Staging Motherhood in 21st Century North American Theatre & Performance
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This anthology examines maternity in contemporary performance at the intersection of a wide range of topics from nationhood to mental health, queer-parenting, embodied dramaturgy, cultural practice, and immigration.
Across the breadth of these themes, we interrogate the cultural implications and politics of how we script, perform, receive, and define mothers, challenging many of the normalizing and patriarchal tropes associated with the mother-as-character. This book includes critical essays examining 21st century dramatic literature, first-hand ethnographic accounts of motherhood in practice, interviews, feminist manifestos and artist reflections. In its deliberately curated variety, this collection seeks to resist homogeneity and offer instead a range of approaches to key questions: What versions of motherhood get staged, and why? And how do dramatic representations tell us about the role of mothers in our own fraught contemporary moment?
This collection will be of great interest to those in academia who are teaching, researching, or studying in the fields of Theatre and Performance Studies, American Studies, and Feminist and Gender Studies.
Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION: Mothers on Stage, in the House, and Behind the Scenes
Lynn Deboeck and Aoise Stratford
PART ONE: RESCRIPTING REPRODUCTION AND THE PREGNANT BODY
Introduction / Mother’s To Do List
(1) We Are BRAVE: Performed Motherhood as Sexual and Reproductive Justice Activism
(2) Queer Mothering: You Don’t Have To Emerge From Nothing
(3) Embodied Dramaturgy of Pregnancy and Motherhood in Grounded and Gloria
(4) "You just know": Fertility-as-Currency in Expecting Isabel
(5) Representations of (Non) Choice: Birthmother Narratives from Marginalized Mothers in Contemporary Theatre
PART TWO: MATERNAL/THEATRICAL LEGACIES
Introduction / Mother’s To Do List
(6) Persistent Anxiety and Absent Mothers in Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2
(7) "Unnatural" Mothers in Global Capitalism: Snow in Midsummer by Frances Ya-chu Cowig
Daphne P. Lei
(8) Abortion and the Monstrous Maternal in Suzan-Lori Parks’s Red Letter Plays
(9) Scripting and Staging Immigrant Motherhood in Heather Raffo’s Noura
(10) Mourning Mothers: Madness as Deviant Motherhood in Next to Normal
PART THREE: MOTHERHOOD / NATIONHOOD
Introduction / Mother’s To Do List
(11) Negotiating Mothers: Exploring the Maternal Landscape in Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed
L. Bailey McDaniel
(12) "Mothers are the trickiest thing" Staging Undocumented Motherhood in Miss You Like Hell
(13) Laboring for Their Country: Mother-Soldiers in Grounded and Welcome Home Jenny Sutter
(14) Motherhood/Motherland: Performing Maternity and the Creation of a Citizen
(15) The Ties that Bind: Motherhood, Veiling, and Diasporic Subjectivity in Rohina Malik’s Unveiled
PART FOUR: MOTHERHOOD AS THEATRICAL LABOR
Introduction / Mother’s To Do List
(16) Radical Inclusivity: Rachel Hewitt and The Parent Artist Advocacy League
Daniella Vinitski Mooney
(17) Performing Performance Moms
(18) ASTR Field Conversation: Black Motherhood
Mysia Anderson, Maisha Akbar, Shondrika Moss-Bouldin, Nicole Hodges Persley
(19) No Further: Staging Motherwork and Maternal Relationships
(20) A manifesto for care in the rehearsal room and the birthing room
Shawna Mefferd Kelty
(21) Jewish Mothers
Christina Hurtado-Pearson and Jessie Mills
Aoise Stratford and Lynn Deboeck
APPENDIX – Play List for Further Reading
Alison Walls is Artistic Director at The Court Theatre, New Zealand. She holds a PhD from The Graduate Center, an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA from Victoria University of Wellington. Publications include a monograph on nineteenth century French literature, articles in The New Zealand Journal of French Studies, Language and Literature, Studies in Musical Theatre, The Tennessee Williams Annual Review, Theatre Journal, and The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, and a chapter in The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance. Alison has taught Theatre and Performance Studies in the U.S., China, and New Zealand.
Aoise Stratford is a playwright, dramaturg, theatre scholar and lecturer at Cornell University. She works primarily on the Gothic, and on postcolonial and feminist drama. She has published in Theatre Survey, The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Modern Drama, Frontiers, and The Dramatist. Essays on feminist playwrights Dorothy Hewett and Liz Lochhead are forthcoming in The Routledge Anthology of Women’s Theatre Theory and Dramatic Criticism and her essay Married to The Monster appears in Routledge’s Monsters in Performance. As a playwright her work has seen more than 100 productions around the USA and internationally.
Christina Hurtado-Pierson (she/her) is a lecturer at Pomona College and a current doctoral student at Stony Brook University. She is a dramaturg and historian focusing on 19th and early-20th -century American performance. She received her MFA in Dramaturgy from Columbia University.
Daniella Vinitski Mooney, PhD is a scholar and conservatory trained actress through the NYU Experimental Theatre Wing and the Royal Academy in London, as well as through York University. She is also an award-winning director for devised work and multi-media. Her areas of expertise include experimental and classical theatre, as well as new work development. Daniella most recently dramaturged for PlayPenn and has taught regularly for the University of Pennsylvania. Her book project, "The Immersive Theatre of GAle GAtes," (Routledge) is a descriptive narrative of the Brooklyn-based theatre company. Daniella holds dual Canadian/US citizenship and currently resides in Toronto.
Daphne Lei is internationally recognized for her scholarship on Chinese opera, Asian American theatre, intercultural, diasporic and transnational, and transpacific performance. Her intellectual interest is the contact zone, where conflicts occur and solutions are sought, where hybridity is nurtured and resisted, where borders are crossed and borderlands formed, where identity is challenged and performed. Her research focuses on intercultural exchanges across the Pacific, especially interactions between Asians and Asian Americans and negotiations between Asian and non-Asian cultures.
Diana Benea is Assistant Professor of North American Studies at the University of Bucharest, Romania, and a former Fulbright Senior Scholar at the City University of New York – The Graduate Center (2017-2018). Her theater publications include Staging Crisis in Contemporary North American Theater (a co-edited special issue of American, British and Canadian Studies, De Gruyter, December 2022), as well as chapters in The Palgrave Handbook of Theatre and Race (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) and American Dramaturgies for the 21st Century (Sorbonne UP, 2021). She is also the translator of Saviana Stănescu’s plays into Romanian.
L. Bailey McDaniel is an Associate Professor with the English department at Oakland University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Drama, African American Literature and Drama, Gender Studies, and Literary Theory. Her book (Re)Constructing Maternal Performance in 20th c. American Drama investigates how race-based notions of maternal performance become sites of resistance to cultural and political hierarchies. She has also published article-length works on playwrights Cherríe Moraga, David Henry Hwang, Arthur Miller, Danai Gurira, Philip Kan Gotanda, and August Wilson.
Jacqueline Viskup holds a PhD in Theatre Studies, with a Feminist Studies doctoral emphasis, from University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research and practice focus on community engagement through the performing arts. She currently serves as Community Arts Program Manager for the Alabama State Council on the Arts.
Jessie Lee Mills (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Pomona College. She is a director, deviser, and filmmaker. She received her MFA in Directing from Carnegie Mellon University and is a John Wells Fellow.
Kristyl D. Tift, PhD, MFA is a performing artist, writer, director, educator, and scholar. She is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include African Diaspora Theatre, Queer Theatre, Feminist Theatre, Acting Theory, and Performance Theory. In 2022, her article "Queering the Politics of Black Respectability: Plays of the Revolutionary Theatre" was published in The Black Theatre Review. Other publications include articles and book reviews in Frontiers, New England Theatre Journal, Continuum, Theatre Journal, and Journal of American Drama and Theatre. She is working on her first book A Conditional Embrace: Black Queer Feminism in Performance.
Lindsey R. Barr is a PhD candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research focuses on gendered and racialized representations of madness and disability on stage in the contemporary American musical. Some of her published work can be found in Studies in Musical Theatre, The Routledge Companion to Musical Theatre, and Review. A professional dramaturg and director, her work has been seen at Baltimore Center Stage, Everyman Theatre, the Capitol Fringe Festival, and Single Carrot Theatre, among others.
Lynn Deboeck (MA, PhD) is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Theatre and Lecturer in Gender Studies and the Honors College at the University of Utah. Her research interests include gender performance, the representation of maternity and motherhood in Western theatrical traditions, advances in pedagogy and feminist directing of live performance. Most recently, her chapter "The Momboy: Maternal Tomboys on Stage" was published in 2022 in Reclaiming the Tomboy: The Body, Representation and Identity from Lexington Books; and her chapter "Negotiating the Fifth Wall" was published in Theatre in a Post-truth World in 2022 by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.
Maisha S. Akbar, Professor of Communications Studies, serves as Inaugural Director of Fort Valley State University’s Center for Social Justice, and Chair of the Department of Languages and Liberal Studies, Organizational Leadership, Media Studies and Visual and Performing Arts. Her book, Preaching the Blues: Black Feminist Performance in Lynching Plays (Routledge, 2020), looks at anti- lynching drama as an under-examined genre of American drama, and contributes to anti-lynching drama scholarship by foregrounding blueswoman performance, anti-lynching plays set in white households, and the production of anti-lynching drama at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Megan Stahl is an educator and scholar who specializes in theatre of the MENASA diaspora, feminist plays and performances, and musical theatre. She is an Associate Professor of Theater at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, and she holds an MA and a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from Tufts University. Her articles and reviews have been published in Studies in Musical Theatre, Theatre Journal, Theatre Annual, and Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism.
Melissa Flower Gladney is a theatre director, performance artist, and dramaturg specializing in physical theatre practices. She has trained with SITI Company and SCOT (Japan). Melissa’s works include Pangea at BLUEorange Gallery, Memory in the Time of the Refugee at Dixon Place, things missing/missed at Undermain Theatre, and Transitions published in the Emergency INDEX by Ugly Duckling Press. She has acted as assistant literary manager at the Alley Theatre. Melissa holds an MA from the University of Houston and is currently pursuing her PhD in Theatre and Performance at City University of New York.
Michelle Hayford is Director of the Theatre, Dance, and Performance Technology Program at the University of Dayton. Michelle holds a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. Her creative scholarship utilizes theatre as community and civic engagement. Michelle’s Undergraduate Research in Theatre (Routledge 2022) and Performing Arts as High-Impact Practice (with Kattwinkel, Palgrave 2018) situate the rigor and creative praxis of our discipline as fundamental to a liberal arts education and the research profile of our institutions. Michelle is an applied theatre practitioner who advocates that the revolution for sustainable and equitable theatre practices must start in academic undergraduate theatre.
Mysia Anderson is a Black feminist artist-scholar from Miami Gardens, Florida. She received her BA in African and African-American Studies from Stanford University, with a concentration in gender and sexuality. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Brown University’s Theatre Arts and Performance Studies department, and her dissertation explores Black sustainability in the city of Miami through an exploration of oral history, storytelling, and performance. Anderson is also a 2022 graduate of the Atlantic Acting School’s Global Virtual Conservatory. As an actress, playwright, and scholar, she tells stories grounded in African diasporic world-making.
Nicole Hodges Persely is an Associate Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at University of Kansas. She has he received numerous awards for teaching and mentoring and is a professional actor and director with credits in theater, film, and television. She completed her Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and is an alumna of Spelman College. She has written about Hip-hop Theatre, African American Theater, Sampling, Jay-Z, and Suzan-Lori Parks. Her upcoming book, Sampling and Remixing Blackness investigates the influence of Hip-hop on the artistic practices of non-African American theater and dance artists in the United States and England.
Roberta Hunte is an Assistant Professor at Portland State University’s School of Social Work. She is affiliate faculty in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Black Studies. Hunte is a community engaged Black feminist scholar, whose academic interests include sexual and reproductive justice, cultural work for social change, and how Black, Indigenous, Latina and Asian/Asian American, Pacific Islanders navigate institutions: particularly construction, maternal healthcare, and higher education. Her research-based artistic collaborations include theatre piece My Walk Has Never Been Average, and short film Sista in the Brotherhood, both informed by her research with Black tradeswomen; and devised theater piece We are BRAVE.
Sarah Johnson is currently the Assistant Professor of Dramaturgy and Head of Playwriting at Texas Tech University. Her research focuses on intercultural theatre, new play development, and dramaturgical methodologies. Her writing has been featured in Asian Theatre Journal, Theatre Topics, and multiple edited volumes. She works professionally as a dramaturg with theatre companies across the country. She serves as the Executive Director and Resident Dramaturg for WildWind Performance Lab and the Performance Review Editor for PARtake: The Journal for Performance as Research.
Shawna Mefferd Kelty advocates for and works predominantly in new play development. Her heart absolutely sings when she gets to collaborate in bringing new worlds and stories into being. She is a director-dramaturg, associate professor/chair at SUNY Plattsburgh, union member, yoga instructor, and doula. She loves teaching, discovering, and collaborating with her students in the classroom and in productions. Shawna is currently the president of the Mid-America Theatre Conference and the drama editor of The Saranac Review. She has a cat scientist companion, Dr. Beatrice Waffles, and is one amazing auntie.
Shondrika Moss-Bouldin is the co-founder of Soulploitation Creative Works (www.scworks.tv), a multi-media arts company. She has earned all her degrees from Northwestern University (B.A., M.A., PhD) in Performance Studies. She is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC). She is currently working on her book, Staging Lydia (Northwestern Press). She received a Fulbright award to study in South Africa, and she attended the Mellon School at Harvard University. Recently, she has been awarded several grants to create dance therapy workshops centering Black women's healing (healsistaheal.com).
Suzi Elnaggar is a 2021 Kennedy Center Dramaturgy Intensive Fellow and freelance dramaturg and scholar. She holds a Master’s in Theatre Studies from Baylor University in Waco, Tx, where she researched performance through the lens of trauma studies. She has a BA in Classics with a minor in Great Texts and a BS in Secondary Education. Her research interests include recontextualizing Greek tragedy, post-colonial theatre contexts, theatre of social change, and work that centers MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) experiences.
Tamar Neumann is a PhD student at Texas Tech University and the Executive Director of the Omaha Fringe Festival. She is a writer, dramaturg, theatre critic, and mother. Her writings have appeared in AisleSay Twin Cities and The Reader. Her research focuses on Fringe Festivals, motherhood and theatre, and Critical Adoption Studies as applied to theatre. She currently teaches writing at the University of Nebraska - Omaha.
Teresa Simone is a doctoral candidate in Theatre at Florida State University, and a PEO Scholar. She worked with the educational theatre Stories That Soar from 2003-2013 as an actor/director, devising original theatre from stories written by children, to increase their literacy skills. As the Education Director, she worked intimately with diverse communities to create theatre telling their own stories. Teresa trained at the Dell’Arte International School for Physical Theatre. She also trained with Augusto Boal, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and Cornerstone Theatre, and others. Teresa has several publications forthcoming, including a dissertation about the Natchez Confederate Pageant.
Aoise Stratford is a Playwright, Dramaturg, and Lecturer at Cornell University in the department of Performing and Media Arts.
Lynn Deboeck is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theatre and lecturer in Gender Studies at the University of Utah.