Thursday, June 29, 2017

Oceania - Females in Performance and Drama in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Oceania - Females in Performance and Drama in the 18th and 19th Century
Changing Indigenous Songlines, Rituals and Storytelling

"... the white sails of the English ships were a symbol of a gale which in the next hundred years would slowly drift across the continent, blowing out the flames of countless campfires... silencing the sounds of hundreds of languages and stripping the ancient names from nearly every valley and headland." (Blainey 1975:22)

It has been estimated that when British colonization of Australia started in 1788 that between 350,000 and 1 million Indigenous people lived on the Australian mainland. Within half a century of colonial settlement, epidemic diseases such as smallpox had killed off about 50% of the population. By 1900, it is estimated that their had been about a 90% reduction in indigenous numbers. It is a testament to the Indigenous peoples of Australia that they survived physically and culturally.  Indigenous drama in the form of mime, stories told in dance and song during this period not only maintained the traditions and stories of the past, but also became a way of telling of the horrors of the new stories as they unfolded. Women were always pivotal in passing down the stories, songlines and dances and this did not end with colonization where new stories were added to the old.

Many written accounts from English authorities attest to the richness of the singing, dancing, mime and drama presentations in the Indigenous communities of Port Jackson and other areas of Australia involving female leaders and performers. The almost anthropological view of indigenous culture being primitive and fixed, disregards the fact that indigenous nations had interacted with one another and with sailors and traders from Malaya and Indonesia for generations.

Many Australian Indigenous ceremonies have always had a didactic element and indigenous nations used songs, dances, mime and drama to pass on knowledge for generations and it is likely that ways of dealing with the new problems arising with the white colonialists such as smallpox, venereal disease, opium and tobacco and alcohol abuse, also became part of ceremonies. 

Corroborees, also called by Europeans "bush operas", took place at night at sacred sights at Bennelong Point in Sydney (the present site of the Sydney Opera House). Females are noted in all of these ceremonies. In 1836, amongst the gum and wattle forest, a special inter-clan ceremony to welcome Europeans took place at the place where present day Parliament House Hill stands in Melbourne. It was performed by the Kulin (the collective name for the local custodian tribes of the Watha wurrung, the Taung wurrung, the Woi wurrung including the Wurundjeri clans and the Boon wurrung). The writer of the Chronicles of Early Melbourne Edmund Finn (aka Garryowen) described the events, possibly the first European written account of a corroborree. William Barak (1824-1903) was a member of the Wurundjeri-William clan and he painted this ceremony. Female Indigenous performers are also represented in his painting. The continuation of stories, dance, song, ritual and performance became during this dark period a way to pass down language, knowledges and history, while maintaining culture and creating a transmission of a shared new story of massacres, dissipation and horrendous colonization. Women were central to this fight and the maintenance of Indigenous Australian stories, rituals and cultures.

In the missions in Australia, Indigenous Australian women started to take on leadership roles in teaching, telling and performing stories and passing on culture. A number of stories by women of performances, mostly of Christian and Bible stories in the Parramatta Native Institution run by William and Elizabeth Shelley. After William Shelley’s death, Elizabeth seem to encourage greater female leadership by Indigenous women and seemed to encourage more concerts and performances. 

Fanny Cochrane Smith

It is hard to isolate some individual Indigenous Australian women who were prominent in the development of the performing arts in the 18th and 19th centuries. One figure who does stand out is Fanny Cochrane Smith. Born in 1834, she was probably the last known speaker and keeper of Tasmanian Aboriginal languages and songlines. A 1903 wax recording of Indigenous Aboriginal songs and language phrases is an important cultural artifact.

Although educated in English, Fanny maintained her cultural links and taught songlines, stories, language and connection to Country to thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Tasmanians. Of special interest to drama are the story ceremonies and song ceremonies she held on Flinder's Island.

In 1903, five wax cylinders of her speaking language, telling stories and singing songlines were made. When she heard the recordings, Smith thought she was hearing the voices of her ancestors and she exclaimed "My poor race, what have I done." She died in 1905. In 1998, singer Bruce Watson, the great grandson of Horace Watson who made the recording of Fanny Cochrane Smith's voice, recorded a song based on the recordings called The Man and the Women and the Edison Phonograph. 

Māori Women in Performance and Culture in the 19th Century

The Maori call women “te where tangata” (the house of humanity) and women are respected as the creators of life and culture. Unlike Australia, England did make a treaty with the Maori with the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. Maori women have always had ceremonies and performed dances, songs and stories particularly at the erection of new buildings. 

In the 19th Century the female Maori composer Puhiwahine wrote songs, poems and stories for performance about war, peace, love, hate, nature and unity. She was born on the Taringamotu River near Taumatunui around 1816. She was of noble ancestry of the Ngati Tuwharetoa. She learned the songs and the traditions  of poi and pukana from her mother. She traveled and fell in love with and married Hauauru a chief of the Matakore. She married but was his second wife and this relationship was eventually dissolved and she wrote about this in songs. She later met and fell in love with her distant cousin Te Mahutu Te Toko who was a good singer and storyteller. Her brothers arrived and took her away. She composed the narrative song Te Mahutu which is often now sung at weddings. 

In 1840, she met the German-born John Gotty and they married. They had two sons. She continued to write and perform during this period. When John Gotty died in 1893, Puhiwahine returned with her sons to her homeland. Her performance of the songs of grief over her husband’s death in the ceremony of tangi are often described as moving. The songs and ceremonies she performed throughout her life have become part of modern Maori traditions. 

Anne Clarke

The Theatre Royal in Hobart where Anne Clarke staged productions

Anne Clarke (formerly Anne Remans) was an English-born actress and theatre manager who is often considered Australia's first female theatre artist and actor/manager. Her most prominent work was done in Tasmania in Australia where she managed and ran as an actor/manager the Theatre Royal in Hobart from 1840 through to 1847 (Wimmer, 1995: p.257). Her work towards creating early colonial Australian and modern Australian drama cannot be underestimated. 

She initially traveled to Australia as an actress but soon teamed up with Dinah Rudelhoff (later to become the director of the Geelong Theatre) to become star billing in her own right. She managed the Theatre Royal and was in charge of the programming of plays and opera, the directing of productions and also was the lead actress in many of the seasons. She produced everything from Shakespeare plays to musicals to commisioning new Australian plays and pieces of musical theatre. She was instrumental in helping to pass legislation to legitimize theatre in Tasmania as well as being a progressive businesswomen and innovative artist and director.

Dame Nellie Melba

The Australian Opera Singer Dame Nellie Melba (born Helen Porter Mitchell) in Richmond, Victoria, Australia in 1866 advanced opera, theatre and performance in Australian theatre in a number of ways in the 19th Century. 
Melba’s understanding of the power of celebrity and controversy in constructing celebrity status has particular potency in this age of celebrity and the Kardashian and Trump phenomena. Melba’s status as opera diva has always been tainted by her status as a wayward child, runaway wife, neglectful mother and a woman of loose morals who achieved notoriety as the mistress of the Pretender to the French throne. She is the self-made women, who like Anna from Bombay (also known as Anna from Anna and the King and Anna from Nova Scotia), was able to recreate and rebuild herself and her live in many forms.

In 1878, after the death of her mother, Helen Mitchell (as she was known then) and her family were moved by her father to Mackay in Central Queensland. She became popular in Mackay for her singing and her playing of the piano. She married at the age of 16 in Brisbane to Charles Nesbitt Frederick Armstrong in Brisbane. They had one child. Armstrong was physically abusive and Melba left 1883 and she returned to Melbourne to get away from the abuse and to pursue a singing and performance career. She had some success in Melbourne and on the back of local Melbourne success, Helen Mitchell moved to London where she initially had little success. She then moved to Paris to study with Mathilde Marchesi who saw her talent. 
After two years of working with Marchesi, Helen Mitchell was ready. She took Marchesi’s advice and changed her name to Nellie Melba in honour of her nearest hometown – Melbourne. She had her opera debut in 1887 in Rigoletto. Melba returned to London a star in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in 1889. London embraced her. 
In 1893, Nellie Melba sang at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Her performances were a success. She continued to sing in New York. In 1905, she met Oscar Hammerstein, and melba left the Metropolitan and joined his Opera Company and soon became a celebrity and the highest paid singer in the history of Grand Opera. She played in New York, London and Paris over the next 15 years and most of her performances were sold out. 
Melba’s tours of Australia in 1902, 1907 and 1909 were all extraordinary, and in 1911, Melba returned to Australia more permanently and formed the first Australian opera company and formed the first touring performance company in Australia’s history. She bought train and steamboat tickets for the public so they could see her perform and see opera for the first time. 
During World War I Melba raised huge funds for the war effort and soldier support (over £100,000 from 1914 until 1918). She soon started her own training school and trained many female singers and performers in Melbourne. By the end of her career, she was more well known for her interpretation of Wagner. 

In 1929, Melba returned to the London and Paris stages for the first time in many years. She is estimated to have performed over a thousand performances in her lifetime. Soon after performing in Egypt, Melba contracted a fever. She returned to perform in London in 1930 but was still sick and was hospitalized. On returning to Australia in 1931, she also got a facelift. This operation caused a blood infection.  In 1931. Melba was Melba re-hospitalized and died in Sydney. 

References for Oceania - Females in Performance and drama in the 18th and 19th Century
  • Anae, N. (2005). A Selected and Crowned Band of Women. Thesis. Hobart: University of Tasmania. Retrieved from
  • Fotheringham, R. & Turner A. (eds.) (2006). Australian Plays for the Colonial Stage. St Lucia, QLD: University of Queensland Press.
  • Goodman, L. &  de Gay, J. (eds.), The Routledge Reader in Gender and Performance, Routledge, New York, United States of America, 1998. 
  • Hibberd, Jack, 'Performing Arts in Australia', Meanjin, vol. 1, 1984. 
  • Miller, S. (2014). 'Theatre' in The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth Century Australia. Canberra: Australian Women's Archive Project. Retrieved from
  • Parsons, P. & Chance, V. (eds.), A Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 1995.
  • Rees, Leslie, A History of Australian Drama: From the 1830s to the late 1960s, 2 edn, vol. 1 of 2, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, New South Wales, 1987. 
  • Wimmer, Carol, 'Early Australian Drama 1788 - 1914', in Crawford, Jerry; Hurst, Catherine; and Lugering, Michael (eds), Acting in Person and in Style in Australia, McGraw Hill, Auckland, New Zealand, 1995.

North America - Female Theatre and Drama in the 19th Century

North America - Female Theatre and Drama in the 19th Century

Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie

Although born in France in 1819, Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie’s father was an American merchant so she spent all of her adult life in the United States. At the age of fifteen, she ran away and eloped to get married. She started as a writer and in the 1830’s she wrote in many forms and produced her first play the six-act play Gulzara. But when financial times became harder, she became a public reader. She continued to write and in 1845, she produced her most well-known dramatic work Fashion. In this same year she started her acting career and performed in many productions of Shakespeare plays but she continued to write plays and in 1847 her play Armand, the Child of the People. She continued to act and performed all over the United States and also in Europe. 

Her husband died in 1851 and she went to England for his burial. In 1853, she remarried. She continued to act and write, mostly novels. In 1865, she moved to England for good and she wrote her last set of plays The Clergyman's Wife, and Other Sketches (1867). Anna Cora Ogden died in England in 1870 and is buried beside her first husband.

Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins 

Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins was a Native American from the Paiute who was born in 1844 by the name of Thocmentony which means Shell Flower. She is known mostly as a autobiographical writer, who wrote and advocated for the rights of Native Americans. Her most famous book was Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883). 

Hopkins also wrote and performed in plays and scenes about the stories, histories and hardships of her people. For a time in the 1860’s, she and members of her family performed in a play about her family and her tribes history entitled A Paiute Royal Family. After the slaughter of many of her family in 1865, by the US cavalry, she started to travel and talk about her people and the atrocities they faced and even lobbied congress. Hopkins continuously wrote to newspapers describing what was being done to her people and some dubbed her the ‘Newspaper warrior’. She died in 1891, still writing. speaking and acting out scenes from stories of the history of the Paiute before and after colonial contact.

Aida Overton Walker 

The African-American vaudeville performer, choreographer, director, singer and writer Aida Overton Walker was born in 1880 and started performing at the age of 15 with John Isham’s Octoroons Black touring group. In the 1890’s she was a dancer in “Black Patti’s Troubadours,” where she met her husband George Walker. In 1899, she started to gain notoriety for her performance of “Miss Hannah from Savannah” in the show Sons of Ham. Her song and dance routines made her a musical theatre star. Along with her husband, she wrote and performed in may successful shows including In Dahomey (1902), Abyssinia (1906) and Bandana Land (1908). She was one of the highest paid female vaudeville performers of her day. 

Walker’s 1908 production of Salome was widely acclaimed for it costumes, choreography, sense of character and dramatic pathos. In 1910 she started solo performances and this was followed by her performances in 1911 in His Honor the Barber with Smart Set Company. Walker sang, danced and performed both female and male characters. Around this time, she also started her charity work for young Black African Women and taught them business and performing skills in her free time. She was one of the only African-American performers of that time to enter into and perform in white venues in New York. Aida continued to perform, write and produce her death in 1914.


Galindo, B. "The Vaudeville Actress Who Refused to Be a Stereotype." Buzzfeed. N.p., 15 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Nov. 2014. Taylor, K. (2011). 

Hopkins, S.W. 2015) . The Newspaper Warrior: Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins's Campaign for American Indian Rights, 1864-1891 edited by Cari M. Carpenter and Carolyn Sorisio. (U of Nebraska Press, 2015).

Krasner, D. "Rewriting the Body: Aida Overton Walker and the Social Formation of Cakewalking." Theatre Survey 37, no. 2 (November 1996): 66-92.

Taylor, K. (2011). Anna Cora Mowatt. AlphaCenturi2Info. Retrieved from

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Asia - 20th and 21st Century Female Playwrights, Directors, Theatre and Drama Practitioners

Asia - 20th and 21st Century Female Playwrights, Directors, Theatre and Drama Practitioners

Pu Shunqing (China)

Pu Shunqing (濮舜卿; 1902 – 1971?) was a great Chinese writer, playwright, screenwriter, assistant director and film director. She was married to the early cinematic pioneer of Chinese cinema, the great Hou Yao. She was a feminist and an early Chinese advocate for female equality. 

While at Southeast University in Nanjing, Pu Shunqing jointly established the Southeast Drama Society with her future husband Hou Yao. One of the first plays she wrote was Paradise on Earth which uses the plot of the ‘Book of Genesis’ from The Bible to further a feminist stance to the point where the character of Wisdom says “…if you don’t believe in God, he will disappear.”   

In 1924, Pu starred in the film The World Against Her directed by her husband Hou. In 1925 she wrote the play, Cupids Puppets which she turned into a screenplay later that year. This effectively made her the first female Chinese screenwriter. Her work in theatre and film can be seen as a style of Morality play with a feminist bent – Feminist Morality drama for want of a better term. 
Pu and her husband joined the Minxin Film Company in 1926 and wrote the screenplays and edited a number of films. She also wrote two playscripts (Hibiscus and Her New Life) during this period that she adapted into screenplays which were never made into films. For her work for anti-Imperialism and the right of women, she was given the official label of a May Fourth Movement playwright. 
By the 1930’s, Pu lived in Shanghai where she worked as a lawyer and a newspaper columnist. She continued to write short plays and poetry for much of the rest of her life.

Takarazuka Group (Japan)

The Takarazuka Revue is a group founded in Takarazuka in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan in 1914. puts on mostly Western style musicals. It was one of the first groups in Japan to reintroduce females onto the Japanese stage performing in Kabuki-style plays and modern plays dealing with Japanese traditional stories, historical events and in more modern times Manga-style characters and narratives.
The Takarazuka Revue tends to organize each review into five troupes such as the Moon Troupe, Snow Troupe, Star Troupe, Flower Troupe and Cosmos Troupe  (the new experimental troupe). Some people have described the Takarazuka more like a circus, others describe it more like a Medieval pageant while others see it more like a version of Japanese vaudeville. Every year, thousands of Japanese women audition for a contract in one of the troupes. 

Original plays and performances are written each year and the combination of elaborate costumes and sets along with a diverse range of music and performance styles make the Takarazuka Revue a healthy vibrant group which furthers the cause of women in Japanese theatre and performance. Every year, the Takarazuka Revue puts on almost 100 performances, sells millions of tickets and over 90% of its performers are female. 

Ratna Sarumpaet (Indonesia)

Ratna Sarumpaet is a female Indonesian Human rights activist, playwright, theatre producer, director and actress who was born on July 16th, 1949 in North Sumatra. In 1969, while studying architecture in Jakarta, she saw a play by the Javanese playwright Willibrordus S. Rendra and dropped out of university and joined his acting troupe. She worked with the troupe for five years and then married and converted to Islam. She then founded in 1974, her own troupe called Satu Merah Panggung (One Red Stage) and adapted into Bahasa Indonesian many foreign plays for the troupe including Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet (in which she played Hamlet in the first production). Her husband proved abusive and eventually divorced her husband and started working in television. 
Sarumpaet returned to theatre in 1989 performing in an adaptation of Othello. She also began working as a director in 1991, with the television serial Rumah Untuk Mama (House for Mother). In the same year, she adapted Jean Anouilh’s Antigone into Bahasa Indonesian for the Jakarta stage using a Sumatran Batak setting.
In the 1990’s, particularly after the rape and murder of the female labour activist Marsinah, Sarumpaet became more politically active and started writing her own original stage plays in 1994 starting with Marsinah: Nyanyian dari Bawl Tanah (Marsinah: Song from the Underground). This was followed by several other politically charged works, several of which were banned or restricted by the Suharto Government including Terpasung (Chained; 1995), about male domination and violence against women, and Pesta Terakhir (The Last Party; 1996), about the burial of a dictator where no funeral-goers turn up. In 1997, she wrote a monologue called Marsinah Menggugat (Marsinah Revolts; 1997), in which she graphically describes the death of Marsinah. The play was banned in Many cities. In the 1997 Indonesian elections, Sarumpaet and her theatre troupe performed Street Theatre with a coffin labeled ‘Democracy’. She was arrested and jailed. After her release she continued to participate in protests and do street theatre in the protests. She wrote the protest play/satire Sang Raja (The King). She was threatened with arrest for dissent and she had to leave Indonesia.
When in the late 2002 when Sarumpaet returned to Indonesia, she wrote a stageplay entitled Alia, Luka Serambi Mekah (Alia, Wound of Serambi Mekah) about the massacres in Aceh province. She continued to write political plays which dealt with child trafficking and female suppression in Indonesian. In 2005, she wrote Pelacur dan Sang Presiden (The Prostitute and the President) to give more prominence to the issue.  In 2006, Sarumpaet organised the seventh triannual Women's Playwright International Conference on the island of Bali. She continues to write political work and make public political statements. She was arrested again in 2016 but was soon released. 

Natsu Nakajima (Japan)

Natsu Nakajima is one of the original female exponents of the Japanese Butoh dance drama form. She was born in Sakhalin, Japan in 1943. She studied dance from an early age but at the age of 19, she joined the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio  and started work with the Butoh master Tatsumi Hijikata one year later. She was a co-founder with Hijikata of the first public Butoh performance pieces. Throughout the 1960’s, she performed perform pieces sometimes written and directed by Hijikata and sometimes written by herself. 

In 1969, Nakajima stablished her own Butoh company Muteki-sha, and developed the Butoh classics Reiko Zo (A Portrait of Reiko) and Natsuyasumi (Summer Vacation) in 1972. This was followed in the 1970’s by Hinemos Kagurazaka-sho (One Day in Kagurazaka), Ogikubo kannon (1975), Sorewa Konoyouna Yoru datta (It was a Night Like This) in 1976 and Gogh San e (Dedicated to Mr.Van Gogh) in 1977. 

By the 1980’s, Nakajima started to perform internationally and she took her 1982 seminal piece Niwa (The Garden) to international festivals in the England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Spain, Israel, France, Italy, Korea, Canada, the USA and Mexico. In 1987, she developed the esoteric Sleep and Reincarnation from the Empty Land which she toured in Spain, England, Australia, Sweden, the USA, Canada and Brazil. She also was commissioned in 1988 to develop and choreograph Ghost Stories for Montreal Danse in Canada.

During the 1990’s, Nakajima spent many years teaching and mentoring many young mostly female performers and theater makers while she refined her Butoh techniques. She also was commissioned to develop a piece she eventually named Towards Diane Arbus for a Chicago festival in 1992 and the 1994 piece commissioned for a Canadian company entitled The Fujiwara Invention. During the 1990’s she also worked at the New York Laban Institute and established special Movement and Dance education programs for disabled children and adults in Japan and the United States.

In the 21st Century she started to develop more new Butoh works which refined her Butoh style and form. Some of these works include Where the flower missing it’s fragrance is going (2003), Its Getting Late in 2004 (for her and Mutekisha’s 40th anniversary year of Butoh performance),  Komachi Story (2005), The Seed (2005), Lilith (2006), No Roots, No Leaves (2006), The Wall (2006), The Dream of Dragonfly (2008) and Tempest (2009). 

Malou Leviste Jacob (Philippines) 

Malou Leviste-Jacob is a Filipino playwright and theatre maker who was born in 1948. She studied in Communications and Film production at Maryknoll College and then at New York University. Her primary work has been done with PETA, a Filipino theatre and activist troupe based in manila which uses theatre for activism and social change. 

Working for many years with the PETA Kalinangan Ensemble, Leviste-Jacob has worked as a playwright and ensemble member on a number of plays and projects. One of her first plays was Timbangan ay Tagilid in 1970 and this was followed by Aidao in 1972 which was co-written with Franklin Osorio. Her most famous works were Raha Sulayman at Megat Salamay (1978) and Juan Tamban (1979) which both dealt with the contemporary social problems of modern Philippine society using a range of theatre styles from realism to expressionist to Epic Theatre. These plays and projects were followed by Ang Mahabang Pagdadalawang Isip sa Maikling Buhay ng Isang Peti-Burgis in 1982 and Pepe in 1983. Much of her work has been done with the poorest communities in the Philippines including this who live on the Manila garbage dumps. 

During the late 1980’s and 1990’s, she started to work more as a film maker and academic but her significant theatre works of this period were Bayang pinagtaksilan ng panahon : dulang satirikal (A Country in Search of a Hero: A Political Satire) and Huling salubong : dulang may tatlong yugto (A Significant Life - The Last Sentence in Three Scenes). She has also written and edited many works on Political Theatre and Multi-Media performance projects.

Naomi Iizuka (Japan)

Naomi Iizuka is a female playwright born in 1965 in Japan to a Japanese father and an American Latina mother. She grew up in Japan, Indonesia, the Netherland and the United States. She attended Yale University. Her dramas normally address social issues but she also experiments with form and performance spaces. 
Much of her work also seems to be influenced by Classical and renaissance theatre. Iizuka first came to notice with her 1997 contemporary adaptation of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus entitled Polaroid Stories. The play has street kids instead of Gods as the main characters and has the young characters who are drug dealers, prostitutes and homeless youth, tell stories that are sometimes real and sometimes lies. As a playwright who believes in the collaborative processes of theatre, Iizuka has worked closely a number of times the female director Ann Bogart most famously on War of the Worlds (2000). Her 2006 adaptation of Hamlet entitled Hamlet: Blood on the Brain is archetypal in essence and transposes Shakespeare’s story to 1980’s Oakland and involves a young man who on getting out of prison, finds that his father has been murdered and his uncle seems to have taken up with the young man’s mother and has assumed the role of head of the household. 
Some of her work includes Lizzy Vinyl (1990), And Then She Was Screaming (1990), Body Beautiful (1990), Crazy Jane (1992), Portrait of Bianca (1992), Greenland (1992), Tattoo Girl (1994), Carthage (1994), Coxinga (1994), Ikeniye (1994), Skin (1995), Marlowe's Eye (1996), Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls (1999), Language of Angels (2000), 36 Views (2001),17 Reasons (Why) (2003), At the Vanishing Point (2004), Strike-Slip (2006), Anon(ymous) (2006), After a Hundred Years (2008), Ghostwritten (2009), Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West (2010), The Last Firefly (2011) and Good Kids (2014).

Miri Yu (Japan/Korea)

Miri Yu was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1968 but is a Zainichi Korean playwright who writes in Japanese. From the age of 16, she joined the Tokyo Kid Brothers theater troupe and worked as an actress and assistant director. In 1986, she formed a troupe called Seishun Gogetsutō (青春五月党), and around this time she moved away from improvised work and started to write her own novels and plays. Her work explores the notion of identity as a complex issue since Miri Yu is herself a person living between two cultures. Her first play was Mizu no naka no tomo e (To My Friend in Water). Her most significant plays are the 1992 piece Uu no matsuri (Festival of the Fish) and Green Beach (1993).

20th and 21st Century Asian Female Playwrights, Directors, Theatre and Drama Practitioners

ALIWW. ‘Malou Leviste-Jacob’ in Filipino Writers in Filipino. Retrieved June 3, 2017 from

Bianpoen, C. (3 December 2006). "Cultural liberty under spotlight at Women Playwrights". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 10 June 2017.

Butoh Masters: Natsu Nakajima & Ankoku Butoh from Butoh in Berlin and Worldwide. (2016, July 27). Retrieved from

Fitri, E. (21 December 2002). "Playwright Ratna still standing tall". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 11 June, 2017.

Hammerich, J. (2015). Writing new roles. Righting old wrongs: Big Ten Theatre Consortium establishes New Play Initiative to combat gender inequity in the Theater. University of Iowa. University of Iowa. Retrieved 20 March 2017.

Kisselgoff, A. (1 October 1987). “Dance: Butoh by Natsu Nakajima”. New York Times. Retrieved from

Kobayashi, I. (1961) Takarazuka Manpitsu (1955). Tokyo: Daiyamondsha. 2: 445-46.

Naomi Iizuka. (2016). UC San Diego, Department of Theatre & Dance. Retrieved from

Robertson, J. (1998). Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sarumpaet, Ratna. "Journey". (in Indonesian). Retrieved 12 June 2017.

Wei, L. S. (2002).  "Pu Shunqing". Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved 10 June 2017.

Weickgenannt, K. (2002). The Deemphasis of Ethnicity: Images of Koreanness in the Works of the Japanese-Korean Author Yû Miri. Images of Asia in Japanese Mass Media, Popular Culture and Literature: Papers Presented at ICAS, 2, 9-12.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Antarctica - Female Performance in the 20th and 21st Century

Antarctica - Female Performance in the 20th and 21st Century

The devastation of whaling in the 20th Century particularly caused by Russia (the U.S.S.R) and Japan almost brought many communities to the brink of extinction. The U.S.S.R killed over 534,000 whales in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The stories of this were probably passed on through the songs of the whales. 
Films of whales in Antarctica in the 1980’s helped the development of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary in 1994 which was signed by 23 countries. Japan continues to carry out culling of whales for ‘scientific purposes’ in the region. Female whales continue their dance of life and songlines until today. The culture, dances and performance rituals of female and male penguins have become more widely publicized and known through the 2005 film March of the Penguins and the 2006 animation feature Happy Feet. Each year over 1.2 million female penguins, 1.2 million female seals, 900,000 female whales and 150,000 female petrels, skuas, shags and albatross, perform across the continent of Antarctica.

On another note, the first human play probably performed on the Antarctic continent was probably Ticket of Leave, a Victorian farce by Watts Phillips which was performed by male expedition members in Discovery Hut (renamed the Royal Terror Theatre for the occasion) on June 25th, 1902. Horace Buckridge played Mrs. Quiver, Frank Wild as Mr Quiver and Gilbert Scott performed the housemaid, Mary Ann. Pages of the script were discovered during the hut’s 1963 reconstruction.

The first female humans to probably perform on Antarctica were probably Americans Lois Jones, Kay Lindsay, Eileen McSaveney and Terry Tickhill in 1969 who were part of the first female expedition to the South Pole. In July 1969, these four women did readings from poetry, journals and at least one dramatic speech in a hut in Antarctica. 

Now every year, a couple of hundred people live on Antarctica over the winter each year and this rises to over a thousand in the summer months. So at any point 40 to 300 women live on the Antarctic continent. Regular performances happen every year with many female performers. Though I doubt that the human performances on Antarctica will ever reach the scale and spectacular performance standards of their avian, cetacean and pinniped cousins.

Africa - 20th and 21st Century Female Playwrights, Directors, Theatre and Drama Practitioners

Africa - 20th and 21st Century Female Playwrights, Directors, Theatre and Drama Practitioners

Sara Pinto Coelho 

Sara Pinto Coelho was born in 1913 in Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe (now the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe) who lived most of her life in Mozambique. She wrote both plays and fiction. Many of her plays were performed in Mozambique. She eventually became Director of theatrical programming on The Radio Club of Mozambique an independent radio station. She married and was the mother of the famous journalist Carlos Pinto Coelho.

Efua Sutherland

The Ghanaian playwright and poet, Efua Sutherland, was born in the Cape Coast (now Ghana) in 1924. She trained as a teacher at the Teacher’s Training College in Ghana before studying Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. When she returned to Accra in Ghana in 1955, she founded with others the literary magazine Okyeame. She also founded in 1959, the experimental theatre workshop, The Drama Studio in Accra which morphed into the Writer’s Workshop in the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. The group founded through the University of Ghana, the first Ghana travelling theatre troupe. 

The experimental theatre of The Drama Studio explored the work of Brecht and Stanislavsky as well as the plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Shakespeare. The Drama Studio also mounted Sutherland’s plays like Foriwa (1962) and Edufa (a 1967 based on the work of Euripides) which both are dramas which explore how old African traditions can be mixed with new ways and modern traditions. In 1975, the group produced Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa: A Storytelling Drama, a piece which examines the connection between traditional African storytelling techniques and contemporary dramatic conventions. 

Under the Artistic Direction of Sutherland the Drama Studio eventually became both an experimental workshop for Ghanaian writers and fertile ground for the development of truly Ghanaian Children’s Theatre. The style of animated rhythm plays was experimented with the 1968 children’s plays Vulture! Vulture! and Tahinta (both 1968). Her plays and poetry were broadcast on the popular Ghanaian radio program ‘The Singing Net’. It is estimated that she wrote 12-20 plays which were and are performed by many drama groups and schools throughout Ghana. One of her later plays was Nyamekye, which is a transposition of Alice in Wonderland into African story forms and contexts using African Folk Opera conventions shows the influence of the folk opera tradition and most of her unpublished plays were performed by drama groups in Ghana. Her book of Ghanaian folktales and folklore The Voice in the Forest, took 20 years to compile but was finally published in 1983. Efua Sutherland died in 1996.

Nadine Gordimer

The prominence of oral storytelling in Africa meant that the emergence of plays, theatre and drama in performance form is sometimes hard to isolate as a separate tradition. One writer who successfully made some journeying into drama was the novelist, poet and political activist Nadine Gordimer who was born in 1923. Her plays like her life, concentrated on advocating for the rights of Black South Africans, and opposing apartheid. She joined the African National Congress and much of her writings were banned at some point. She probably wrote a number of plays but her most famous play and the only one published was The First Circle (1949) which is a one-act play in which Dante and Virgil visit the first circle of hell to question a number of South Africans about their lives and why they have been consigned to hell. 

Ama Ata Aidoo

Ama Ata Aidoo, is female Ghanaian writer, social commentator and playwright born in 1942. Her earliest play The Dilemma of a Ghost (1965) is a problem play and explores the dilemma faced by a Ghanaian student who brings his new Afro-American wife back to Ghana.

In 1967, Aidoo received a scholarship to Stanford University. She returned to Ghana in 1970. In the same year, she produced a short story anthology and the play Anowa, a play which explores the fight for women of individual identity against their communal responsibilities and sense of identity within a community. Much of her later work exposes the problems with the notion of Western education as a liberating tool African women and the problems that face African women who are left to run households and families when war or unemployment leaves them to raise large families.).

Hélène Cixous

The North African Algerian born feminist, playwright, poet and philosopher Hélène Cixous is prolific in her writing in all fields. Her work is sometimes considered feminist and post-structuralist but the influences on her work are quite broad including Simone de Beauvoir, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Arthur Rimbaud. Identity, the power of language and our relationship to language, are central concerns of her work. Some of her plays and dramatic works were La Pupulle (1971), Portrait de Dora (1976), Le Nom d'Oedipe. Chant du corps interdit (1978), La Prise de l'école de Madhubaï (1984), L'Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk (1985), L'Indiade, ou l'Inde de leurs rêves (1987), On ne part pas, on ne revient pas (1991),  Les Euménides d'Eschyle (1992), L'Histoire (1994), La Ville parjure ou le Réveil des Érinyes (1994), Jokasta (1997 opera libretto), Tambours sur la digue (1999), Rouen, la Trentième Nuit de Mai '31 (2001), Le Dernier Caravansérail (2003) and Les Naufragés (2010).

Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe

The eclectic and varied contributions of women to the dramatic and performing arts is nowhere captured so well as in the life and work of South African writer, anti-apartheid activist, storyteller, playwright, director, poet and actress, Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe. Born in 1958, her work as a writer and storyteller has kept alive African storytelling and drama in Africa in Zulu, Xhosa, English and Afrikaans. Her style often is seen to combine traditional storytelling and folklore with contemporary events and song. She began her life in drama as an actress performing in Umongikazi: The Nurse (1983) and Black Dog: Inj'emnyama (1984). She then wrote and performed in the autobiographical play Have You Seen Zandile? (1986). This was followed by Born in the RSA (1987) along with her performances at a number of storytelling festivals internationally as she campaigned more vigorously for an end to Apartheid in South Africa. From 1989–1990, she was resident director at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg as well as coordinating READ, a national literacy organization. Her work was then featured on a number of music and video initiatives including Music for Little People (1993), Not so fast, Songololo (1993), The Gift of theTortoise (contributed to the Ladysmith Black Mambazo album in 1994) and Africa at the Opera (1999). Some of her other work includes Fudukazi's Magic (2002), The Bones of Memory (2002) and Mata Mata (2003). performance, family musical).

20th and 21st Century African Female Playwrights, Directors, Theatre and Drama Practitioners
Adams, A.V. & Sutherland-Addy, E. (2007). The legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan-African Cultural Activism. Banbury: Ayebia Clarke Publishing.
Burness, D. (1981). Critical Perspectives on Lusophone Literature from Africa. Washington D.C.: Three Continents Press.
Da Silva, T.S. (2011). Lusophone African Women’s Writing: A Brief Introduction. Retrieved from
Daymond, M. et al. (eds.) 2002. Women Writing Africa: the southern region. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.
Gibbs, J. (2009). “Efua Sutherland: The ‘Mother’ of Ghanaian Theatre”, in Nkyin-kyin: Essays on the Ghanaian Theatre (Cross/Cultures 98), Rodopi. Retrieved from "Efua Sutherland: The 'Mother' of the Ghanaian Theatre".
Misra, A. (2012). “Death in Surprise: gender and Power Dynamics in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa”. Journal of Drama Studies, Vol.6, No. 1, 2012, pp.81-91.
Odamtten, V.O. (1993). The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo: Polylectics and Reading Against Neocolonialism. University of Florida Press. 
Vogel, E.A. (1993). Betrayals of the Body Politic: The Literary Commitments of Nadine Gordimer. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. Retrieved from Betrayals of the Body Politic: The Literary Commitments of Nadine Gordimer

Williams, L.R., Wilcox, H., McWatters, K. & Thompson, A. (1990).The body and the text: Hélène Cixous: reading and teaching. New York: St. Martin's Press.