Women Writing Theatre

Profiles By: Benjamin Divis

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The Play by Play

The American theatre community was shocked in 2009 when an economics student from Princeton, Emily Glassberg Sands, published her master’s thesis outlining the likelihood of female playwrights having their work brought to the stage when compared to their male counterparts. She confirmed what many contemporary women dramatists have suspected and experienced throughout their careers—they are underestimated and therefore underrepresented. Although this news may have surprised actors, directors, playwrights, etc. who previously did not view the theatre as an “old boys’ club,” Sands has only proven that the uphill battle female playwrights have been raging for millennia is not over. The impact of Sands’s discovery is greater with an understanding of the many obstacles theatrical women were forced to overcome throughout the centuries, first to bring their art to the stage, then to be recognized for the visionaries that they were.

On December 21, 1879, Henrik Ibsen’s audience at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark was stunned into silence as the lead female, Nora Helmer, walked out on her husband, Torvald, and three children with a mighty slam of the door in the final act of A Doll’s House. The uproar it caused with critics, theatregoers, other playwrights, and even actors was monumental. One actress in Germany even refused to play the part of Nora unless Ibsen changed the ending. It marked a turning point for realism in theatre, but perhaps more importantly, A Doll’s House forced its audience to confront an existing contemporary problem that women were facing—unhappy marriages to men who viewed them not as people, but as objects. Ibsen himself denied any attempt on his part to further the women’s rights movement, but he was indeed sympathetic to

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