Gender Policies: An annoying necessity or fair and forward-thinking?

This month marks three years since the beginning of #WakingTheFeminists and the movement is still going strong. In July Irish ten theatre organisations, in collaboration with #WakingTheFeminists, launched their Gender Equality Policies. These organisations worked together to comply with individual policies that were tailored to the work they do. They have all committed to regular reviews and reporting of the results of these reviews. The organisations involved include two festivals (Cork Midsummer Festival and the Dublin Theatre Festival), three venues (the Abbey and the Gate in Dublin, and the Everyman in Cork), four production companies (Corn Exchange, Druid, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Rough Magic) and the Lir Academy. The policies were launched by the Minister of Culture Josepha Manigan in the Lir Academy on the 9th of July 2018, and the event was widely reported. This included an article from the conservative Breitbart website. I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give them the clicks but here’s a screenshot.

by Thomas D. Williams, P. D. `| 10 Jul 2018. Ireland’s feminist culture minister is pushing a policy to ensure that half of all plays staged in Ireland are written by women within five years as part of a broader “gender equality” campaign. Minister Josepha Madigan launched the aggressive quota drive on Monday at the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts at Trinity College to make sure that women are equally represented on theatre boards. She seeks an immediate commitment from theatres and arts festivals to guarantee that half of all plays commissioned will have female playwrights within five years.

This (male) journalist writes about gender equality (or “gender equality”) with breathless terror. Its an “aggressive quota driven policy” that the Minister is “pushing”. In reality, the initiative did not come from the government and as the policies are a list of aims and objectives, I’d hardly consider it aggressive. (The other thing that fascinates me is the photo they’ve chosen to illustrate the article. Are they dramatic witches? Do they equate all women with witches or just the aggressively feminist ones?) He seems to find the idea of gender quotas insulting, a step too far, almost a personal affront.

This reaction against quota-driven policies is not unusual. To be honest, they made me a little uncomfortable at first. The idea got under my skin in a way I found hard to explain. It annoys me that they’re necessary and I hate the idea that women need quotas to achieve success. I think most people react badly to the idea of needing special treatment. Nobody wants to be told or to think that we achieved something for any reason other than our own skills and abilities. We all want to succeed based on what we do, not who we are.

Then I remind myself how far the scales are tipped in favour of the men and I stop feeling bad about quotas. And that little niggling voice at the back of my mind telling me that quotas mean women aren’t good enough, that maybe there are some things that men are just naturally better at? I remind myself that that’s just the patriarchy talking and I am free to ignore it.

In order to get equal treatment, women currently need special treatment. Decades of research, not to mention my own lived experience, demonstrate that men and women are treated differently, their ideas are given different value, their work is given different worth. The research work that #WakingTheFeminists published in November 2017 demonstrated the inequalities that exist in Irish theatre. That research is available to download here.

Gender quotas aren’t giving women a leg up or tipping the scales in their favour. The scales have been weighted in men’s favour since the dawn of time and quotas are a way of trying to correct. Their aim is to make things fair for everybody. Reminding myself of this makes me less distrustful of the idea of quotas and gender policies. Reading the published policies also helps. They all list small and spectacularly sensible changes. They include things that we already accept, like equal pay for equal work. They all aim to establish a gender-balanced board, something that equally benefits men and women.

The policies are all different. The Abbey’s is a short and to-the-point one-pager, the Lir’s is 11 pages with a table of contents at the beginning. Druid’s policy starts with just acknowledging that there is a problem and it’s great to see that written down and recognised.

Among long-established companies with decades, and in some cases over a century of experience, the Lir stands out as the youngest company, less than ten years old. It also has the longest and most comprehensive policy. Their inclusion and dedication to the project it wonderful to see. Their policy goes further than the others, mentioning non-binary people and recognising the need for childcare facilities. None of the other proposals mention the challenges faced by parents. They will be responsible for teaching students how to treat people; those students will go on to create the Irish theatre of the future.

The policies make me excited about the changes we could see in the Irish theatre landscape over the next five years. I’m interested in seeing new work by female artists, and if that means we hear a little bit less from the male point of view for the next little while, I’m ok with that. The Lir also commits to looking at the female canon with “a view to championing productions of classical works by women at The Lir or on the stages of participating theatres.” which I think could be really interesting. I don’t think the policies will adversely affect the work these organisations do or the art they produce. If they do, I can live with less good art if it means the people making it are happier and healthier and feel more supported and recognised and represented.

I hope these changes in the theatre world will ripple outwards into the wider society. I hope that they will demonstrate that recognising gender inequality exists and setting out some steps to combat it is not difficult, that it will not adversely affect your business, that men will still exist and still have a role in society. I also hope it results in some really great art!


Tremble Tremble at Project Arts Centre

Since the beginning of June, Project Arts Centre’s Space Upstairs has been occupied by Jesse Jones: Tremble Tremble. This visual arts piece was Ireland’s entry into last year’s Venice Biennale. I wasn’t aware of the Venice Biennale before last year, but I became more and more intrigued by Tremble Tremble, the more I heard about it. It was produced by Project Arts Centre, which I always forget is a visual arts centre as well as a theatre. It’s about feminism and women’s issues. It features Olwen Fouéré. I was delighted that we would get a chance to see it in Dublin. (It has already traveled to LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore and will be going to Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh after Project.)

I was looking forward to seeing it but I also didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know that much about visual arts. Was it an installation where I’d go in and look at various objects? Would it be more like a promenade performance piece that I would be led through? Or would I just go in a watch a video? Even when I went into Project to see it, I stopped at the front desk to ask if there was anything I needed to know beforehand. There wasn’t. You just head upstairs and walk straight into it.

And I think that’s really the best way to do it. I’m reluctant to write too much more about the piece because I think it’s better to go see it without knowing too much and just see what it invokes in you. That said, if you are someone who feels anxious about weird art pieces, I can tell you that there is no audience interaction, you’re won’t be asked to do anything. You can move around if you want or you can stay in one spot. When I was there, there was someone sitting on the floor and I think I saw a bench along the wall as well. It is pretty dark in the space but you get used to that pretty quickly.

If you don’t want to know any more about the piece before you go see it, stop reading after this paragraph and come back after you’ve seen it. Please go and see it. It’s strange and interesting and anything I write here won’t be able to invoke the weird magic of experiencing it first-hand in the space. You have until Wednesday July 18th and it’s open 10am – 6pm most days, and until 8pm today Friday 13th. It’s closed on Sundays.


Here’s a little bit about my experience of the piece.

It is a little bit disorientating walking into the Space Upstairs in the dark . It’s a space I know well, but it still felt very unfamiliar and I spent the first couple of minutes getting my bearings. The unmissable thing are the two giant screens, where Olwen Fouéré is projected as a huge, witchy presence. She’s a grumpy witch, threatening chaos. She’s also curious and there’s something mischievous about her as well.  She reminded me of Granny Weatherwax, one of Pratchett’s Discworld witches.

I was very taken with the feeling in the space. It feels ancient. It reminded me of the tomb in Newgrange. The sound made by the moving curtains sounds like wind or rain, but heard from somewhere safe and dry.

The piece lasts about 20 minutes . It’s short but I felt very full afterwards. There are lots of interesting images and ideas in it. There are snippets of songs that sound like strange nursery rhymes and the spoken and written text also leaves you with a lot to think about. After half an hour I felt like I needed to go away and think about it all, but at the same time, I want to go back again. It’s a space that tempts you back. It feels like going back in time, being in conversation with an ancient giant, but it’s also hopeful and forward looking. If you can, go see it before it moves on.

Tremble Tremble is on in Project Arts Centre until Wednesday 18th of July, 10am – 6pm most days. It’s open until 8pm today, Friday 13 July. Closed Sundays.

THISISPOPBABY’s Where We Live, Mar 6-18

For the last couple of months THISISPOPBABY’s glorious Riot has been on tour in Australia and New York and seeing all the photos and tweets gave me major FOMO. I loved that show! I really want to see it again. (I would also have loved to sit with the audience in Sydney or Melbourne or New York and see how they reacted to this very Irish show.) I want it to be on every year, like how Riverdance is on for two months in the Gaiety every summer. If Riot did that I would go and see it every year and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

But until that dream becomes a reality, we have THISISPOPBABY’s Where We Live festival to get excited about. It’s a festival within a festival because it’s presented as part of the St. Patrick’s Festival. It starts next week, March 6th to the 18th in the Complex on Little Green Street, which is just off Capel Street.

The programme includes theatre, film, music, visual arts and panel discussions. In my mind St. Patrick’s Day entertainment can be a bit backwards-looking and overly concerned with traditional Irishness, but the work on offer here is all very contemporary. It’s still Irish but it’s about what’s going on in the country now. There are also no old reliables here, it’s a lot of brand new work being shown for the first time. I’m very excited about the work on offer and I think it’s great to see Irish work like this as part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland. Usually you see Irish artists going abroad to be part of Irish festivals or festivals of Irish work at this time of year, and it’s get some of that at home.

Unsurprisingly, I am most excited by the theatre on offer. I’ve already written about Tara Flynn’s show Not A Funny Word in my recommendations for this year. (It will also be on in the Everyman in Cork on the 26th April. Please see it if you get a chance, it’s a very funny, very moving show.)

Money is a show about the 2008 Irish bail-out. It is written and performed by actor and accountant Peter Daly. If anyone can make sense of that turbulent time in Irish history, it’s him. I am certainly hoping to leave with a better understanding of the whole financial crisis.

Veronica Dyas’s Here & Now is about becoming an accidental landlord when the financial crash put her into negative equity. It’s about the housing crisis and homelessness, and asks what we really need to live.

The Mouth Of A Shark, a new show from Change of Address, will present the real-life stories of asylum seekers and Irish emigrants. Change of Address brought the wonderful story-telling show Trophy to Barnardo Square during last year’s Fringe Festival which I enjoyed immensely.

There’s also a very new, work-in-progress showing of a spoken word piece by Clare Dunne. Sure Look It, Fuck It is about a returning emigrant. Clare was fantastic in Tribes at the Gate as part of last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival and is currently on stage at there in Look Back in Anger. I think she’s a fantastic performer and I’m looking forward to this.

As well as all that theatre, there’s the Townhall Sessions  series of talks about life in the city. There’s lots more details here, including videos from the speakers. These sessions are €6 each.

On St. Patrick’s night, there’s the WERKHouse party which will probably have a few Riot-like short performances. The next day, there’s a programme of films about people on the edges of society, including Adam & Paul which will be introduced by its Oscar Nominated director Lenny Abrahamson and writer and lead actor Mark O’Halloran.

An exhibition/installation, Made in Dublin will also take place in the Complex for the two weeks of the festivals. There’s also a performance from the High Hopes Choir.

Katie Roche and the new guys at the Abbey

Have you seen Katie Roche at the Abbey yet? It’s very good. I recommend it. It feels very modern. I don’t know if it’s the writing or the production; probably a bit of both. The character of Katie feels modern, she is opinionated and ambitious and fun. The play shows that modern, free woman trying to fit into the restrictive, hyper-patriarchal Ireland of the 1930s, a time that had very set ideas about how women should be. Katie Roche illustrates how harmful those ideas were, and how harmful it can be to be a round peg trying to fix into a square hole. It’s also a wonderful visual show, with a magnificent performance by Caoilfhionn Dunne.

Katie Roche was the sixth show I’ve seen in the Abbey so far this year and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely. I loved revisiting old favourites such as Dublin by Lamplight (which was so beautiful on that stage) and Ballyturk (where I enjoyed the addition of Olwen Fouéré), I loved getting a chance to see Druid’s magnificent production of Waiting for Godot after I missed it in Galway. I enjoyed Room which was a very different show for the Abbey, and I adored Jimmy’s Hall. I have more to say about Jimmy’s Hall but I will save it for another post!

I like what the new guys at the Abbey have done so far. I haven’t been organised enough to get to one of the free previews yet, but I think it’s a great idea. I also went to a couple of the Peacock work in progresses – A Whisper Anywhere Else by Jimmy Fay and Not A Funny Word by Tara Flynn. Plays that take a clear stand against the church, the police force, the state – things that feel a little subversive to be discussing in the Abbey Theatre. I love that Jimmy’s Hall opened in Leitrim and that Two Pints toured to pubs around the country. I think the new directors are doing what they set out to do by taking the Abbey out of Dublin and making it a nationwide National Theatre. There have also been day-long working sessions on gender and new writing and I’m interested to see what comes out of those.


So get to Katie Roche if you can. It closes on Saturday so there are only three shows left and I know it’s hard to ignore all the Fringe goodies, but try and make some time to see this show too, if you get a change.