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.

Ruth Smilie

My perspective is that it has been very challenging for women to secure positions of leadership in theatre, in business, in politics. I remain troubled and perplexed by that but ever more determined to mentor women into leadership roles and ensure that the culture of this organization is supportive and affirming of women and women’s stories. 70% of our audiences are women and so I try to ensure that the work on the stage resonates with the audience that I am engaged with. And that doesn’t mean that all the plays have a strong social critique or a feminist perspective but it means that there is work where women as actors have great roles, where their stories are told from a woman’s perspective, not always written by a woman but from a woman’s perspective, and that we create that balance of work that is engaging and relevant and entertaining.

Things have changed and things have gotten better. I mean there has been transformational change in our societies. Gay rights, women’s rights, diversity, reconciliation with First Nations. Those were all unimaginable when I first started working. The rights of children. All of those are transformational social movements that really transformed us and the world. But I am always yearning to see greater equality and a world less broken by conflict and difference and gender and equality. The rights of children and others that are not seen as powerful, not given their due. I am troubled by the fact that so few regional theatres are run by women. I’m feeling quite angry about it actually and I’m very determined that I am going to make whatever difference I can here at the Globe.

There is no singular voice for women or for men. I have directed plays written by men with great women in roles and I’ve read great plays by women with great male roles. I’m not quite sure why this is but, I read a lot of plays, and I find many of the plays by female playwrights are dark, very dark. Often I wonder, if it is so hard to break through, if we are more likely to be kinda aggressive in our writing. I’m not sure how to describe it, and it is a real generalization. I found for me that I had more success in mentoring women in leadership roles. I love many men who work in Canadian theatre and I love many directors that are male that work in Canadian theatre but I’ve made a conscious decision that I’m going to prioritize hiring women as directors because they have so few opportunities in Canadian theatre to work. It’s not that one is better than the other it’s just that women have so few opportunities these days and that has to change.

I’m not an academic, I’m quite practical and I have a strong sense of justice. I have a very clear understanding of the many blessings I have received from mentors throughout my career. I was tapped on the shoulder at a very young age to be an artistic director and I was tapped on the shoulder by a woman. I’ve had many gifts given to me through mentorship and I need to ensure that I provide that same quality of support for women, particularly given the privilege that I have in terms of the position that I hold. In terms of a feminine perspective I can tell you that we as a group and with me as the leader we have what I would call a strongly feminine culture where most of the leadership roles in this theatre are held by women. The leadership on our board of directors are mostly women. Almost every head of department in this theatre is a women. That actually changes the ecology of an organization all together. I have to say it takes a certain kind of man to be part of that culture. It is quite distinctive. That is something we feel strongly about. I just think it changes the quality of what you think about and what your priorities are. We are also very collaborative here. It’s not that there aren’t people in charge, it’s that there is a very collaborative way of making decisions and of being together. I don’t know if that is uniquely female but I know that in a space like this where mostly women work it matters greatly to all of us to keep the culture the way it is.

The philosophy that we come from is that the longer you can support a human being’s imagination, and keep that sense of imagination and play intact, the more brilliant that human being will become.