Carry on Understudies: Theatre and Sexual Politics by Michelene Wandor

By Michelene Wandor

`one hell of a seminal learn ... here's a ebook that grapples, with power, ingenuity and significant highbrow rigour, with a bewildering woodland of concerns round gender and politics ... illuminating, insightful, perceptive.' - Women's evaluation

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3 The first phase: 1969–73 Early street theatre We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry. (Leaflet, ‘Miss World’ demonstration, 1970) The twentieth Miss World contest, organised by Mecca Promotions, took place in the Royal Albert Hall in London, on the evening of 20 November 1970, compered by American comedian Bob Hope. At a pre-arranged signal a group of women interrupted the event, in full view of millions of television viewers. The women threw flour, smoke- and stinkbombs, blew whistles, waved rattles and distributed leaflets to members of the audience, protesting against the objectification of women in beauty contests, which epitomised ‘the traditional female road to success’.

But the Church had its own forms of theatrical ritual in public religious services, and here the attitudes to women participating in any form of public ceremonial or performance were clear: Women were not allowed to speak in church even for the praiseworthy purposes of exhortation and prayer; how much less would they be tolerated as performers in its sacred mysteries. In a woodcut dating from the twelfth century a group of women are shown suffering extreme torment in a flamy hell for the nefarious sin of having raised their voices in church.

In her book Enter the Actress Rosamond Gilder explains the way in which the Church’s attitude to the theatre itself, and to the role of women as public performers were interwoven: The war between Church and stage has been long and bitter, particularly in the early days when the theatre represented the last entrenched camp of paganism, and as such was the subject of virulent attack and condemnation. The Church desired nothing less than the complete annihilation of its enemy, and in this, by the close of the fourth century, it had largely succeeded.

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