A new book edited by Marisa Carnesky in collaboration with Professor Toulmin and the National Fairground Archive.
Showwomen are not showgirls. They tend not to appear in chorus lines of identically shaped women in sequins and feather headdresses, although they may well appear as soloists in sequins and feathers. They do not work for the management or the man. Showwomen work for themselves and other people work for them.
As is the understanding of the popular term Showman, a Showwoman could both display great Showwomanship – a spectacular flare in her own authored performance, or she might MC as mistress of ceremonies or manage, direct, produce, or be proprietor of her own great show featuring many performers. Yet Showwoman does not exist as a term in the dictionary. Women whose work encompasses these roles and possess this quality of spectacle and theatricality and still quoted as having great showmanship.
The term does however exist amongst fairground communities where ‘showwomen’ traditionally take care of the domestic needs of their traveling families and the bookkeeping and accounts of their touring amusements.
It is difficult then to pin down what makes a showwoman and how we should define them. Should we limit the term to women who run circuses and fairs, or women that perform magic tricks? Should it be seen only in the context of traditional variety or popular entertainment? Can the term apply to artists from fine art backgrounds as well as popular culture? would a display of Showwomanship by a fine artist make send them into a realm of popular entertainment?
It is the proposal of this new book to expand the potential for the use of this term in the light of the changing landscape of popular variety entertainments crossing over with arts practice and womens roles within this.
Surely if the term Showwoman were to truly parallel the term Showman it would be a more fluid noun, not limited to traditional variety but able to mutate with the times and apply to anyone who embodies quite simply the essence of a good show. It is the proposal of this book to expand the potential for the use of this term in the light of the changing landscape of popular variety entertainments crossing over with arts practice and womens roles within this.
What then becomes interesting is the relationship between Showgirls and Showwomen. Does one grow into the other? As the term Showboy is also not in the dictionary we cannot use this as a comparison. Perhaps these terms do not appear in the dictionary as there has not up until now been a scenario in which these terms were necessary. This book hopes to chart, identify and reflect on the idea that a new kind of female entertainer, artist and show producer has emerged since the early 1990s that heralds the use of the term Showwoman, counter to the term Showman.
Featuring in depth interviews and images from a variety of international showwomen artists including Miss Behave, Empress Stah, Rose English, Kira O’Reilly, Julia Bardsley and Moira Fuenucaine and historical insights from Professor Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive ‘Showwomen’ is set to be published by Strange Attractor Press in 2016.