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Subverting the ‘Domestic’: A Gendered Analysis of Socio-Cultural Labor of Female Stage Actresses in Colonial Calcutta, 1870-1920


· Twisha Singh McGill University (Montreal, Canada)


07/27 | 11:20-11:40 UTC+2/CEST


The socio-economic environment in Calcutta during late 19th century oscillated between two view points; one concerning that the actresses induction would elevate existing theatre to higher art forms and the other that ‘loose’ women will besmirch the sanctity of theatre. The first generation of actresses in colonial Calcutta came from the background of sex-work. Within such social concerns; actress’s position on the basis of the economic ability and creative labour has been rendered a back seat. Biographers of these actresses have echoed time and again that these actresses did not have their own say and a lot of ‘temptations’ came their way that lead to them invariably leaving acting. Professional mobility among the stage actresses is an intrinsic part of my project in order to argue for creative labor that impacted political, economic and socio-cultural facets of an actress’s life within the theatrical dynamics. There has been a lot of attention meted out to the respectability aspect of theatre actresses by invisibilizing the their personal and social life; further undermining their struggle for survival, contestations and negotiations with normative societal structures. Their talents and creative labor were not recognized to the fullest either due to imbued socio-economic gender based division at the workplace or due to coming from depraved occupational backgrounds, that rendered them more susceptible to economic exploitation. By analyzing biographies and personal papers, I would like to argue, that these actresses were able to negotiate some sort of fractured economic independence due to their creative labor however, their location was always outside the ‘domestic’.