From books banned in Boston to films cut in Maryland: in the summer of 2019 PhD candidate Katie Arthur visited five archives in four US states to grapple with questions of queerness and obscenity in the censorship cases of author William S. Burroughs and filmmaker John Waters.
In early October, Queer@King’s announced their first ever Activist-in-Residence, Daniel Lul from ParaPride. In this interview, PhD student Katie Arthur speaks to ParaPride Co-Founder, Daniel Lul, and Queer@King’s Director, Sebastian Matzner, about the scheme and their work.
An Apology for Actors: Early Modern Playing Then and Now, King’s College London, Friday 10 May 2019
Research in Action: Engendering the Stage, Shakespeare’s Globe, Monday 13 May 2019.
“Engendering the Stage in the Age of Shakespeare and Beyond” brings together scholars, actors and theatre practitioners to analyse the performance of gender in early modern drama and investigate the effects of women’s performance on the skills, techniques and technologies of the performance of femininity in the drama of Shakespeare and his English and European contemporaries. In May, the project held two events in London at King’s and Shakespeare’s Globe.
The workshop at King’s considered children’s companies and female performers at court as well as professional, more typical, “actors”. The Research in Action event at Shakespeare’s Globe used scenes which include gendered expressions of rage for public performance and audience discussion.
Fiona Anderson is a Lecturer in Art History in the Fine Art department at Newcastle. Her work explores queer social and sexual cultures and art from the 1970s to the present with a particular focus on cruising cultures, the HIV and AIDS crisis, queer world making practices, and the politics of urban space. Here, Fiona speaks to Mark Turner about her new book, Cruising the Dead River: David Wojnarowicz and New York’s Ruined Waterfront (University of Chicago Press, 2019).
Mark Turner is a Professor of Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Literature in the English Department at King’s. He is the author of Trollope and the Magazines (2000), Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London (2003), and recently co-edited, with John Stokes, a major new edition of Oscar Wilde’s journalism for Oxford University Press. He has written about queer urban cultures and curated ‘Derek Jarman: Pandemonium’ at Somerset House in 2014. Mark is currently working on a project about the American gallerist Betty Parsons and her queer artists, particularly Forrest Bess. He co-founded the Queer@King’s research centre with colleagues in Arts and Humanities in 2003-4.
Katie Arthur is a PhD student in English at King’s researching the relationship between queerness and obscenity in the works of William Burroughs and John Waters.
Disability+Intersectionality is a fortnightly reading group based at King’s College London where members meet to discuss key texts in critical disability studies, situating them within the broader context of the humanities and social sciences. Each session will focus on a theme and explore how disability intersects with categories such as gender, race, sexuality, and class.
Christina Lee is a second-year PhD student in the Department of English and a co-organiser of Disability+Intersectionality. In this post she reflects on lessons from the reading group and what intersectionality means to her.
At the Intersection
I am terrified of intersections. There is something about the open space in the middle that petrifies me. Once, while I was trying to cross the road, a car suddenly turned right and the driving instructor – sitting next to the learner in the passenger seat – stuck his head out of the window to rail at me for being on the road. I was actually on the pavement a few seconds before and left to cross to the right. I did not go on the pavement because it was too narrow and had poorly cut curbs. He didn’t want to listen and continued to insist I should be on the pavement. Eventually they drove off, though not before he proclaimed that I ought to be run over by a car. This is what I used to think of when I hear ‘disability’ and ‘intersection’.
Pavements, sidewalks, footpaths, are designed for pedestrians, people who use their feet and walk with an easy, steady stride without canes, crutches or prosthetics.
by Clare Pettitt, Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature and Culture, King’s College London
Domestic violence, alcoholism, child abuse, neglect, sexual obsession and torture: Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights is nothing if not graphic in its depiction of the messy, frightening and chaotic lives of unhappy families. No wonder critics at the time were repelled by its “shocking pictures of the worst forms of humanity” and its “details of cruelty, inhumanity, and the most diabolical hate and vengeance.” But the women in the novel, trapped in these toxic, inter-generational cycles of abuse, are not passive but remain resolute and resistant.
“Whether it is right or advisable to create things like Heathcliff, I do not know,” wrote Charlotte Brontë in her apologetic preface to the 1850 posthumous edition of her sister’s novel. But despite her misgivings, Heathcliff remains one of the most memorable and enduring characters in Victorian literature.
If you’ve heard of director Phyllida Lloyd’s Shakespeare Trilogy, which debuted at the Donmar Warehouse from 2012 to 2016 and was released in full on BBC iPlayer on 17 June, you’ve probably heard of its premise: it is performed by a company made up entirely of women, and framed as plays put on by a group of female prisoners. The three plays—Julius Caesar, Henry IV (the two parts combined into one), and The Tempest—are all intimately concerned with questions of masculinity and male relationships—fathers, brothers, sons—and are all notoriously light on female characters.
The prison framing device means, however, that they are not devoid of a female presence. There is no attempt at prosthetics or illusion in the production’s costumes. The actors wear prison-issue grey sweatpants and t-shirts, with accessories to designate changes of character. When Henry IV opened in 2014, Harriet Walter, who stars in all three productions, wrote that ‘our neuter prison garb … helps the audience put aside any questions of “Are they men playing women or women playing men?”… I would argue that when the cast are all women, we can look beyond gender to our common humanity’.
by Julia Pascal, Research Fellow, Department of English, King’s College London
It’s a century after some British women were allowed to vote, and a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett has been unveiled in Parliament Square, so why is women’s presence on the English stage still unequal to men’s?
In a recent survey, the Sphinx theatre found that just a fifth of English theatres were led by women, who between them control just 13% of the total Arts Council England (ACE) theatre budget.
The feminist campaigning organisation the Fawcett Society has called for quotas to get more women into key positions, after its Sex and Power Index revealed startling gender disparities in the public arena. The situation in theatre, where I have worked all my life, is a startling gauge of the marginalisation of women.
The Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators began auditing the number of females on stage in the 1980s. That we are nowhere near equality, almost 40 years later, was only too evident at the Olivier awards this year, when the prizes for best director and best new play went to men. When women do not have equal representation in theatre, it is impossible for them to have an equal chance of winning prizes. The Equal Representation for Actresses campaign group is among those pushing for change, but the male ruling elite refuses to share power.
The Globe Theatre’s opening two shows of the 2018 season (and opening shows of the tenure of new artistic director Michelle Terry) are ‘gender blind’. It’s a phrase that’s deployed freely now in discussions about casting, usually referring to women being cast in male roles, usually in plays by Shakespeare and other canonical writers. But it’s not used with much consistency: Terry and her company use it to describe their approach to casting, in which both men and women are cast in roles that do not match their own gender, but play them as written. It has also been used to describe casting women in male roles that are then played as women.
The attention paid to gender in all of these productions seems to undermine what the phrase ‘gender blind’ clearly suggests: that the actor’s gender will go unseen.
What’s less clear is whether this lack of sight is meant to apply to the artists or the audience. It’s worth noting this term has been critiqued as ableist, but as it remains a phrase used by the production and criticism industries, we should explore the implications of its suggestion that we do not simply ignore, but literally do not see gender in these productions. Continue reading ‘Gender blind’ casting, who and what goes unseen?
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Press for Progress’. The campaign focused on the reality that gender parity – which the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report projects as being over 200 years away – cannot happen without organised and inclusive collective action. The theme got us thinking about the ways that our own discipline, medieval studies, intersects with feminist activism, and the ways that medievalists might be able to participate meaningfully in these conversations. And so, on the 28th March, supported by LAHP and King’s Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, we held a two-part event to celebrate medieval women and women in medieval studies.
Part 1: The Wikithon
The first part of our event was a ‘Medieval Women, Modern Readers’ Wikithon, which aimed to improve references to scholarly work by women and non-binary people in articles related to medieval studies, and to create and improve pages for women and non-binary medieval scholars and artists who study or remake medieval texts, objects, or themes.