The following is an interview with Dr. Lynne Greeley on her book, Fearless Femininity by Women in American Theatre (1910s to 2010s), which is currently on display at the ATHE conference in Montreal. You can also browse the book here.
Q: What led you to write this book?
I decided to write Fearless Femininity by Women in America Theatre 1910s-2010s because feminists, for the most part, in the United States have historically rejected the conventions of femininity. My position in the study is to reclaim the idea of femininity from its negative stereotypes and proclaim its importance to feminism by demonstrating how artists in theatre have used it for over one hundred years as a dramaturgical tool to empower women both onstage and off. Seeking a feminist femininity in plays and performances by American women, I demonstrate how artists in theatre have proved that the performance of the feminine no longer belongs to a mystic created by men but to the women who choose to be, to do and to sell as they please. In so doing, I also show the development and change of feminism itself as through time the representations of women on the stage have come closer to the lives of real women.
Q: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
I hope readers will be inspired by the choices the writers and performers have created for their characters. The book shows what happens when women writers create female leads that claim their agency and act. None of the characters written by any of the included playwrights is passive, even though the world inside the play is often hostile, and not all the characters succeed as they seek self-fulfillment or the realization of an ideal. Happy endings are not a motif. However, all the plays and performance texts are political—indisputably political—thereby asserting not only the power of theatrical performance to inspire social change but the efficacy of art’s influence over life. My hope is that readers, like the audiences attending productions of the plays, will move forward with new visions of what the world can be and who they are in it. In addition, their sense of the importance of women in American theatre will be expanded with their view of a century of intelligent, experimental, fearless, and highly theatrical artists at work.
Q: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
Very little work has been done on the workings of femininity as a dramaturgical tool. Both recovering femininity and the women who use it for empowerment is a new direction for critical analysis. Furthermore, the ongoing study of gender and power in theatre is crucial for bringing balance to an art form still very much dominated by men with many female artists yet undiscovered or unrecognized. In addition, as the plot of the book moves from the push of the first wave of feminism for the vote alongside the African American protest of lynching, to the second wave’s demand for social and economic equality, to the third wave’s expectation that all voices have a right to be heard, women’s issues are again taking center stage. With mainstream playwrights such as Lynn Nottage, Caridad Svich, Sarah Ruhl, and Eve Ensler achieving acclaim in what has been called a new renaissance of women playwrights, the possibilities remain endless for researchers to discover other female and female-identified artists in regional, local, alternative, or educational theatres who are changing lives through performance.
This book is part of the Cambria Contemporary Global Performing Arts, headed by John Clum (Duke University).
See the Cambria Press website for more books.