In “A Problem Like Maria,” Stacy Wolf writes: “Identification is but one mode of engagement with representation. In addition to wanting to be or wanting to have a character, a spectator might simply admire a character; sympathize with her; find her objectionable, funny or strange. Tanya Krzyinska finds a range of possibilities in meaning making. She explains that “engagement with any text is a dance with desire—the desire to appropriate, ironize, or equally, to reject meaning. Our desire and fantasy is, undeniably, always cast through ideological meanings that are inherent in the systems of signification available to us at any given time.” The spectator might not identify at all, but still feel emotionally involved in the story, touched by the characters, involved in the plot, amazed by the dances, or in love with the sound of certain melodies. In reception of the musical’s form, these other processes and pleasure are central.
This week I am asking you to become a lesbian feminist spectator. Recall a musical or piece of dance theater which you love not for its “normative” value — but because there is something excessive in it that appeals to you specifically because of the way that it is structured. Wolf loves The Sound Of Music because Maria does not visually conform to the feminized ingenue in musical theater, because she is often front and center on the stage, because she can read lesbian desire in the exchange of glances between female characters and because it seems that Maria is read as a problem of femininity. Wolf uses three elements “text” (arguing that the performer is the main text of the show – not the composer, lyricist, or director; the context (the lack of representation of lesbian stories on stage) and the spectator, (who in this instance has to be willing to look from a lesbian feminist point of view). She knows the musicals and the stars are not lesbians — but there is something in the work that allows her to read the show differently than the composer, lyricist and director intended. She can make different meaning from the work.
Think of a work you have seen or performed in and do the same as Wolf. Be a lesbian spectator, and make a different meaning from a work not intended for that purpose. Then write about it.