- Women and Puppetry: Critical and Historical Investigations ed. by Alissa Mello, Claudia Orenstein, and Cariad Astles
This co-edited volume takes strides in object theatre's performance history, and does additional service by interrogating gender issues, past and present. The book shows that writing about puppetry and women is necessary, especially as the work of women in puppetry accelerates internationally. Readers may not agree with all viewpoints; the authors themselves are far from uniform in their sentiments or approaches. But using the lens of gender (which some of the female creators included do not see as a substantive issue in their work), the book delves into deep issues. Authors discuss both how the female body/voice is made visible (by an object performed by a manipulator of any sexuality via stereotypes) or invisible (noting masking may allow women, otherwise culturally excluded from public displays, to perform). Narrative content, women as performers, and other topics get attention. A number of contributors report how today heritage forms that were traditionally all male begin to open to women as men leave traditional arts for more lucrative/modern pursuits.
The width of coverage (both geographical and ideological) rather than gender focus itself is perhaps the greatest strength of this book: the editors have enabled the voices of artists and scholars beyond normative Anglophone theatres. Therefore, much of the information is [End Page 260] fresh as well as timely. The editors offer deep dips into little documented areas including Iranian, Turkish, Burmese, and Taiwanese puppeteers.
The first section of the book, edited by Alissa Mello, deals mostly with theory. As opposed to the limited contemporary Euro-American feminist view on what "woman" means, in this text diverse writers define the term for themselves. For example, Laura Purcell-Gates "The Monster and the Corpse: Puppetry and the Uncanniness of Gender Performance" (pp. 19–34) fits firmly into the Judith Butler camp of gender as construction and argues for the potential of an uncanny female puppet (not defined by stock "female" stereotypes of breast, hips, red lips) as a way to smash gender stereotypes. Purcell-Gates questions the hierarchy that makes "male" the default or "neutral" reading of an animated object by viewers. Here, Western feminist theoretical sources and interpretations of what "object" and "subject" mean for gender are at play. Using a more historical approach, Kyounghye Kwon's essay on kkokdu gaksi geori's love triangle scene uses Korean traditional puppetry to highlight the situation of women in Korea during the Yi dynasty when the kkokdu gaksi geori genre flourished. Kwon analyzes interventions contemporary Korean women and men performers make as they present this traditionally all male genre wherein the ideal woman (Deolmeori-jib) was silentsvelteyoung and the vociferous woman (the eponymous, complaining old wife Kkokdu Gaksi) was knocked off by her husband (Bak Cheomji). Kwon compares the current revisions of Anseong Namsadang group and Seoul Namsadang under Master Park Yong Tae, showing different approaches rethinking presentation of this now rare puppet performance with a patriarchal scenario that can cause discomfort.
Naomi Paxton (in an essay on Punch and Judy) also takes on the issue of how to deal with traditional wife beating scenarios to present heritage traditions for contemporary audiences. Paxton hypothesizes the possible interventions by female Punch and Judy performers during suffragette conventions in the early twentieth century (unfortunately scripts were not saved). Paxton shares interviews with contemporary women and male performers on how they deal with Punch's punching. While Britain and the Republic of Korea seem distant, this text highlights how the problems of contemporizing heritage puppet forms are actually related.
Religious restrictions on female performance emerge in discussing Muslim area theatres. For example, in both the essay on Iran by Salma Mohseni Ardehali and Turkey by Deniz Başar, the authors discuss cultural-religious stances that traditionally kept women out of performance. Now, however, puppetry may facilitate entry. When [End Page 261] women artists are masked by the booth and use...