggests that “without careful attention to the politics being presented […] training bodies to perform in historical roles can become an exclusionary practice.” In such moments, the experiences of actors that exist outside of the traditional and inherited gender binary/hierachy of ‘man/woman’ are often negated. How can post-secondary institutions create and maintain inclusive and all-encompassing training mandates that embrace diverse gender identities? Can embracing this diversity open the doors to more interesting representations of historical texts?
  3. The performance art community offers a valuable platform for gender non-conforming artists to “enact self-representations and share embodied experiences with spectators.” How might post-secondary training cultivate artists who have the foundation to inhabit roles and performances that reveal and embrace complex gender identities?
  4. When considering acting training, we must be continually mindful about whose work we are promoting. What resources can we use to displace and subvert outdated gendered representations when staging plays that would otherwise promote these?
  5. In what ways can we work from our own gender position to explore and accurately represent voices of minoritized groups that are regularly silenced? How can theatre training create the platform to support women, trans, and gender non-conforming artists to showcase work that accurately represents and expresses their lived experiences?

Hansen, Nicholas and Alexa Elser.  “Equity and the Academy: An Examination of Artistic Programming at Post-Secondary Institutions.”  Staging Equity. 2015.  Web.  June 9th, 2015.

MacArthur, Michelle.  “Achieving Equity in Canadian Theatre: A Report with Best Practice Recommendations.”  Equity in Theatre.  2015.  Web.  June 7th, 2015.

Diversities in gender and sexuality III: Psychophysical strategies for supporting gender diversity in actor training

With reference to specific exercises and techniques, in this video Conrad explores how to counter gender-based discrimination in actor training by supporting actors of diverse gender expressions. He looks at the ways in which gender is a construction—indeed a performance in its own right—and suggests methods and techniques of moving beyond certain types of neuro-muscular patterning that would otherwise restrict gender expression to an existing and dominant range of options.

Psychophysical strategies for supporting gender diversity in actor training, by Conrad Alexandrowicz, associate professor, University of Victoria

  1. How can one counter gender-based discrimination in theatre? Is there systematic reform that must occur for these changes to take hold not only within post-secondary institutions, but in the theatrical community at large? Can a change in actor training in colleges and universities aid in eliminating the gender expectations still prevalent in a theatre community steeped in patriarchal values?
  2. As Conrad states, “in a patriarchal culture the bias against gender dissidence is magnified in the intense scrutiny that is placed on the performing body: since the actor is always already an eroticized object in the gaze of the audience, she or he is required to purvey heteronormative gender performances in order to vindicate mainstream definitions of attractiveness, glamour, and success.” How do such strict gender parameters placed on the performing body inhibit actors-in-training who may be simply unable to inhabit these such gendered performances?
  3. Conrad states that there is a “profound fealty to realism in the marketplace of representations,” creating an inability to “imagine gender dissident performers playing roles to which they do not correspond point for point.” Considering Rudolf Laban’s “Still Forms” as described in the video, work in a small group to explore the possibilities of inhabiting the Wall, Ban, Pin, and Screw. How might you strategize to allow gender dissident performers to inhabit roles that exist far outside of their own gender identities?
  4. If an actor’s role in playing a character is ‘technical’—that is: “a set of technical procedures that unleash the imagination, rather than [simply] via internal processes of the person”—how can acting training tuned to gender diversity embrace and extend such technicality?
  5. Elin Diamond states that, “Gender in fact provides a perfect illustration of ideology at work since ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ behavior usually appears to be a ‘natural’ and thus fixed and unalterable-extension of biological sex.” How can one use Bertolt Brecht’s concept of Verfremdungseffekt, or the Alienation Effect, to subvert inherited or dominant (patriarchal) perspectives of gender? See Laura Levin’s video in this series for additional insight into this area.

Bogart, Ann and Landau, Tina. The Viewpoints Book. New York: Theatre Communications Group, St. Paul, MN: Distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, 2005.

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” in Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory, eds. Kate Conboy, Nadia Medina and Sarah Stanbury. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Chekhov, Michael. To the Actor: on the Technique of Acting. New York: Harper and Row, 1953.

Diamond, Elin. Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theater. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

Evans, Mark. Movement Training for the Modern Actor. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Keefe, John and Simon, Murray. Physical Theatre: a Critical Introduction. Abingdon, UK and New York: Routledge, 2007.

Diversities in gender and sexuality IV: Queer and trans performance strategies in contemporary Canadian theatre and performance

In this video, Alex provides examples of a variety of different approaches to thinking about and creating performance work that problematizes inherited assumptions about queer bodies and provides space for the expression of queer and trans realities.

Queer and trans performance strategies in contemporary Canadian theatre and performance, by Alex Tigchelaar, MA student in Studies in Comparative Literatures and Arts at Brock University, and co-artistic director of the cabaret theatre company Operation Snatch.

  1. What can post-secondary institutions and the theatre community learn from those actors and creators working to consciously exist outside of strictly normative (ie, binarized or split into the duo ‘male’ & ‘female’) experiences of gender? In what ways can participants in a studio cultivate a community wherein such identities can thrive?
  2. Alex explores the Paraprosdokian Device in relation to trans and queer actors, where these individuals are frequently used in conjunction with this device to “defy expectations” over the course of a play or story. This structure, known by transgender scholars as ‘The Reveal,’ creates an environment wherein “the trans person is subjected to the pressures of a pervasive gender/sex system that seeks to make public the ‘‘truth’’ of the trans person’s gendered and sexed body.” What examples can you draw from your own experience that demonstrate trans and queer characters and/or persons being subjected to this tactic?
  3. Alex admits that trans and queer actors may be engaging in what “Gayatri Spivak calls strategic essentialism—that is to say, playing to stereotypes in order to increase and improve general trans and queer visibility and gain access to performance spaces.” What does it mean for trans and queer actors be forced to inhabit inaccurate and outdated representations in order to exist in such spaces?
  4. Alex discusses films such as Dressed to Kill and The Silence of the Lambs that depict trans identities “grounded in discredited medical or psychological analyses or even pulp fiction representations.” What trans and queer representations have you experienced in your theatre training? Do you feel that progress has been made in depicting accurate and authentic queer and trans experiences on stage?
  5. When we place trans and queer bodies on stage, we often exploit them in terms of “the concept of dysphoria—a pathologized and medicalized state of distress,” and in so doing keep trans and queer actors in only a “dysphoric capacity.” How do we accurately represent trans and queer stories without perpetuating a vicious cycle that may be anchored in a cultural anxiety around strict patriarchal and binarized gender structures?

Ahmed, Sara. “Against Students.” feministkilljoys. 25 June 2015. Web. 23 August 2015.

Butler, Judith & Williams, Cristan. “Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler.” 1 May 2014. Web. 23 August 2015.

hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000. Print.

Mussett, Shannon & De Beauvoir, Simone. “Simone de Beauvoir.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 23 August 2015.

Pearl, Mike. “Comedians Discuss Mitch Hedberg’s Life and Legacy Ten Years After His Death.” Vice. 30 March 2015. Web. 23 August 2015.