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Central@King's: The Gendering of Backstage Labour

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This presentation brings attention to the gender codes that circulate within the unionized backstage crews that work in New York City’s commercial theatre industry, particularly the ways in which distinctions between “masculine” and “feminine” labour impact employee status and wages. 

Even as more women gain employment as stagehands, the industry continues to code the technical labour of carpentry, electrics, and sound engineering as masculine, placing women’s bodies at a distinct disadvantage and requiring them to adjust to work environments that favor a male physicality and sociality. By comparison, the labour of wardrobe, hair, and makeup crews and child guardians (or chaperones) falls under conventional understandings of “women’s work;” their under-compensated and under-appreciated emotional labour shapes their professional identities in ways that minimize the complexity and necessity of their skills. Essin’s research draws focus to work performed by these backstage professionals, countering these gender binaries and representations of backstage labour in the popular press as merely supportive of performers’ onstage labour.

Dr. Christin Essin is an associate professor at Vanderbilt University and author of Stage Designers in Early Twentieth Century America: Artists, Activists, Cultural Critics (2012). Her current book project is a cultural history and ethnography of backstage labour that traces the work experiences of unionized stagehands and wardrobe crews on Broadway productions and national tours during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Articles from this current research have appeared in Theatre Topics and Theatre Journal.


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This event is free, no ticket required.

Event price

Free, no ticket required

Event dates

1 Jun 2017 -

5:30pm to 7:30pm

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