Saturday, June 20, 2020

Killing Dead White Men - Conference Paper - Drama Victoria

Killing Dead White Men
Dr. Mark Eckersley

(Workshop and Paper delivered at 2019 Drama Victoria State Conference
‘Unity: Exploring diversity and inclusion in drama education’
Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia, December 2019)

Tanderrum - Acknowledgement of Country

I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and the peoples of the Kulin Nation who are the Traditional Custodians of this Land. I would also like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians peoples present.
In the spirit of diversity and unity under which this conference is titled, I would like to acknowledge the individual groups who are and were caretakers to this land on which we stand. When Europeans first colonised this land we stand on, it was occupied and cared for by five language groups often known as the Kulin (Koolin) nation of peoples these are:
·       Woiwurrung (Woy-wur-rung) - The Wurundjeri People
·       Boonerwrung (Bun-er-rong) - The Boonerwrung People
·       Wathaurong (Wath-er-rong) - The Wathaurong People
·       Taungerong (Tung-ger-rong) - The Taungerong People
·       Dja Dja Wrung (Jar-Jar wrung) - The Jaara People

In the spirit of the 'Uluru Statement of the Heart', I hope I can in this workshop give ‘Voice’ to those who have been silenced, reveal ‘Truth’ where it has been concealed and endorse ‘Treaty’ as we move forward to understanding and justice.

What is wrong with the picture?
Women make up approximately 49.6% of the world’s population (Ritchie & Roser 2019). 5% of the world’s population is Indigenous (World Bank 2019)

What's the picture and the truth in Theatre and Drama
Worldwide – Female Directors 17%, Female Playwrights 21%, Actresses 40%, Female Managers/Producers/Artistic Director 5%, Female Audience 56% estimated Indigenous Combined 1% (European Theatre Convention 2015 & Lock 2018)
England – Female Artistic Directors 13% (2018), Playwrights 35%, Actresses 38%, Female Audiences 68%, Indigenous figures not available (Pascal 2018 & Freestone 2012)
2012 – Female Directors 16%, Female Playwrights 14% (Lally 2012)
A program was undertaken by state governments and federal government bodies in Australia to address this inequality in Australia. By 2019, the picture had changed significantly.
2019 – Female Directors 58%, Female Playwrights 47%, Female Actors 52%, Female Managers/Producers 12%, Female Audiences - 52% Victoria – Overall Cultural market & Indigenous Australian Combined 5% (Howard 2019 & Arts Victoria 2014)
Within education, we think of ourselves as progressive but often we reinforce gender inequality and stereotypes. Here are some Australian statistics from Victoria on examination level programs.
VCE Theatre Studies & Drama Lists and productions -2001-2019 (VCAA 2019)
184 plays and productions – Female Directors, 29%, Female Playwrights 30% av., Indigenous 4%

Conclusion - Women are disproportionately underrepresented and Indigenous peoples are culturally underrepresented in theatre and educational theatre endeavours both in Australia and overseas. One way to address this is for us as educators to monitor and use self-imposed quotas to consciously address these gender and cultural inequities.

Voice & Treaty

u  Dramaturgy seemed motherless for quite some time: born into a family, the theatre, in which women initially had no role except as narrowly drawn characters performed by men, for men, in plays written by men, expressing male values before an audience that was not exclusively male. Yet drama has always has a mother, it just has chosen to forget its family and its mother.
u  Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara peoples use Awelye – body painting of symbols in preparation for storytelling, ritual and performance. Below is the symbol for ‘Women’:

u  Create a circle. Sand and stones are used to create the space for exploration & performance

Know my Name, Say my Name
As an exercise 10 pictures or photographs of male and female playwrights and performance makers were shown to the participants made up of drama teachers and lecturers in drama. Of the five males shown a recognition rate of 85% was evident. Of the females shown, the recognition rate was 5%. The issue of how to value and recognize females in theatre was discussed.

Creating a New Dreamtime – recognizing the people in our lives
Activity - The New Dreamtime – Giving Voice
u  Look at all the people in the circle slowly. Think that they have stories and backgrounds which are rich and you don't know about. Now turn your attention inward.
u  Think of a woman who was important to making who your are.
u  Give a special label to mythologize them. Mythologize this woman.
u  Now think of a way you could tell the story of this woman to the group.
u  Example: "Mother, the Spirit Weaver. She was a magician. She gathered a group of young people and gathered their energy and spirits and had them dance and move and tell their stories and then she threw their dreams into a space and the images, stories and dreams would come to life. My Mother, the Spirit Weaver."

Workshopping the Work of Women
The workshop then comprised exploring and workshopping speeches and scenes from different female writers whose work was performed over many years and many continents. Here are some of the writers covered:
Enheduanna (Sumerian) 2285 BC – 2250 BC (Ritual Theatre):

“Beloved of Enlil - You made it (the storm) blow over the land,
You carried out the instructions of An.
My Queen, the foreign lands cower at Your cry,
In dread (and) fear of the South Wind…”

Sappho (Greek) Sa-ppho 630 BC – 570 BC Lyrical Theatre:

“Stars near the lovely moon
cover their own bright faces 
when she is roundest
and lights earth with her silver.”

Okuni (Japan) O-kuni 1572 – 1613 AD Mother of Kabuki Theatre:

The movements of kabuki are lively, energetic and vertical movements, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. Get in groups of two or three
Using either an extract from Okuni’ plays or the haikus of the female poet Chiyo-ni, create a performance where either you all do a line each or one person or two speak the words and one or two people do actions using a fan. Remember to punctuate each line or image with a mie (a dramatic pose).
u  Text 1 – Okuni
“She prays for her daughter’s repose in the other world.
She keeps back her tears.
The toll of the evening bell comes from within.”
u  Text 2 - Chiyo-ni (Female Haiku poet)
The beauty
Of hidden things

Aphra Behn  (English) 1640-1689 – Restoration Theatre:

Extracts from her play The Rover (1677)
Valeria: Am I put into the number of lovers?
Helena: You? Why coz, I know thou’rt too good natured to leave us in design…And if you are not a lover, it is an art soon learnt.
Florinda: I wonder how you learnt to love so easily… Thou art too rash to give a heart at first sight.
Helena: Hang your considering lover… I shall have my beauty praised, my wit admired – though little or none – and have the vanity and power to know I am desirable.
Discussion Questions
What are the stylistic elements evident in Aphra Behn’s text?

Elizabeth Robins (USA) 1862-1952 - Naturalism, Expressionism, Epic Theatre styles

Votes for Women (1907)
Ms E. B.: Bills or resolutions have been before the House for the last 36 years. That, roughly is our history. We found ourselves before the close of year 1905 with no assurance that if we went on in the same way, that any girl born into the world in this generation would live to exercise the rights of citizenship, though she lived to be a hundred.
Discussion Questions
What elements of didactic drama are evident in Elizabeth Robins’ work?

Jane Harrison (Australian Indigenous) b. 1960 – Realism & Documentary Drama

Stolen (2003)
ACTIVITY- Abuse in Foster Homes Read the following text on Page 8.  Have the group read the Children as a group character. Have one student play Ruby.
CHILDREN: What did he give to ya?
RUBY: Gave me a doll.
CHILDREN: (They clap) He gave her a doll. What else did ya do? (They stop clapping).
RUBY: I promised not to tell. JIMMY: Oh, Ruby!
  1. Write a passage on the internal conflict going on within Ruby in this scene.
  2. Write and share how you would stage this section of the play to highlight Ruby’s tumultuous inner life.
  3. Write a page discussing the importance of this play to a contemporary audience.

Mary Zimmerman (USA) – b. 1960 – Classical, Eclectic style

Arabian Nights (1994)
The group enacts two group scenes for the lines below. Group tableaux can be used to create the scenes. Dance or movement with freezing done in a musical chairs style can be used to create the scenes. The dialogue can happen when the action is frozen.
Scheherazade: My father, why do you look so sad? Know father that as the poet says, “You who are sad, oh be comforted, for nothing endures, and just as every joy vanishes, so also vanishes every sorrow.”
AND Near the end of the play
Scheherazade: I know the hour is late, O auspicious king, but I have one more story, just one more very subtle tale to tell. Let it be one thousand nights and one night, before you grow weary of me.

u  The first step to privileging Feminist and Indigenous drama is to know and use female writers, directors, theorists, theatre companies and the Indigenous writers, directors, theorists, theatre companies
u  One way for teachers to address the gender and cultural imbalance is to educate themselves on the diversity out there
u  Another way is for teachers to self-impose quotas – i.e. 50% of the plays I read, do and see with students should be by females, 10% of the plays I read, do and see with students should be by Indigenous writers and groups
u  Teachers should educate themselves on the theories, practitioners and styles developed by female and indigenous individuals and groups (I have included some texts and websites in the bibliography to start with.
A final word or two: “You make beauty and it disappears, I love that.” Caryl Churchill (Far Away)

Arts Victoria. April 2014. Audience Atlas Victoria. Arts Victoria, State Government of Victoria: Melbourne. Retrieved from
European Theatre Convention. 2015. Audiences for European Theatre. Imprint Publications: London. Retrieved from
Eckersley, M. 2019. Killing Dead White Men – The History of female Theatre and Theatre Makers. [Blog] Retrieved from
Eckersley, M. 2014. Australian Indigenous Drama. [Book & Blog] Retrieved from
Freestone, E. Dec. 10 2012. ‘Women in Theatre’. The Guardian. The Guardian: London. Retrieved from
Howard, J. April 13, 2019. How Australian Theatre Fixed its Gender Imbalance in a Decade. Retrieved from
Keyssar, H. 1990. Feminist Theatre. Palgrave Macmillan: London.
Lally, E. 2012. Women in Theatre – A Research Report and Action Plan for the Australia Council for the Arts. Australia Council: Surry Hills, NSW. April 2012. Retrieved from
Lionheart Theatre. January 28, 2016. Five Female Playwrights to Remember. Retrieved from
Lock, S. August 27, 2015. Theater and Broadway in the U.S. – Statistics and Facts. Statista: New York. Retrieved from
Nolan, Y. 2015. Medicine Shows – Indigenous Performance Culture. Playwrights Canada Press: Toronto.
Pascal, J. April 24, 2018. ‘Woman are being excluded from the Stage: Its Time for Quotas’. The Guardian. The Guardian: London. Retrieved from
Ritchie, H. & Roser, M. 2019. Gender Ratio. Our World in Data: Oxford, UK. Retrieved from
VCAA. 2019. VCE Drama Examination Past Papers. VCAA: Melbourne. Retrieved from
VCAA. 2019. VCE Theatre Studies Past Papers. VCAA: Melbourne. Retrieved from
World Bank. 2019. Indigenous Peoples. World Bank. Retrieved from
Women’s Museum of California. (2017). Get Thee to a Stage – A Brief History of Women in the Theater. Women’s Museum of California: San Diego, CA. Retrieved from