“Sometimes You Have to be a little bit naughty”: Matilda the musical through a feminist lens”
Faculty Mentor: Megan Sanborn Jones, Theatre and Media Arts
My research analyzed the popular musical Matilda to dissect and explicate underlying feminist ideologies. The grant went primarily to helping fund a trip to New York City where I was able to watch Matilda the Musical as well as helping to fund my trip to present my research at a conference in Chicago. This project has yielded two conference presentations thus far and I am continuing to work towards fulfilling my Honors Thesis requirement using this as my research topic.
For this project, I first established a solid theoretical framework using texts such as Changed For Good, and A Problem Like Maria by Stacy Wolf that already combine feminist theory and theatrical production. I also engaged in synthesizing different knowledges like Judith Butler’s work on the performance of gender with Marvin Carlson’s theories on the purpose of theatre. Additionally, in order to truly study the “popular,” like scholar David Savran suggests, I examined non-academic sources such as reviews, fan-forums, and interviews with the cast and the creators, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelley. Throughout the process, I met with my faculty advisor to review information and hear feedback on the formation of my arguments. Equipped with the necessary background research, I traveled to New York City where I saw two performances of the production. While viewing the production, I took copious notes on questions that my preliminary research had raised. I’ve been engaged ever since in various writing projects, most notably my two conference presentations, that use this background research and viewing to explore theatrical practice and western ideology.
I found that as I delved into my research on girlhood and childhood I became interested in the contradictions found between imaginings of childhood in Matilda and the realities of labor practices. While the text of Matilda the Musical presents a Montessorian view of childhood and constructive play, the realities of child labor on Broadway emphasis discipline and hard physical work. This contradiction in, what I call, Matilda’s “text” and “context” opens up a space to examine conceptions of theatrical labor. The employment of children, normally a protected contingent, reveals the way in which theatrical labor generally construed, is dismissed under the pretense that it is not serious “work.” This can affect all theatrical laborers and challenging this discourse is a way to legitimize the work of actors and designers. I was able to present these ideas at the national conference for the Association for Theatre in Higher Educations during the Women in Theatre Preconference in Chicago this year.
I’ve also found out that another paper, focusing on notions of revolution and feminist ideology in the text of Matilda has been accepted into the 2017 Utah Conference for Undergraduate
Research. I’ve begun working on this paper looking at the ways in which Matilda’s disobedience is praised through a feminist framework. I will be combining these two papers along with additional writings to complete the Honor’s curriculum with my thesis next semester.
This research project has been immensely satisfying to me thus far. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to advance as a writer and researching in theatre. I hope I can continue to combine my interests in theatrical practice and theatrical texts to reveal underlying assumptions concerning artistic labor and the roles of women and children in society.