University of Bonn, Germany
Fatima Miris nella Geisha: On Gender Performance and Humour on the Late Victorian Stage
Maria Frassinesi, alias Fatima Miris, was known as one of the first female ‘transformistas’ around 1900 and as the inventor of the ‘one-woman-show’. Thanks to her various skills in dancing, playing numerous instruments, singing barotone, tenor alto and soprano, as an expert in magic and illusionism, skilled in pistol and rifle shooting, knife throwing and lassoing, she was able to perform alone on stage for three hours, changing her facial expressions and costumes in rapid speed. In comparison to known cabaret or varieté performers, she is not described as a ‘femme fatale’ but rather as a woman of normal height but with unusual muscle strength and male connotated endurance – and as a mother. Contemporary advertisements name her ‘The Female Fregoli’ and ‘The world’s greatest protean actress’, referring to mythological transformation narratives as well as to the Italian quick-change artist Leopoldo Fregoli who performed in Europe, Russia and the Americas from 1890 to the 1920s and for whom Fatima Miris is to become a serious competitor. The personas into which she transforms on stage mimic social types and professions of her time, such as the mesmerist, the priest or the smoking sailor. With her performance practices Fatima Miris questions rigid gender roles in the late Victorian era and plays humorously with fluid cross dressing in countries such as Egypt and Brazil.