Mary Shearman


Feministes Fatales: The Feminist Movement and the ‘New’ Burlesque


One obvious community formed during a live performance is the audience, if only for one evening. An audience in at any given performance shares the experience of witnessing the show though, despite adequate theorizing by the Greats who assert that theatre has the potential to communicate a powerful political message (Brecht 1957, Artaud 1958, Brook 1968, Grotowski 1968, Boal 1979), no one can even begin to discuss how to assure the audience leaves with the same political message the piece is trying to present. Though contemporary regional Burlesque dancers are not adding to this discussion formally their performance nevertheless serves an example of a very interesting relationship between performance and audience. Contemporary Burlesque, which stems from the traditions of cabaret, vaudeville, theatre, and performance art, presents unity between the mind and body to consider women’s bodies and power dynamics. Usually divorced from ‘stripping’ by virtue of not being a labour practice and tied to perfomativity which usually respects the audience to be more than a passive consumer, Burlesque dancers make feminist debates accessible to a mass public as opposed to reserving debate for academic discourse. In this presentation I will discuss contemporary burlesque dancers that use this embodied art form to stimulate activism and as a point to start deeper discussions where thinking can hinge.


Mary Shearman’s current research explores historical and contemporary manifestations of feminist theatre in burlesque and cabaret performances. While doing a BA(Honours) in Theatre at the University of Ottawa Mary became frustrated with the lack of plays written for women and became interested in feminist theatre. Mary wrote her MA thesis Betty Lambert’s Plays for Children: A Feminist Approach to Theatre for Young Audiences also in Women’s Studies at SFU. Mary’s other research interests include soap operas and Canadian legislation governing sexual behaviors.