To celebrate the centenary of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, we hope to present
the following panel at ATHE, and would love to have ATDS members
CFP for Panel Proposal ATHE 2016
Chairs: Noelia Hernando-Real and Barbara Ozieblo
A Hundred Years of Women’s “Trifling” Labor on the Stage: From and Beyond Susan Glaspell’s Trifles
Deadline for Abstracts: October 15, 2015
This panel aims to celebrate contemporary women playwrights’ efforts to
bring onto the stage the usually dismissed topic of women’s labor and the
abuse of working women’s bodies at the same time that it pays homage to
one of the earliest plays by women which deal with this topic: Susan
Glaspell’s Trifles. One hundred years ago, Glaspell aptly titled her play
Trifles in order to highlight the treatment of women at the turn of the
nineteenth century. Based on her work as a newspaper reporter, Glaspell
depicted the scenario she found at a lonely farmhouse outside Des Moines,
Iowa, when she went to investigate the murder of Mr. Hossack. Among the
many riches of this play, the symbolic reconstruction of the farmhouse was
used not only to suggest the hidden story of a battered wife, but the most
common thread that brought women together at the time: the unpaid, ignored
– though necessary – work women did/do at home, as well as the
configuration of the domestic space as limited and limiting for women’s
bodies and labor. Glaspell, whose later plays showed how innovative and
experimental she could be – for example, The Verge – turned to realism in
Trifles, intuitively understanding that the depiction of family life would
best be served in this way. But the early twentieth century was the period
of expressionism, surrealism and symbolism, and other playwrights such as
Sophie Treadwell would choose these newer trends to represent the lives of
women, their trifles and their dedication to the work of a wife and mother
as also their struggle to develop a fulfilling career.
In recent years, late 20th century and early 21st century American women
playwrights, heirs to Susan Glaspell, continue to examine the work of
women on the stage, the extent to which this might still be classified as
“trifling,” necessary and/or unrewarded. Most notably, Sarah Ruhl in The
Clean House (2004) revisits the domestic sphere to value the work of the
Brazilian maid who not only cleans the house, but cheers up the domestic
universe of a declining couple. Naomi Wallace, with Slaughter City,
revisits the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 to draw her
audience’s attention to the pitiful parallelisms between women’s bodies at
work a hundred years ago and now. And Suzan-Lori Parks, through her Red
Letter Plays (2001), offers a thought-provoking glimpse of the jobs some
women are forced to accept, surrendering their bodies to prostitution or
To sum up, this panel will examine the ways in which women’s bodies at
work have been represented on stage during this last century, looking at
the theatrical devices used but also at the sociological and historical
conclusions that can be drawn. Papers can address the following topics
although you are welcome to suggest other related topics:
— The representation of women’s work on the stage.
— The abuse of women’s bodies through undervalued/underpaid travail.
— Realism, expressionism, abstraction, tragedy, comedy: which of these
can best express the abuse, labor and suffering of women?
— Does the battered Minnie of Trifles still need a place on the stage of
the twenty-first century? What, if anything, has changed?
— A comparison/contrast of Glaspell’s Trifles with later plays that also
deal with the laboring bodies of women.
— Glaspell does not overtly take on the political labor struggles of her
day, as do Naomi Wallace and, most recently, Lynn Nottage with Sweat.
What do these later playwrights owe to Glaspell’s example and how do they go beyond what she set in motion?