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A Splendid Adventure

Australian Suffrage Theatre on the World Stage

Susan Bradley Smith

Australia led the world in the achievement of woman’s suffrage and the nation’s cultural history reflects this ambitious and progressive atmosphere. The impressive achievements of suffrage feminists in Australian theatre, however, are an untold story, as is their contribution to the development of international women’s theatre of the time. A Splendid Adventure brings these experiences and experiments to light through a group biography exploring the theatrical careers of Katharine Susannah Prichard, Stella Miles Franklin, and Inez Isabel Bensusan. Chosen because of their expatriate involvement in the women’s movement, their international profile as enfranchised Australian women, and their exceptional contribution to both the development of Australian drama and international feminist theatre, these women embody the energies and passions of Australian suffrage playwrights. The biographies of these major figures are accompanied by the dramatic stories of the New Women playwrights, the theatrical endeavours of women university students, and a consideration of international feminist theatre on tour in Australia, including the work of migrant suffragette Adela Pankhurst. The volume also includes the full text of a play by each playwright. Australian suffrage playwrights emerge from this study as exceptional feminists, expatriates, and theatre workers, whose «splendid adventures» have considerable implications for international women’s theatre, feminist dramatic criticism, and Australian theatre historiography.
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Chapter 3 Dramatic Negotiations: The New Woman, Women’s Colleges, and Cultural Anxiety

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CHAPTER 3

Dramatic Negotiations: The New Woman, Women’s Colleges, and Cultural Anxiety

When their feminist sisters overseas were busy breaking out of their Victorian chains, and a decade before English suffrage militancy, Australian women had already achieved the vote. Subsequently, the thematic, political, and aesthetic concerns of Australian feminist playwrights were different. However, a ‘before and after the vote’ exploration of feminist traditions in Australian theatre does not enable the same critical insights in analysing theatre history as they do elsewhere. This is because the distinction between New Woman and suffrage theatre has less relevance, or a different meaning, in the Australian context than it does in either the British or American contexts. Australian feminist playwrights were confronting different dramatic frontiers, and it is this difference which distinguishes their work. This chapter therefore presents a selective overview of Australian feminist theatre from 1890 to 1920, and considers how the theatre was used to promote women’s agendas. Those agendas reflect both the diversity of Australian feminism and feminists, and the various ways in which women utilised the dramatic form to express women’s issues. The playwrights and organisations selected for discussion are meant to represent that diversity, but by no means do they provide a complete picture of women’s theatre during this period. Rather, aside from suggesting the richness of women’s theatre history in Australia, they stand as examples of both difference and continuity within a broader international feminist theatre history. The examples chosen to provide an overview...

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