Tuesday, July 25, 2017

North America - 20th & 21st Century Female Theatre and Drama Practitioners

North America - 20th & 21st Female Theatre and Drama Practitioners

Elizabeth Robins

Although she spent most of her life in England, I have decided to write about the great Elizabeth Robins as an American figure not only because she was born in the United States but also because her outlook throughout her artistic and political life is perhaps more American than European or English. So, the American writer, playwright, actress, theatre manager and suffragette Elizabeth Robins who was born in 1862 is a pivotal figure in theatre not due to quantity of output but due to ideas and themes that she explored and wrote about. Look at her play Votes for Women (1907) since it is thematically and stylistically revolutionary. https://archive.org/stream/votesforwomenpla00robiuoft/votesforwomenpla00robiuoft_djvu.txt

Robins started her dramatic career as an actress and it is as an actress that she met her husband James O'Neill, who helped her to join Edwin Booth’s theatre in 1882. Soon after marrying O’Neill in 1885, her career took off as her husband's career started to falter in New York. Her husband eventually committed suicide in 1888 by throwing himself off a bridge, writing in his suicide note, "I will not stand in your light any longer." Robins moved to London after her husband’s death. In London, she met Oscar Wilde and a life-long friendship was born. 

In London, Robin’s career was strengthened by her performances in a number of acting roles. She also saw lots of theatre and she was particularly taken by the strength of female characters in the plays of contemporary playwrights like Ibsen. In the 1890’s, she met Marion Lea and the two set up a joint theatre management which specifically attempted to advocate for women having better roles on and off the stage. They brought Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House to the London stage with Robin performing in both plays. This started her career as an actor-manager. Both George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde heard the call and started to write more prominent roles for women in their plays. In 1898, Robins also created a theatre company with her new lover William Archer and called the company the New Century Theatre. The production of and premiering of Ibsen plays became their specialty. She also started writing novels around this time under the pseudonym of C. E. Raimond. Some believe that the psychological realism and women’s advocacy evident in Ibsen helped Robin to feel more empowered to further follow her own fight for women. This independence was also shown in her solo journey in 1900 to the Alaskan gold rush camps to search for her brother believed lost in the Yukon. She found her brother and wrote about her journey in a later book.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Robins sees that her struggle for women must go beyond just the stage and she started her involvement in the Women's Rights movement which was fighting the Vote for Women and equality of wages and job opportunities. She started to write novels under her own name and adapted some of her writings to the stage such as Votes for Women (1907). https://archive.org/stream/votesforwomenpla00robiuoft/votesforwomenpla00robiuoft_djvu.txt

Robins started write articles and presenting speeches for the women’s suffragette movement. She campaigned for women to be allowed to enter the House of Lords. She started around this time a special friendship with Octavia Wilberforce (the granddaughter of William Wilberforce the British emancipator of slaves) which some believe was romantic. She also struck up a special friendship with Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Wilberforce and Robins were companions until Robins’ death in 1958. 

Rachel Crothers

Rachel Crothers was an American playwright and theater director born in 1878 who was known as an early feminist. She was one of the most prolific female playwrights of the twentieth century. As early as1899, Crothers was writing one-act plays, and over the next few years, as these plays received showcase productions and good notices, she gained a reputation as a young dramatist of serious potential with an interest in the Ibsen-style "social problem drama." Her big break came with her first full-length play, The Three of Us (1906) which was produced in New York. Her 1909 play a Man’s World was also a hit. Her 1919 play A Little Journey was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her plays are thematically advanced for her time dealing with sexual double standards, "free love," divorce, prostitution, and Freudian psychology. 
Crothers’ directing was also extraordinary, creating pivotal moments for the actresses she worked with. She championed the role of women in theatre through her work for organizations such as the United Theatre Relief Committee, the Stage Relief Fund and the Stage Women's War Relief Fund. The plays she wrote for Broadway and Off-Broadway include The Three of Us (1906), Myself Bettina (1908), A Man's World (1910). He and She (1911), Ourselves (1913), Young Wisdom (1914), The Heart of Paddy Whack (1914), Once Upon a Time (1917), Mother Carey's Chickens (1917), A Little Journey (1919), Nice People (1921), Mary the Third (1923), Expressing Willie (1924), Let Us Be Gay (1929), As Husbands Go (1931), When Ladies Meet (1933) and Susan and God (1937).

Jane Cowl

Born in 1883, American playwright and actress Jane Cowl is mostly known for her work as a film and stage actress. She worked initially as stage actress with the great director David Belasco and became known for her roles in productions of Shakespeare. Her portrayal of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in 1923 broke all records with her performing the role for over 1000 consecutive performances. Prior to that she had appeared in a number of silent films including The Garden of Lies (1915) and The Spreading Dawn (1917). 

Cowl’s started to write plays as early as 1917. Her plays primarily were written in the style of melodrama but her plays have a nuanced quality which sometimes has been described as heightened or stylistic realism, Her best known plays (often written under the pseudonym of Allan Langdon Martin) are Lilac Time (1917), At Daybreak (1917), Information Please (1918), Smilin’ Through (1919) and The Jealous Moon (1928).

Eva La Gallienne

Born in London in 1899, Eva La Gallienne was an English theatre director, writer and actor of Danish ancestry who was educated in London and Paris but I have included her under the North American entries because most of her work in theatre and drama was done in North America during her lifetime.

Although she studied acting at Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s Academy for actors, La Gallienne left England at the age of 19 and by the age of 22 was a great success in New York particularly in her performance in Molnar’s Liliom (1921). When in 1924, the director of a production of Hauptmann’s The Assumption of Hannele was taken ill, La Gallienne became a first time director. In 1925, she took on the dual roles of actor and director in the Hedgerow Theater’s productions of a season of Ibsen plays for which she did original translations into English for the season. These plays became the centre piece to the theatre company she co-founded the Civic Repertory Theater (CRT), a European style repertory theatre with a large repertoire of plays, a small acting company and low priced seats subsidized by wealthier patrons. La Gallienne became committed through her lifetime to making theatre accessible to all people and her egalitarian ideals are still at the forefront of many Repertory theatre companies and companies run by women.

Sophie Treadwell

The playwright, novelist, poet and journalist Sophie Treadwell was always a force to be reckoned with. Born in 1885, Treadwell's childhood was not always stable due to the break up of her parents. She started an interest in drama from an early age. After graduating from the University of California in 1906, she started a career in journalism as well as a developing what became a lifelong interest in activism and the suffragette movement. She participated in the 150 mile march with the Lucy Stone League to deliver a petition on women's suffrage to the legislature of New York. 

Treadwell's playwrighting career spanned some 62 years starting with A Man's Own (1905) and ending with Women with Lillies (1967). Her plays explore many aspects of the lives of women and in some plays she also explored her Mexican heritage and the life of migrant in the USA. The first play she had produced on Broadway was Gringo in 1922. But perhaps her greatest play was Machinal (1928). This play is an amazing one that some consider to be one of the greatest ten plays of the 20th century. The play is considered a classic of Expressionist drama of the 1920's and the story follows the life of a stenographer who is forced to marry her boss but falls in love with a younger man. She is eventually driven to killing her husband and is convicted of murder and executed in the electric chair. This play is so individual and stylistically different, that it is amazing that it is not studied and re-staged more regularly. 

All of Treadwell's plays are available electronically on the 'North American Women's Drama' database. All are worth a read but Machinal is an absolute must.

Treadwell lived for a while in Austria and Spain before returning to live her last years in Tucsan, Arizona. She died in 1970.

Viola Spolin

Back in the 1920's and 1930's, an American woman named Viola Spolin (1906-1994) began to develop a new approach to the teaching of acting. It was based on the simple and powerful idea that children would enjoy learning the craft of acting if it were presented as a series of games. Spolin trained initially as a settlement worker and used the techniques of Neva Boyd learnt by her while studying at the Neva Boyd Group Work School in Chicago and her own psycho-drama, creativity and improvisational techniques to help settle and work with inner city migrant children. She went on to work as a drama advisor for the Chicago branch of the Works Progress Administration’s Recreational Project from 1939 until 1941 and she was visionary in seeing the possibilities that theatre training could provide to break down cultural and ethnic divides and develop social, cultural and interpersonal skills.

By 1946, Spolin had formed the Young Actor’s Company in Hollywood to develop her Theatre Games system further. She returned to Chicago in 1955 to work with various companies including the Playwright’s Theatre Club and the Compass Players (founded by David Shepherd but steered by significant work done by Spolin’s son Paul Sills). She then went on to work with the Second City Company and published her most significant work on her techniques entitled Improvisation for the Theatre which was published in 1963 which outlined 220 drama games and exercises and has inspired teachers, actors and educators for years to come.

Spolin's son, Paul Sills, built on his mother's work and was one of the driving forces of improvisational theatre building momentum in the United States and Canada. Along with people like Del Close and David Shepherd, Sills created an ensemble of actors who developed a kind of "modern Commedia" which would appeal to the average man in the street. As with Theatresports and the original Commedia, the goal was to create theatre that was accessible to everyone.

The group that sprang from the work of Sills, Shepherd and Close, called The Compass, was extremely successful. It brought people to the theatre who in many cases had never gone before, and eventually led to the development of a company called Second City. Through The Compass and Second City, Spolin's Theatre Games went on to influence an entire generation of improvisational performers. Her work in the early 1970’s with Sill’s Story Theater which appeared as a television production is remembered by many.

As the 1970’s drew on, Spolin concentrated her work more on training and in 1975 her file card system called the ‘Theater Game File’ was published and produced. She went on to train professional Theater Games coaches and educators at the Spolin Theater Game Center during the 1970’s and 1980’s. In 1985 Spolin’s ‘Theater Games for Rehearsal: A Director’s Handbook’ was published. Spolin continued to teach and train people up until the early 1990’s.

Stella Adler 

Probably more than any other women in the 20th Century, the actress and acting teacher Stella Adler influenced the nature and form of American acting in the 20th Century. Born in 1901, Adler became one of the two major exponents in the United States (along with Lee Strasberg) of the great Russian director Stanislavsky’s acting techniques. 

Born into a Jewish-American acting family, Adler started acting with the Independent Yiddish Art Company from a young age. She made her international debut in London in 1919 in Elisa Ben Avia. Adler met her first husband, Horace Eliashcheff, in London but brief marriage ended soon after in a divorce. Adler appeared in the vaudeville circuit and made her Broadway in 1922 in The World We Live In. But 1922 also brought a sea change for Adler since it was in that year that Russian director Stanislavsky made his one and only tour with his Moscow Art Theatre of the United States. Adler and others saw many performances and these performances had an earth shattering impact on Adler and North American theatre in the 20th century. By 1925, Adler was working under Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya who had worked with Stanislavsky at the Moscow Arts Theatre. Stella Adler along with Sanford Meisner, Elia Kazan and Luther Adler (Stella’s brother) joined Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg at the Group Theater in New York to use Stanislavsky’s methods to help experiment with and perform new works with a focus on Realism. She worked on plays such as Success Story and Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing!, Paradise Lost and Golden Boy (which she directed).

By 1930, Adler had started to have some misgivings about the way that Strasberg interpreted Stanislavsky’s work and writing. So in 1934, Adler along with Harold Clurman (who she was to marry in 1943) went to Paris to study directly with Stanislavsky. Stanislavsky had refined his acting practices and theories, and as Adler realised, less emphasis was put on emotional memory and more on the imagination and the imaginative life of the actor. Returning to the United States, Adler separated herself from Strasberg and his theories and moved to Hollywood. 

In the early 1940’s, Adler returned to New York to work with the great German director and probably the inventor of Epic Theatre, Erwin Piscator at the New School for Social Research. This period marks Adler’s experimentation with different types of Realism, Naturalism and even Expressionism. In 1949, Adler founded her own acting school, the Stella Adler Studio of acting. This studio and its work and training of actors was to become Adler’s greatest achievement.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Adler taught at her studio, the Stanislavsky system of character preparation and building a character along with her own characterization and script analysis techniques. Some of her students during this period included Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Warren Beatty and Robert De Niro. During the 1970’s, Adler refined her techniques so that her system suited both stage and cinematic actors. Some of the actors she taught during the 1970’s and 1980’s included Martin Sheen, Harvey Keitel, Manu Tupou, Melanie Griffith and Peter Bogdanovich. Adler also taught acting during this period at the New School, Yale School of Drama and New York University. Her methodical techniques along with Adler’s refined emphasis on emotion as simply an expression of the character’s inner life which must be linked to the external skills which an actor must master, meant that she never achieved the public notoriety that people like Lee Strasberg did. 

Adler’s friend and protégée Joanne Linville encouraged Adler to bring a version of her studio to Los Angeles and the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theater in LA has continued her work and produced a new generation of artists who have blossomed under her techniques. These include Salma Hayek, Mark Ruffalo and Brian James. 

In 1988, Adler finally published her work and techniques in a book entitled The Technique of Acting. Marlon Brando wrote a tribute to his teacher and mentor in the foreword. During her lifetime Adler performed in over 50 productions and directed over 40 plays. But Adler’s legacy exists primarily in the knowledge which she passed onto thousands of others. As an echo of this legacy, there exists over 1,100 audio and video recordings of Adler teaching from the 1960s to the 1980s which have been digitized by the Hard Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin. 

Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman was an American playwright, screenwriter and activist known for political activism and Communist sympathies. She was born in 1905 in New Orleans to a Jewish family. She moved to New York and studied at New York University and did some courses at Columbia University.

In 1925, Hellman married playwright Arthur Kober, but she insisted they maintain their independence and they often lived apart. In 1929, she moved to Bonn to study. By 1930, she was back in the United States in Hollywood where she worked as a reader for MGM summarising novels and writing assessments of screenplays received. Around this time she met the mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and soon after returned to New York and divorced Kober. Her first play to achieve success was The Children's Hour which was performed on Broadway in 1934 and ran for 691 performances. The play centres on a schoolgirl making a false accusation of lesbianism against two of her teachers. Before the falsehood is discovered, one of the teachers commits suicide. As a con sequence of the play, Hellman became a focal point of the American Feminist movement.

Throughout the 1930's, Hellman wrote a number of screenplays for MGM. She joined the Screenwriter's Guild and the League of American Writers and her activism and advocacy grew during this period. She was open supporter of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War. Her play The Little Foxes opened on Broadway in 1939 and ran for 410 performances. The play tells the story of Southerner Regina Hubbard Giddens who must fight for her freedom and her inheritance against gender prejudice. Regina is shown to be both strong and manipulative and she steals bonds from her husband for an investment she has committed to. On hearing about his, her husband Horace suffers a heart attack and Regina is shown to not help him. The play ends with Regina being alone and wealthy after leaving her husband to die, being alienated by her brothers and driving her only child away.

By the 1940's, Hellman was working on international committees against the rise of Hitler and Fascism. Her 1941 play Watch on the Rhine was a drawing-room comedy set in the Southern United States which Nazis and blackmail. Her plays investigates in comic terms the real struggles of those in Nazi Germany. Her 1944 play The Searching Wind also examined Fascism and Antisemitism. Later in the 1940's she was blacklisted as a writer due to her Communist links. Finding it hard to get screenplay work, she returned to the theatre where she adapted the French play Montserrat to the American stage in 1949.

In 1952, Hellman was called to testify at HUAC hearings. She answered questions on her own Socialist ideas but refused to answer questions on friends and colleagues. In 1955, she adapted Jean Anouilh's play L'Alouette which she named The Lark  which was based on the trial of Joan of Arc. Music for the play was composed by Leonard Bernstein. The play was a success but controversial still surrounded her black banning from writing screenplays. In 1960, one of most successful plays opened on Broadway and ran for over 464 performances. The play is about a dysfunctional family made up of two middle aged spinsters who look after their no-hoper younger brother who brings home a young wife.

In 1963, the American Academy of Arts and Letters inducted her as a member. Her play My Mother, My Father and Me opened to little success in 1963. During the 1970's, she taught writing at UC Berkeley and MIT. In 1976, she published her third volume of memoirs Scoundrel Time which tracks her work in the Feminist and Communist movements. Part of the 1977 film Julia is allegedly based on Hellman's memoir. Hellman died at the age of 79 in 1984 and she was buried as she requested underneath a lone pine tree at Abel Hill in Martha's Vineyard.

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry 

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an African-American playwright and writer born in 1930. She is the first African-American woman to have a play performed on Broadway. Her most famous play, about the hardships of the Younger family, was A Raisin in the Sun and it appeared on Broadway in 1959. It is listed under many lists as one of the greatest plays of all time. She won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for this play making her the first African American to win this award and the youngest playwright to win this award. The play speaks to people from all cultures and genders. After Hansberry moved to New York City, she started work with the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom. Much of her written at this time fought for civil rights. As an African American, a woman and a lesbian her writing concentrated on human rights and sexual liberation. Hansberry died at the age of only 34 due to cancer. She inspired and is immortalized in the Nina Simone song ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’. 

Maya Angelou

Although mainly known as a poet and memoirist, Maya Angelou should also be separately acknowledged as the force in drama. Although she wrote for over 50 years, her plays were mostly written in and performed during the 1960’s and 1970’s. As a social activist, her plays tend to have a social activist and social change focus but her plays stylistically range from cabaret/musical revues to social realism to adaptations of Ancient Greek classics. Her plays include Cabaret for Freedom (co-written with Godfrey Cambridge in 1960), The Least of These (1966), The Best of These (1966), Gettin' up Stayed on My Mind (1967), Sophocles, Ajax (a 1974 stage adaptation) and And Still I Rise (1976).

Nancy Cárdenas

Well-known in Mexico but not so well-known in the English-speaking world, the Mexican actress and playwright Nancy Cárdenas is one female theatre artist and makers who genuinely needs to be examined or re-examined. Born in 1934, she was one of the first Mexican public figures to publically declare her homosexuality. Although firstly known as a radio personality, in 1960 she published her first play, the one act drama El cántaro seco (The Empty Pitcher) and this was soon followed by Y la maestra bebe un poco (And the teacher drinks a bit). In the early 1970’s she openly declared her homosexuality and founded the first organization supporting gay and lesbian women in Mexico called the Gay Liberation Front in the early 1970’s. She also adapted Matt Crowley’s Los chicos de la banda de Matt Crowley (Boys in the Band). During the 1970’s and early 1980’s her work became both more overtly political and eclectic at the same time. Her plays during this period include Cuarteto (Foursome), Misterio bufo (Bouffe Mystery), La hiedra (Ivy) and Sida - así es la vida (AIDS- such is life). She also directed plays and also did a number of stage adaptations including Henrik Ibsen’s Doll’s House entitled La casa de muñecas de Henrik Ibsen. She also directed heself in the film México de mis amores in 1979. 

Jackie Curtis 

Primarily known as an avant-garde Jackie Curtis was a playwright, writer, singer and actress best known for her work with Andy Warhol. Jackie performed as both a man and a woman throughout her career. Warhol considered her to be a great artist without frontier. Her work often explored sexuality and identity, and often featured transsexual actresses Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn. She also worked with Robert De Niro and Patti Smith. Some people consider the style of her work cabaret and some call it “glam-drama”. She appeared in the Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey films Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971). She is named in Lou Reed’s famous song Walk on the Wild Side. She directed many of her own plays. The most famous and successful plays she wrote were Glamour, Glory and Gold (1967), Lucky Wonderful (1968), Amerika Cleopatra (1968), Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit (1970), Femme Fatale (1971), Vain Victory: Vicissitudes of the Damned (1971), Tyrone X (1979), I Died Yesterday (1983) and Champagne (1985). Soon after writing Champagne in 1985, her drug addiction and battles with depression lead to her dying due to a heroin overdose.

Judith Malina

Judith Malina was a German-born American theatre maker, director and actress and the co-founder with her husband Julian Beck of the radical theatre troupe, The Living Theatre. 

In 1929, when Malina was three, her family migrated to New York.  immigrated with her parents to New York City. Her parents helped her appreciate the importance of the politics and political theatre like the theatre of German Erwin Piscator. At 17, while at Yale University, she met her husband and long-time collaborator Julian Beck. Their relationship was non-monogamous due to them both having other male partners. In 1947, they founded The Living Theatre. 

In the 1950s, The Living Theatre was one of the first American theatre companies to do the work of Bertolt Brecht and Jean Cocteau. They also put on Pablo Picasso’s Desire Caught By the Tail. They also put on Pirandello's Tonight We Improvise. They often performed in unusual location such as warehouses, cafes and in the streets and alleyways. Some of their early work is described as Epic theatre, Newspaper Theatre or Guerilla Theatre although the work in terms of style and construction is often close to the Beat poets. In 1959, Malina and Beck created the play The Connection which received notoriety due to its portrayal of drug addiction. The 1963 piece The Brig was a political piece that looked at conditions in American Marine prisons. Beck was jailed around this time by the IRS and Marina defended him in court dressed and acting like Portia from The Merchant of Venice. Soon after Beck was released, the troupe left for Europe to tour with no money and a host of ideas. 
The Living Theatre’s work during the middle and late 1960’s is described as anarchist, collectivist and pacifist with members living together and writing plays collectively. They developed a technique of writing parts of the playtext and leaving other parts open in performance. Many people describe the work of this period as semi-improvisational. They became more influenced by the ideas of Artaud and the work of Grotowski. Some works developed during this time were adaptations of Antigone and Frankenstein, and Paradise Now, which became their best-known play. The play Paradise Now, used this method and involved audience participation, using contemporary references and nudity which led to the group being arrested on many occasions for indecent exposure. 

In 1968, The Living Theatre returned to the United States and toured Paradise NowAntigoneMysteries and Smaller Pieces, and Frankenstein. In 1971 they toured Brazil and were imprisoned for several months before being deported. They continued to tour throughout many parts of the world. They shared ideas, performance spaces and practices with other American experimental theatre companies such as The Open Theatre and The Bread and Puppet Theatre.  Malina and the company created many semi-improvised theatre pieces protesting the Vietnam War. In 1975, she appeared in the film Dog Day Afternoon and this started a lifelong friendship.

In 1983, Beck was diagnosed with stomach cancer and he died 18 months later in 1985. Malina continued to run The Living Theatre with others while also bringing up her two children Garrick and Isha. The Living Theatre continued its political playwriting and semi-improvisational play construction techniques. 

In her later life, Malina appeared in a number of films and television series including Awakenings (1990), The Addams Family (1991) where she played Grandma Addams, Household Saints (1993), Looking for Richard (1996) and the television series The Sopranos (1996). She is the subject of a 2012 documentary Love and Politics. Theatre and Anarchist conferences throughout the world continued to invite her to conferences until the end of her life. She died in New Jersey in 2015. 

María Irene Fornés

María Irene Fornés was a Cuban-born American playwright, director, theatre-maker and teacher. She was born in 1930 in Havana in Cuba and died at the age of 88 in 2018 in New York City. Although she is known for many performance projects and forms, her most well-known work are the plays Fefu and Her Friends (1977), Mud (1983), Sarita (1984) and Letters from Cuba (2000). Among her life partners and sometimes collaborators were North American writer, social commentator, bohemian and artist model Harriet Sohmers Zwerling and North American writer, philosopher, political activist and teacher Susan Sontag.

Fornés theatre work as both a director and playwright is sometimes categorized as avante garde or eclectic known for the ‘worlds’ or ‘spaces’ she creates in her plays. Narrative structure and emotional mood is sometimes devoid from the ‘world’ of her plays and replaced by an emphasis on interpersonal relationships as symbolic of greater aspects of the human condition in a world dominated by social and economic degradation. This perhaps comes from both her childhood in Cuba and her life in the USA after the age of 15. She worked in shoe factory while also taking English language classes and ended up working as a translator before she trained as an abstract artist. In her artistic pursuits, she met artist model, writer and bohemian Harriet Sohmers and she moved to a bohemian community in Paris in 1954 where she saw and profoundly affected by a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. She returned to the USA in 1957 where she started work at the Actor’s Studio and started her directing, playwrighting and teaching career.

As a director and teacher, she was known for the movement work she did with actors, directors and writers whereby she would get them to use their bodies to create the shapes and unconscious worlds of their characters from their imaginations in space.
As a director and teacher, she was productive but as a playwright she was prolific. Her plays include The Widow (1961), There! You Died (1963), The Successful life of 3: A skit for Vaudeville (1965), Promenade (1965 with music by Al Carmines), The Office (1966), The Annunciation (1967), A Vietnamese Wedding (1967), Dr. Kheal (1968), Molly's Dream (1968 with music by Cosmos Savage), The Red Burning Light, or Mission XQ3 (1968 with music by John Vauman), Aurora (1972 with music by John Fitzgibbon), The Curse of the Langston House (1972), Cap-a-Pie (1975 with music by José Raúl Bernardo), Washing (1976), Fefu and Her Friends (1977), Lolita in the Garden (1977), In Service (1978), Eyes on the Harem (1979), Evelyn Brown (A Diary) (1980), Blood Wedding (1980 - adapted from Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre, Life is a Dream (1981 - adapted from de la Barca’s La Vida es sueno), A Visit (1981), The Danube (1982), Mud (1983), Sarita (1984 with music by Leon Odenz), No Time (1984), The Conduct of Life (1985), Cold Air (1985 - adapted and translated from a play by Pinera), A Matter of Faith (1986), Lovers and Keepers (1986 with music by Tito Puente and Fernando Rivas), Drowning (1986 - adapted from a short story by Anton Chekhov), Art (1986), Abingdon Square (1987), Uncle Vanya (1987 – a transposition and adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya), Hunger (1988), And What of the Night? (1989 - four one plays including NadineSpringtimeLust and Hunger), Oscar and Bertha (1992), Terra Incognita (1992 with music by Robert Sierra), Enter the Night (1993), Summer in Gossensass (1995), Manual for a Desperate Crossing (1996), Balseros (Rafters) (1997 – an opera based on Manual for a Desperate Crossing, with music by Robert Ashley) and Letters from Cuba (2000).

It is essential that Fornés work as a playwright is studied along with her work as a teacher and theatre director. An excellent start besides her plays is a documentary feature film made in by Michelle Memran called The Rest I Make Up. 

Marcia Haufrecht

Marcia Haufrecht is a great American actress, playwright, director and acting coach who was born in 1937. Her work at The Actor’s Studio and The Ensemble Theatre have made her influence felt through three generations of American theatre.

Although Haufrecht started her performing arts career as a dancer, but as she herself said, “Broadway was scarcely clamoring for a barefoot dancer.” She soon found her footing as an actress and performed in an off-Broadway version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Flies. Over the next few years she juggled a career as a dancer with that of an actress. Around 1964, she met Lee Strasberg and joined his classes at The Actor’s Studio. She was to maintain an active relationship with The Actor’s Studio for over 50 years. Around this time she appeared in stage productions of Chekhov’s The Seagull at The Actor’s Studio and Brecht’s Galileo at the Theatre of the Living Arts. In 1968, Haufrecht started work at the New York Theatre La MaMa, a theatre company she was to work on and off with and for for 30 years. Her first roles at La MaMa were as an actress in Tom Paine and Having Fun in the Bathroom. 

During the 1970’s, Haufrecht started her third career, as a playwright and performer in her own plays. The first plays she wrote and performed in were three short plays she performed at The Performing Arts of Woodstock in 1972 entitled Once Again and yet Again, Night and Eve. The plays were a critical success. In the same year, she performed in a production of Richard III opposite Al Pacino. In 1973, Haufrecht wrote and performed in her fourth play The Independence of Striva Kowardsky. She continued to perform on the stage in other plays including in the premiere in 1978 of Sam Shepard’s play Curse of the Starving Class. In 1979, she wrote and performed her fifth play Welfare, a play which reflected her growing and eventually lifetime concern for and commitment to the American underclass and those who are economically, politically and socially disenfranchised. 

Throughout the 1980’s, Haufrecht mostly wrote and performed in her own plays including On Bliss Street Sunnyside (1981), Alegra Katz (1981), Accumulated Baggage (1981) and Full and High Tide in the Ladies Room (1988). In 1989, Haufrecht started her fifth career, that of a director. She wrote, directed and performed in a play she was commissioned to write the play An Exchange for La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in Australia.

During the 1990’s, Haufrecht performed on stage, on film and on television but this period is probably better known for her television appearances in Law & Order, The Sopranos and Law & Order SVU. Her new play Promethea Bound and Sisyphus Too performed firstly in Australia and New Zealand was also success. In 2001, she acted in Tennessee Williams’ play Will Mr. Merriweather Return from Memphis? in its first New York production.  It was a commercial and critical success. Haufrecht was also praised for her direction of Mark Borkowski’s The Daughter’s of Eve (2009). 

Haufrecht is a great women of theatre and drama and to finish off, it is fitting that we talk about her sixth career in drama and theatre - that of a teacher and acting coach. Although, she started to teach at Lee Strasberg’s Theatre Institute in the late 1960’s, her work at The Actor’s Studio, Pace University, Columbia University and her own private acting coaching is one of her greatest achievements. Haufrecht’s legacy continues through not only her own work, but the actors she has mentored including Ellen Barkin, Alec Baldwin, Uma Thurman, Janine Turner, Loren Dean and Harvey Keitel. 

Mary Zimmerman 

Mary Zimmerman is an American playwright, director and opera director born in Nebraska in 1960. She studied theatre and performance studies at Northwestern University. 

One of the first successes was her 1994 plays Odyssey, Silk and Arabian Nights. Arabian Nights in particular is more than a retelling of the 1001 Arabian Nights but it is a beautiful exploration of storytelling and theatre forms from straight-storytelling to Realism to Epic Theatre to Physical Theatre and the styles of Grotowski and Artaud. Her 1996 rewriting of Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses was converted into the play Six Myths but later this became her 2001 play Metamorphoses. She followed Six Myths in 1996 with the 1998 play Eleven Rooms of Proust (1998) which explores the landscape of Marcel Proust’s eight-part novel ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ with an imaginative journey from the claustrophobic interior world to the broad landscapes of emotion and humanity in Proust’s work. 

Zimmerman’s work in the 21st Century included the opera Galileo Galilei (2002) for which Philip Glass did the music, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (2003), and Argonautika (2006). She also directed many plays from 2000 to 2011. In 2013 she adapted Disney’s The Jungle Book for the stage. Her work as a playwright, director and academic continues to produce challenging and life affirming drama and performances. 

Ximena Escalante

The Mexican playwright Ximena Escalante is truly international in her outlook and also the influence and influences of her work. Escalante grew up in a theatrical family in an intellectual and artistic community in Mexico City called Condesa. 
Her grandfather Alvaro Custodio was the co-founder of the Teatro Clásico de México in the 1960s. She started writing plays and stories at the age of 16. She went on to study drama with Hugo Argüelles and drama directing with Ludwick Margules before studying at the Real Escuela Superior de Arte Dramatico (RESAD) in Spain. It is around this time that she primarily moved into being a playwright.

Escalante’s work is often based on ancient myths and her work has been described as archetypal in its characters and international in its appeal and the issues it addresses.  Some of her other work has a biographical focus while also having a mythological base or through line. Her dramatic works include Vacío Azul (1994), La siesta de Pirandello (1996), Cary Grant (1997), Freda y otras griegas (2002), Yo también quiero un profeta (2003), Colette (2005), Unos cuantos piquetitos (2006), La piel (2006), Andrómaca Real (2007), Touché o la erótica del combate (2007), Monologs (2008), Electra despierta (2008), Neurastenia (2010), Las relaciones (sexuales) de Shakespeare (y Marlowe) (2012), Tennessee en cuerpo y alma (2012) and Grito al cielo con todo mi corazón (2014). Look at these clips from two productions of her plays and see if you can get her work in translation.

Lynn Nottage

Born in 1964 in Brooklyn, New York, Lynn Nottage is an American playwright who remains the only female playwright to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. She may end up being the greatest American playwright of all time. Her plays are confronting and often tell the stories of those who live on the margins of society. At the age of 17, while still at high school, she wrote her first play, The Darker Side of Verona about an all-African American Shakespeare troupe performing in America's deep south. After attending Brown University and Yale School of Drama she started to work towards the first commercial production of her short play Poof (1993) which was presented at the Humana Festival of New American Plays by the Actors Theatre of Louisville. 

In 1994, Nottage was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and the Van Lier Playwright Fellowship. In 1995, she had two plays performed, Crumbs from the Table of Joy and Por'Knockers. In 1997she wrote Mud, River, Stone which received favourable reviews but attracted little commercial interest. After a break from the theatre, Nottage returned to writing plays and in 2002 her play, Las Meninas. This was soon followed by her play Intimate Apparel (2003) which is one of the most performed American plays of the 21st century. The play is set in a boarding house and starts in 1905 and centres on the character of an Afro-American seamstress named Esther who resides in a women's boarding house and makes intimate apparel for everyone from wealthy white clientele to prostitutes. As the years go by and boarders move in and out, Esther is left lonely but dreaming of a husband and setting up her own beauty salon for Afro-American women where they can be treated with as much dignity and pampering as the white women she sews intimate apparel for. 

After the success of Intimate Apparel, Nottage wrote the play Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine (2004) which is a social satire tracing the social and moral demise of Undine Barnes Calles after her husband steals her money and she is forced to return to Brooklyn and her family and former life. This was followed in 2007 by Ruined for which she won her first Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009. Ruined is a powerful play which deals with the trials and tribulations of Congolese women who survived the massacres and slaughters of the 1990's. The play is a tragedy, an unconventional love story, a morality tale and a melodrama which explores the horrendous effects of violence, rape and opportunism in a war. The play is set in an unnamed mining town in the Congo at a business, bar and brothel run by Mama Nadi and it examines the blurred lines between victims and perpetrators. As Nottage herself says, the play shows "the sacred with the profane, the transcendent with the lethal, the flaws of beauty, and the selfishness with generosity". 

The success of Ruined was followed by other plays including By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (2011) and Our War (2015) and In Your Arms (2015) which Nottage co-wrote or contributed material to. 2015 marked a big year for her with her second Pulitzer Prize winning play Sweat. Nottage's work on the play began in 2011, when after becoming obsessed with the Occupy Wall Street movement and the reasons for poverty, she began work on the project. The project started as a Documentary or Verbatim Theatre style project by interviewing residents in small towns Pennsylvania where the poverty rate was over 40%. The play centres on a meeting between a parole officer, two ex-convicts and three women who were childhood friends and also worked in the same factory when they were young. The play's narrative shifts time and settings as it examines the disintegration of friendships and the working class in the United States of America through the lenses of poverty, opportunity, race and social disintegration. 

Nottage continues to produce powerful work including contributing to multi-media instillations such as This is Reading (2017) and the plays Milima's Tale (2018), Floyd's (2019) and The Secret Life of Bees (2019). 

Legna Rodríguez Iglesias

Iglesias is a Cuban born playwright, poet and short story writer born in 1984 who eventually came to work in Miami in the United States. Her theatre work is ecletic and absurdist in its style often structurally using a ‘slice of life’ approach showing and intersecting observations about the lives of individuals.

In her plays, Iglesias combines different forms such as prose, dialogue and verse to reveal characters in often absurd or perverse situations making comments about both her Cuban cultural roots and the place and identity of immigrants from Latin countries to the United States of America. In 2006, she won the Premio Literario Casa se Las Americas for her theatre work and in 2011 the Premio Iberoamericano de Cuentos Juli Cortazr for her drama and poetry work. Her plays have been performed in both Cuba and the United States of America. 

Danai Gurira

Danai Gurira is a Zimbabwean-American playwright and actress who was born in 1978 in Grinnel, Iowa but spent most of her childhood in Harare in Zimbabwe. She moved back to the United States to study at Macalester College in Minnesota where she produced an Honors paper entitled Running Head: The Neglect of Black Women in Psychology. She then completed a Master of Fine Arts in acting at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts in 2003.

Although, she began writing plays in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Gurira’s first major production in the United States was in 2005 in a play she starred in and co-wrote with Nikkole Salter entitled In the Continuum, which was first performed at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. She won an Obie Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and the Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress.  Around this time, Gurira’s acting career started to take off. In the Continuum is a minimalist social drama centred around the lives of two women (one in Los Angeles and one in Zimbabwe) both who have been infected by AIDS. It is a play that explores shared and interconnected experiences.

After experiencing some success as an actress in the film, The Visitor (2008) she returned to playwrighting in 2009 with her most famous play, Eclipsed. The play is set in 2003 and it centres on the stories of five Liberian women and their stories of survival during the end of the 2nd Liberian Civil War. The play is set in a derelict bullet ridden shed and the women who are victims themselves, care for a 15-year-old girl captured by the soldiers. It addresses the stories of women in war and the abuse they suffer. The play premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2009 and then productions were done in London and New York in 29015 and 2016.

In 2012, after working as an actor on the television series The Walking Dead (2012), Gurira wrote The Convert. The play examines Western cultural impositions and Ancient African traditions. It is set in 1896 in Rhodesia and Jekesai has just been given her new, Catholic name. Chilford, the only black Roman Catholic teacher in the region, has decided she’ll now be known as Ester, wear European clothing and speak only in English. She’s torn away from everything that she knows by her fellow African who earnestly believes the promises of the White man. The play explores a turning point in African when resisting the invading Western culture could mean death.

After further success in acting with The Walking Dead, in 2014 she wrote the play Familiar which premiered in 2015 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and then later that year was staged off-Broadway. The play the most autobiographical of Gurira and is about cultural identity, and the experience of family and life as a first-generation American. For Familiar and Eclipsed, she received the Sam Norkin Award. Her acting in work in the 2018 film Black Panther has been much praised.

References - North America - 20th and 21st Century Female Theatre and Drama Practitioners

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Gottlieb, L. (1979). Rachel Crothers. New York: Twayne.

Gurira, D. (2001). Running head: The neglect of black women in psychology.

Hodge, A. (2000). Twentieth Century Actor Training: Principles of Performance. London: Routledge, 2000. 

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 Zimmerman Finds Source Material in the Unlikeliest Places”. Crain’s    Chicago Business. Gale Biography In Context.

"Marsha P. Johnson 'A Beloved Star!'" on YouTube (performance footage - clips from a number of different shows with Hot Peaches and at several benefits)

McCarter Theatre. Mary Zimmerman’s Life in Theatre [webpage]. New Jersey: McCarter Theatre. Retrieved July 26, 2017 from https://www.mccarter.org/Education/secretinthewings/page9.htm

Mordden, E. (2007). All That Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway, 1919-1959. New York: St. Martin's Press.

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Sheehy, Helen (1989). Margo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.

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