Autobiography, adaptation, and agency: interpreting women's performance and writing strategies through a feminist lens

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2004

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This dissertation is an investigation of interpretive strategies of twentieth century women adapter/playwrights. Several are also performers: Wakako Yamauchi, Elizabeth Wong, Sheri Bailey, Anne Sexton, Pam Christian, Terry Galloway and Donna Nudd. The life experiences of these artists encompass a diversity of economic, social, ethnic, cultural and political backgrounds; their artistic work responds to and challenges a wide variety of cultural and psychological identity constructions that continue to prevail in our culture. In an effort to determine how their artistic processes impact their writing and performance practices, Lee-Brown investigates the ways in which these artists read and respond to their own art. In this study, Lee-Brown maps out a relationship among feminist theorizations of autobiography, adaptation, audience and agency. Autobiography is defined as the synthesis of lived and imagined experience, and adaptation is configured as an evolving process in which meanings are interpreted, reinterpreted, invented and re/membered. In this way, adaptation functions as a lens for viewing performance and performance texts as an unending exchange of meanings. Identifying re/membering as an act of reclamation, Lee-Brown argues that re/membering functions as an inherently political and feminist strategy by linking the personal and the collective. She explores the ways in which the personal histories of these artists resonate with broader cultural and social histories, creating a dynamic and often antagonistic relationship between personal and private experience and cultural and historical meaning systems. Feminist agency is configured in relation to individuality and collectivity. LeeBrown locates the political impetus of the artists in this study around a search for affinity among women, rather than around a desire to group women according to a single, unified identity or struggle. Theorizations of difference, particularly theorizations by women of color, play an important role in defining the temporary yet critical role of these alliances. Situating the experiences and feminist theorizations of white women in conjunction with those of women of color, difference is articulated as a strategy not only for finding possible connections among women, but also as a method for critiquing the ways in which cultural and historical formulations of whiteness impact these alliances. In an effort to tease out the relationships among autobiography, adaptation, and agency, Lee-Brown considers the ways in which these artists configure their relationships with readers/audiences. She asks the question: what responses do these playwrights and performers intend to evoke from their audience members? Using feminist theorizations of agency as a lens for interpreting their artistic intentions, Lee-Brown identifies a number of strategies and tactics that are used by these artists and the common motifs that connect them. She argues that through their work as playwrights and performers, these artists generate political agency by promoting identity constructions that foster autonomy, self-reflexivity and political consciousness.

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