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Who is Emilia?: Performing Feminist Histories


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Emilia Bassano is a mystery woman of literary and dramatic history. Was she only the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets, or a revolutionary poet in her own right? And why was her story erased from history?


More than 400 years ago, Emilia Bassano was one of the first women in England to professionally publish her poetry. However, it wasn’t until 1973 that her existence was uncovered by Oxford historian A. L. Rowse, who questioned whether Bassano was Shakespeare’s mistress, the ‘Dark Lady’ of his sonnets.

Now, playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm interrogates this idea further with her play Emiliawhat if Bassano was the real writer behind some of Shakespeare’s most famous words? Arriving in Melbourne with a cast of 13 incredible women and non-binary performers, Lloyd Malcolm’s play celebrates all voices through the trailblazing story of a woman who refused to take no for an answer.

To coincide with this Australian premiere production, the Wheeler Centre joins Arts Centre Melbourne for a collaborative event featuring Emilia director Petra Kalive, actor and theatre maker Candy Bowers, and Top Acts 2022 performer Rufaro Zimbudzi, hosted by critic and writer Alison Croggon.

Following an electrifying performance from Zimbudzi, the panel will reflect on Emilia Bassano’s story as a launching point for a broader discussion about critically revisiting history and recentring women and gender diverse perspectives in contemporary storytelling.

Photo of Manali Datar, Cessalee Stovall and Lisa Maza in Emilia, by Pia Johnson.

Presented in partnership with Arts Centre Melbourne.


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Candy Bowers

Candy Bowers is an award-winning writer, actor, social-activist, comedian and producer. The co-artistic director of Black Honey Company, Candy has pioneered a fierce sub-genre of hip hop theatre that delves into the heart of radical feminist dreaming.   Born of multi-racial South African parents an... Read more

Petra Kalive

Petra is Associate Director at Melbourne Theatre Company where she has directed Laurinda, The Lifespan of a Fact, Touching the Void, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes (Green Room nominated Best Director), Hungry Ghosts, Melbourne Talam (Green Room Nominated Best Director). She trained at the W... Read more

Rufaro Zimbudzi

Rufaro Zimbudzi is a Zimbabwean-Australian singer, actor and writer. Her passion for the creative arts has allowed her to openly express the fusion of cultures she was brought up on in the diaspora, as she strives to be the representation she never truly saw growing up. Rufaro is a musical theatre u... Read more

Alison Croggon

Alison Croggon is an award-winning novelist, poet, theatre writer, critic and editor who lives in Melbourne, Australia. She works in many genres and her books and poems have been published to acclaim nationally and internationally. She is arts editor for The Saturday Paper and co-founder of the per... Read more


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