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Wooster's Shirley Huston-Findley to Study Oral History of Women in Theatre in India

UPublish story by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Shirley Huston-Findley, associate professor of theatre at The College of Wooster, has received a Fulbright-Nehru Research Award to study the oral histories of modern female playwrights in India.

A member of Wooster’s faculty since 1999, Huston-Findley plans to examine the relationship between how the work of contemporary female playwrights in India is gendered — based on their distance from partition (the dissolution of the British Indian Empire) — and the ways in which they have conformed to and/or resisted culturally inscribed gender identities. She chose India because of the surge of capitalism and westernization, which have greatly affected the lives of citizens there. “In the theatre, this has important repercussions on how the performance of gender matters in the world of modern female playwrights,” she said.

Huston-Findley’s four-month research leave, which runs from January to May of 2014, will culminate with a book-length manuscript consisting of 32 oral histories of playwrights throughout India as well as her observations of theatre performances and rehearsals.

“This project will afford me an opportunity to pull all of my areas of expertise together, including feminist theory, practical experience in playwriting and directing, and my work to expand global awareness and understanding in and out of the classroom,” said Huston-Findley. “This benefits not only my development, but also provides my discipline with cross-cultural research that begins to fill the gap where these ‘muffled voices’ reside.”

Huston-Findley has been to India on several other occasions, and during one of those visits she found herself conversing with female playwrights at a luncheon. The discussion caused her to question these females’ circumstances and their artistry. “Throughout our conversation, I was reminded that their voices took a back seat to those of their male counterparts also present at the gathering,” she said.

After researching, she found that many of the previous studies had not utilized a feminist perspective to focus on the oral histories of modern Indian playwrights in order to understand gender roles in the theatre. “My goal is to bring those voices to the forefront,” she said, “and examine their stories in the context of their distance from partition and the burgeoning globalization happening throughout much of India.”

Huston-Findley’s study will provide new and interesting research that will fit into multiple disciplines, such as women’s and gender studies, theatre, South Asian studies, and global studies. She hopes that upon return from India she will be able to present her findings at such conferences as Asian Studies and The Association of Theatre in Higher Education.

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 by then-Senator J. William Fulbright to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those in the more than 150 other countries that participate in the program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Close to 300,000 scholars have participated in the program since its inception nearly 70 years ago.

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