Lizzie Thomson – Back into the Closet: Intimate Gatherings of Non-Heroic Activism


Lizzie Thomson


Back into the Closet: Intimate Gatherings of Non-Heroic Activism 

This paper will consider the pertinence of Closet Dramas to our contemporary lives and contemporary performance practices. It will look back to the work of Early Modern Women Closet Dramatists in England, when the possibilities of women playwrights staging their plays professionally in theatres was near impossible. In what could be interpreted as acts of defiance and ingenuity, women wrote plays that did not need the patriarchal space of the stage but were shared through the non-spectacular mode of domestic playreadings. Without costumes, sets, or actors acting, these unconventional plays were written and read inside women’s closets. This private, domestic space could become a politically charged site for feminist resistance, imagination, experimentation and potentiality. These written plays opened up space for women to critically engage with political discourse and to envision ideas of gender that deviated from normative expectations. The small gatherings of intimate playreadings enabled women to develop ‘micro-publics’ where they could safely, and subversively, communicate and develop their ideas. The content of these plays, such as Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure written in 1668, often explored queer relationships and utopian, feminist communities. 

I am particularly interested in how these closet dramas reflect women playwrights’ will to pursue writing and performance practices, in spite of the societal limitations in which they lived. The closet can operate as both a prison that restricts women’s access to publics and politics, but also as an unsupervised, uncensored haven for performative innovation and expression. I am also interested in how the closet drama enables interrogation into the relationship between writing and embodiment. As Nick Salvato points out, the closet drama exists as a ‘mode at the threshold between writing and performance’ (Salvato, Uncloseting Drama: American Modernism and Queer Performance, p. 5). 

In this short paper, I aim to draw connections between aspects of women’s closet dramas – including subtle modes of feminist activism and exploration of the relationships between words, embodiment, writing and performing – with the work of contemporary choreographers Mette Edvardsen (Norway) and Siriol Joyner (Cymru/Wales). 

Lizzie Thomson is a choreographer, performer and researcher living and working on Gadigal and Wangal lands of the Eora Nation. Over the past 20 years, she has performed throughout Australia and Europe with many artists including Rosalind Crisp, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Mette Edvardsen, Jane McKernan, Nikki Heywood, Brian Fuata and Marina Abramovic. Her choreographic work is driven by interests in affinities between dance and language, as well as in the political potency of practices of attention. Lizzie is undertaking a PhD in dance theory at the University of NSW. Her writing on dance has been published in books, journals and exhibition catalogues.