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.
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.
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.
Archivist 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.
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.”
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.
At the end of January, I spent three enlightening and inspiring days at the Abbey’s Theatre of Change symposium listening to fantastic speakers from all over the world. I am so grateful for the Abbey for organising the symposia over the last three years. It’s a great way to kick-off the new year and I hope it’s something that the new Artistic Directors carry on with. The line-up for each symposium has been wonderful. One of the joys for me was hearing lots of different voices – different accents, different ages, different genders. I appreciate the Abbey bringing these people to Dublin and allowing me to sit in front of them, hear what they have to say.
It felt like an overtly feminist conference this year. WakingTheFeminists was not only in the programme but it was also mentioned in Fiach’s opening speech. (Not really surprising – it’s hard to talk about the Waking The Nation programme now without mention what isn’t there.) There were a couple of sessions on reproductive rights in Ireland and the role of women in the Rising also featured prominently.
Lian Bell, Eleanor Methven and Loughlin Deegan spoke on behalf of WakingTheFeminists on Thursday afternoon. Eleanor talked about her decades-long battles against workplace discrimination. She was one of the founders of Charabanc Theatre in 1983, set up to provide decent roles for female actors, so she is an old hand at this lark. Loughlin, on the other hand, admitted that although he would always have identified as a feminist, he “has been on a very steep learning curve since my involvement with Waking the Feminists.” He spoke candidly about having his belief that his career achievements were based solely on merit shaken by the stories that came out of the WakingTheFeminists movement. He also talked about patriarchal structures and the damaging Myth of the Great Man. (You can read their speeches in full on the WakingTheFeminists website, links above. Or watch below.)
On the Friday afternoon, Emer O’Toole and Susan Cahill presented The Man Problem. This was a performance presentation that looked at the fact that the vast majority of our politicians, political pundits, radio presenters and journalists are male and so when we start talking about abortion, it is rare to hear women speaking about it. We tend to hear the least from those who are most affected by it; those who have to travel, those who need medical attention that is not provided in this country. This is changing as more women are talking about their abortions. It happened that Friday afternoon in the Abbey, when Susan gave a very personal and poignant account of what it was like to discover she was pregnant while en route from Canada to Ireland, for a month long stay here. She described what it was like to be pregnant and not want to be, in a country that was debating the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. She waited until she was back in Canada to terminate the pregnancy and described how grateful she was to be able to go home to her own bed afterwards, and not queue up to get on a plane full of stags and hens. It was very affecting. Dearbhail McDonald’s potted history of the Eighth Amendment as the introduction to the piece was also very moving and a bit fury-making. Let’s hope that 2016 is the year that this cruel and archaic piece of legislation is removed from the constitution.
The Man Problem
There were also a couple of presentations about the role of women in the Rising and how they have been removed from the “official” history. Jacki Irvine read from her book Days of Surrender . She read a piece about Elizabeth O’Farrell’s walk across Moore Street carrying the white flag of surrender. Elizabeth was the owner of the feet behind Pearse in the photograph of his surrender. Her feet were removed before the photo appeared in the newspaper in 1916, and Elizabeth’s role was also removed from RTE’s version of the events, in Rebellion a few weeks ago.
Over the years, the symposia have never let war be something distant, something firmly in the past. There are many reminders that war and conflict zones still exist all over the world. This year there were speakers from Israel and the occupied Golan. Taiseer Merei runs a theatre as part of the Golan for Development, which exists to resist Israel’s occupation and control. The theatre is locations underneath the medical centre, which is also part of Golan for Development. They offer people health care, education and art as part of a peaceful resistance in a dire situation. The Golan Heights has been occupied by Israel since 1967 because it’s an area with fertile land and lots of water.
Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist who spoke about the situation in Gaza. He said that the only way Gaza can attract the attention of Israeli or the world-media is by firing rockets, otherwise they are forgotten about. He also made the point that there is precedent of how to bring down apartheid, we saw it in South Africa. Boycott Israel, he said, bring it to understand that the occupation is unacceptable in the eyes of the world. The way to make the Israelis’ feel this is if they lose money. He also talked about the dangers of dehumanising a specific group of people, which is what the Israelis have successfully done to the Palestine and which is in danger of happening to refugees coming to Europe.
As well as looking at the past and the present, the symposium also looked to the future. Emer Coleman’s talk Big Data: Owning Your Own Story looked at the past from the future, when she made the point that if you’re not on the internet, then you don’t exist. Emer worked in theatre at the beginning of her career but said there is no evidence of this career on the internet, so it’s like it never happened. In the future, history will be shaped by the machine. She talked about the “rise of the robots” and how that no longer means physical robots, but the software that has worked itself into every aspect of our lives. Because of the power of the tech companies, “technoethics” have to become more important. We need to make sure that these huge companies pay their taxes and behave ethically because the way things are going, soon they’ll own everything! It’s important to stop behaviour like Uber’s who say that Uber drivers are not their employees, landlords who evict tenants so they can put flats on AirBnb, and companies who fire full-time employees then hire them back as contract workers without any benefits. For anyone worrying about their content being owned by Facebook or other corporations, she recommends Jaron Lanier‘s book about mirco-licensing Who owns the future?
The role of the artist in remembering, celebrating and integrating the past and the world today was also recognised by the symposium, particularly in the first and last panels. The first one, The Body of The State included a number of artists from different disciplines. Visual artists Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones are creating a piece called In The Shadow of the State that will take place in Derry, Liverpool, Dublin and London. They are exploring statehood from the perspective of the female body and a different performance will take place at each location. Choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir talked about The Casement Project which explores what types of bodies are acceptable and what is acceptable for these bodies to do.
Sarah Jane Scaife spoke about her work with Beckett’s plays and placing them in the world we live in. I saw the first of these at the side of the Abbey as part of the first symposium, Theatre of Memory and I also enjoy The Women Speak in last year’s Fringe. I really liked how she placed those stories in history, and demonstrated how that history leads to the present.
On the final morning, we heard from Oskar Eustic, Artistic Director of the Public Theatre in New York which sounds like a great place. Their show Hamilton is currently one of the hottest shows on Broadway, but the theatre started out making free theatre, the famous Shakespeare in the Park. He said that the mission statement of the theatre was to “Dislodge theatre from being a commodity and bring it back to being about relationships.” They also do performances of Shakespeare in prisons, which he said that the actors love doing. Once they do that, it’s hard to get them to do anything else. He was obviously very passionate about his theatre and the work they do.
At the end of the three days, I felt very sorry that it was all over and that there isn’t another symposium to look forward to next year. Well done to the Abbey and all the speakers. And the videos from the last three years are all available on YouTube, including this fabulous performance by Penny Arcade.
The Abbey’s symposium Theatre of Change is on this week and I’m really looking forward to it. The full timetable is on their website and there are lots of things I’m really interested in. I’m delighted to see #WakingTheFeminists on the bill and author Emer O’Toole, who will be talking about The Man Problem.
Stacey Gregg‘s talks at the previous symposiums have been fantastic and and I’m sure this year will be no exception. The title of her talk is Genethics, Genomics and Geena Davis and it’s part of a panel called History is Only Tidy in Retrospect, which includes writer and actor Mark O’Halloran and poet, playwright and essayist Gabriel Gbadamosi.
In terms of world events and current affairs, there’s a talk from Lara Marlowe called Fatal Attraction: France and the Middle East and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy will talk about The Israeli Society and the Endless Occupation. On a hopefully more optimistic note, there’s a talk titled Gaza in 2020: A Liveable Place with Ray Dolphin.
I’m also looking forward to the an except of Penny Arcade‘s piece on Thursday evening. Longing Lasts Longer is described as a meditation on what it means to be human that addresses the nature of change, revolution and altruism.
Of course, the events 1916 are also included. The final event of the symposium is Twinsome Minds, a multimedia-performed lecture by Prof. Richard Kearney and Prof. Sheila Gallagher, featuring stories and images from 1916. There is also a staged reading of Jimmy Murphy’s play Of This Brave Time, Jan 20-23 nightly at 8pm. This play is based on eye witness testimonies from those who experienced the events of the rising first-hand. Also in the Peacock, there’s a rehearsed reading of Nancy Harris’ new play Journey to X on Saturday afternoon at 2pm.
There are lots of ticket options for all the Theatre of Change events. You can buy three day tickets for €70/60. Though the Early Bird offer is still available, at time of writing and that’s €50. There are one day tickets available for €30/25 on Thursday or Friday and €25/20 for Saturday. Or you can get tickets for Twinsome Minds on Saturday morning for €10. The Peacock performances have to be booked separately, even if you have a 3-day ticket. They are €6/4 each. All tickets are available from the Abbey website.
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!
1. Corn Exchange’s Through A Glass Darkly
I went to see Through A Glass Darkly last night, knowing next to nothing about Ingmar Bergman. It didn’t matter, I still really enjoyed it. Wonderful performances and a dark, creepy story. I wondered how a film adaptation would look onstage, but I found it very theatrical. It still felt like a Corn Exchange show. There was beautiful movement and a precision and clarity to each character and every scene. I also really liked the scene changes, which must be one of the hardest things to adapt from film to stage!
It runs until December 5th and it’s really worth seeing. Tickets available from Project Arts Centre.
2. Elizabeth Gilbert in conversation
Tomorrow (Thursday 26th) I’m going to see Elizabeth Gilbert in conversation with Roisin Ingle in the Liberty Hall, a venue I really like but don’t get the opportunity to visit that often. Gilbert has a new book out called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear with a brilliant, colourful cover! You might have seen her Ted talk about the genie in the house, which I think explores similar territory. It’s a book about how everyone is creative and how we should use that in everyday life. I think, I haven’t read it yet, though I do really like this review in the Irish Times by Anna Carey. I think it will be an interesting evening. There might still be tickets available here.
3. Rough Magic SEEDS Showcase
Rough Magic’s SEEDS is a development programme for writers, composers, directors and designers. The programme lasts two years and at the end, the SEEDS showcase there work. Over the next two weeks, you can see the work of these up-and-coming artists in Project Arts Centre, in three shows and a rehearsed reading.
Anna Bella Eema
24 – 28 November | 8.15pm | Tickets from €11-16
An eerie trailer park epic about a fierce mother-daughter bond spoken and sung by three women.
1 – 5 December | 8.15pm | Tickets from €11 – 16
With an ensemble of ten performers, Enjoy takes you inside the minds of a lost generation of 20-something part-time workers in a comic book café.
3 – 5 December | 6.15pm | Tickets €11/9
An exciting new collaboration between Composer/Sound Designer SEED Danny Forde and choreographer Aisling McCormick. Employing music and dance, Unspoken seeks dialogue amid potential conflict, exploring the body as it divides and unites; provokes and resolves.
4 – 5 December | 2.00pm | Admission free, booking advised
What happens when the dream comes true, when a radical, charismatic leader from the left is within reach of government? What compromises does she need to negotiate? Set in 2026 and 2016, Traitor looks at the journey from activism to politics. A rehearsed reading of a new play by Shane Mac an Bhaird.
4. The Women of Hollywood Speak Out
While #WakingTheFeminists has been encouraging Irish theatre makers to speak out about sexism (and new testimonies are being added to the website all the time), this New York Times article was shared all over the place last week – The Women of Hollywood Speak Out. It’s about sexism in Hollywood, as experienced by female executives, writers and directors and lots of people working in tv as well. The stories are similar and shows that it’s not just Ireland and it’s not just theatre. Hopefully speaking out about this ingrained sexism is the first step to dismantling it.
I’ve been doing pilates in My Wellbeing on Dame Street for the last three months, and really enjoying it. I feels like it’s good for my brain and my body. It makes me feel more connected with my body, more present. It’s a Beginners and Improvers class on Monday evening, which I also like because it’s something to look forward to at the beginning of each week and something to help get me through Mondays. It’s a relaxed, friendly class and it doesn’t feel like you’re working too hard, but I still see myself getting stronger week by week, which I love. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to try pilates. Suzanne is running a mini-term between now and Christmas and you can sign up for three classes for €25.
1. Waking the Feminists
This was the event of the week so I couldn’t leave it out of the round-up, even though I don’t have anything to say that I haven’t said already. Here are a couple of links to articles that I like.
Fury, apologies, and calls for respect as feminists shake the Irish theatre world, Aoife Barry for the Journal.ie
‘#WakingTheFeminists’ set hearts on fire at the Abbey Theatre, Chris O’Rourke for the Examiner.com
There was also some interesting discussion about the whole thing on the Irish Times Women’s Podcast, which I missed last week. The fact that public meeting isn’t even mentioned shows how fast things moved! Who knows what will have happened by this time next week!
And a reminder to sign the petition if you haven’t all ready done so.
2. The Long Gaze Back
On Saturday I went to an event at the Book Festival about The Long Gaze Back. This was a female anthology of short stories, released earlier this year and edited by Sinead Gleeson. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my Christmas list. (Or maybe my payday list if I can’t wait until Christmas.) The event included readings by Anne Enright and Lisa McInerney and some general discussion about the book and women artists in general. Waking The Feminists also came up. Anne Enright said that Ireland is a different place now because of what happened in the Abbey this week, and she thinks that difference happened because it was a crowd of women standing on stage and speaking out. If it had been one or two women, they could have been torn about, the discussion would have been about their clothes or their hair or the tone of their voice. But it’s not possible to dismiss that crowd of women in the same way.
Anne also spoke at the launch of The Long Gaze Back where she talked about the Field Day anthology which neglected to include any plays by female playwrights. You can hear her speech from that event here.
It would feel remiss not to mention the terrible atrocities that happened in Paris on Friday night but at the same time, I don’t have anything new to say. The people who committed these hateful acts feed on fear and hate, don’t let them win. Hug your loved ones and find joy in your life. When something like this happens, it makes the world feel like a dark, hateful place. We have to work hard to dispeal that feeling; be kind to one another and make the world better in some way, no matter how small. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Donate to Ireland Calaise Refugee Solidarity or Unicef to help those who have fled across countries to escape the terrorism that happened in Paris on Friday night. Or you could volunteer time or money to Focus Ireland, the Simon Community, with the Samaritans. When the world seems really bleak it helps to do something useful.
4. Give Blood
I know not everyone has the time or money to donate. In that case, maybe you could give blood. Of course, not everybody can donate blood either – there are a lot of restrictions. I’m currently on the black list because I am a woman who donated in the last 18 months and we’re struck off for the moment because we might have anaemia! This means it’s even more important for those that can donate, to do it! It only takes at most two hours every three months, it costs nothing but saves lives. It’s a really easy way to do something useful. The people in the clinic are always very nice and you get free crisps and biscuits afterwards.
5. The Gigli Concert
I don’t go to The Gate that often. It’s prices are too high and I’m usually not that interested in their programmed productions (too many dead men!). However, I am really looking forward to The Gigli Concert this week. I didn’t really know anything about Tom Murphy or his work before I went to Galway to study Drama and Theatre. I was there the same year that Druid did DruidMurphy so I learnt lots about Tom Murphy that year. The Gigli Concert was one of his plays that I was most keen to see performed and I was very sorry when I missed it last year. I’ve heard great things about this production, which finishes on Saturday.
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.
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.
— Graham McLaren (@MCLAREN_G) November 12, 2015
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.”
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.
1. Back from my holidays
I was lucky enough to spend the last couple of weeks in Spain, which was wonderful. I swam, I sat in the sun drinking wine, I ate lots and lots of tapas and read lots of books. (Yep, old-fashioned, paper books.) I also attended a Golden Wedding Anniversary, which was a first for me!
October is a good time of year to go away and get a bit of necessary sunshine before facing into the winter because it has the added benefit that you arrive back to wonderful autumn colours on the trees. You don’t get that spectacular colour palette in southern Spain. The colours you do get include bright blue skies and warm yellow sunshine so I’m not complaining, but all those greens and yellows and reds makes the bus journey back from the airport a bit less depressing!
2. Waking The Feminists
Being back in Dublin also means lots of chats about Waking The Feminists in theatre bars and foyers. It’s often been the first topic of conversation. I know I’ve said it before but it’s so incredibly exciting. It’s going to get even more exciting this week when the first public meeting happens on Thursday at 1pm. Venue will be confirmed tomorrow and women in the arts are asked to arrive at 12.30 for a photo-shoot. Change is coming!!
If you want to catch-up on everything that’s happened in the last 10 days and to see all the things that have been said by women in the arts, as well as what’s been said in the press – check out the WakingTheFeminists website.
3. White Label Symposium
I spent Saturday in Wood Quay at the White Label’s Story Machines – Theatre and Technology Symposium. White Label are a collective of theatre makers and the symposium was about how technology is represented on stage and how it can be used in the theatre.
The workshop on Saturday morning was run by Identity Problem Group. They are a interdisciplinary artistic collective from Poland who use a lot of technology in their work. There is a huge focus on technology in their work which was very interesting, as was their use of improv and the six months they get to rehearse a show!
In the afternoon, there was a reading of Override, a new play by Stacey Gregg. We only got to hear the first half but it raised lots of questions about medical improvements and enhancements to the human body. I’m looking forward to seeing the full production next year.
This was followed by a short documentary about theatre artists who want to replace actors with machines and a presentation by Akhila Krishnan who works for 59 productions. That link is worth clicking because they have worked on some amazing projects – when she joined the company Akhila’s first project was the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics! They also run a paid internship.
The final event was a panel discussion with Sophie Motley, Jack Phelan, Kris Nelson and Akhila Krishnan about the using technology in theatre productions and the challenges in presents, particularly in the context of the work being made in Ireland. Some of lessons here were that if you are including technology, it should be absolutely vital to the show, it’s important to do loads of prep work and have a realistic budget! I also thought it was interesting that they described themselves as “video artists”. There’s more from the panel on the White Label’s twitter.
It was a really great day of exploring ideas and hearing about new technology. I enjoyed it and look forward to White Label’s next event.
4. New Writing
You can see six new plays at the New Theatre this week, as part of their New Writing Week. Tickets are €4 and available on the door. Shows start at 7.30pm. I’m not going to get to see all six but I am hoping to make it to one or two.
Mon 9th – Dummy by Emma Hughes
Tue 10th – Another Billy Conn by Andrew Kenny
Wed 11th – Normal by Caitriona Daly
Thur 12th – Drawing Crosses on a Dusty Windowpane by Dylan Coburn Gray
Fri 13th – The Entrepreneurs by Neil Pearson
Sat 14th – Loveboxxx by Lauren Shannon-Jones
5. You’re The Worst
This American sitcom is still one of the funniest things on telly right now, and the second season is also breaking my heart on a weekly basis right now. If you like Catastrophe, you will love this. It’s not on tv this side of the Atlantic yet, but it might be possible to find a few episodes online.