Rethinking Motherhood in Twenty-First Century Theatre

“Rethinking Motherhood in Twenty-First Century Theatre”

Moderators:  Sheila Rabillard and Karen Bamford

Urgent and essential questioning surrounds maternity in the 21st century. In Sally Rooney’s words, the most serious philosophical problem today could be “to decide whether or not a life is worth bringing into existence.” This panel explores the contributions of 21st-century North American and British theatre to current conversations about maternity as individual experience or collective endeavor.

Developments in theatre’s sister arts invite us to ask how theatre re-conceives and re-embodies mothering. Novels interrogating maternity include Heti, Motherhood (2018); Greengrass, Sight (2018); Slimani, The Perfect Nanny (2016). Visual art adds to the conversation: witness the exhibition “New Maternalisms”(2016) as well as graphic narratives like Leavitt’s Tangles (2010). The politics of our time lends urgency to such re-thinking. Right-wing movements advocate a return to prior versions of maternity; the Anthropocene era spurs an ethics of reproduction; responses to the legacy of residential schools require greater understanding of what Hill Collins terms “mother work.” In the midst of urgency, recent scholarly developments provide theoretical support for thoughtful conversation: see, for example, Ahmed (2004) on affective labour; Badinter (2010) on varied concepts and valuations of mothering; Ruddick (2009); and Rose (2018).

Recent drama suggests presents a body of exciting work to consider. On the Canadian stage, for example, Natrass’s Mamahood (2018) embraces maternity as personal adventure; MacLeod’s Gracie (2017) presents a girl groomed to serve her community as child-bearer; Clements’s Missing (2017) dramatizes maternity as opening to spiritual realms. In the US, Motherhood Out Loud (2012) scripts truths hitherto unspoken. This panel offers intriguing answers to the question: ‘How does theatre contribute to re-thinking maternity for the 21st century?’

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