|Date(s):||January 1, 1975 to December 31, 1985|
|Tag(s):||Feminist Theater, Second Wave Feminism, 20th Century, Feminism, Theater, Theatre, Women's History|
|Course:||“American Women's History,” Schreiner University|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
During the early 1970s, theatre was dominated by male actors, male directors, male playwrights, and male producers. In an article titled The ‘Woman’ Playwright Issue Gayle Austin, 80s playwright and journalist, expressed that many of the female characters portrayed in the shows of this time were flat or two-dimensional, leaving the female audience in this male dominated world wanting more than the typical “hooker with a heart of gold” trope that satisfied the male gaze. Plays like Da, an Irish comedy that focused on a man’s relationship with his father, or the musicals like Pippin, a story of a boy turning into a man while finding his way in the world, captivated audiences while not having a single multidimensional female character in the entire script. When women playwrights attempted to combat this lack of representation with their own creations, they were met with ridicule from male critics that considered their work “juvenile and substandard” to the male playwrights. Female playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein and Caryl Churchill faced an issue in their medium as many of them were barred from publishing and producing their work due to the constant harsh criticism.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that a wave of feminist playwrights began releasing their work and women began to gain real representation on the live stage. Smaller production companies such as The Monstrous Regiment began producing the plays to showcase these feminist playwrights and express to the oppressive male critiques that these shows were relevant to audiences. Across the country, audiences began to show support for this new female role as women were being expressed as someone with emotion and ability, rather than the previous types of roles produced by male writers. Wendy Wasserstein, author of Uncommon Women and Others, as well as Caryl Churchill, author of world renowned play Top Girls, made waves in the world of theatre, leading a new feminist era of theatre itself.
The main goal of these female writers was to change the theatrical climate for the better; to see women actresses get to become women directors, playwrights, and producers. Austin expresses a common myth thought about female writers that came out of the theatre community, stating “Women can’t direct. It’s not part of our childhood training. Directors must be able to command, declaim, dictate, shock, humiliate, create, destroy, and resurrect.” This common thought originally barred the female world from directing as their will is thought to not be strong enough for the job.
What was once the question of, (Austin 1983)“is this female character really a person?” evolved into the astounding creation of characters such as Muffet De Nicola, a woman who is just finishing college and questioning whether or not it was worth it and what life will be after it all in Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others, or the savvy business woman Marlene, who began to adopt toxic male traits to climb the business ladder in Churchill’s Top Girls. These women now have interests beyond men or devilish schemes, or even implied lives beyond the show’s plot. This was a rarity before the Feminist Theatrical Movement. Thanks to the efforts of the few female playwrights, it is now and forever common in many shows across America.