I Am Woman: Hear Me Phwoar!
Dr Ellen Wright (aka. Snappy O'Shea, producer of The Cat's Pyjamas Burlesque 2006-2016) is the Vice Chancellor’s 2020 lecturer in Cinema and Television History at DeMontfort University in Leicester. She is a research active member of the Cinema and Television History Research (CATH), currently the top-rated academic research group for Film studies in the UK according to the last Research Excellence Framework. CATH members have a history of undertaking innovative, high-profile means of generating impact and creating meaningful public engagement with their work.
In continuance of this trend, Dr Wright has assembled an engagement project that draws upon research towards a scholarly book on the media representation of the female staff at Soho variety theatre The Windmill, both during the time the theatre traded (1932-1964) and, to a lesser extent, since.
The engagement project is comprised of a pop-up exhibition and a round table discussion which will explore issues pertaining to the politics (of taste, identity and more broadly) of women’s sexualised performance in both contemporary and historic contexts.
The exhibition, which will be displayed in the foyer of Todmorden Hippodrome during the HBBF Gala and again at Hebden Bridge Town Hall during the Burlesque Bazaar, will examine the Windmill theatre and its female performers (commonly known as the ‘Windmill Girls’), who received considerable cross media coverage in Britain and America, particularly during WWII, making the theatre and its female staff cultural icons.
The media artefacts assembled for this exhibition (which include newspaper and magazine articles, programmes, pin-ups and Pathé newsreels as well as more contemporary, retrospective materials intended to pique curiosity, resonate with the public and prompt conversation surrounding the Windmill Girls and the media representation of women in society more generally) provide us with a compelling means through which to examine broader debates surrounding publicly appropriate female sexuality and the intersection of femininity with modernity, nationality and class in particular between the 1930s and the 1960s, a period of significant social change.
The exhibition is intended to commemorate and expand understandings of 20th century British women’s history, the sociohistorical context of WWII Britain and the history of British entertainment industries, encompassing theatre, variety and media, tapping into the current drive to address a relative paucity of commemorative opportunities surrounding wartime civilian populations.
I AM WOMAN: HEAR ME PHWOAR will be a round table discussion of feminism and the politics of burlesque performance.
The panelists are Dr Jacki Willson, author of Being Gorgeous: Feminism, Sexuality and the Pleasure of the Visible (2015) and The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque (2007), Dr Claire Nally, editor of Naked Ambition: Gendered Performance and Public Exposure (2013), as well as high profile burlesque performer and Queer rights campaigner Rubyy Jones and festival producer and women’s rights activist Heidi Bang Tidy.