Accepted paper:

If these walls could talk: transient dwelling spaces as "pop-up" theatres


Sheila Young (Elphinstone Institute)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the city flat and country house as transient, ‘pop-up theatres’ for hen parties, where groups of women return to childhood practices and engage in licensed, transgressive behaviour. Pop-up theatres offer a secure place in which to indulge in these practices.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the transformation of temporary accommodation into what I term, 'pop-up theatres', stage sets for the expression of group and individual identity during women's hen night celebrations. Most hen parties take place away from home, either in city venues or a hotel away from the mundanity of women's everyday lives. Focussing on the two most common types of rental property popular with hen groups (city flat and country house), I will investigate how they become alternative homes for a few days, temporary, liminal spaces that allow for the creation of new identities. I will examine why brides choose to leave home to celebrate, looking particularly at the anonymity of the city flat and the hidden nature of the country house as liminal sites where transgressive behaviour is both accepted and expected. I suggest that these dwellings act not only as temporary dwellings, catering to the physical needs of the party, but also as pop-up theatres, where 'all manner of madness' (Hellspong, 1988) can, and does take place. Here women can return to childhood practices, such as dressing up, eating party food, playing party games, and having sleepovers, but with a twist; costumes and games become subverted (the tiara is adorned with the phallus, Pin-the-Tail on the Donkey becomes Pin-the-Willy on the Man), and sanctioned, transgressive behaviour is fuelled through excessive alcohol consumption. Pop-up theatres create a safe place in which these activities can be indulged, temporary, self-contained worlds in which participants are protected from the outside gaze found in more public hen party settings.

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Makeshift 'homing'