Stereotypes concerning ageing female musical theatre actors
Faye Rigopoulou is a PhD candidate in her final year in the Drama Department at the University of Exeter; her research focuses on ageing female vocalities in western Anglophone musical theatre. Her first supervisor is Dr Konstatninos Thomaidis and her second is Professor Jerri Daboo .
What is your background?
Musical Theatre has always been my greatest passion and a devoted commitment in my life. In my early years of practice, I have worked for over fifteen years as a musical theatre performer and later director with theatrical companies both in Europe and Asia. In the late 90s, I was one of the first advocates of teaching musical theatre in Greece while founding a theatrical community in the heart of Athens with performers and creative teams from different European countries.
When I accepted in 2010 the invitation by a private international school in Taiwan to introduce and build a musical theatre curriculum, I was fortunate to become a member of an intercultural community and work with diverse groups of musical theatre performers and students. With the support of private patrons and the Ministry of Education, I founded an international musical theatre company with main interest Anglophone musicals. Through my service, I have shared and received knowledge on staging practices, repertoires, adaptations, and musical theatre training, and I have observed, researched and experienced voice and acting in musical theatre within a transatlantic and intercultural frame.
In 2015 I was offered by the Taiwanese Ministry of Education the outstanding opportunity to build a Performing Arts curriculum focused on musical theatre and to deliver it in an international public school. I taught and learned from students from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, India, Russia, Bulgaria, France, England, Germany, the US, and Australia. During that time, and in order to be able to deliver meaningful courses and training that nurture artistic creativity and speak to international casts and students, I dedicated myself to a Master’s degree from Middlesex University researching musical theatre education and practices in South East Asia.
When I started my PhD at the University of Exeter in 2018 under the supervision of Dr Konstantinos Thomaidis, I engaged my expertise as a musical theatre practitioner and trainer in academic practice-as-research explorations, which later, due to lack of funding sources, took the path of a ‘conventional’ doctorate. My research aims to identify and challenge canonisations and stereotypes regarding female ageing in musical theatre and to appreciate and propound the vocal presence of ageing female performers, as well as to argue for intergenerational equity perspectives of such vocal roles.
What’s next for your research?
I’m currently working on a first draft of my entire thesis, and I’m focused on engaging myself with publications and presentations in conferences. I have already worked with TDPT (Theatre, Dance, and Performance Training online blog) on a short voicing with the title Where is the vocal training ageing female musical theatre performers?’ (2019), I have written about my experience with creating projects for practice-as-research in musical theatre in the special issue of the academic journal Skene of the Aristoteleion University of Salonica, Greece (language: Greek), and I have reviewed for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies the scholarly work of Abigail Gardner on ‘Ageing and Contemporary Female Musicians’ (2021).
I’m currently working on a review of Ethan Mordden’s new work ‘Pick a Pocket or Two. A History of British Musical Theatre’ (2021) for the Studies in Musical Theatre and I am awaiting feedback from the peer review of my short voicing for JIVS, ‘The Sound of Age. A conversation with musical theatre’s ageing female performers’. I have presented my research in TaPRA’s conferences for three years and I am preparing a paper for the upcoming IFTR congress in Iceland (June 2022) titled: From ‘Nowhere’ to ‘Now(and)here’: Shifting centres in musical theatre’.
What are the best and worst things about your field of work?
The best thing in my field of work is that I meet amazing people every day. I have had the unbelievable fortune to interview important women of Broadway’s and West End’s musical theatre and the privilege to hear about their career, their training, and their input on how ageing is viewed from the industry. With some of them a wonderful friendship started! I, also, have had the chance to expand my academic and theatrical social circle and to discuss about musical theatre with scholars, directors, choreographers, costume designers, and voice trainers.
The worst thing is that as an ageing woman myself I cannot help but take in everything I hear. I have a deep emotional involvement which saddens me, frightens me, and many times depresses me. How can you not be engaged in the uneasiness these performers feel when they gave everything they had for musical theatre and now, when the least they should receive is celebration of their contributions and acknowledgment of their work, they are just given small roles of ‘old grandmas’?