Note: This post is the last in a 3-part series exploring the process of taking theatre instruction outside the white, European, male paradigm.
As promised, this week I’m writing about incorporating female playwrights and other theatre artists into my curriculum. This post is going to be full of even more navel-gazing than the first two, since I haven’t fully decided yet how I’m going to do this. Do I want to include discussions of female artists in my already existing units? Or do I want to have a specific unit on key female artists throughout the ages? Or do I want to take some as-yet-undiscovered third option? As usual, there are pros and cons to everything.
The big advantage of including these discussions inside the larger units is that it normalizes teaching and learning about women in theatre. This is basically the point of all this curriculum work that I’m doing--to normalize the teaching of theatre history that’s not just white, male, and European. As you can probably tell by now, that’s work that I strongly believe in.
On the other hand, setting female artists into their own unit has two distinct advantages. The first is that, by putting the focus on women for a few weeks, I can be sure that they’re not getting lost in the shuffle of genres and styles and dates and criticism. It would allow me to create a structure around specific artists and plays, rather than time periods and styles, which is the setup for the rest of the units.
The second advantage to a specific unit on women in theatre is that it gives me more space to discuss sexism in theatre, both in the past and today. That’s important. Students need a chance to talk about why there are sparse records of women in theatre until relatively recently, really until the 20th century, and a space to learn about the sexism that still exists in the industry. Those discussions also make a good jumping off point for discussions of sexism in greater society, a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. And, that leaves more room for discussions of racism and Eurocentrism during the more history and geography based units. When you’re trying to teach complex stuff in a limited time period, simplicity of structure is your friend.
Which bring us to maybe the biggest lesson that this work has taught me. As important as what you teach is, how you teach it matters too. The way things are presented makes a difference, not only in the sense that how things are taught affects whether students learn it, but because how things are presented changes how students think about them. When people of color, women, and other marginalized people are relegated to a short unit tacked on at the end of the year, the message is that those people don’t really matter. And those attitudes, even if not consciously held, carry over into everyday life. What I’m trying to do here, albeit maybe a bit clumsily, is to use structure as well as content to create a more egalitarian curriculum. Hopefully it’ll matter, at least a little.