Australian Suffrage Theatre on the World Stage
Chapter 3 Dramatic Negotiations: The New Woman, Women’s Colleges, and Cultural Anxiety
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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