This post is part of a series for our Her Side of the Story encounter, May 13-14 2016 located at the National Theatre School of Canada. We invited theatre artists from across Canada to reflect on how their work in theatre is influenced by their perspective as women. Are they conscious of promoting a “feminine perspective” or is it something that is intuitive? Imago Theatre would like to thank all of the artists who responded to our questions for their thoughtful, insightful responses. We will be sharing these responses on our blog for the first two weeks of May. We will also be creating a publication of selected quotes, which will be available for free at the Her Side of the Story readings, long-table discussion, and cabaret.
What does the female perspective mean to you?
I suppose you mean a female perspective as opposed to a male perspective – is that right? I am not sure that I can really say that there is a unified notion of a female perspective other than a perspective that is informed by living in the world as a woman. There are a variety of ways that women live in the world. What I can say is that there are certain experiences that are specific to living as a woman in the world and so I guess that differentiates a female perspective from a male perspective.
Is it important to have the feminine perspective on stage? If so, why?
This question confuses me a little – are you assuming that the words feminine and female are synonymous? They are not for me. Feminine always seems to denote a mainstream notion of what women are like or worse should be like. I don’t know if that is the best term to use to discuss women’s perspectives because they are more diverse than the main stream definition of “feminine” allows. That said I do believe that we need a wide variety of women’s perspectives on the stage – in particular to give voice and content to the real diversity that exists among women’s experience.
How do you approach your work as a female practitioner? Does the feminine perspective inform your work?
I hope that I approach my work as an artist who has lived in the world as a woman and thus has a point of view that is informed by that. However, I try to be guided by Virginia Woolf’s notion of incandescence – in that I try to see the world with clarity rather than angry reaction. Women have every right to be angry about a lot of things in the world but art does not benefit from being generated by anger alone. I guess the main focus of my approach is to try to get as close to the truth as possible – even if the truth is uncomfortable to me personally.
According to you, what stories need the most telling? How is this reflected in your practice?
I think that the stories that are most in need of telling are those that challenge our assumptions about the world. That is what drew me to the Shaw Festival in the first place. Shaw wrote to upset his own society – his plays were oftened banned until they did away with the censor in England. He took on prostitution, women’s rights, marriage, slum lords and a myriad of other topics in order to make the theatre going public (which in his day was the establishment) think about how they were living in the world. I always try to find plays that challenge me to think about how I am living in the world. I find that in both old plays and new plays.
How do you approach choosing the work? What do you look for?
If I have to generalize I guess that the stories I am most drawn to are stories of thwarted potential. That is often the story of a woman because history has been hard on women’s desires to be more than objects of men’s needs and imaginations. But I feel that the capacity to repress is not unique to men but is rather a human quality that we all need to own up to.
Do you think there is a difference between masculine and feminine storytelling? If so, in which ways?
I think that all story-telling is informed by how you have lived in the world and how the world has treated you.
Have you seen many changes in the theatre scene in the last couple of years?
The main change that I have seen is the growth of very exciting small independent projects in Toronto like The Storefront Theatre, VideoFag, The Coal Mine etc. There seems to be a very healthy group of young artists determined to re-imagine the theatre space and to connect to the world at large through international plays or adventurous theatre practice. These young people seem to be (at least from the outside) to be of both sexes and of a variety of ethnicities which I find very exciting. I hate the idea of silos of creation that in an attempt to create opportunity for one group exclude another. I was overwhelmed when I brought a play by Michel-Marc Bouchard to Brendan Healey at Buddies in Bad Times and Brendan invited me to direct it. As I am not a part of the Gay Community I had no expectation of that – but Brendan was the one who said “If we don’t want to be excluded then we can’t start excluding people.” I am also impressed with some of the collaborations between companies like the production of Blood Wedding co-produced by Aluna Theatre and Soheil Parsa’s company Modern Times.
Can feminine and masculine perspectives co-exist on stage? Can you name a play that has succeeded in doing this?
Absolutely they can co-exist – if they couldn’t then the art of theatre would not be able to speak to people. I feel like Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is a particularly successful example of that. Caryl Churchill is very capable of rendering a world view that takes both a male and a female perspective at the same time. Also, I think that many of the Greek plays are capable of that as well because they are the result of a belief system that had powerful characters of both sexes. Ann Carson’s adaptations are great examples of that in English.
Can you name a male playwright who writes from the feminine perspective? If so, how do they succeed that it?
I am endlessly amazed at the fabulous female characters that Bernard Shaw put on the stage. I believe that he is one of the earliest feminists and despite his being a man of his times you can feel his desire to give women’s stories currency and variety. He loved actresses and was committed to making characters that would challenge them.
Is there a play (or plays) that represents a model for the feminine perspective for you?
I think that Morwyn Brebner’s musical “Little Mercy’s First Murder” is still one of the most original examinations of a female world view. Standing over the body of her mother who she has just murdered she sings –
“Proust says a madeleine reminds you of all things – I’ve never had a madeleine.
Freud says that every man anticipates his father’s death. What about a woman then – a woman with no madeleine?
I wouldn’t eat a cookie to remind me of my life – I’d rather eat that knife.”
The play tells the story of a young woman with intelligence, ambition and a huge imagination who is condemned to poverty by her mother’s addiction – and it’s a musical.