Women in theater
As a theater enthusiast and a playwright myself, there were times when the drama club of our college used to perform street-plays. In one such event: A boy said “Behind every man there is a women.
I was shocked by this answer. Aren’t women in par with men? In Shakespeare’s time men used to dress up as women as women weren’t allowed in theater. Let us understand why this happens.
The Western tradition of theatre has its origins all the way back in ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks started their theatre practice with tragic plays, which started around 532 BC. The problem was that Greek culture put women in a position of being inferior to men, so women’ s role in society was very restricted in many ways. Women were not allowed to be on the stage because it was considered “dangerous.” Men played male characters as well as female characters! “The Greeks believed that allowing women to perform publicly would be too dangerous and that having men portray them neutralized the danger.” Even the Romans had a similar view which made it impossible for them to make it onto the stage let alone perform. But over time, Roman plays did start to have a few female actors.
As the years passed, women in theatre were gaining ground slowly but surely, despite the trends and traditions that told women no. This happened in early American theatre as well. There were female playrights, females acting on stage, plays that gave female characters a prominent role, and also, many females in the theatre audience. “Women helped change the dynamic of theater in the second half of the 19th century and were directly responsible for the rise in its popularity.” (Source) While men still had a larger presence in the theatre world, females did some pretty interesting things. One notable example was Victorian-era Burlesque theatre, during the 19th century in both England and America. These flashy, sexy, hilarious shows were parodies of classic stories. Women were often featured in masculine roles. Playing crazy characters and reversing gender norms definitely did not create a respectable repuation for these women… but this was an important step for women because it allowed women to rebelliously break free of many restrictive social expectations.
More and more types of theatre emerged as time went on. And as theatre expanded in a variety of different directions, women’s importance in the theatre was also expanded. There’s no question that women are a major part of theatre today, participating in all kinds of ways. But there was not an easy path that led to this point. It’s unfortunate that theatre has historically been unfair to women. Still, there were a lot of women who loved theatre so much that they felt the need to defy cultural expectations and join in anyway. Let’s be thankful for them. If it weren’t for them, today’s theatre would look very different!
Glass ceiling effect of women in theater
What is glass ceiling effect?
A glass ceiling is a metaphor used to represent an invisible barrier that prevents a given demographic (typically applied to minorities) from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy.
How does it apply to theater?
In many case studies it has been proven that women were given prominent roles but were given side roles compared to their male counterparts. Even Shakespeare plays when they were first performed, both the gender roles were played by men. Juliet, one of the most feminine and romantic role in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet were also played by men.
Women were forbidden to act, as the church forbade them to appear on stage. There are also some evidences where a few women disguised as men that were traditionally forbidden for women. They tried to hide their identity, as they feared persecution.
When were women formally allowed to join the theater industry?
Till the time of Restoration of King Charles II, many prominent English women began acting. Even the king himself was a lover of theater and during his exile, he watched a lot of plays portrayed by women.
He wanted to encourage women actors in England, but the problem was he did not want to insult the Puritans. But as a shrewd man, he cleverly granted a charter to the Drury Lane Company, which made the Kings own company that prevented the moral outrage of his subjects where men played women. The charter hereby declared that female roles will be played by women henceforth.
7 Famous Women Theater Actresses on stage
- Margaret Hughes
She was the first English women to legacy act on stage on 8th December 1660. she played Dedemoner in The Moor of Venice(a retelling of Othello by Shakespeare).
2. Vinette Carrol
Broadway performer Vinette Carrol, the first African- American director. From 1956 to 1962, Caroll had 10 Broadway credits, four as a performer and six as a writer/director. Her famous Broadway musical Your Arms too Short to Box with God, which was an adaptation of Gospel. According to St. Matthew, it appeared three times on Broadway in the span of six years.
3. Mahashweta Devi
She was a Bengali writer and dramatist.
Her major works include:
Jhansi Rani or the Queen of Jhansi
Hajar Churasir Maa or the Mother of 1084