A Shakespearean Gender-Bender

shakespeareThe Buffalo Humanities Festival is excited to present a special performance and presentation by Shakespeare in Delaware Park! The performance will take place on Saturday, Sept. 26th from 1 – 2 pm in the Burchfield Penney Auditorium.

The presentation will, naturally, explore gender roles, in this case how casting different genders affects audience reception of Twelfth Night. William Shakespeare wrote some of the most exciting and complex female characters in the dramatic canon.  And yet, he wrote them for male actors at a time when women weren’t allowed on stage.  Does a male perspective on a female voice change the message?  Does a modern audience experience cross-gender casting differently than viewers of Shakespeare’s day?

In this presentation, Shakespeare in Delaware Park will explore such questions in a double take of Olivia and Viola scenes from Twelfth Night, once with an all-male cast and once with all women, to show how gender influences text, and ultimately, the performance experience.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park is a not-for-profit, professional theatre company dedicated to providing free, high-quality public theatre to the widest possible audience.  One of Buffalo’s most beloved cultural institutions, SDP is currently in its 40th Summer Season.

You can see its production of Romeo and Juliet until July 12th, which also features women actors in several traditional male roles. The official run of Twelfth Night is from July 23rd through August 16th, and will feature an all-male cast. We highly recommend that you see the performance before the Festival!

You can learn more about Shakespeare in Delaware Park at their website. Consider making a donation to keep this beloved Buffalo tradition alive.

Reimagining Girl Stories through Poetry

Janet McNallyWhen novelist, poet, and featured Buffalo Humanities Festival speaker Janet McNally was expecting a baby girl, she began to ask questions about the stories we tell about girls in the collective Western imagination. Why are so many fairy tale heroines in trouble, asleep, or otherwise unconscious? How do the dangers in these stories—wolves, stepmothers, men—translate to the present day? And how do we teach our daughters to navigate these “girl stories”? These questions led her to explore and reimagine these stories through poetry.

On Saturday, Sept. 26th from 11:00am—12:00pm in Ketchum Hall (room TBA), McNally will read from her forthcoming prizewinning collection, Some Girls, which won the 2014 White Pine Press Poetry Prize, and host a discussion about how we interact with the “girl stories” our culture keeps telling.

Some Girls was described by White Pine Press Poetry Prize judge Ellen Bass as “full of strange and lovely images, quirky humor, and an uncanny insight into the classic myths and fairy tales that reveal these stories to be as true and revelatory as ever. The past and the present, the personal and the universal, are braided with surprising and lush language. The great poet Stanley Kunitz said we have to avoid not only clichés of language, but clichés of thought and these poems succeed in that. Janet McNally is a fresh and original voice.” You can pre-order the collection, which will be released this fall, on Amazon.

Janet McNally has an MFA from Notre Dame and is currently a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in fiction. Her young adult novel Girls in the Moon is also forthcoming from HarperCollins. She teaches creative writing at Canisius College.

Princesses vs. Superheroes


With acclaimed author and historian Jill Lepore as this year’s Festival Keynote Speaker, there will be a lot of discussions on the roles that female, queer and trans characters play in various superhero universes. On Saturday, Sept. 26th from 11:00am—12pm in Ketchum Hall at SUNY Buff State (Room TBA), Profs. Jennifer Hunt and Jennifer Ryan will give their presentation on the tensions between princess and superhero archetypes.

Princesses are ubiquitous in books, movies, toys, and apparel.  Parents of female children find it especially hard to negotiate the fraught waters of the Disney Princess universe, which at best sends mixed messages about gender roles. Even recent princess narratives emphasize femininity, traditional gender roles, and heterosexual romance. A quick Google search of “Disney princess op ed” brings up hundreds of pieces debating the relative harm that princess iconography causes  in American society.

However, these conventional roles can be countered through the radical actions and empowerment that superheroes exemplify. And there is a growing market for female superheroes as well. The success of, for example, the rebooted female version of Thor in the Marvel universe is a perfect example of the increasing desire in American audiences for a new model of femininity that breaks the princess mold.

During their lecture, Hunt and Ryan will discuss gender messages in princesses and superheroes from a feminist perspective, including Hunt’s original research showing how princess and superhero identification relates to gender ideology, relationship desires, and career choices for women.

Jennifer Hunt is Associate Professor of Psychology at SUNY Buffalo State.  She teaches courses on the psychology of gender, diversity, and legal psychology.  Her research examines how race, ethnicity, and culture influence jury decision-making and how princess and superhero identification affects women.  Jennifer Ryan is Associate Professor of English at SUNY Buffalo State, where she teaches courses in American poetry, women’s literature, and African-American literature.  She has published on black women superheroes, Bessie Smith, and Wanda Coleman.