The Young Researchers’ Forum 2012 20th & 21st January, 2012 Western Province Aesthetic Resort, Colombo

Session: Representation and Articulation Date: 21st January, 2012 Time: 10.15am-11.15am
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The Young Researchers’ Forum 2012 Performativity and Performance: An Analysis of the Portrayal of Gender Identity of Women in Plays Written By Sri Lankan Playwrights Sabreena Niles „Performativity and performance are both social and artistic concepts that function in dance, theatre and drama‟ (Kolk, 8). This statement extracted from the article on Performing Gender in Arabic/African Theatre concisely presents the basis of this research paper and also sheds light on the interest of the researcher in theatre and particularly plays written by Sri Lankan playwrights. According to Richard Schechner‟s Performance Theory, drama is not just something that occurs on stage, but something full of meaning operating on many levels in everyday life (Wetsel). Therefore, the performance on a stage is a reflection of life itself, and the roles assumed within the space of a theatre also portray the function of gender roles in society. Thus the stage, or the space in which an actor/actress performs, becomes the platform for the depiction of the different aspects of the play, and in a broader context, the representation of life itself. „Theatre is a public institution, a theatre-performance a public event. On stage the theatre-makers offer their vision on the cultural and social conditions of a society and negotiate, so to say, with their audience (changing) norms and values of this society‟ (Kolk, 8). Thus this research paper analyses the manner in which Sri Lankan playwrights have portrayed the gender identity of women in their plays. The primary data included in this research are plays written by Ruwanthie de Chickera, Senaka Abeyratne and Sivamohan Sumathy. This paper limits itself to analyzing the written plays as the research finds its relevance in the content of the plays and the attempts made by the playwrights to utilize the stage to present the gender identity of Sri Lankan women.

The Young Researchers’ Forum 2012 This research article bases itself on the premise that Sri Lankan playwrights, who contextualize their plays within Sri Lanka and utilize Sri Lankan characters in their plays, would portray gender identity, particularly, of Sri Lankan women. It is also assumed that the playwrights would attempt to establish a link between performances and performativity in order to delve into the nuances of an identity that is influenced by the cultural, political, economical and social aspects of Sri Lanka and therefore perhaps portray a gender identity that is authentic to Sri Lankan women. In exploring this hypothesis the researcher hopes to address the following questions; How do the playwrights portray the gender identity of Sri Lankan women on stage? How do the playwrights employ various theatrical techniques used in a performance in order to bring to surface the nuances of performing gender identity in society? Judith Butler in her Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity discusses the manner in which „for feminist theory, the development of language that fully or adequately represents women has seemed necessary to foster the political visibility of women‟ and proceeds to emphasize on how the „the very subject of women is no longer understood in stable or abiding terms‟ (2). Thus this research paper finds its significance in viewing the theatre as a medium and a „language that fully and adequately represents women‟ in which the „subject of the woman‟ is portrayed while acknowledging that it is „no longer a stable or abiding term‟. This argument is further developed through the opinion that „image and self-image can come together and identity is no longer a fixed phenomenon but a pluralistic concept, fluid and continually shifting in a changing cultural landscape‟ (Kolk, 7). Thus the gender identity of women is subject to change, as the roles performed by women are reflective of the perceptions and attitudes of society which contribute to the development of the multifaceted and multifunctional role played by women. Judith Butler, in defining her concept of performativity, argues that “gender proves to be performance—that is, constituting the identity it is purported to be. In this sense,

The Young Researchers’ Forum 2012 gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed” (Salih, 55). This research expands on this concept of performativity and its link with performance or portrayal of gender roles in the theatre. Kolk Mieke contributes to this argument, particularly in terms of gender roles, and opines that it is „these forms of agency, that are searched for and reflected in drama and theatre: in subversive forms of femininity and masculinity and in the crossing of boundaries of what can be made visible in a cultural community‟ (9). The research also employs feminism, post-colonialism, psychoanalysis and other sociological theories relevant to the field of study. Therefore this interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach will be utilized to enhance the exploration of the hypothesis and research questions which will in turn enrich the research as a whole. The researcher hopes to engage with the presentations of gender roles, stereotyping, traditional representations of women, power relations and other aspects imperative in the analysis of gender identity and its portrayal on a stage. This research paper seeks to analyze plays that deal with disparities based on class, ethnicity and economic status and other features that can be identified in society. The plays selected for this research delve into contemporary issues faced by youth and the struggles and also challenges present both during the ethnic conflict and in the post-war context. The research attempts to examine the manner in which the gender identity of women is portrayed within a framework of this nature which brings to surface issues which are relevant to Sri Lankan audiences. Thus this research grapples with concepts that contribute to the making of gender identity of women in Sri Lanka through grasping the essence of the plays and thereby the significance of performances both on stage and in society at large.


The Young Researchers’ Forum 2012


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