Isabel Stuart (SAS) - 2019-20 Students
Feeling for Feminism: Valuing Emotion in Contemporary Feminist Performance
My thesis will argue that feelings matter in contemporary feminist performance. In this current social and political moment, it is emotional expression, rather than rational thought, which is dominating political and cultural discourse. My project will place serious critical attention on the feelings of the audiences of feminist performance in order to argue that feelings are crucial to understanding the nature of feminism in performance and the wider world today. The importance of the feelings of the spectator in feminist performance is underexplored. Although there has been significant work carried out by scholars concerning the importance of affect and the role of the spectator in performance, attention needs to be given to the specific relationship between feelings and feminism in a modern context. The impact of the extreme inequalities that have faced women in recent years, have been deeply, and often violently, felt by women. In a so-called ‘postfeminist’ society that is currently refusing to listen to the thinking and voices of women, investigating feeling in performance can be extremely productive in terms of understanding the nature of women’s struggles today, and also in bringing about change. Bridging the fields of spectatorship and feminist performance theory, I will put forward an innovative and much-needed framework through which to understand the nature of contemporary feminist performance, by conducting a research project that is specifically and meaningfully centred around audience feeling. My project is concerned with valuing the feelings and experiences of spectators that identity as the particular subjects of feminist struggles. In other words, I am interested in how feelings are produced in those spectators who see their own struggles and experiences represented on stage. Therefore, my audience research will primarily be concerned with audience members who identity as women. My project will be completely inclusive of all female experience; including trans, cis and all other binary identities. I will conduct this research project through a comparative audience study across three feminist performances at theatres in London, each case study making up one chapter of my thesis. Firstly, I will conduct a dramaturgical analysis from watching the performances myself and reflecting on my own experiences as a feminist spectator. Then, I will gather qualitative data from audiences through a variety of research methods: such as surveys, interviews and discussions. By presenting my research in conjunction with theoretical arguments in the field of spectatorship and feminist performance, I will argue for a repositioning of feeling at the centre of feminist performance analysis.