Gender in Performance: Sexual Politics and the Stage

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
05 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module analyses relationships between performance, sexuality and identity and how performance might be deployed in the service of specific political and cultural agendas.

This module aims to introduce students to the ways in which dominant heteronormative gender and sexual identities have been challenged through
performance modes by representation and inhabitation.

This module will provide an opportunity for students to consider in detail contemporary theories of sexuality, identity and gender. It explores: how particular ideologies of gender function in drama, theatre and performance; the potential of gender-informed critical practice for revealing and subverting existing norms of
representation; and the range and variety of dramatic and theatrical practice by counter-normative identities. The module analyses ways in which performance engages with, reveals, challenges, deconstructs and resists dominant norms of gender and sexuality.

A key focus will be on how performances reflect and contribute to shifts in circulating discourses of power. The module will focus on the politics of gender, sexuality, identity and representation within a range of cultural and historical contexts, asking questions about the nature and purpose of representation within ethical and political frameworks, and examining how artists themselves have used performance platforms, staged interventions and formal innovations to interrogate the ideological implications of their own practices. The module will look at theoretical frameworks of gender and sexuality, at the same time exploring the intersections with other elements of the performance of identity such as social class, affiliated ideology and ethnicity.

Starting with the traditionally 'unmarked' dominance of white heterosexual men, students will engage with a wide range of plays, practitioners, performance artists and creative media examples to interrogate notions of the 'other' as performances of gender and sexual identity. Through a consideration of a range of companies, performers, playwrights, organisations, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, and critical writing, the module will consider a variety of topics which may include, but are not limited to: theories and histories of sexuality;
marriage and civil partnerships; gay and lesbian theatre; music videos; trans identities; drag; HIV/AIDS; activism; club performance.

Theoretical frameworks may include post-structuralist feminism, queer studies, transgender studies and men's studies. The work of theorists such as Judith Butler, Jill Dolan and bell hooks are likely to inform an understanding of how gender roles can be understood to be 'performative' and 'performed' although the
chosen case studies will primarily determine appropriate reading strategies.

The module will enable students to engage with a range of key theoretical methods and approaches. It will build on an introduction to semiotics and ideology by focusing on questions of identity and power; it will also develop students' historical thinking and research skills. In the course of this work we consider how sexual identities intersect with other identity-forming discourses, especially gender and race/ethnicity. Students will be exposed to a range of theatre forms in order to examine the tripartite relationship between socio-historical contexts, formal and aesthetic innovation in the theatre, and the political implications of performance.

Module aims

The aims of the module are:
* To develop students' critical appreciation of gender representations in theatre and performance and to introduce them to key issues of gender theory
* To examines theatrical representations of gender in a selection of dramatic and performance texts and events from Shakespeare to the 21st century

Module learning outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to:

* Demonstrate a clear understanding of the social, cultural and aesthetic perspectives on gender
representations in theatrical texts and performance
* Evaluate and respond to a range of gender discourses in theatre and theory, using a critical and analytical vocabulary
* Exhibit superior research skills in presenting a cogent examination of a related topic drawing on the analysis of course material

Knowledge and understanding

Students successfully completing the programme will acquire knowledge and understanding of:
* Contemporary debates around gender theory, gendered social practices, and political activism
* Representations of gender and subjectivity in social institutions, theatre and media
* The cultural and social construction of gendered identity across time and culture
* The development of drama in the Western world within the context of European culture
* The language used in literary criticism and the analysis of performance
* A number of diverse dramatic texts
* The link between theatre and wider modes of performance

Intellectual skills

Students who successfully complete the programme will utilise intellectual skills, including the following:
* Critical analysis - text, performance, concept, theory
* Interdisciplinary approach
* Self-reflexive thinking
* Establishing relevance to contemporary issues
* Comparative study of different historical periods and cultures
* The writing of essays, documents and commentaries
* Research skills

Praxis skills

Students who successfully complete the programme will have developed a range of praxis skills:
* Relate to others in theatrical processes and performances; to work effectively with others in small task-orientated groups and to initiate and sustain creative, analytic and interpretative work within strict time limits and to solve a number of specific technical problems and apply that understanding to performance work
* Demonstrate the ability to explore theoretical concerns through practice, and vice versa, and to synthesise findings in practical and written tasks
* Demonstrate self-direction and originality in identifying and resolving theoretical and practice problems
* Gain an ability to present and articulate key concepts and principles through written and oral argumentation, critical debate and written or practical presentation

Practical skills

Students who successfully complete the programme will have developed a range of practical skills:
* Performance
* Devising
* Directing
* Workshop facilitation
* Deploy methodologies utilising gender as a category of analysis
* Be capable of independent research using gender as a variable
* Be able to apply insights gained to a variety of social and employment situations

Personal skills

* Engagement with a number of complex social and political topics that are pertinent to a meaningful engagement with the wider world
* Demonstrate the ability to balance between self-direction and collaborative work
* Adapt and design working methods for each new situation: self-management, collaborative working skills, problem solving, critical analysis and valuing own and others' ideas and beliefs
* Develop personal skills of communication, leadership, teamwork, and conflict management involved with making and facilitating performance pieces and projects

Transferable skills

Students who successfully complete the programme will develop the following transferable skills:
* Role-play participation
* Ability to construct and analyse arguments, both in writing and verbally
* Ability to think critically and apply theoretical insights to social experience
* Ability to work independently and within a group
* Ability to apply imagination and sensitivity to any interactive situation.
* Apply gender sensitivity to a variety of employment and social situations

Module information


Course content

§ Feminist, gay, lesbian, queer, and trans theories, histories, and dramaturgies of performance
§ Artistic and cultural works by/about feminist, gay, lesbian, queer, and trans subjects
§ The performance of gender and sexual identities in everyday life
§ The role of gender as discourse and social practice in different historical periods and a variety of
cultures/countries, and in the changing social and cultural context of the theatre
§ Historical production of gender and sexuality on and off stage
§ Competing constructions and representations of femininity and masculinity
§ Feminist and queer activism
§ The interplay of gender, sexuality and subjectivity both in society and within theatrical space
§ Performative intersections of gender and sexuality with other determinants of identity such as race,
ethnicity, class, ability, employment, religion, nationality, and age
§ Theories of gender, transsexuality, social politics, and dramatic representation (text and performance)
§ The nature of gender studies and of theatre in terms of the structures of social interrelationships,
power, identity and role central to both disciplines
§ Gender as a methodological tool or category of analysis with which to approach a range of academic

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery for 2020-21: Lectures and seminar discussion, as well as experiential learning, workshop methods, small-scale collaborative tasks and exercises, including the creation of short performances and presentations. We will offer a mixture of tailored online, digital, and campus-based teaching where it may be possible and as appropriate, along with personalised one-to-one consultation with academic staff.


  • Shakespeare, William. (2010) The taming of the shrew, London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare.
  • William Shakespeare. (2010) The taming of the shrew, London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare.
  • Anthony Neilson. (1998) 'The Censor', in Plays: one, London: Methuen Drama.
  • Schneemann, Carolee; Stiles, Kristine. (c2002) Carolee Schneemann: imaging her erotics : essays, interviews, projects, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Abramovic, Marina; Abramovic, Velimir; Kunstmuseum Bern. (c1998) Marina Abramovic: artist body : performances 1969-1998, Milano: Charta.
  • Gessen, Masha. (2014) Words will break cement: the passion of Pussy Riot, London: Granta.
  • Henrik Ibsen; Michael Leverson Meyer; Nick Worrall; Non Worrall. (2009) A doll's house, London: Methuen Drama. vol. Methuen drama student editions
  • Anelli, Marco; Abramovic, Marina; Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). (c2012) Portraits in the presence of Marina Abramovic, Bologna: Damiani Editore.
  • Osment, Philip; Greig, Noël; Kirby, Andy; Kay, Jackie. (1989) Gay Sweatshop: four plays and a company, London: Methuen Drama.
  • Schneemann, Carolee; New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, N.Y.). (c1996) Carolee Schneemann: up to and including her limits, New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Genet, Jean. (1970, 1963) The maids: a play, London: Faber and Faber.
  • Evan Placey. (2014) Pronoun, London: Nick Hern Books.
  • Laura Wade. (2010) Posh, London: Oberon Books. vol. Oberon modern plays
  • Lucy Kirkwood. (2009) It felt empty when the heart went at first but it is alright now, London: Nick Hern Books.
  • Acconci, Vito; Moure, Gloria. (c2001) Vito Acconci, Barcelona: Polígrafa. vol. 20 21 collection
  • Tony Kushner. (1992) Angels in America: a gay fantasia on national themes, London: Royal National Theare/Nick Hern Books.
  • Hanna, Gillian. (c1991) Monstrous Regiment: four plays and a collective celebration, London: Nick Hern.
  • syowia kyambi,
  • Sharon Irish; Suzanne Lacy. (2010) Suzanne Lacy: spaces between, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Susanna Centlivre; Jane Milling. (2009) The basset table, Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press. vol. Broadview editions
  • Abramovic, Marina; Iles, Chrissie; Museum of Modern Art (Oxford, England). (1995) Marina Abramovic: objects performance video sound, Oxford: Museum of Modern Art Oxford.
  • Mark Ravenhill; Dan Rebellato. (2005) Shopping and fucking, London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge. (2013) Fleabag, London: Nick Hern Books.
  • Caryl Churchill. (1985-) 'Cloud nine', in Plays: one, London: Methuen.
  • Shaw, Peggy; Dolan, Jill. (c2011) A menopausal gentleman: the solo performances of Peggy Shaw, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. vol. Triangulations: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Theatre/Drama/ Performance
  • (2013) Pleading in the blood: the art and performances of Ron Athey, London: Live Art Development Agency. vol. Intellect live
  • Dobkin, Jess. (2012) 'Performing with mother's milk : The lactation station breast milk bar', in Intimacy across visceral and digital performance, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. vol. Palgrave studies in performance and technology
  • Acconci, Vito; Schütz, Heinz; Munich (Germany). Baureferat. (c2003) Vito Acconci: courtyard in the wind : exhibition of models, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz. vol. Reihe Cantz
  • Peggy Shaw |,
  • Pinter, Harold. (1991) The homecoming, London: Faber and Faber.
  • Theatre of Black Women Unfinished Histories,
  • Ntozake Shange. (2010) For colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf: a choreopoem, New York, NY: Scribner.
  • Jess Dobkin | This is My Work,
  • Abi Morgan. (2018) 'Compliance', in Snatches: moments from 100 years of women's lives, 2018: Nick Hern Books., pp.65-72

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay    45% 
Coursework   Performance (Week 24) with Critical Evaluation (due Week 25)    50% 
Practical   Participation    5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Elizabeth Bennett, email:
Dr Elizabeth Bennett
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr Karen Savage
University of Lincoln
Head of School
Available via Moodle
Of 75 hours, 21 (28%) hours available to students:
20 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
34 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.