OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

It seemed Ireland had been blessed with only male writers

Center for the Humanities Newsletter Photo
Charlotte Headrick

The genesis of Charlotte Headrick’s project on the women who have served as “movers and shakers” of the Irish theater involves a good story—of course. In 1985, several prominent men in the Irish theater world announced the plan to publish three volumes of the best Irish writing. When the project, the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, was completed in 1991, “it seemed that Ireland had been blessed with only male writers.” Not one of the many Irish women playwrights, poets, essayists or fiction writers had been included. Outrage ensued, and a fourth volume that would “give women their place in Irish letters” was promised. Years passed. No such book appeared. At length, a group of Irish women scholars took on the task, and in 2002, the fourth volume was published. A fifth soon followed. In addition to literary figures, the volumes included women’s contributions in social sciences, history, theology, oral tradition and other fields.

     “It was only in the late twentieth century, and now in the twenty-first century that female artists have claimed their rightful place in Irish letters, particularly Irish theater,” said Headrick, a Research Fellow and professor of theater arts in OSU’s School of Arts and Communication. But, in fact, the magnitude of women artists’ influence on Irish theater has been far too great to be covered in an anthology that includes women from other fields.

     Headrick’s new book in progress, Women of Some Importance: Essays on Irish Artists Who Have Influenced Theatre, 1900 to the Present, aims to help complete the story. “This collection of essays has a twofold purpose, one, to document the contributions of these important, sometimes overlooked, artists and their work, and two, to add to the world of scholarship recognizing their rightful place in the world of Irish theater.” Headrick is a co-editor (with Eileen Kearney) of one of just two anthologies of Irish women playwrights, Women of Ireland: Irish Dramatists, to be published by Syracuse University Press. The new book will include not only dramatists but the women directors, designers, stage managers, actresses, company managers, critics and artistic directors who have helped to shape Irish theater. “To date, there is no volume which deals exclusively with the broad work of women theater artists,” said Headrick. “There is much more scholarship needed in order to evaluate, analyze, and document the work of the women of the Irish theater.”

     Headrick has been deeply involved for years in Irish Studies relating to drama, knows many of the influential contemporary figures in the field, and has directed premier U.S. performances of plays by Irish women. Essays in the new book will be contributed by both U.S. and Irish scholars, mainly women, but also some men who have previously published on the subject. The Maeve Binchey quote that heads this article—“A woman who raised her head above the parapet was a woman who would not win”—refers to Ireland of the 1930s. “By the end of the twentieth century, one would have thought that the situation Binchey describes would be dramatically altered, not only for women in general, but also for theater artists,” said Headrick. “It has been a long and continuing struggle in both Northern Ireland and the Republic for women in the theater to gain the recognition they deserve. This volume of essays will be one piece in an ongoing process to rectify this gap in theater history.”