In May I saw Tana French being interviewed by Anna Carey in Smock Alley. The event was part of the International Festival of Literature. I am a huge admirer of her writing but I’d never heard her speak about it before so I was really looking forward to the event. She didn’t disappoint.
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.
Last Wednesday the Abbey Theatre announced Waking The Nation, their 2016 season and there were immediately comments being made online about the total lack of gender balance. Only one of the ten playwrights featured is female, and there’s only three female directors. Four days later, the conversation is still continuing on Facebook and Twitter which I think is fantastic. This is not going to go away any time soon. Lian Bell did a sterling job of collecting responses from the theatre community last night (Oct 31) – have a look at her twitter stream here or follow the #WakingTheFeminists tag.
I do plan on writing about it, it’s just taking me a little while to get my thoughts in order. This is a placemarker post with some suggested action! It’s one of things that came up in conversations online – instead of just talking about this injustice, what can we do to make it better? Tanya Dean‘s suggestion was to put your money where your mouth is and see more work by women.
For the next year, I pledge to buy 1 ticket per month for a production by a female playwright/artist. Dollars for change! #fairplayforwomen
— tanyadean (@tanyadean) October 31, 2015
This is really easy to do because, despite what the Abbey programming might suggest, there are lots of women making great theatre in Ireland right now. As I said in my last post about Feminist Film Festival, I think it’s important to support female artists and because it’s the first of the month, I thought I’d do a short list of work by women on this November.
Foxy, written by Noelle Brown and directed by Oonagh Murphy.
Project Arts Centre, 27 Oct – 7 November
How to Keep an Alien, written by Sonya Kelly and directed by Gina Moxley
Civic Theatre, Tallaght, 6 & 7 November
Axis, Ballymun, 27 Novemnber
Dusk Ahead, created and choreographed by Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy
Project Arts Centre, 6 & 7 November
Wrapped, written an directed by Tracey Martin
Civic Theatre, Tallaght, 10 – 14 November
The Bells Of, written by Barry McEvoy and directed by Louisa Sanfey.
Theatre Upstairs, Nov 10 – 21
Separated at Birth, written by PJ Gallagher, Joanne McNally and Una McKevitt, directed by Una McKevitt
Mill Theatre Dundrum, November 28
Through A Glass Darkly, adapted for the stage by Jenny Worton and directed by Annie Ryan
Project Arts Centre, 12 November – 5 December
It is a very Dublin centric list, though How to Keep an Alien and Separated at Birth are both on tour throughout the country. (Links above will bring you to full list of tour dates.) Please let me know if there’s anything you think should be included.
Finally, there’s an opportunity to see new writing by men and women during the New Writers Week at the New Theatre, 9 – 14 November. You can enjoy a new play every night at 7.30pm, Monday – Saturday. Three new plays by men and three by women – fancy that!
Women are under-represented on screen, in general and particularly in active roles, just as they are under-represented in politics and boardrooms. In the top grossing films of 2013, women accounted for 15% of all propagandists, 29% of major characters and 30% of all speaking parts. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media have done studies that show that in crowd scenes, women make up only 17% of the crowd. Women are 51% of the world’s population but they are mostly absent from the world on screen. Eva Wiseman wrote about this is a recent article for the Guardian – Women are everywhere so why are we invisible on film? This is important because wiping women out of the onscreen world is a form of sexism. Making women less visible makes their concerns less important and makes them seem less valuable part of society.
When popular culture shows men being active, making big decisions and saving the world while the women are always waiting to be saved or offering support to the men, it’s easy to assume that men do the heavy lifting while women make the tea. When popular culture is one of the ways we learn how the world works and are our place in it, this message practically acts as propaganda, teaching women to know their place.
This is particularly relevant for children. A lot of the Geena Davis Institute’s research focuses on the things that children are watching. They found that in kids’ films and TV there are three male characters for every female one. Straight away, children are being feed the message that girls are less important than boys.
Even the tv shows or films that do feature women, and congratulate themselves on their diversity, generally feature one woman to every five, six, seven men. This is not an accuarate reflection of the real world. It also means the one woman has the tough job of representing all women. While the seven men can be smart or simple, sensitive or tough, angry, gentle, abrasive, bossy, etc , the one female character tends to be a two-dimensional stereotype. Women aren’t allowed to be nuanced or complicated because they are there to represent an entire gender and that doesn’t allow for subtlety.
One way to avoid these broad-stroke female characters is to put more women behind the camera, in decision-making roles, writing and directing films and tv. Hollywood is a sexist place to work, it’s an industry that clearly sees women as pretty objects to be looked at rather than human beings with ideas, opinions and ambitions. It’s not an easy place to be a woman in charge. And yet they are doing it anyway. There are an increasing number of women getting films made in the mainstream and the less commercial indie sector. Recent big screen examples include Suffragette, written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron, Miss You Already, written by Morwenna Banks and directed by Catherine Hardwicke and Pitch Perfect 2 written by Kay Cannon and directed by Elizabeth Banks.
But the numbers of films being written and directed by women is still depressingly low and there are many stories about the sexism that women have face while trying to make work for the screen. Women in Film and TV is an organisation that aims to encourage and support women working in this field. It’s a worldwide organisation with a burgeoning Irish branch. It’s a way to help see more diversity on our screens, and hopefully as a result, in life.
Another way to support women making movies is to go and see their work. The second Feminist Film Festival is happening in the New Theatre in Dublin this weekend and you can go and see lots of feature films, shorts and panel discussions. The programme includes the suitably scary horror film The Babadook for Halloween, and the Irish premier of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, a documentary charting the U.S. women’s movement between 1966-1971. All that and the profits will go to charity!
Dublin is a busy place; there’s always something going on. Tonight, for instance – Tara Flynn launched her new book in the Gutter Bookshop, Women in Film and TV Ireland held their first members event in the O’Callaghan Hotel on Stephen’s Green and the Panti Bliss documentary Queen of Ireland premiered in the Lighthouse Cinema. It’s one thing choosing not to go to some or all of these wonderful cultural events, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing out when you’re away from Dublin.
I’m heading off on my holidays tomorrow, and after the dark, damp weather this week it feels like the perfect time to do with it. I’m looking forward to the sun, sea and sangria even though it means I will be miss the wonderful Bram Stoker Festival which is happening around the city from Friday 23rd – Monday 26th. It looks like my kind of festival. There are lots of free events, including Stokerland in Wolfe Tone Square, a Maser installation in Smithfield Square and the always spectacular Macnas parade on Monday evening. There are also events happening in great venues such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Freemasons Hall.
One final post about the Edinburgh Festival before it wraps up this weekend. It’s really about after the festival anyway. Here are three Irish shows that are going down a storm in Edinburgh and where you can see them in Ireland.
How To Keep An Alien is getting rave reviews in Edinburgh, as it did in last year’s Dublin Fringe where it sold out before I got a chance to see it! Sonya Kelly’s show about getting a visa for her Australian girlfriend so she could stay in Ireland has been described as “full of lovely surreal detail and laugh-out-loud wit” and I’m looking forward to seeing it before the end of the year. I have no excuse for missing it again because it will be on all over Ireland in the autumn. There are currently 25 venues in Ireland listed on the Rough Magic website, and one in Paris! Find your nearest venue here.
Pat Kinevane’s show Underneath has got five star reviews, a Fringe First award and a Total Theatre nomination. Pat is an utterly engaging performer and his shows are a wonderful balance of funny and sad. I haven’t seen Underneath yet, and again that’s something I intend to rectify before the end of the year. It’s touring to Portumna, Cliften, Carrick on Shannon, Dun Laoghaire, Cork, Ennis and Thurles before the end of the year. Full list of tour dates here. If you’ve seen Silent, you know that you will be in for a treat.
And if you haven’t seen Silent, you can fix this by going along to Catherine’s Street Church, Thomas Street on Sept 17th. Tickets are €25.00 euro and all proceeds will go to Sophia Housing to help end homelessness. Tickets are available here. It will be a great evening’s entertainment for a very good cause.
Corn Exchange’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s award winning novel A Girl is a Half Formed Thing is also having a great run at the Edinburgh Festival. Last week it won the Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award 2015. As far as I know there isn’t any more Irish dates scheduled at the moment, but you can buy the playscript from Faber here.
Over the weekend, in Dublin and around the country, PalFest Ireland took place. It was a wonderful mix of events – music, poetry readings, lectures, meditation, a football match – all organised by volunteers. It was timed to commemorate the 51-day attack by Israel on Gaza in 2014. This was the fourth Isreali assault on Gaza since 2006. These bombardments are named military attacks, which I didn’t know.
2006 – Operation Summer Rain
2009 – Operation Cast Lead
2012 – Operation Pillar of Defence
2014 – Operation Protective Edge
And over the eight years, each attacks has been more brutal and the death toil for each assault has increased. During the 51 days in July 2014, over 2100 people were killed, 551 of them children.
I missed most of the PalFest events but I did attend the lecture by Dr. Mads Gilbert in the O’Reilly Theatre on Friday night, where I learnt all these facts. Dr. Gilbert is a Norwegian doctor from Tromsø and who has regularly worked in the Shifa hospital in Gaza over the last 15 years. He is a vocal opponent of the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the Israeli government have now banned him from entering the country. He is also a man who knows a lot about Palestine, about the Palestinian people and what life is like under the occupation and siege. He was in Gaza during the assault last year and has published a book of photos and stories about what he experienced. Friday night’s lecture was based on that book – A Night in Gaza. He had some terrifying statistics about the number of people killed and injured during those 51 days, the number of schools bombed, the paramedics who were targeted as they worked. 70% of those who died during the assault were civilians. The Israeli army claims the aim on their weapons is 90% accurate so we have to assume that these schools and hospitals, the medical personnel and journalists were all targets. Under international law, it is a war crime to deliberately target these people or buildings.
As well as the huge numbers of killed and injured there were also stories of those not included in those numbers. Like the parents and three young children who got out of the house before the bomb fell on it and arrived in the emergency room uninjured, but completely terrified and homeless.
Dr. Gilbert was a passionate, engaging speaker, particularly when he spoke of his friends in Palestine, people he has known and worked with for many years, and their resilience. He talked about how they worked non-stop throughout the night during the worst of the bombings, about the inventiveness in the hospital because of the blockades and about their determination to rebuild their towns and cities. He has huge admiration for the Palestinian people; for their hope and their spirit under occupation. You can read more about his experiences in Gaza and an extract from the book in this Guardian article – ‘My camera is my Kalashnikov’.
Dr. Gilbert also gave the Noble Call at the Abbey after the performance of Carol Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children that was also part of PalFest.
Chris McCormack wrote an article for Broadway World last month The Art of Winning a Referendum, about how artists engaged with the Equality Referendum campaign and the effect it had on the vote. PalFest is in the same vein. It’s art with a purpose. It’s art that recognises a greater social context, art in solidarity with people who need to be seen and recognised. I think it was a wonderful thing to do, and I hope it does help the Palestinian to be recognised as part of the human family and be accorded the same human rights that the rest of that family enjoys.
I know the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is incredibly complex but there was a wonderful Malcolm X quote in Dr. Gilbert’s lecture which for me, makes things very simple.
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
Devoted and Disgruntled is an annual Open Space meeting for theatre artists, organised by Improbable in London. At a D&D meeting in January 2013, Stella Duffy raised the topic of doing something to mark Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014. That idea led to a session at the meeting, a few emails and tweets were sent out and it started to grow. It kept growing and growing to become Fun Palaces, a weekend of community based artistic endeavours, held in more than 130 locations all over the United Kingdom and in France, Iceland and Belgium. (How Did Fun Palaces Begin? blog post by Stella Duffy.)
Joan Littlewood, a theatre maker and director in the 1950s and 60s, is probably most well-known for the satirical musical O, What a Lovely War She was also part of an ensemble company, the Theatre Workshop which was a travelling troupe before taking up permanent residence at Stratford East. Their work was left-wing; one of their most famous productions was the British premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children in 1955 and they also championed the work of Brendan Behan. Littlewood was also fiercely interested in community theatre as well as political theatre and wanted to create a theatre of the people, bringing theatre to the streets. In 1961, Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price designed the Fun Palace – a ‘laboratory of fun’ but it never came into being.
For 2014 the Fun Palaces had the tagline “Everyone an artist, Everyone a scientist.” The aim was to bring people from different disciplines together, but more importantly to bring the community into the work. Everyone is welcome, everything is free and a special effort is made to get children involved.
Technology played a big part in getting the 2014 Fun Palaces up and running, in a way that was not possible in 1961. Twitter, email and the internet allowed people to connect with each other, to feel like they were part of a larger community, to find help, advice and encouragement. Despite all the online communication, the work really happened in the individual communities where each Fun Palace was created. There were no boxes to tick or rules to follow so each palace could make whatever it wanted, based on their resources and what their community needed. This resulted in a diverse selection of events. On the website you can search for Fun Palaces under tags such as mermaids, tea, hat-making, dog-walking, robots and much more. I watched the whole thing unfold on Twitter and found it incredibly exciting. I’m sure those we attended or organised events had a fantastic time. It seems like another theme of the weekend was that anyone can make art – there were lots of free workshops and events – and that anyone can run an event, and anyone can change the world in some small way!
The Fun Palaces success story shows what can come from someone having a good idea, sharing it with someone else and allowing that idea growing into something real. I know that’s how everything happens but because I follow Stella Duffy on twitter, I got to see this idea grow in real time and not just see the end result. I also really like the combination between technology and global engagement and the work that was done in local communities. People engaged with the idea and took ownership of it. It would be great to see a Fun Palace in Dublin next year. It might also be a model to follow for the 1916 commemorations next year, a way to engage local communities around the country in building something meaningful in their own community.
Half-way through the Dublin Fringe Festival, having already seen six shows (Break, WAGE, Way Back Home, Pondling, You Remember The Stories You Wish Were True and Exit Strategy) I realised that I had yet to see a production that was written or devised by a man. This is partly my own prejudice – though I wasn’t actively avoiding shows by men, I am often more interested in seeing shows by women – but it’s also a credit to the Fringe that there were so many excellent productions by female theatre-makers to choose from. And they really were excellent shows – Way Back Home won the Spirit of the Fringe Award and I’m interested in seeing what Louise White does next. Pondling won the Best Female Performer Award for Genevieve Humle-Beaman and was also nominated for the Fishamble Award for Best New Writing.
At the Fringe Awards, the judges said that Best Female Performer was the most difficult categories to decide on because there was such a host of talent on display. I certainly saw some wonderful performances in lots of very different plays but I think the winner was a worthy one. In Pondling, which she wrote and performed, Genevieve Humle-Beaman created a character that was both terrifying and heart-breaking.
Female performers also did very well in Edinburgh this year – particularly when it came to the Foster’s Edinburgh comedy award; Bridget Christie won the overall prize and Adrienne Truscott won the panel prize. Both of their shows had a very strong feminist position. Christie’s show A Bic For Her was described as an hour of feminist comedy…as full of imaginative jokes as it is of righteous anger. Truscott’s show Asking for it took on rape culture and the rape joke. She performed the show naked from the waist down with video installations projected on to her lower body. These triumphs are particularly note-worthy as stand-up comedy is such a male-dominated medium.
On the theatre side of the Edinburgh Fringe, Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model went down very well, winning a Fringe First Award, a Fringe Review Outstanding Theatre Award and the Arches Brick Award. It is currently running at the Soho Theatre in London. The show was devised by Kimmings and her nine-year-old niece Taylor, as a response to, and fight against, the sexualisation of young girls. Together they created Catherine Bennett, a pop-star who is also an expert on dinosaurs and loves riding her bike. She also has her own songs, complete with music videos and Facebook page. Lynn Gardner described the show as “a call to arms against those who profit from selling thongs to children.”
In the Dublin Fringe Festival, I only saw a couple of shows that were overtly feminist. One of which, WAGE by Fitzgerald and Stapleton, offered discounted tickets for female audience members in recognition of the 13.9% gender pay gap in Ireland. It was a dance piece performed by two naked female performers, who were very comfortable and non-sexual about their nakedness. Even the masturbation sequence was laugh-out-loud funny rather than sexy. I’m not entirely sure what it was about but it was fun and silly and joyful in its incomprehensiveness. I was baffled but I’d had a good time. There was a slightly jarring section at the end when the dancers, now fully clothed, were joined on stage by Justine Reilly, a former prostitute who spoke about her own experiences. There was no room left for audience interpretation here – it was very didactic and a bit preach-y. Suddenly the piece went from incomprehensible fun to unambiguous lecturing and this took away from what had gone before.
While WAGE was alternatively incomprehensible and blatantly obvious, I still felt like it was doing something different in an enjoyable way. DOLLS on the other hand, had nothing new to say. I left the Sunday night performance feeling slightly angry because my time had been wasted. It didn’t say anything new about the female condition and there were sections of the piece that I found boring. With its heavy reliance on lip-synching, DOLLS made its performers nothing more than ciphers to be imprinted on. Perhaps that was the point since the piece was about woman as objects but it failed to move beyond that and just showed me something I already knew, over and over again. I seem to be in the minority though as a lot of people seemed to really enjoy the piece. It won the inaugural First Fortnight award which means you can see it in January and make up your own mine.
I would like to see more feminist theatre, made by men and women. I’m a native optimist who believes that art can change the world (or at least change a few minds), and while women are still being treating as being worth less than men, whether it’s how much they are paid or how much they are listened to, then we need to keep shouting about it. But it helps to build a strong platform to shout from and the Dublin Fringe Festival does contribute to that. It seems like it has always been very female, certainly in the last five years under Roise Goan’s directorship, and that’s a very good thing. I would like to think that hearing women’s voices and women’s stories onstage moves us a step closer to smashing the patriarchy and making a fairer society for all.
After the glorious weather at the weekend, if finally feels like summer’s on its way and with it all the summer festivals. Phizz Fest and the Drogheda Arts Fesitval were on this weekend and next up is the Dublin Dance Festival, from May 14- 26. I don’t go to that many dance shows and I’m not sure I’ve even been to the Dublin Dance Festival before, but I have seen and enjoyed a couple recently (I saw IMDT’s Body Duet at IETM and Cois Ceim’s Touch Me in Galway last year) and I’m also looking forward to Fabulous Beast’s double bill at this year’s Galway Arts Festival.
I also think the Dance Festival has a particularly strong programme this year and it’s worth a look! (Probably the programme was always excellent, it’s just my taste that has changed!) I am particularly taken by Egg Charade, which includes the following warning: Contains nudity (and bowling).
But there’s a wide variety of shows to chose from. Tickets are mostly around the €20 but some of the shorter shows are €12-15. This includes the shows in the Family Season strand, which all look beautiful and includes Spill – A Playground of Dance, which is free!
There’s also the Dance Deal where if you book 3 or 4 different dance deal shows you get 15% off full price tickets. If you book five or more shows, you get 20% off full price tickets.
There are also dance workshops with dancers performing in the festival. Some of them are limited to dancers or dance students but there are some open classes too.
All in all, a great looking festival!