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Student Blog: My Feminism and Theatre Class Reading List

The wonderful list of plays we read in my Feminism and Theatre class last semester to broaden your summer reading list!

Student Blog: My Feminism and Theatre Class Reading List

This past semester, I took one of my favorite classes I've had so far in my time at Tisch. I loved going to my Feminism and Theatre class and the energetic class discussions we would have. Not to mention, most of the people in the class were not men, which was a refreshing change from a usual class. My teacher, Gwendolyn Alker's, syllabus set the stage for the amazing class. We read plays by playwrights of all different backgrounds, about all kinds of subjects, and we talked about why they're important, in conjunction with feminist theoretical texts, through the lenses of feminism, theatre, and feminist theatre.

Before I begin the list, I need to issue a content warning. Some of these plays deal with potentially triggering topics, including: sexual assault, abortion, domestic abuse, guns, violence, etc.

1. Susan Glaspell's Trifles

In this one act written during the first wave of feminism, Glaspell explores gender roles and gender performance, contrasting the way two women behave when they're alone and when they're in front of men. The play also shows the incorrect stereotypes about women that were widely held at the time. In terms of the story, the two women make a discovery about a murder that their husbands are trying to solve.

2. Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles

Wasserstein's 1988 play about art historian Heidi Holland won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and it was revived in 2015 with Elizabeth Moss as the titular role. The play discusses the feminism of the 1970s and 80s, and how it relates to Heidi's life. Wasserstein also explores Heidi's relationships throughout her life with on-and-off romance and her best friends.

3. Caryl Churchill's Top Girls

Caryl Churchill's Top Girls discusses several feminist themes. In the first act of the play, the protagonist Marlene is joined by several female historical figures for a dinner party, where each woman explains her achievements and the hardships that she experienced because of her gender. In the second act of the play, readers/viewers get more insight into Marlene's life, background, and work. Churchill explores themes of gender roles, gender performance, individualism vs. essentialism, and socialism vs. capitalism.

4. Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf

Shange's first play exercises her unique form of movement, song, and poetry, which she named the "choreopoem." The play is made up of a series of different poems about oppression in a racist and sexist society, spoken and sung by a chorus of seven Black women. The poetry deals with themes of love, hardship, and connection.

5. Maria Irene Fornes's Fefu and Her Friends

Fornes's uniquely staged play Fefu and Her Friends centers around a woman, Fefu, and the friends she has invited over to her home to rehearse a play for their charity. Part 2 of the play has four different scenes staged in four different rooms within the same space all happening simultaneously. The characters in this play are also unique, especially Fefu and Julia. The play explores themes of gender roles and control, and it deviates from traditional staging, inducing audience participation in the process.

6. Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro

Kennedy's one act centers around protagonist Sarah's struggle with her identity as a mixed race woman. The other characters in the play represent Sarah's struggles with racism, gender, and identity, and some are also historical figures, like Queen Victoria, Jesus Christ, the Duchess of Hapsburg, and Patrice Lumumba. The surreal play was also an important part of the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s.

7. Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues

Ensler's famous play came out of a multitude of interviews she conducted with hundreds of women about their experiences with womanhood. The play consists of a series of monologues about all sorts of topics of womanhood, femininity, and, of course, vaginas. The play also launched the creation of V-Day, a nonprofit organization that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars that goes towards education and stopping violence against women and girls.

8. Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror

Fires in the Mirror is a series of monologues that came from Smith's interviews about the Crown Heights riot of 1991 from the perspectives of several African American and Jewish voices who were somehow connected to the events. What's unique about this play, and much of Smith's work, is that she (and whoever else plays her role) embodies all the different characters in the play. The play explores the attitudes and racial tensions involved in the events.

9. Cherie Moraga's Giving Up the Ghost

Moraga's play centers around a Chicana, lesbian woman named Marisa and her younger self, Corky. While Corky is still figuring out her identity as a queer Chicana woman, Marisa embarks on a romance with an older Mexican woman. The play deals with themes of identity and gender performance, and it is written in both English and Spanish.

10. Suzan Lori Parks's Venus

Parks's play is a sort of biography of Saartjie Baartman aka Sarah Baartman aka The Venus Hottentot, a woman who performed in a freak show and whose dead body was sexualized further under the guise of academic study. Parks's play delves into themes of colonization and the objectification and sexualization of Black women's bodies.

These plays were each so great in their own ways, and we had amazing in-class discussions about each of them that really helped to further my understanding. In conjunction to these plays, we also read feminist theoretical texts like Judith Butler's "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution" and Kimberlé Crenshaw's, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics." I am so grateful to have had such a great reading list and such a great class experience. At the end of the class, one of my classmates voiced that, if the "traditional" works of cis-het white men are required reading for drama majors, then this reading list should be required as well, and I agree with her sentiment. I am so glad that my professor had such a diverse and extensive reading list and that I encountered so much new material alongside familiar material this year.

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