Windmill Girls Project

 

Me outside The Windmill circa 2010 and a selection of Windmill programmes

For those who aren’t familiar, The Windmill Theatre is a little variety theatre nestled in the heart of Soho, just off Shaftesbury Avenue. It is famous for its nude tableau and fan dancing, its careful negotiation of the respectable middlebrow and for giving first breaks to some of British variety’s most celebrated performers. However the theatre is probably best remembered for its steadfast determination to remain open through the compulsory closure of all London theatres and throughout the Blitz, to provide patriotic, upbeat entertainment for war weary troops and civilians. It was and still is, a British institution.

I am particularly interested in the politics linked to publically visible and performing female bodies and the way the Windmill’s female labourers (chorus girls and nude performers, wardrobe staff and two of the theatre’s owners, Laura Henderson and Sheila Van Damm) were and still are represented in the British and American popular media has been a source of fascination to me for several years now.

I am currently sourcing and examining moving image, print and pictorial materials that focused on The Windmill during the period it traded (1932-1964) and beyond.The research I have undertaken so far has told me a lot not only about the theatre and the exceptional women who worked at there, but the rapidly changing social context in which these women lived and worked.

In terms of the eventual outcomes of this research I was recently awarded DeMontfort University/DMULocal funding for public engagement and with this funding I am currently curating a small pop-up exhibition, ‘They Never Clothed’ which is scheduled to preview at the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival specifically because of the large female attendance and the feminist politics of the event’s producers.After this, the exhibition is scheduled to be taken to several branch meetings of the W.I. along with an accompanying 30 minute talk and group activity. If you run a club or society, particularly one whose membership is primarily female and would like me to bring my exhibition/talk to you, please feel free to email me.

In order to encourage me to more comprehensively think around this project I am also hosting a round-table discussion on the politics of public femininity and female performers at the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. The event is an unticketed pay-what-you-like event, will take place on Sunday 30th April and confirmed panelists include Dr Clare Nally, author of “Twenty-first Century Feminism: Forming and Performing Femininity” and “Naked Exhibitionism: Gendered Performance and Public Exposure” and Dr Jacki Willson, author of “Being Gorgeous Feminism, Sexuality and the Pleasures of the Visual” and “The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque”.

Please have a look around the page and feel free to offer suggestions/ask questions regarding the resources, the exhibition and the aims of the broader research project. My email address is ellen.wright@dmu.ac.uk

More details regarding the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival can be found at http://www.hebdenbridgeburlesquefestival.co.uk/

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2 thoughts on “Windmill Girls Project

  1. Pingback: Sailing close to the wind, with the Lincoln WI | Here's looking at you.

  2. Pingback: Meeting a Windmill Girl | Here's looking at you.

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