Postpartum: Motherhood, Maternity, and Pregnancy as Performance

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American Society for Theatre Research
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Motherhood and childbirth have been constructed as symbols of faith, sites of suspicion, protectors of social morality, and the wages of original sin. Mother Earth, the Virgin Mother, and evil stepmothers are just some of the pillars society has fashioned around the concept of motherhood. Motherhood has been gendered female to the extent that motherhood and womanhood are often seen to be mutually completing, with pregnancy serving as a visual marker of the liminal space that turns woman into mother. In contrast, male actors have frequently embodied theatrical performances of motherhood, and the performativity of motherhood and pregnancy have been explored in, for example, the entremés Juan Rana Mujer, in which Juan is tricked into believing he is a woman and begins to fear labor pains. In today's world of technology, disembodied performances of motherhood and pregnancy create slipperiness between the predestined gendered performances, opening both to new, transgressive iterations.

While maternal performances form an integral part of social discourse, and often an explicit part of theatrical performance, they are rarely subject to scholarly study. Despite an ongoing scholarly interest in performances of gender, sexuality, and embodiment, maternity has largely slipped from focus in the last decades. In the interest of examining these performances as constructed and constructing identity in theatrical and social performances, participants in this session will re-focus on the performance of motherhood and maternity and its role in historical and contemporary life. In the spirit of the post-thematic conference, we will seek papers that approach this topic from a variety of disciplines, cultures, and eras, allowing us to form connections from within the paper group instead of imposing structure from without. We are particularly interested in how maternity and pregnancy conflict with fictional or virtual characters, performance traditions, and cross-gendered portrayals in historical and global performance.

In creating a site for the exploration of motherhood and maternity as performative, we propose a session that "thinks big" beyond the bounds of the conference room and scheduled working session time. Prior to our scheduled working session, we will engage with conference attendees through a performance piece ("The Mother Code") exploring archetypes of maternity. This performance piece aims to make the invisible visible, though the exact format will be decided amongst session participants. Please submit a 250-word proposal, and a two-page CV to by June 3, 2013. Participants will be notified by June 15 and placed into small groups. Papers will be due by September 1, 2013. In addition, group members will be asked to stay in contact with their small groups throughout the paper-writing process. Once full papers are submitted, participants will collaborate on the creation of the performance art piece component.

Conveners: Chelsea Phillips, Ohio State University, Alicia Beth Corts, University of Georgia, and Judith Griselda Caballero, Millsaps College.