Staging Australian Women’s Lives: Theatre, Feminism and Socially Engaged Art

Theatre-Works-Mad-as-a-Cute-Snake-photo-by-Sarah-WalkerStaging Australian Women’s Lives: Theatre, Feminism and Socially Engaged Art is a research project that sees the stage is an ideal laboratory for crafting and rehearsing responses to social inequalities.

Unnoticed, undocumented, unheard. Despite the indelible achievements and contributions of Australia’s women theatre makers, the influence and impact of their work have not been comprehensively documented. The Staging Australian Women’s Lives: Theatre, Feminism and Socially Engaged Art research project will significantly shift historical awareness of Australia’s women theatre makers’ contributions.

This project will document the methods women theatre makers use to address gendered oppression and violence, to enable their legacy to reach a diverse and global audience for the first time. This research is urgent given gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence against Australian women has risen dramatically in the last decade.

The violence and inequality women experience has been compounded by the COVID-19 global pandemic, which disproportionately affects women around the world. The increase in violence towards women has been termed a ‘shadow pandemic’ by the United Nations.

In Australia, domestic violence statistics reveal violence against women has not only escalated, but has also increased in complexity during COVID-19. It’s clear that now is the time for theatre to address the violence Australian women disproportionately experience.

Theatre offers us a way to reflect and respond to the gendered impact of COVID-19, and the growing violence women experience, by acting as a laboratory for crafting and rehearsing responses to gender inequalities.

In recent years, women playwrights from marginal and diverse backgrounds have created works to empower women. Playwrights and actors including Michelle Law, Candy Bowers, Nakkiah Lui, Rachael Maza and Julia Hales have offered audiences complex responses to the injustice and violence women experience.

The ARC-funded Staging Australian Women’s Lives project, a collaboration of theatre scholars and artists including Chief-investigator Stacy Holman Jones (Monash University) and co-investigators Alyson Campbell (University of Melbourne), Anne Harris (RMIT University), Peta Murray (RMIT University) and Misha Myers (Deakin University). Mish Grigor (PhD Researcher) and Rachael Stevens (Research Officer) have also joined the team.

Working with a national network of directors and dramaturgs, actors, designers, producers and theatre companies, this project aims to give Australian women useful tools for countering inequality and oppression in their lives, which is sorely needed during this challenging time.

Researchers will combine participants’ contributions (personal histories, performance programs, scripts, photographs and rehearsal notes) with the project’s outputs (audio/video recordings of interviews, focus groups, co-design workshop and the live performance) to create an online collection and exhibition of research data.

The launch of the Staging Australian Women’s Lives project is one step towards shedding light on the forgotten and neglected achievements of incredible Australian women. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Mad as a Cute Snake (Theatre Works, 2019) – photo by Sarah Walker