'Stepping out of the Shadows': an examination of female larrikins in Melbourne and the influence of popular culture on their behaviour (1878-1888); an Exegesis and Documentary Theatre play, ‘Flash Donahs’

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Dale, Graeme (2019) 'Stepping out of the Shadows': an examination of female larrikins in Melbourne and the influence of popular culture on their behaviour (1878-1888); an Exegesis and Documentary Theatre play, ‘Flash Donahs’. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis is a two-part practice-based research project comprised of a Documentary Theatre play-script, ‘Flash Donahs’, and an accompanying exegesis, entitled, 'Stepping out of the Shadows': an examination of female larrikins in Melbourne and the influence of popular culture on their behaviour (1878-1888)’. This thesis is also comprised of a live performance and recording of ‘Flash Donahs’ (20/4/18). Despite the best efforts of a patriarchal ‘Victorian-era’ society to suppress female dissent and activism, the defiant and often confronting behaviour of larrikin women was a contributing social factor in the struggle for increased equality for women. ‘Flash Donahs’ embodies and performs the research undertaken into the lives of female larrikins. The Exegesis elucidates the choices taken in the construction of the play and provides an historical perspective to the research It also evaluates the use of Documentary Theatre when re-presenting archival artefacts in a contemporary theatrical context. Contrary to the derisive content of contemporary publications such as the Bulletin, young women were active participants in larrikin culture, and not merely the property of male larrikins (Bellanta 2012). In recent years, the work of Australian historians, particularly that of Melissa Bellanta, have initiated a change in our awareness of female larrikins by revealing that they were not simply subordinates of their male counterparts. Bellanta’s work, Larrikins: A History (2012) has informed the analytical and creative components of my thesis by showing that amidst the everyday aspects of their lives, young larrikin women were active participants in a broader struggle for female emancipation. ‘Flash Donahs’ is a re-presentation of gender-related issues in Melbourne during 1878-1888, and of two significant events1 affecting women during this period. In order to accentuate the female characters chosen to ‘people’ the world of the play, an all-female cast playing all the roles (including male roles), has been utilized. The characters in the play are based on actual people and events. They are mostly strong and independent women from a broad cross-section of life, including from the religious sector. They highlight the often oppressive socio-economic and cultural factors affecting young larrikin women from this period, and their responses to critical social issues such as inequality in the workplace and danger in the family environment. Because of the significant influence of popular culture in reinforcing gendered social values, their lives are shown in a theatrical and performative context using aspects of Victorian-era melodrama and burlesque (Bellanta 2012). Drawing upon a diverse range of archival sources and material, the research methodology was the creation of a Documentary Theatre play featuring popular songs and music. ‘Verbatim’ material was incorporated into the playscript but this was often disassembled and then used in a different setting. Wherever possible, the structure and syntax of the original textual material has been kept intact, even when using the technique of bricolage to construct dialogue between characters. The Exegesis situates ‘Flash Donahs’ within the history of Documentary Theatre, and also positions itself in relation to recent examples of the genre. Its aim is to examine and present new information about female larrikins and to do so in the context of feminist history, including recent feminist theatre practice. Within this practice, female writers, performers and producers have sought to highlight the roles played by women throughout history. It has also been argued that feminist theatre offers an opportunity to reverse the historical marginalization of women.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/42231
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords women; female; Melbourne; Australia; popular culture; larrikin; gender; feminist; femininity; 19th century; exegesis; documentary theatre; play; play-script; performance
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