In recent years it has been the exception rather than the rule to encounter conferences engaging with gender, theatre and performance matters – or, to put this another way, with the idea that gender does indeed still matter in our discipline/s. And so it is that I come to find myself personally and politically heartened by the Contemporary Gendered performance and Practice Conference hosted by Queen’s University, Belfast, 12-13 April, http://performinggender2013.wordpress.com/.
Writing this post on returning home from the event, I feel especially encouraged by the sense of feminist-political energies coming from younger generations of scholars and scholar-practitioners. And I am full of admiration for the way in which the co-conveners of the conference, doctoral students Megan Minogue and Caitriona Reilly, brought their organisation skills, commitment and vision to making this a success.
A marker of that success was the way in which the conference allowed for a sharing of creative practices and scholarship across a range of media from theatre and performance through to film and popular culture. It was precisely this mix of critical and creative practices that made for insightful points of perception and reflection. Equally, the diversity of practice under consideration served to dismantle the idea of a preferred form for politicising gender ‘trouble’ (a matter that formerly made some of our feminism-theatre-theorising divisive, given how it was sometimes difficult to make common cause across different feminisms and their attendant dynamics and aesthetics in performance). So, for example, day two of the conference opened with a panel that set three very different modes of practice beside each other: Aga Collaborative’s physical and lyrically styled, Like a Turtle Without a Shell, or Crow’s Feet (which I much appreciated for its treatment of ‘age concerns’); Caroline Astell-Burt’s instructive insights into gender and puppetry contesting the idea of the puppeteer as ‘neutral’; and film editor Jolene Mair’s screening of the deeply moving, Unseen Women: Stories from Armagh Gaol.
The diversity of gendered ‘subjects’ was also fostered through the international participation the conference attracted, rendering it possible to hear about women and soap operas in Thailand or reflections on Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls. In terms of international theatre research, Elin Nicholson from Manchester University offered a compelling account of her fieldwork in Palestine about the ‘doubly occupied’ state of women practitioners in the West Bank.
I could go on reporting…. but the overriding point I want to make is how an event such as this is important in respect to labouring in the interests of making gender matters matter and to enabling the networking of researchers and practitioners who can learn from and be supportive of each other’s work. Coming from the ‘first wave’ of feminist theatre scholars, Gerry and I know only too well how hard it can be at times to find encouragement for and value of feminist-theatre-labour. Back then, feminists began to organise conference events as a way to make a difference to theatre studies. As there is every need today to resist the ‘posting’ of feminism, I sincerely hope that others will feel politically inspired to pick up the conference baton from Caitriona and Megan and keep the much-needed momentum going.