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Through Her Own Looking Glass: Rethinking ‘Woman’ in Italian Feminist Dramaturgy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FemTHEATRE (Through Her Own Looking Glass: Rethinking ‘Woman’ in Italian Feminist Dramaturgy)

Reporting period: 2018-09-03 to 2020-09-02

Despite the recent upsurge of interest in Women’s Studies in general, and in Feminist Studies in particular, very little feminist dramaturgy has entered the canon. This is reflected by its virtual absence from university curricula in most European institutions, which, even when addressing Theatre Studies or Feminist Studies, seem nevertheless reluctant to establish fruitful connections between the two. Specifically to the Italian situation, no study to date has offered a comprehensive exploration of the intertwined dynamics between feminist activism and women’s self-representation in theatre. This scholarly neglect is not easily forgivable, especially in relation to a country such as Italy, where the interconnection between theatre and feminism has been even greater than elsewhere.

Following an interdisciplinary approach combining feminist theory, Italian literature, women’s writing for theatre and socio-historical contextualisation, this project has provided the first study on a fundamental moment of Italian history — i.e. the emergence of feminist activism — and its intersection with the history of national theatre. Whilst focusing on the Italian context, the project has helped charting new waters in the fields of Theatre and Women’s Studies, impacting also on contemporary European Theatre Studies.

The research objective of the project was twofold. i) looking at how theatre served as an ideological vehicle for feminism, that is, as a means to rethink the representation of women’s gender roles; ii) assessing the effects of feminist ideology on the theatrical practice in affording feminist playwrights the possibility of rethinking women's role in performance art, overthrowing centuries-old worship for the Aristotelian mimemis (i.e. drama understood as ‘imitation’ and ‘realism’) and replacing it with active performance. To best achieve this scope, the study was articulated on three main grounds:

i. Historical context/Feminist theory. This section has explored the extent to which theatre was (re)appropriated and exploited by feminist playwrights.

• how did theatre become a political tool for feminism?
• to what extent did feminism benefit from a (re)appropriation of the theatrical means?

ii. Theatrical practice. This section has assessed the impact of feminist dramaturgical techniques on the coeval theatrical practice at a time when, across Europe, the tendency was to place great emphasis on the body of the actors/actresses at the expense of the literary text.

• how did feminist theory impact upon the existing theatrical
• what is the legacy of feminist dramaturgy nowadays?

iii. Live materials. This final section intended to collect testimonies from direct and indirect sources by means of conducting interviews with feminist playwrights active in the 1970s and by researching private and public archives in Italy.
• what is the first-hand experience of the feminist playwrights who worked at the time?
• what new insights can we gain from these accounts?
Below, the work performed in connection to this project:

organisation of inter-disciplinary seminars and workshops at UMIL available to undergraduate students in Italian Studies and Aesthetics of the Performance centred on initial research findings (connection between feminist theory and feminist theatre) ; submission and publication of an edited collection on Italian Women's Theatre used as bibliography for the classes taught at University; submission and publication of one article for publication in the high-impact peer-reviewed journal Modern Languages Open on research findings (available online in Open Access mode).

- THEATRICAL PRACTICE: organisation of three workshops available to undergraduate students in Science in Music and Spectacle and Masters’ students in Aesthetics of the Performance in collaboration with the members of theatre company ScenAperta. Milestone: review plan for the organisation of three mises-en-espace in months. The performances, open to all and followed by Q&A sessions with the audience, received coverage in the national press and were advertised also via and dedicated academic and non-academic mailing lists.

interviews to the women who formed part of the La Maddalena theatre. The interviews are being edited for publication in Open Access Modality. Research was conducted at the following archives: Archivia (Rome), Maraini personal archive (Rome), Sapienza personal archive (Rome), De Donato archive (Rome), Biennale (Venice), Rame and Fo Archive (Verona).

participation in international conferences: NeMLA (WAshington DC, in March 2020); (IN)DELIBLE: Representation in the Arts of (In)visible Violence against women and their resistance (Flinders University, Australia, November 2020) ; the annual Summer School promoted by the University of Leicester’s research cluster IGSRC as a speaker for the ‘Italy’ section to disseminate the above (event open to all); participation as invited guest lecture at the University of Virginia (USA) delivering on Italian Feminist Theatre;
organisation of the two-day, international conference Women Representing Women in Theatre held at the University of Milan in May 2019. Selected conference proceeding were published online in Open Access Modality in a guest issue of the interdisciplinary journal Itinera.

realisation of three mises-en-espace in months: 22;23;24 with feedback questionnaires for the audience on the main topics of the performances to raise awareness on feminist issues and the topicality of feminist matters nowadays.

the interview to the dramaturgs of historical women's theatre collective La Maddalena has been approved for publication in the online peer-reviewed academic journal 'Allegoria'
conferences cancelled due to Covid pandemic have been rescheduled (online) and the Researcher will take part in them.
This project was the first of its kind. No other study has tackled the period that coincides with the height of the feminist movement. Moreover, the impact of feminist dramaturgy on existing theatrical conventions has been completely neglected.

The project will be of interests to researchers in the fields of: Italian Studies, Theatre Studies, Theatre and Women’s Studies, whilst also impacting on contemporary European Theatre Studies.

As future developments of the project, the research has already been invited to a Symposium organised by acclaimed theatre studies scholars at the Università di Napoli l'Orientale (expected to take place in November 2021) to disseminate her project findings. The event promises to open up further collaboration among experts and lead to the creation of an international research cluster. The Researcher has liaised extensively with colleagues working at international institutions and she has set up a small research cluster and is currently organising a panel at the next Exedra Mediterranean Centre conference taking place in Ortigia, Sicily, in June 2021. The Researcher has expanded her research interests in women's studies incorporating a more squarely comparative (European) approach and is planning to submit a proposal for another scheme funded by the European Commission.
Cover of the special issue of the journal Itinera, dedicated to Italian Women's Theatre