Symposium welcomes artists, public to explore feminist performance

By: Lindsey White,  Cornell Chronicle
Wed, 03/06/2019

The history of feminist performance is one of radical storytelling, of showing how the personal is political, and of carving out spaces in which women can feel, in the words of performance artist Holly Hughes, “at last, fully human.”

An interdisciplinary symposium at Cornell March 15-16 will explore what this history can teach us about the future of feminism, and how we can use performance to reflect the changes we want to see.

Feminist Directions: Performance, Power and Leadership” features Hughes and other internationally acclaimed artists and directors such as Rhodessa Jones, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of 1956 Visiting Professor in the Department of Performing & Media Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences, Tisa Chang of Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, Leigh Fondakowski of Tectonic Theatre Project and Split Britches co-founders Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver.

They will join local artists, scholars and activists for interactive lectures, performances and workshops at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. Events are free and open to the public. See the complete schedule.

“The idea of this symposium has been brewing for over three years,” said co-organizer Jayme Kilburn, a doctoral student at Cornell and founding artistic director of the Strand Theater Company in Baltimore. “As a theater director and scholar studying the work of women theater-makers, it is very exciting to meet and learn from these prolific artists who have not only made a huge imprint on our current theatrical landscape but have paved the way for other women in artistic leadership positions.”

The symposium kicks off March 15 with a tour of Cornell’s Human Sexuality Collection in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library, led by curator Brenda Marston.

Jones will then lead a workshop on feminist methods for work with community theater groups. Following the workshop is an opening reception and Bad and Nasty Cabaret, featuring some of the symposium’s visiting artists and performers from the community.

Jones, also co-artistic director of the San Francisco performance company Cultural Odyssey, calls feminist performance an act of “creative survival” in which we rehearse different ways of being with each other.

On the morning of March 16, local theater practitioners, activists and scholars will gather for “Mentors, Methods and Mutations: A Workshop on Feminist Cross-Pollination.” Invited participants will discuss how feminist mentors have shaped their current practices; additional audience members are welcome to attend. An afternoon roundtable on feminist directing will feature the symposium’s keynote directors along with Bevin O’Gara of Kitchen Theatre Company and Sue Perlgut of It’s All Right To Be Woman Theatre and Ithaca’s Senior Citizen Theatre Troupe.

Following the roundtable, Chang will facilitate a directing master class in approaching culturally specific work. Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw will conclude the symposium with Weaver’s highly regarded play “The Long Table,” which combines theatricality with models of public engagement in a highly stylized, non-hierarchical dinner table discussion.

Weaver is a 2014 Guggenheim fellow and professor of contemporary performance at Queen Mary University of London. Her performance practice and history as an artist and activist is documented and illustrated in “The Only Way Home Is Through the Show: Performance Works of Lois Weaver” (2015).

“While curating this symposium, the question that enlivens me is: What does it mean to perform feminism, and why is it important for such performance to have direction?” said graduate student co-organizer Kelly Richmond. “While these questions lend themselves immediately to a theatrical context, they also apply to the necessity of doing feminism in any number of environments.”

“Feminist Directions: Performance, Power and Leadership” is presented by the Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell. Co-sponsors include: the departments of Anthropology, English, and the History of Art and Visual Studies; the American Studies Program; Cornell Council for the Arts; the President’s Council of Cornell Women; the Society for the Humanities; the Human Sexuality Collection; Engaged Cornell; the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement; LGBT Studies; and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies.

Lindsey White is the communications manager in the Department of Performing & Media Arts.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.