Art and censorship

On April 23 2018, Maser’s Repeal mural was removed from outside Project Arts Centre for the second time. You know the one I mean. It was commissioned by the Andrea Horan of the HunReal Issues in 2016 and since then it has appeared in hundreds of profile pictures, on t-shirts, in windows, on badges and stuck to lamp posts around Dublin and beyond. I’ve often seen it above articles about the referendum in Irish and international press. It was only on the wall in Temple Bar for a couple of weeks but it has spread across the world.

In 2016, Project were told to remove it because they didn’t have planning permission. When the date for the referendum was announced, planning permission was no longer necessary and it went back on the wall. Less than a week later, they were told to remove it again. This time it was the Charities Regulator who had taken issue, and in a very murky reading of the Charities Act deemed the mural not in line with Project’s charitable purpose, and told them their charitable status was at risk if they did not cease “political activity”. Project is an arts centre. Their purpose is to present and develop contemporary art. They presented a mural by Maser, an award-winning artist that has displayed work around the world.

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A week after Project received the order from the Charities Regulator, author Una Mullally was told by Dublin City Council that they were canceling her event in the International Literature Festival Dublin. The event was a panel discussion with contributors to Una’s Repeal the 8th Anthology. The anthology is a beautiful collection of stories, poems, essays and photos about the repeal movement and the effect of the 8th amendment. (Available in all good bookshops now!) The reason given by Dublin City Council was that they could not give a platform to one side of a referendum debate. That makes some sense, but the festival programme was announced on April 11th, two weeks after the date for the referendum was set. If Dublin City Council had a problem with the event, why was it programmed? To pull it after tickets were sold feels reactionary and I wonder if the disciplinary action that Project were threatened with affected the decision making process.

But censoring art doesn’t make it disappear. Maser’s mural is everywhere. Since Project painted over (most) of their mural last month (an act that Artistic Director Cian O’Brien described as “defiant compliance”), the image has already popped up on the Amnesty building and currently adorns the windows of Panti Bar. That gorgeous Repeal heart is not going anyway.

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The cancelled Repeal event took place last Monday, though not as part of the Literature Festival. Smock Alley Theatre, where is was scheduled to take place, offered to host it as a separate event. I am very glad they did because it was a great discussion. Censorship and gate-keepers came up, as well as stories about people being bullied or shamed into silence by those in power. There were also readings and performances from pieces in the book and it didn’t feel at all like a political meeting.

I’ve been to a few events in the Literature Festival and the referendum has come up more than once. I’ve seen lots of Yes badges and Repeal jumpers on and off stage, perhaps in a show defiance against the cancellation and perceived censorship. Pushing back against censorship is so important. The alternative is a climate of fear that becomes more fearful with each act of censorship and before long, people start to police themselves.

This week, Not At Home, a touring art installation about women who travelled for an abortion, had venues cancel on them days before they were due to exhibit. This is particularly egregious because one of the aims of the piece was to share the stories of women who had been silenced by shame and stigma. Now their voices are being silenced again. The venues quoted the same Charities Act that was used against Project Arts Centre as their reason for cancelling the event. The venues didn’t wait to be told if they were in breach of the law, they pulled out in case it became an issue. In Galway a publicly-funded organisation and two private venues pulled out of plans to present the exhibit. It was supposed to take place at Crawford College of Art and Design’s gallery (in partnership with UCC and Cork Opera House) but the invitation was withdrawn at a late point. The Gallery cited Charities Regulator guidelines and a wish not to “jeopardise” its charitable status or “become a focus for such controversy”.

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Does this mean that artists now have to  wonder if the art they want to make will be acceptable to venues, or if they might decide it’s not worth jeopardising their charitable status for? What happens if artists don’t feel able to take that risk and instead avoid political issues or “controversial” opinions. It’s not that long ago that talking about abortion or calling for repeal of the 8th amendment was considered a controversial opinion. It’s because people spoke up and refused to be silenced that we get to vote on that issue this week.

Art has to be allowed to be political. It has to be able to explore controversial territory and rail against the status quo. Good art helps spread ideas. It opens minds and helps us see things in new ways. It makes change possible because it shows us new ways of doing and thinking and being. Artists need to be supported and encouraged to do that. We have brave venues that are willing to support risky work but we need more of them, especially outside Dublin.

We should all do what we can to support anyone who speaks up against injustice, whether they are artists or journalists or whistle-blowers. We need to listen to them and do what we can to amplify those voices.

A Yes Vote on May 25th is one way to change the status quo a little bit, and a way to thank those who have spoken out.

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Together for Yes

At this stage (18 days from the referendum), you probably have to be living under a rock to be online and not know what Together for Yes is; particularly after their huge crowd-funding campaign when they raised half a million euros in seven days. But in case you missed all that, Together For Yes is the National Civil Society Campaign to remove the 8th Amendment from the Constitution. It’s an amalgamation of lots pro-choice organisations who have come together to get a yes vote in the referendum on May 25th.

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This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make Ireland a safer place for pregnant women and to give the women of Ireland control over their own reproductive rights. This yes vote is my no means a done deal. The vote will be very tight and we all need to do our bit to get it over the line.

And really, it should be a yes vote. The only reason to vote no is if you are against abortion in all circumstances and cannot imagine any possible scenario where abortion might be the right and necessary choice. If you feel that’s true, beyond any reasonable doubt, then vote no. But if you do feel that sometimes abortion is an acceptable option, for women who are pregnant as a result of rape for example or when the woman’s health is at risk because of her pregnancy or if there is a diagnosis of fatal foetus abnormality, then you should vote yes. Do it for those women.

And it you know that a yes vote is the only compassionate option and want to see Ireland embrace the compassionate choice, there’s lots you can do to make that happen.

1. Vote! And encouraging others to vote.
Tuesday 8th of May is the last day to register to vote. The form must be stamped by a Garda and be with your local authority by 5pm today. There is still time to get registered, but not much. All forms can be downloaded here.

If you already have that sorted, the most important thing is to go out and vote on May 25th. It’s a Friday. The polls will be open from 7am until 10am. And encourage other people to do it too. We’re a small country, every vote really does count. We cannot assume anything about how this vote is going to go so please talk to friends and family, figure out how and when you’re all going to vote on May 25th.
2. Go canvassing or have the chats at work or at home.
Together for Yes have local groups all over the country going out knocking on doors and talking to people about why they should vote yes. Find your local group and give them a hand. It will mean giving up a few evenings and maybe having a few awkward conversations but it will move us towards a yes vote.

If you can’t go canvassing, maybe have a conversation with work colleagues, friends of family. See how they’re feeling about the referendum, suss out if they have any concerns and maybe make sure they have the correct information. Big areas of misinformation seem to be the fact that the law as it is currently does harm pregnant women, even in a wanted pregnancy and those unrestricted 12 weeks. “Unrestricted” is not the right word to use. A woman will still be making that decision with her doctor, and right now women are buying abortion pills off the internet and taking them up to 12 weeks, which is to my mind is more unrestricted and more dangerous than doing it with the support of a medical professional. Together for Yes have all the facts.

3. Wear a Together for Yes or Repeal badge, t-shirt or a jumper.
If you aren’t able to canvas or feel uncomfortable initiating conversations about the referendum, for whatever reason, wearing a badge is a great way to support the cause and let conversations come to you. Wearing your political intentions on your chest whether it’s a Together For Yes badge or a Repeal jumper tends to get your a few smiles and nods and might even start a conversation or two. It’s a gentle way to support the campaign but there is a great solidarity in seeing all the badges around the place!
Badges and other supportive paraphanilia is available from shops in Dublin, Cork and Galway and from the online shop.

4. Donate.
Donating to Together for Yes will help them to print leaflets, hold events and do things like the Conversations Tour which is bringing Together for Yes around the country for the next two weeks.

We need this change to the constitution and we can all do a bit to make it happen. The vote is less than three weeks away. We are ready for this change, we’re been ready for a while. We just need the last little push to get it over the line.

Artists to Repeal the Eighth

On Saturday August 26th, Artists to Repeal the Eighth are taking over Project Arts Centre and offering a smorgasbord of art in response to the Eighth Amendment. A Day of Testimonies starts at 11am and includes film, live performances, music, installations and discussions. I think it’s going to be a really special day; a galvanising day and hopefully a supportive, buoyant one for those who have had to travel for a termination. The focus is on their words and experiences, it’s their testimonies we will hear, but it’s also saying that they shouldn’t have had to make that journey.

Real people’s experiences should be at the crux of any debate around the Eighth Amendment. Then we have to ask ourselves – do we want to be part of a part nation that treats people like that? We hear often about the 12 women who have to travel every day for a termination, but it’s important to remember that each of those women is an individual with a story to tell and a reason why they have chosen to terminate the pregnancy. I’m grateful to those who choose to share their stories. I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do, and I don’t think it’s something they should have to do. It is a generous thing to do. I want to be there to recognise that generosity, and to bear witness to their stories.

ArtistAgainstEighthOne way these stories will be told during the day is through a number of short films. Entry is free, donations are encouraged. The full line-up is here. I’m very interested in the older films being shown at 1pm and again at 5pm, 50,000 Secret Journeys from 1994 and Statistic from 1983. It’s always interesting to see how far we’re come, or not as the case may be.

I’m also interested in the Bus Stop event – How to Talk About the Eighth. This is happening from 11am – 4pm and it’s informal discussions and debates facilitated by Amnesty International Ireland and Union of Students in Ireland. I imagine it will offer a few tools for talking about the Eighth in the lead up to the referendum which is finally on the horizon. There will also be tea, and maybe a few biscuits!

Anu are performing a new piece called COLONY, every hour on the hour from 11am until 6pm. There’s also an impressive line-up of special guests for the evening programme which starts at 7.30pm. This is only ticketed event on the day but there are still tickets available from Project Arts Centre.

I think it’s a wonderful idea. It offers a chance to connect with others, bolster yourself as we get ready for the next March for Choice and the referendum beyond that. It’s about connecting with people in the real world. For all those people who complain about online activism, here is a real world event that will let you talk to real people in the real world and experience something in real time with other people.

What would you do if you won the lotto?

Every time I do the lotto I convince myself that I am about to become a millionaire, and then I’m bitterly disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Every time I declare it a total waste of money and swear I’ll never do it again. I don’t play very often but I do like to spend time thinking about what I would if I won. Pretending I’m a millionaire helps me figure out how I feel about my life. It helps me to see what’s not working and what changes I need to make. It’s particularly useful if I’m feeling general a dissatisfaction with life but I can’t put my finger on why.

I discovered this trick nearly ten years ago, after I moved back to Ireland after three years of college in London. I was back about a year, living in a house-share with a couple of other women. It was taking me a while to adjust to living in Dublin and I wasn’t very happy. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the house or the people I was sharing with, I just didn’t feel very at home there. One night, as I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep and idly wondering what I would do if I won the lotto, I imagined being able to afford my own place. I imagined buying a house or a fancy apartment that was all mine. It made me happy. It was such a glowing sort of happiness that I was still thinking about it when I woke up the next day. Then I started wondering if it was something I could actually do.

I started searching on Daft and discovered that I could afford to live by myself, it wasn’t an impossible lotto dream. My budget didn’t allow for anything fancy but the possibility of my very own tiny flat still felt like magic! I was able to live my lotto dream and I loved it! It took my a few months but when I got there I loved my little flat and I loved that it was all mine. My own fridge, my own bathroom, my own pile of dirty dishes stacked up beside the sink. Having something that was mine, something that I made happen, made me see other things I wanted to change about my life. It opened me up to possibility. I became more social. I did more drama workshops. I tried roller derby. I put on a production of The Vagina Monologues in the Sugar Club. I applied for college. Eventually I left my wonderful, cosy, delightful, little flat to move to Galway and do a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies. I still consider this one of the best decisions I ever made because I had such a wonderful time there and learnt so much. When I came back to Dublin I started working in theatre.

I don’t know if any of those things would have happened if I had stayed in the house-share where I felt vaguely dissatisfied but not actively unhappy, and accepted that that was how my life was meant to be. Living by myself meant there wasn’t anyone else to compare myself to, I had to figure out what I wanted my life to look like without the comparison and it allowed me to create a bigger life for myself.

My lotto imaginings were the spark that made me look for a place by myself but I know I was very lucky to be able to make that lotto dream a reality. It was early 2010 and my tiny flat in Drumcondra was €520 a month. The landlord put the rent up by about 100 euro when I moved out in August 2011, and the same flat advertised two years for around €800. The Dublin housing market is bananas. I have not been able to live alone since.

Making my lotto dream happen is not always easy. Earlier this year when I asked myself what would I do if I won the lotto, the answer was that I’d run away to Spain for three months and hang out with a couple of family members who live over there. That was not possible but I could just about afford a long weekend which I booked immediately and in a way, I got what I needed.

Recently my lotto answer was to do some renovation around the house and hire something to sort out my over-grown garden. I think that means I’m pretty satisfied with my life right now, and I don’t really feel compelled to do anything to make that dream a reality.

It’s a bit of a silly exercise and I think that’s why it works so well for me. My brain gets stuck if I try and figure out a five-year plan, but it’s fun to let your imagination run wild and dream up the possible lives I’d choose if money was no object. The answer usually gives me a pretty good indication about what direction I want to take.

The important thing is to think about how a lotto win would change your life; what would you do, not what you would buy. Then the trick is to figure out how to flip that big money dream into something you can do right now. It helps me. I’m curious to know if it works for any one else. Let me know.

If you like this this, you might like some of my other vaugely self-help style posts:
Successful planning and What to do when you’re feeling over-whelmed by the state of the world.

 

WakingTheFeminists – One Year Later

Most end of year write-ups that I’ve seen look back at 2016 and remind us of all the terrible things that happened in the last 12 months. A lot of terrible things did happen but I want to write something more positive. I want to pay tribute to WakingTheFeminists and all they achieved last year.

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WakingTheFeminists had their final public meeting on November 14th 2016, back in the Abbey Theatre one year later. I missed all the previous meetings so I was determined to make it along to this one, and I’m so glad I did. It was less than a week after the US elections, Trump’s surprise victory was still a fresh wound and this was a comforting balm. It was hopeful and inspiring. The thing that came up again and again was “look what we can do when we work together”. There was a feeling of solidarity in the room. It was powerful.

The videos are online and they are really worth a watch it you haven’t seen them already. Just check out the list of speakers! (If you don’t have the time to sit in front of the videos, maybe convert them into mp3 and pretend it’s a podcast.) There was a great mix of speakers – young and old, men, women, and gender discombobulists. Feminism is often criticised for being a women’s issue, though the aim is always equality for all. WakingTheFeminists got lots of men talking about feminism, opening their eyes to sexism and making them want to do something about it. (Loughlin Deegan’s speech at the Abbey’s Theatre of Change last year describes this eye-opening very well. It seems to have disappeared from the WTF website but you can watch it here from 14 min 10 seconds) It seemed fitting that one year later the conversation opened up to include male voices.

ccroweArchivist Catriona Crowe spoke about the history of Irish feminism, and how there’s always two strands – the restrained and the noisy. During the campaign for suffrage in the early 1900s, there was the peaceful struggle for reform – the tedious work of lobbying and bill writing – and also the noisy struggle, which included genteel window-breaking with toffee hammers! She credited WakingTheFeminists with uniting these two aspects of feminism – the public meeting provided the noise that was then followed up by a lot of research and evidence-based findings. (The preliminary findings of the long-term research project were also presented at the meeting and are available here.) She said that it was a great example of grass-roots feminism and it has provided a template for future movements.

But there were also reminders that the struggle for equality is a long one. Karan O’Loughlin from SIPTU and Irish Equity quoted from a 1884 report published by The Royal Commission on Labour on the conditions of work for women in Ireland. The top three issues for women in work at that time were childcare, low pay and length of day. 122 years later, the top three issues for women in work are still childcare, low pay and length of day. Change happens slowly and there’s still a lot of work to be done.

WakingTheFeminists however have made some big changes happen this year. The Abbey Theatre set up a Gender Equality Committee and developed a set of guiding principles on Gender Equality, placing Ireland at the forefront of gender equality in theatre. The movement won awards and was recognised globally. It was awarded funding to carry out research and address gender discrimination. For the first time, the Gate Theatre will have a female Artistic Director. As a result of WakingTheFeminists, organisations are measuring, noticing and making changes around gender equality. There’s a different feeling in the community. People are talking and feel able to talk about their experiences. WakingTheFeminists brought people together, it gave them a voice because it showed them that they were not alone; they were not the only ones who felt like this or had experienced that. Most importantly it put those people in a room together. The strength of feeling was made clear in the room, and the support – you know people are on your side when you can hear their applause, their gasps and laughter. That connection is important and resulted in other conversations happening as people bumped into friends and started making plans. One of the off-shoots of last year’s meetings was the establishment of MAMs (Mothers, Artists, Markers).

Once again, the inspirational Sarah Durcan was the final speaker. She made the point that theatre is not life and death, unlike the social issues that many women in our society face. But, she said theatre shapes narratives. It is important. The US election showed us how important stories can be, how they shape the political landscape, how they can change society. We need to tell better stories. In that way, theatre can help shape a better world. To finish, the wonderful Camille O’Sullivan sang Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ and brought this inspiring meeting to a close

Change is possible. That’s the big lesson I learnt from WakingTheFeminists. Change is possible. You don’t have to accept things the way they are. In a world that seems to be getting darker and scarier, with the rise of far-right parties across Europe, the fall out of the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and the growing homelessness crisis, it’s important to have that reminder. We can do something about this, we have the power to make things better, we can do it together.

First Thought Talks at GIAF

I wish I could have spent more time in Galway during last month’s GIAF but all I managed was a couple of day trips. I saw Arlington (a love song), which was dark and twisty and very Enda Walsh, and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a high-energy belter of a show with a fantastic cast and great songs. I also went to one of the First Thought Talks in Aula Maxima: “All the World’s A Stage – Can Theatre Define a Nation“, a big topic which I thought was particularly relevant in our big centenary year. I liked that the people on the panel were from different nations – The Guardian‘s theatre critic Michael Billington, Neil Murray – a Welsh man who was Artistic Director of the Scottish National Theatre until he took up his new position at the Abbey this summer and Cathy Leeney, the token Irish woman, who teaches drama at UCD. The panel was chaired by Cathy Belton. It was a really interesting, wide-ranging discussion that touched on loads of topics and I think she did an excellent job facilitating that.

There were copies of Michael Billington’s book 101 Greatest Plays available to buy after the talk and they talked a little bit about the book, particularly about the plays that he had left out. He said that a lot of people were very upset with him for leaving out King Lear. He also left out Waiting for Godot, instead choosing to include Beckett’s All That Fall. He was however, very complementary about Druid’s production of Godot, crediting it with making him see the play in a new way. (Sidenote: I didn’t even try to get a ticket to Waiting for Godot. Partly because I feel like I only just saw in the Dublin Theatre Festival but also because of my embarrassing tendency to fall asleep during Beckett plays. I knew I wouldn’t be able to doze off undetected in the Mick Lally Theatre, it’s too small to the potential for embarrassing myself too high to risk! If there is another run I will try and get a ticket because I’ve heard such good things about this production that I feel confident that it will keep me awake!)

There was also some discussion on the plays Billington did include, particularly where they were from. As a proud Welshman, Neil Murray was disappointed that there were no Welsh plays in the book, though Ireland was reasonably well represented. Nobody mentioned of the number plays by women on the list but I did a bit of research afterwards and found that the 101 plays included only five by female playwrights, which is not a great ratio. There were more plays by Shakespeare on the list than by women. The five plays written by women were The Verge by Susan Glaspell, Machinal by Sophie Treadwell, Men Should Weep by Ena Lamont Stewart, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and Top Girls by Caryl Churchill. Billington does write a little about the lack of women and how he made his choices here.

The discussion about how to represent the nation on stage began by asking how theatre in the UK can reflect the nation after the Brexit Referendum. Michael’s suggestion was that it should become more European; bringing European countries to British stages, saying to those companies and to the UK audiences – we are still part of Europe. There was also the flip-side of that, which was the Scottish National Theatre taking show into communities, 10 SNT shows premiering on the same night on 10 different stages in various locations around Scotland, and how this gave the communities and the audiences a more tangible sense of connection with their national theatre. I wonder if theatre is always outwards looking and aspirational, does it lose that connection?

I was eager to hear what one of the incoming directors would have to say about our National Theatre. Murray described the Abbey stage as being “highly charged” and that he was interested in seeing new companies bring work to that space. He also seemed interested in seeing lots more new work and new writing on the Abbey stage, which would be a break from tradition. This is a theatre that has staged three different productions of The Plough And The Stars in the last seven years. As Neil Murray said that’s “not a criticism, just a fact.”

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Once talk turned to the Abbey, the WakingTheFeminists movement was not far behind. There was praise for all the work they have done in drawing attention to the sexist bias that exists in theatre so we can start working to change it. Someone else pointed out the other types of diversity that disappeared through funding cuts in the last few years, namely theatre companies representing cultural minorities that lost their funding during the recession and now no longer exist. Pan Pan’s 2006 production of The Playboy of the Western World, in Mandarin with an all Chinese cast was mentioned as a show that brought a non-white, non-Irish audience to the Project. If theatre is attempting to define or even just reflect a nation, it should reflect all parts of that nation.

There was also some discussion about ways to get young people into the theatre. Partly by changing what is on the stage, but also by offering cheaper tickets or free tickets or pay what you can tickets. All of which I am very much in favour of! I particularly liked the suggestion of selling last minute tickets at a greatly reduced price. The Abbey do this for Cameo Club members – €10 Standby tickets, Monday – Friday only, 30 minutes prior to the start of any Abbey Theatre show. Sadly it’s not available to everyone because you must be a student or aged 26 or under to join the Cameo Club.

There are interesting times ahead for theatre in Dublin. The change of personnel at the Abbey and at The Gate will shake things up a bit. WakingTheFeminists is already shaking things up, read this article to see what they’ve done so far. There will be lots of interesting repercussions coming out of that movement and I’m looking forward to them. In terms of Brexit we don’t know what the repercussions of that will be. Right now, the main effect it’s had to bring a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds – will it be harder for Irish theatre makers to go to the UK, long-term or just to tour? I studied drama in the UK, will that become more difficult for Irish people to do? The only concrete change is that the pounds is currently really weak against the euro, which I’m sure Irish artists in Edinburgh this year are pleased about! I don’t think the rest of it will be so positive.

Nollaig na mBan

Tomorrow, January 6th is Little Christmas, also know as Women’s Christmas or Nollaig na mBan. Traditionally it’s a day for women to gather and go out for the night or host a party for female friends. #WakingTheFeminists have declared it a day to celebrate women and have been encouraging feminists to use the day to plan a get together.

There are events happening all over Ireland, and the world. There’s a list of events on the #WakingTheFeminists website and a few more are popping up on twitter. All events are open to feminists of all genders.

One of the objectives of these gatherings is to talk about what you’d like to change. I’m missing the #WTF events tomorrow because I am going to another Nollaig na mBan celebration in the Irish Writers’ Centre, so here is my list of changes.

What changes would I like to see?

  • Gender quotas. As I wrote at the beginning of November, I still think that funding decisions based on gender quotas would help to balance the scales in terms of the number of women making work. Money is a great motivator.
  • More stats. I really like the infographics about the number of male and female writers and directors who have worked at the Abbey in the last years. It makes the unbalance very clear and it’s hard to argue with statistics. I’d like to see more information on the people who are submitting plays to the Abbey. When the controversy around the Waking The Nation programme first happened, one of the questions that appeared on social media again and again was “but how many women applied?” Because the Abbey have a policy of accepting unsolicited scripts, and a Literary Dept to read them, it would be interesting to get some information about those playwrights, things like gender, age, location.
  • I found Brian O’Bryne’s blogs on childcare and sexual harrassment very interesting to read. There’s obviously a lot of room for improvement in both these areas. I love this piece by Tara Derrington and I would love to see an Abbey creche. As well as catering for actors in rehearsals or auditions, it could also offer childcare options to artists having meetings in the Peacock cafe. Bullying and harassment are against the rules in every workplace but things can be trickier in the theatre, for all the reasons that Brian points out on his blog. The #WTF website includes information on this issue. It shouldn’t be acceptable in any job and it certainly shouldn’t be “part of the job”.
  • More feminists in government. I don’t see the #WakingTheFeminists movement as being only about theatre or only about the arts. The aim is more equality in general. Voting for feminists in the next general election (which will hopefully happen sometime this year!) is one way to move closer to that goal.
  • It would be great to see an organisation like Women in Film in TV for the performing arts. An organisation that offers support and mentorship to female artists, promotes equality in the sector, provides networking opportunities, gathers statistics and can act as a lobbying body, and with a membership structure to pay for all those things.

What am I going to do?
I’m going to keep talking about it, I’m going to keep supporting female artists (I have tickets for three female driven pieces in First Fortnight – Enthroned, Overshadowed and Alison Spittle Discovers Hawaii) and I’m going to vote for the feminists in the General Election.

Happy Nollaig na mBan and here’s to a more equal 2016!

Successful planning

It’s the season for making plans. Making resolutions is easy but to make them a reality, you need a plan. In 2015, I became better at making plans. They say that the one thing you need to succeed is a plan, you have to have a clear idea of what you want. This time last year, I felt like I was not a good planner. I always had a to do list on the go and lots of a vague ideas about what I’d like to do but I didn’t have a step 1, step 2, step 3 kind of plan. I may not believe in God but I do believe that the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” has a lot of truth in it. Life is full of events that are hard to plan for.

This uneasiness about my planning ability followed me throughout the year. In July it became part of my application to take part in Cultural Freelancer group mentoring sessions. As part of the application process, we were asked to provide a ”burning question” that you have about your work or a specific project. Mine was about planning.

How do you make long term career plans in a precarious industry? How do you make even medium term plans (3-5 years into the future) when there are so many unknowns?

Cultural Freelancers Ireland have been running drop-in sessions for the last couple of years but this pilot programme brought the same small group together for four weeks, to offer support and peer mentorship one our individual questions. Over the four weeks, the CFI participants worked on answering our burning questions.

I found that my burning question was only a jumping off point. Through the discussions with the group, I learnt that it wasn’t my ability to plan that was troubling me. It was hard to make a plan because I didn’t know what I wanted. I needed to figure that out first.

At the end of each session, we set ourselves homework, things we needed to think about or work out before the next session. One of the first pieces I set myself was to write down “What does success mean to me? What does my idea of success look like?”

This was an important and personal exercise and it helped me figure out a lot. Money is not my main motivator but my idea of success still includes getting paid for my work, which is not always easy in the arts. It also includes having a group of people to work with again and again. It includes professional recognition and being able to make choices.

It was an interesting exercise that lead on to another piece of homework – figuring out what success feels like. To do this, I made a list of times in the past that I have felt successful or proud of something I’ve achieved. It’s a great exercise to do if you’re feeling a bit stuck or uninspired. It will remind you of past successes and make you feel much more capable. I wrote down everything I could think of – anything that gave me a feeling of joy or accomplishment, no matter how small.

When I had my list I looked for common themes. I learnt that I don’t really value the achievements that come easily to me – the challenges feel much more like successes. Looking at the past made it clear what I had to do to achieve success in the future. I had something that I could use to make a plan.

The CFI sessions gave me time and space each week to sit down and think about these things and that was really valuable. Having homework to do meant that I had to put time aside to think about what I wanted and write down my thoughts. Spending time thinking about what I want out of life, in this structured, homework-driven way, made me happier. I felt more in control of my life. Planning can be boring. It’s not very sexy but life is better with a plan. It means you get to call the shots and decide what success is. Decision making is easier when you have a clear plan – the thing you’re being asked to do either fits in with the plan or it doesn’t – decision made!

Another thing that I discovered was that a lot of the things on my list of successes involved lots of planning. I realised that I have a good track record of coming up with plans and seeing them through. My view of myself as a bad planner wasn’t true!

If you are still working out your resolutions and plans for 2016, these Guardian articles might help.

Put off procrastination…forever
How to be a moderately successful person

A Turning Point in Irish Theatre

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Thursday 12th November 2015 was a momentous day for Irish theatre and Irish women. The #WakingTheFeminists event at the Abbey was a deafening roar from women who had been silenced for too long, as well as a proud celebration of the amazing Irish women who work in theatre.

I wasn’t in the Abbey on Thursday afternoon but I was following along on social media, from my bus journey into work in the morning and throughout the day. I was a distracted employee, my head and heart were elsewhere. I tuned into the Periscope broadcast for a little while at lunchtime but I found it a bit too emotional. I was in danger of weeping at my desk; weeping with pride for those courageous women speaking up on stage and with joy that they have finally been given the opportunity to say those things. There is a huge sense that what was said were things they’d felt for a very long time, issues that they felt strongly about, but also things they’s been warned against saying. Some spoke about how they had almost come to accept the absence of women on the National stage, they’d almost stopped talking about. And then Lian Bell came along and encouraged them to speak and each voice was joined by a dozen others and then a dozen more. I think the whole experience was cathetic for lots of people, I know I wasn’t the only one with tears in their eyes on Thursday afternoon. It opened up something; something very necessary and long over-due. The fact that 500 tickets sold out in 10 minutes and the over-flow filled the bar, the foyer and the street outside shows how necessary, how longed-for this event was. (Not to mention the 4,680 supporters that have signed the online petition.)

I am in awe of the organisers for making it happen so quickly and run so smoothly. That meeting, that large ticketed event, with 29 speakers from across the theatre sector, with sign-language interpretation, that was recorded and broadcast online live; they put all that together in about a week. It also started and finished on time, or close to judging by tweets and the length of the video. And it was a beautiful theatrical event. I loved that image of the empty stage that slowly filled with women as each speaker sat down after they said their piece.

EmptyStage

I love that they included Lucy Kerbel from Tonic Theatre, a UK company set up to help their theatre industry achieve greater gender equality. I love the dance party at the end, that’s included in most of the videos of the day’s event. I also love all that press coverage. This is an organised movement with a lot of savvy producers in it’s midst! And very well connected – so many high-profile men and women from all over the world have shown their support in the last couple of days.

It was also very encouraging to see the incoming Abbey directors – Neil Murray and Graham McLaren tweeting their support on the day.

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This is just the first step, I think there’s still a lot of hard work to be done before we see any real change in the theatre landscape. But it’s an incredible first step. It’s so hopeful and buoyant, it’s people working together and being generous to each other, and making change happen. The will is there and the last two weeks have shown that change is possible – the Director of the Abbey recognised and admitted to mistakes in the 2016 programme. I don’t know yet if there are any plans to make changes to that programme, but it’s still a good first step.

And these first steps towards equality are not just happening in theatre. Sexism is being noticed and reported in lots of areas. There was a lot of press coverage around Equal Pay Day at the beginning of the month; Equal Pay Day is the day when women start working for free because of the gender pay gap. It’s Ireland that gap is 14.4%, which means for every €1 that men earn, women receive on average €0.86. Earlier in the week, the Hearing Women’s Voices report came out to say that women’s voices are wilding under-represented on the radio. And on the same day as the Abbey meeting the Irish Film Board issued a press release to say that it “recognises and accepts that major underrepresentation of women exists in Irish film” and declared “its strong and heartfelt commitment to gender equality and diversity as a strategic priority.”

ACStrat

I would like to see other funding bodies make a similar commitment. In September, the Arts Council published their new ten-year strategy, Making Great Art Work – Leading the Development of the Arts in Ireland (pdf). Right now, they are asking people to respond to the strategy and suggest which objectives and actions to focus on in the first three-year plan. Right now, the strategy does not include any references to gender equality. After everything that’s been said in the last couple of weeks, this feels like a grave omission. Working towards gender equality should be a priority in that three year plan. A rising tide lifts all boats, and you can’t make truly great art if you are not supporting female artists.

You can respond to the plan here.

Them the breaks

[This is long and a little bit rant-y and I still didn’t include half the things that have flitted across my brain over the past week. If you’re short of time, skip to the end where I have included a few suggestions towards action. Also, I am aware that it’s not just women who are discriminated against in the arts, and in the world at large. Theatre is dominated by middle-class, white, able-bodied men. I’m writing about discrimination against women because that’s what I know, and because I want to add to the conversation that’s happening and keep up the momentum that has built over the last week. I expect/hope that getting more women in positions of power will help to open the doors to all, particularly because women have experience being the Other and the Outsider.]
Fiach Mac Conghail ‏@fmacconghail Also, sometimes plays and ideas that we have commissioned by and about women just don't work out. That has happened. Them the breaks.

Because I’m still on my holidays, I haven’t been spending as much time in front of my computer as I usually do. I saw the reactions to the Abbey’s Waking The Nation announcements on Twitter before I read anything from the Abbey. And maybe because I’m in holiday mode (ie had a few glasses of wine), I didn’t pay much attention to it. There’s nothing new about women being ignored by the big arts institutions. The Abbey isn’t even the worst of them – at least they included a few women. You have to go a long way back to find the last time the Gate staged a play written by a women. But then the discussion didn’t go away. There were more comments on Twitter and conversations on Facebook. I realised I needed to take a closer at this before weighing in with an opinion.

I went to the Abbey’s website and looked at the programme and I read the press release and then I got angry. The more I read, the angrier I got. The programme is described as “an exciting roll-call of new Irish voices alongside major revivals of the some of the great plays from the Abbey Theatre repertoire”, but doesn’t include a revival of a great play by a woman and those new Irish voices are almost all masculine. In 2015, that is a disgrace. I am particularly disappointed that all the revivals are by men. This suggests that nothing written by a woman in the last 110 years was deemed worthy of inclusion. Then Fiach’s comments on Twitter just added insult to injury. He said he programmed the things that spoke to him, and they just happened to be all written by men. That’s just not good enough. When you are the Artistic Director of the National Theatre with €8 million of taxpayers money to spend, you should feel obliged to include the voice of half the population, even if it isn’t to your personal taste.

Pointing out sexism is a bit of a hobby of mine. In my experience when you tell people they are being sexist they get defensive. The Abbey was no different. While defending this bit of blatant sexism, a lot of the blame was thrown back at women – there was the suggestion that if they were good enough, they would have been included; that the plays weren’t ready and it would be unfair to the playwright to stage them; that there were just more good male playwrights to choose from. The other thing that surprised sexist-deniers do is point out all the things that they have done for women. In Fiach’s tweets he listed the plays by women that have been programmed since 2008 (all nine of them, three by Marina Carr) and the female to male ratio of the New Playwrights Programme (13 out of the 24 writers were women). It’s always the same – sexists will blame women or deny the sexism is happening. Nobody has ever turned around to me and said “oh, you’re right! I hadn’t noticed. How did we let that happen?”

Because I don’t think it was done on purpose. I don’t think Fiach is intentionally or maliciously keeping women off the Abbey stage but I do wonder if he didn’t notice the lack of female voices or just didn’t think it was important. If I was feeling generous I might say that it’s understandable not to see this lack of women as something unusual or unacceptable. For a long time, leaving women’s voices out of public discourse was the norm. We live in a patriarchal society and those attitudes are ingrained at every level and in every aspect of our society. Patriarchal attitudes are insidious, they are so deep in our brains that we are mostly unaware of them. That’s why we have work against those unconscious attitudes and biases.

This means that, if you think there are no suitable plays by females writers that fit into the big centenary programme at the National Theatre – try harder! Find the one you dislike least or spend more time discovering and working with female writers until you find one you do like – don’t just shrug your shoulders and say “Them the breaks”. That’s not good enough. You need to do more. Some might say that’s not fair – why should they spend more time working with women or cultivating female talent? If it’s all about equality, then shouldn’t the women be treated exactly the same as the men? But the cards have been stacked against women for centuries and because of those insidious patriarchal attitudes women still aren’t regarded the same as men. We need to take the time and effort to balance the scales. And now is the time to do it.

Quotas

The mere mention of quotas tends to makes people uncomfortable. I understand that, I used to feel the same way. But as I saw how how slowly things are changing – sometimes the change is so slow if feels like we are going backwards -I changed by mind. I’m impatient; I would like to see a more equal society within my lifetime and I think quotas are necessary to make that happen. Change is uncomfortable, so the fact that quotas provoke that response means they must be a good thing.

People are against quotas because they are afraid they will allow unworthy women to get things that should have gone to more deserving men. My instinctive response to that is; I don’t care! Again, it’s about balancing the scales. If quotas move us towards gender equality, then the risk of hiring a few under-qualified women is one I’m willing to take.

I also think that the chance of that happening is really small. There are loads of very talented, very capable women out there who are not getting the breaks they deserve because our patricachical society favours men and has done for centuries. There are loads of statistics that prove that this bias against women exists. If you believe that there are less women in politics or running companies or making work for the Abbey stage because they are just not good enough, you are dismissing a long history of sexism and you need to read up on the subject. Or you know, just believe women when they talk about their lived experience of sexism. The #WakingTheFeminists tag on Twitter is a good place to start. And if you think any woman who gets a place at the top table after the introduction of quotas is not going to work incredibly hard to prove that she belongs there, you obviously don’t know that many women.

In order to see make real change in gender equality in the arts, I believe we need quotas and that they should be linked to funding. Either the programme is 50% female, or you don’t get the money. That would speed up the rate of chance! As a kindness to those who can’t cope with the word quotas, we can refer to them as targets instead. This is what the film funders did in Sweden. When Anna Serner became CEO of the Swedish Film Institute in late 2011, she announced that by the end of 2015 Sweden would seek to have equal gender funding in all productions – the first country in the world to do so. At the time of this announcement, 26% of funding went to female directors. That was almost doubled and they reached their target ahead of schedule in a mere two and a half years. Targets work and it would be wonderful to see that sort of commitment from the Arts Council of Ireland. That’s my big pipe-dream plan for change. Here are a few other smaller suggestions.

Actions towards change

1. Go and see work made be women.
I’ve already talked about #FairPlayForWomen here. There’s also a Facebook group and a calender of events with lots of suggested shows.

2. Open Space meeting.
I love the conversations and sharing of personal stories that’s been happening on Facebook and Twitter over the last week. I’ve felt very connected and engaged with the Irish theatre community over the last week. So many voices saying the same thing makes it clear that this is not a small issue and it’s great that those voices have been amplified by Lian Bell. (This article is a good summing up of things that have been said already.)

Now we need to meet in the real world and start making plans. (No doubt this is already in the pipeline.) I think we should do this in an Open Space meeting on the theme of gender equality, something similar to the Devoted & Disgruntled meetings that happen in London each January. Theatre Forum have also hosted Open Space events around the country, though generally without a theme. I’ve been to a couple and I think the form would really suit this discussion. The agenda is set by those in the room, but everything is recorded for those who can’t attend. Actions are agreed on for each topic and a person is chosen to get the ball rolling, and keep it rolling.

3. Riot at the Abbey.
In her piece for the Irish Times, Una Mullally suggested it’s time for another riot at the Abbey. I’m not sure how I’d feel about walking out of or disrupting a theatre performance. It would feel disrespectful to the actors and other artists, as well as the audience. Am I too timid for this revolution? I suggest a picket line outside the theatre on opening night instead.

4. Theatre of Change Symposium
In response to Una Mullally on Twitter, Fiach said that women will be represented in the Theatre of Change Symposium in January. I really enjoyed the Symposiums over the last couple of years and I’m looking forward to the next one. But anyone included in that programme will get at most 90 minutes to speak to a fairly niche audience. (It’s more likely to be a 20 minute presentation, followed by a Q&A.) It’s not the same as a 4-6 week run on the Abbey stage. I think Gender Equality needs to be a topic included in the symposium. At this stage, it feels like the least the Abbey could do.

In the meantime, we will keep shouting about it. We will remind everyone that this is not acceptable behaviour. It’s time to stop feeling unsurprised and start feeling outraged. We have to keep talking until we are listened to. Hopefully nobody will have to throw themselves in front of a horse this time before that to happens.