Monday, May 23, 2011

Praxis Theatre on Mother Russia

Jim and Dee make it to scholarship and the stage simultaneously

By Michael Wheeler
February 14, 2011

Mother Russia and the Socialist Fatherland: Women and the Communist Party of Canada, 1932-1941. By Nancy Butler
With specific reference to the activism of Dorothy Livesay and Jim Watts.

Because Praxis Theatre has been researching 1930s Toronto artist/activists off and on for the past year-and-a-half, I assumed I was already aware of the content of a link sent to the creative team by Jesus Chrysler performer Christine Horne in an email she sent titled: “giant essay on jim and dee”.

As Mammalian’s Darren O’Donnell noted in the comments of a recent post here: “Assume makes an Ass out of U and Me.”

The link to the Next Year Country blog led to the document above: a 467-page Queens University PhD History thesis Nancy Butler posted for all to read via embed-able free online publishing software. (As the director of an earlier iteration of this project that included significant access to our content and process, I appreciate the availability of this work online.) The focus of Butler’s thesis are the two protagonists of the Rhubarb stage of our show Jesus Chrysler going on this week at The Rhubarb Festival: Director Jim Watts and poet Dorothy Livesay.

So if you would like a little light reading on an academic perspective of what we have been working on lately, here’s a summary of what the thesis investigates:
Through a close examination of the cultural work of two prominent middle-class female members, Dorothy Livesay, poet, journalist and sometime organizer, and Eugenia (‘Jean’ or ‘Jim’) Watts, reporter, founder of the Theatre of Action, and patron of the Popular Front magazine New Frontier, this thesis utilizes the insights of queer theory, notably those of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler, not only to reconstruct both the background and consequences of the CPC’s construction of ‘woman’ in the 1930s, but also to explore the significance of the CPC’s strategic deployment of heteronormative ideas and ideals for these two prominent members of the Party.
Get a load of this: A July 2010 post on is cited as one of the hundreds of sources used in this thesis that was just published three months ago. We have just received word that Butler will be driving into Toronto on Saturday evening to see our final performance at the Rhubarb Festival.

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