- Feminist and Queer Performance: Critical Strategies
An advocate for an often-silenced or -ignored theoretical positionality, Sue-Ellen Case engages the reader with her vast knowledge of feminism, queer studies, and performance. A rejection of cynicism, Feminist and Queer Performance asks and answers earnest, relevant questions about the performative practice of feminist and queer theories while refusing to ignore how women and lesbians contribute to these theories and practices. The book’s essays, all of which have been published before, are arranged thematically rather than chronologically: “Queer Theory and Performance,” “Feminist Performance,” and “Gendered Performance and New Technologies.” Each section could be pulled out of the book and utilized to teach its stated general topic; however, when read together, each section builds to the next, culminating in a book that reads partly as an intellectual memoir, partly as a theoretical manifesto, and partly as an encouraging guide for one’s own performance research.
In the introduction, Case recounts her experiences as a lesbian both in and out of the academy. At the outset of her career, she notes, she was “searching for new forms of performance that acted out what [feminist scholars] were beginning to understand” (7). She recalls teaching one of her first graduate seminars and deciding to reject the usual linear approach to theatre history so that she could bring “new, critical methodologies into studies of performance” (6). Her purpose was to demonstrate how meaning-making is central to performance, and therefore the meanings we make from theatre history should be central to our understandings of theatre and performance studies. Modeling the approach of that first graduate seminar, this new look at old essays wends through feminist and queer theories focusing on a range of performance forms, from lesbian coupling to online avatars. Although the volume is not organized chronologically or historically, Case is highly attentive to the relationship between contemporary meaning-making and history.
The five essays in part 1 constitute the foundation of Case’s re-articulation of contemporary theory and make clear that her own identity is bound to the theoretical trajectory upon which she journeys. But rather than rehashing such theories, she positions her essays to be conceptually productive when read against each other. Traversing a broad array of topics—from butch-femme to butch-feminist to vampire and then to the queer globe—she demonstrates how theory looks, feels, and exists for those questioning an ontology that privileges male over female, gay over lesbian, and binary sexuality over a spectrum of sexualities. These examples allow Case to generate complicated and yet practical ways to (re)understand such ideas as feminism, queer, camp, and even globalization.
Part 2, “Feminist Performance,” which includes the most complex pieces, asks how feminism has changed performance as performers have enacted feminism. Admirably, Case does not shy away from often difficult theoretical issues in gender, feminist, and queer studies. She begins the section by detailing how, as women’s studies became part of the university, feminism managed to validate embodied knowledge for the academy, making corporeal knowing integral while also holding performing bodies accountable for the enactments of activist practice. Feminism asked performers to re-imagine both the “what is?” and the “why?” of performance. Modeling her own re-reading of Lysistrata, Case encourages disenfranchised groups to re-read themselves into canonical texts. While the absences apparent in these re-readings may bring up feelings of hopelessness, the re-readings potentially can create optimistic fulfillment, because we can envision a queer future as we abstract a queer past from texts that may or may not have acknowledged our presence. The possibility of queer re-readings offers hope—a hope that can be performed on stages and in activist locales, and, perhaps most importantly, a hope that can be performed in our everyday lives.
In the final section, Case considers the theatrical and performative elements of online interactions. For her, cyberspace is a space of staged interactivity: “The world wide web describes not only an electronic, [End Page 137] virtual space, but...