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Lives in Play

Lives in Play: Autobiography and Biography on the Feminist Stage

Ryan Claycomb
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 261
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  • Book Info
    Lives in Play
    Book Description:

    Lives in Playexplores the centrality of life narratives to women's drama and performance from the 1970s to the present moment. In the early days of second-wave feminism, the slogan was "The personal is the political." These autobiographical and biographical "true stories" have the political impact of the real and have also helped a range of feminists tease out the more complicated aspects of gender, sex, and sexuality in a Western culture that now imagines itself as "postfeminist."

    The book's scope is broad, from performance artists like Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, and Bobby Baker to playwrights like Suzan-Lori Parks, Maria Irene Fornes, and Sarah Kane. The book links the narrative tactics and theatrical approaches of biographyand autobiography and shows how theater artists use life writing strategies to advance women's rights and remake women's representations.Lives in Playwill appeal to scholars in performance studies, women's studies, and literature, including those in the growing field of auto/biography studies.

    " A fresh perspective and wide-ranging analysis of changes in feminist theater for the past thirty years . . . a most welcome addition to the literature on theater, in particular scholarship on feminist practices."


    "Helps sustain an important history by reviving works of feminist theater and performance and giving them a new and refreshing context and theorical underpinning . . . considering 1970s performance art alongside more conventional play production."

    -Lesley Ferris, The Ohio State University

    eISBN: 978-0-472-02853-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. I-IV)
  2. PREFACE (pp. V-VIII)
  3. Table of Contents (pp. IX-X)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Lives in Play (pp. 1-24)

    Over the last decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, performances that draw their material from the lives of real women have been very near the center of feminist theatrical practice. A broad range of reasons can be mustered to explain the phenomenon, many of which start with but move beyond the 1970s feminist slogan “the personal is political.” But amid the growing trend of confessional narratives and theories of gender performativity that took root in the 1990s, that maxim no longer suffices to account for the complexities of women’s lives transformed into life stories and live performances....

  5. PART I: Autobiography:: The Body and Self in Performance
    • CHAPTER 1: Performative Lives, Performed Selves: AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FEMINIST PERFORMANCE (pp. 27-54)

      If any art form, theatrical or otherwise, might be said to be the proving grounds for a performative approach to identity, performance art is the obvious first choice. Although performance art itself is a nebulous genre—a loosely bound set of artistic practices that assembles the art object from the actions of the live performing body—the binding focus on the performer’s body as the art itself already underscores some idea that the identity of that body is, like the artist’s canvas or the empty stage, an available space on which to make meaning. Performance art, as RoseLee Goldberg has...

    • CHAPTER 2: Autobiography and the Rhetoric of the Embodied Self (pp. 55-90)

      While over the last two decades, theories of performativity dominated the academic discourse of gender (and to a lesser extent that of theatrical performance), feminist performers have been reluctant to embrace the concept quite so thoroughly. In the previous chapter, we have seen the ways in which performance artists have used the concept of performativity to establish gender, sex, and sexuality as constructions of discourse. Yet these uses were never uniform and were frequently posited as rhetorical tactics as much as definitive ontologies of gender, sex, and selfhood. That is, performativity frequently served these artists as apersuasivetactic, one...

    • CHAPTER 3: The Autobiographical Play and the Death of the Playwright: SARAH KANE’S 4.48 PSYCHOSIS (pp. 91-114)

      When Paula Vogel’s playHow I Learned to Driveopened in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1999, the playwright celebrated a homecoming. Hailing from the same suburban Maryland town in which her play is set, Vogel had just won the Pulitzer Prize for the play; her longtime collaborator, Molly Smith, had just been named artistic director at Arena Stage; and Vogel herself had been named playwright in residence there. The company I was working with, The Theatre Conspiracy, had recently produced Vogel’sDesdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief,and Arena was followingDrivewith Vogel’sHot ’n’ Throbbing,and...

  6. PART II: Biography:: Staging Women’s Lives
    • CHAPTER 4: Staging Women’s Lives, Staging Feminist Performances (pp. 117-137)

      In the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol, a visitor can stroll along a parade of great men, admiring the busts, standing figures, and horsed figures carved in Italian marble and other polished chunks of stone. The parade marches on in traditional style until it reaches the suffragists, a memorial to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Immediately the visitor notices the stylistic and ideological incongruities of the suffragist memorial amid the phalanx of polished soldiers that surrounds it: Mott, Stanton, and Anthony are incompletely carved, their bodies rising from a partially formed, seven-ton slab...

    • CHAPTER 5: A Life in the (Meta) Theater: WRITING/REHEARSING/ACTING OUT (pp. 138-172)

      Inherent in a wide variety of feminist biography plays, as the previous chapter argues, is the notion that the act of biography is itself a performance—a performance that is scrutinized alongside the acts and performances of these plays’ purported subjects. This phenomenon calls attention to, among other things, the degree to which women’s lives in history are already deeply mediated and textualized, even prior to the mediation and textualization of playwriting. The idea of performing biographyas performancealready lends a certain element of metadramatic tension to feminist biography plays, which implicitly present their own representational practices in a...

    • CHAPTER 6: Performing Race and the Object of Biography (pp. 173-200)

      The corpus of staged feminist autobiography and biography admittedly has been, like the body of feminist drama in general over the last decades of the twentieth century, a largely white affair. Typically, the texts and performances that comprise this corpus, like many of the plays examined in the previous two chapters, have consistently taken a protective, nonconfrontational approach to its audiences, often formulated in the name of fostering a supportive community of women who can, in solidarity, confront and critique the circumscribing discourses of gender that are often written onto male characters, many of whom are themselves only ever imagined...

    • CONCLUSION: Performing Global Lives (pp. 201-214)

      In November 2009, a working group convened at the annual conference of the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) on the subject of contemporary women playwrights. Tasked with advocating for the work of contemporary female playwrights of the previous twenty years, participants brought together a rich assemblage of playwrights, from established stars like Sarah Ruhl to less well known writers like Nigerian playwright and working group participant Julianna Okoh. Autobiographical texts, biography plays, and a more broadly construed set of history plays were unsurprisingly well represented. I presented an early version of this book’s argument about Sarah Kane, while other...

  7. NOTES (pp. 215-238)
  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 239-250)
  9. INDEX (pp. 251-261)