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  • Radical Acts: Theatre and Feminist Pedagogies of Change
  • Leah Lowe
Radical Acts: Theatre and Feminist Pedagogies of Change. Edited by Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, Kathleen Juhl. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2007; pp. 329. $17.95 paper.

This collection of essays and interviews offers readers invigorating discussions of feminism, pedagogy, and community engagement as practiced within theatre classes and performances across the United States in high schools, colleges and universities, and community settings. The teachers and artists who contributed essays approach their work from a range of different positions within the field, as well as from a variety of institutional perspectives. The result is a lively book that pulls together varied voices and experiences to put forth multiple readings of “feminist pedagogies of change,” and to explore their impact in disparate educational and community contexts.

The collection’s first section, “Positioning Our Voices,” offers readers autobiographical reflections on pedagogical values and practices as different authors discuss experiences in the classroom, the rehearsal hall, or both that shaped their attitudes toward teaching. Dominica Radulescu considers the lasting effects of her participation in an experimental production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days staged in Romania in 1981 on the way she approached both the play and students years later as a professor in the United States. Playwright Cherrie Moraga draws on her experience staging a play in her son’s elementary school to consider ways in which theatre functions as a forum in which marginalized voices can find expression and be heard. Ellen Margolis’s essay recounts her disinclination to replicate the authoritative teaching styles she was exposed to as a student and the alternative pedagogical approaches she initially improvised and later refined as a seasoned academic. Her piece is a fine companion to “Good Female Parts” in which author Corinne Rusch-Druz’s analysis of preprofessional actor-training programs in Canada provides evidence of the hierarchical and ostensibly “objective” institutional discourses Margolis rebels against. In different ways, each of these essays argues for the value of an education in theatre by acknowledging its transformative power, even as each of these essays also demonstrates its author’s creative and adaptive responses to various oppressive institutional pressures.

If the first part of Radical Acts reflects on the educational philosophies developed by feminist educators and artists, the second, “Activating Practice,” composed of both essays and interviews, is concerned with demonstrating a range of ways that such philosophies play out in specific educational situations. For instance, through her compelling discussion of director Laurie Carlos’s tough and brutally honest criticism in the acting studio, author Joni L. Jones/ Omi Osun Olomo usefully contradicts expectations of nurturance as a necessary element of a woman’s pedagogical style. In contrast, in an interview conducted by Lisa Jo Epstein, playwright and performer Deb Margolin describes her classroom as one in which “I mother my students in a certain way. They know I am available to them on many different levels” (129). For Margolin, the creation and maintenance of an atmosphere of respectful intimacy enables student playwrights to take risks in their own work as well as support their peers. Other essays offer more detailed accounts of specific pedagogical techniques. Stacy Wolf contributes a discussion of “the gender continuum,” an exercise in which she asks students to plot the relative masculinity and femininity of pop culture figures, characters from plays, and others in order to question unexamined assumptions about the performance of gender in a variety of situations. Amy Seham offers strategies for intervening in improv comedy, a performance genre that tends to replicate stereotypical representations rather than explicitly challenge them, while Kathleen Juhl provides a thoughtful account of her use of improvisational exercises to empower acting students to make their own choices rather than rely on an authority figure to guide them. These essays offer spirited discussions of feminist pedagogies in action.

“Engaging Community,” the final set of essays and interviews in Radical Acts, provides accounts of performances developed in educational contexts and their relationships to larger public conversations. Ann Elizabeth Armstrong reflects on her experience with a site-specific work that invites audience members to walk through a series of spaces used by young civil rights...


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