As part of Her Side of the Story, a conversation about the female perspective on stage on May 13-14, Imago Theatre will be profiling Canadian theatre artists and companies that are promoting the female perspective and diverse voices in theatre.
“As the only Calgary theatre company devoted to the female perspective, I’m excited to begin this new phase as UCT’s Artistic Producer and to lead a company that honours female-identified artists and strong female narratives on a path that is inclusive to all. I’m also thrilled at the prospect of collaborating with Calgary’s many artists, arts organizations, and community leaders to unfold the diverse landscape of female experience found in the greater the Calgary community.”
New Artistic Producer at Urban Curves, Kate Newby.
Urban Curvz Theatre is a feminist theatre company in Calgary, Alberta, whose mission is to present the female perspective on stage.
“Women may make up 60 per cent of theatre audiences in Canada, but female playwrights create less than 30 per cent of the plays produced in the country each year.”
It’s a surprising statistic and one that Calgary’s Urban Curvz Theatre Company is trying to change.
“There’s an assumption that male stories are universal and female stories are niche, which is ridiculous,” says artistic director Jacqueline Russell.
“It comes from centuries of us being trained to think of male characters as the hero and their journeys being something we can all relate to, while female stories are only relevant to women and not as interesting. Maybe for good reason sometimes. If you look back on the canon, there are a lot of women who are victims in more traditional theatre stories.”
Past artistic director, Jaqueline Russell”
They are host to the Girls Gone Wilde Festival, which is billed as “a festival where women shamelessly flash their wits.”
It runs annually (since 2003), and has become a venue for performers and playwrights to showcase original work with female–driven narratives. Each year they present an assortment of staged readings, improv comedies, workshop productions, and cabarets. The festival generally runs for five days from Wednesday through the weekend.
The festival is sold out every year, a fact that the past AD feels is an indication of the need to highlight the female perspective in the arts.
“There seems to be a real audience for it. It surprises me and at the same time it doesn’t … There’s a large theatre audience waiting to see themselves on stage.”
In writing about their role as a ‘feminist’ company, and the calculated choice to market themselves as such, they emphasize the importance of presenting feminism in a positive and fun way. In response to increasingly sexualized Halloween costumes (including sexy cop costumes for five year-olds), they created the Take Back Halloween party, complete with Patriarchy Haunted House full of glass ceilings, the gender gap, and wife assembly lines.
The goal of Take Back Halloween, they emphasize, is not to judge the culture of sexualizing Halloween, but to provide an alternative to it, and ask people to be conscientious of their choices of costume.
“We are not saying that if you want to be a sexy nurse that’s bad, but we want to provide an alternative.’
Pam Rocker, organizer of Take Back Halloween.
They also point out that, while their focus is on the female perspective, they are not exclusive, and point out that many of the same attitudes that are harmful to women are also harmful to men. Both genders need to be included in the conversation to create positive change. On occasion they choose to stage plays written by men that have a strong female lead, stating “we should be encouraging men to write strong roles for women because both genders can do that and that helps.”
Lindsey Zess-Funk, Artistic Associate at Urban Curvz, in the article Feminism as a Marketing Tool in the Canadian Theatre Review.
In addition to their work in theatre, Urban Curvz also offers youth theatre camps and masterclasses for artists with the goal of building a network of support for theatre makers.
At present Urban Curvz Theatre is under transition under their new Artistic Producer, Kate Newby, including an extensive reworking of their website. For more information you can look for them under the new name Handsome Alice.
On the branding change, Newby writes, “In the last few years Urban Curvz has focused primarily on its Girls Gone Wild festival and doing one show a year,” says Newby. “Handsome Alice is still a project-based company and we will still do theatre productions but we’re also working on a creation piece with the community.”
Handsome Alice has partnered with Mount Royal University’s department of diversity and human rights and the Calgary Sexual Health Centre to create an opportunity for female MRU (Mount Royal University) students to share their stories through the inVISIBLE Project.
Ultimately, Newby says the goal is to take the completed piece to colleges and universities across the country. “I want the audience to sit there and think ‘I haven’t really thought of that point of view before. I want it to be inclusive, but at the same time it’s going to be risky.”
Newby is passionate about her new role. “My main drive is to support female artists. It’s a challenging business to begin with, but as a woman in theatre it’s really hard,” says Newby. “There does need to be a world to support women to move forward in this industry, still, which really pisses me off. I want to honour these female artists and give them the opportunity to shine.”