About essinec

Assistant Professor in Theatre History, Vanderbilt University.

TOP GIRLS by Caryl Churchill

rnt_pp_2_2_402_1Our first production will be Top Girls by Caryl Churchill at the National Theatre.

Caryl Churchill got her start during the British Fringe movement, new experimental theatres and productions that grew in the late 60’s and 70’s with the end of government censorship. Her work also connects with the 2nd wave feminist movement in Britain, emphasizing women working in collaboration, producing theatre without established, patriarchal hierarchical structures.  She is known for her work at the Royal Court (where we’ll be seeing salt. on May 25), Joint Stock Company, and Monstrous Regiment (feminist collective).

VUT produced  Top Girls in 2014, and the student dramaturg, Shirlene Wang, wrote the following note:

Caryl-Churchill-Square-300x300“London-born playwright Caryl Churchill wrote Top Girls in 1982, just as Britain adjusted to its first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher—the nation’s first elected “top girl.”  Finally a woman was at the helm—seemingly, a feminist dream come true.  But British feminists shuddered at Thatcher’s conservative politics.  Churchill’s character Marlene (a close approximation of “Margaret”) sees the world in black and white, populated by winners and losers.  “She’s a bit think—a bit funny.  She’s not going to make it,” Marlene says of her daughter, a cold assessment with little maternal sympathy.

Influenced by German playwright and theorist Bertolt Brecht, Churchill asks the audience question their assumptions about gender, feminists, and feminism by contrasting the fantastic with the ordinary.  The play begins with a feminist fantasy; Marlene celebrates her promotion to a top executive in an employment agency with select “top girls” whom she venerates from fiction and the historical past.  Through each character, Churchill contemplates women’s past and continuing struggles to live their life to the fullest and have the same choices as men.  But as the celebration progresses, the party begins to unravel.  While thesTopGirls2e women have achieved great things as individuals, have they really changed the world around them and laid a path for other women to follow?”

Video Posting as part of Course blogging

We’ve been asked by Vanderbilt Communications to video document our trip for potential used in promotional materials around the new Immersion initiative.  So, consider using video for your blog posts (we will talk more about this in London).  Here are some tips from Amy Wolf, the senior video producer in that office:

  • Hold your phone horizontally; that way it will fill up the video screen.
  • Hold your shot for several seconds without moving around too much; too much movement can be disorienting.
  • Ask each other questions about one of our performances or experiences, or turn the camera to selfie mode to capture your own experience. Some possible questions:
    • Why did you decide to join the Maymester?
    • What are your goals for the trip?
    • What’s been your favorite experience so far?
  • Don’t feel like you have to be a professional; just shoot things that inspire you (they will edit the material). The more the better!
  • Also post photographs; again, the more the better!

Theatre and the Global Economy


In a little over two weeks, our group departs for London to begin a month studying contemporary performance in the U.K., and I’m struck by the number of new works we’ll be seeing that ask audiences to reflect on questions of globalization and the global economy.

Witness The Lehman Trilogy, currently running in New York, but returning to the London stage in time for us to see it on May 27th.  Today’s New York Times finds the irony in a play about “money and decline” fetching such large ticket prices, such that only the wealthy can comfortably attend: see “‘The Lehman Trilogy’ and the Theater of the Absurdly Rich.”

As we will be well into our discussions about nationality and spectatorship by this point in our Maymester, it will be interesting to think about our own identifications as Americans watching this story amidst the global, but largely British, spectatorship at the National Theatre.


(another interesting take on the New York production from FORBES, and another from Judith Miller, writing from TABLET)