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Reading Women’s Plays: Intuition, Emotion, Evaluation

Monday, 24 February 2020, 10 – 11am

Reading Women’s Plays: Intuition, Emotion, Evaluation

A discussion led by Claire Keogh as part of the School of Creative Arts Research Forum.

In theatre, choosing a new play for production is a process that revolves around the act of reading the playwright’s script. Reading a playscript is an imaginative exercise that requires considerable effort from the reader. A good reader will energetically engage with both dialogue and stage directions. They will actively imagine how the set will appear, how the characters move in performance, and how the sequence of events, the timing and length of the interval or the duration of a particular scene will affect the play’s meaning. A theatre programmer will read with their own specific considerations, imagining how a play might be received by their audience while taking account of the limits on their resources in terms of space, finance, talent and time. The programmer who completes the first read-through of the play will make an evaluative judgement that frames all subsequent discussions of whether it should be considered for production. This very early point in the selection process is the moment at which unconscious biases are most likely to take hold. As such, it is of particular interest when considering the systemic inequality in play selection that female playwrights face.

This paper will argue that the process of reading plays for production is qualitatively different both from reading other types of literature and from watching a performance. Memory, empathy and emotion all play a part in contributing to a reader’s evaluation of a play. By considering how they are triggered by the play script and how they simultaneously activate cultural stereotypes, this paper will interrogate how the unconscious brain has contributed to successive negative evaluations of women’s plays. In an artform in which intuition is often cited as the primary reason for programming a piece of theatre, this paper will discuss how the canon informs intuitive responses, and how “intuition” can operate as a mask for unconscious bias.


Claire Keogh is an Irish Research Council funded PhD candidate in the School of Creative Arts at Trinity College Dublin. Her research focuses on plays by women produced before and after #WakingTheFeminists, investigating the relationship between unconscious bias, feminist dramaturgies and the location of production. Claire holds an early career research residency at the Trinity Long Room Hub and is a former editor of PLAYOGRAPHYIreland.

Campus LocationTrinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Centre
Accessibility: Yes
Room: Neill Lecture Theatre
Event Type: Lectures and Seminars
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Public

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