General:Producing New Woman Playwrights



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Name: D.A. Hadfield


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* undergrad
* grad
* part-time instructor
* pre-tenure faculty member
* tenured faculty member
* archivist-librarian
* independent scholar
* creative practitioner
* interested citizen

Role: part-time instructor

Institution: University of Guelph

Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: theatre historiography, literary production, contemporary Canadian & 19th C British feminist theatre


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and the extent to which you use computers in your research. 
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I am a sessional instructor at University of Guelph and St. Jerome's University (Waterloo), where I've taught pretty much everything from the medieval lyric to contemporary drama. My main research focus is in theatre historiography, especially feminist theatre. In practical terms, I'm interested in investigating the material conditions in which theatre is produced, and what effect they have both on the production of the theatrical event itself and on the way it is subsequently preserved and valued. On frequent occasions, this net has widened to consider non-theatrical literary production as well.


Please provide a short description of the larger project from which this story emerges.

My current research project involves aspiring women playwrights of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, specifically those who had some kind of relationship with George Bernard Shaw. Shaw has been historically positioned as the predominant playwright of “The Woman Question” and its subsequent reimaginings through suffragette and feminist drama, a position buoyed by his extra-theatrical involvement in women’s rights issues. So, despite his oft-quoted insistence that he would not speak for women because women were more than capable of speaking for themselves, Shaw’s voice is the one that history has preserved to speak about women’s dramatic representations. At its most basic, the project began in wondering why that was.


I would like to be able to trace Shaw’s lines of influence on aspiring women playwrights to determine how he managed to dominate their voices so effectively. My research approach begins with the recognition that theatrical production and the historical presence of those productions is driven at least as much by materialist considerations as artistic ones (and sometimes more so), yet theatre history tends to refigure the historical visibility of these plays as confirmation of the unique or exemplary (artistic) merit of these works. For this project, I’d like to investigate Shaw’s personal relationships or contacts with theatrical women to determine the extent to which his “encouragement” may have helped him to strengthen his position as the age’s pre-eminent feminist playwright.

Initially, I focussed on one particular case study: an unpublished and unproduced play by Janet Achurch, a prominent Ibsen actress whom Shaw ardently admired. Reading the correspondence between Shaw and Achurch a rather different picture of Shaw emerged: one who repeatedly disparaged Achurch’s attempts at playwriting while exhorting her to focus instead on acting in his plays. Moreover, both he and Achurch were competing to interest the same actor-manager into taking on their plays. When Louis Waller turned down Achurch’s play, Shaw wrote to explain to her that the conventional melodramatic ending was too old-fashioned for the theatre. When I retrieved a copy of the play from the Lord Chamberlain’s Archives in England, I was surprised to discover that Shaw’s characterization of the play’s ending is not, in fact, accurate—yet it’s the description of the play that has justified the historical indictment of Achurch’s sole playwriting attempt.

First it’s necessary to locate the women who were writing plays during the period of 1890-1925 (the period of Shaw’s most prolific theatrical activity), including, if possible, women who wrote plays that were never actually produced. I would like to be able to visualize the production “popularity” of the plays, determined primarily by the nature of the venue and the length of the run(s). I’d then like to be able to map Shaw’ proximity to these women in terms of his personal and professional relationships with them, to identify whether there was any correlation between the nature/strength of his relationship with them and the likelihood of their “success” as playwrights. Additionally, I'd like to be able to qualify these results by consulting correspondence and memoirs around Shaw's relationship with these women, especially any interventions he might have made into their play development. As well, I want to be able to read the women's plays myself and compare them to the critical reaction and reviews when they were produced to try to identify the grounds on which Shaw's historical "superiority" must have been constructed.

How broadly do the practices described in this story apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?
* broadly applicable
* shared by some
* shared by few or none

Scope: These practices would be shared by anyone with a materialist focus in theatre history.

Does your story describe current research activities that you think CWRC will enhance (present), 
or future research possibilities that you can only dream of now? (future)

Timeline: Some of this research (eg. parts of building the timeline) can already be done by Orlando; other aspects (identifying production details, linking to external materials) can as yet only be dreamed of.

Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories. 
Use as many of the ones listed below as relevant or provide your own.
* Aggregate
* Annotate
* Consider
* Discover
* Interact
* Publish
* Archive/Preserve
* Share
* Visualize
* Map
* Historicize
* Edit
* Network
* Collaborate
* Integrated History of Women's Writing in Canada
* Orlando

Keywords: Aggregate, Consider, Discover, Archive/Preserve, Visualize, Map, Historicize

Are there parts of the story that relate to other CWRC stories? 
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Related Stories: Story:VisualizingSocialNetworks

Are there tools that do some of the sorts of things you'd like to see in CWRC? 
If so, what are they?

Related Tools: Internet Archive, Brown Victorian Women Writers