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.
About 25 years ago, when I was just starting out as a theatre practitioner, I lead an initiative to ask the major theatre in my community why there were so few women on his stages, as playwrights and directors. Although twenty-plus colleagues signed the letter, I was the one summoned in to be schooled about the disparity. I was informed that his season was full of good women, from Hedda to Medea to M Butterfly… (huh?) When I suggested that he hire more women as directors, he asked “Should I hire someone just because they are a woman? Shouldn’t I hire the best person for the job?”
“Why,” I responded, “is the best person for the job always a man?”
I fear we have missed the moment. The twenty-five year moment where we could have achieved more equity, brought up more directors, allowed more playwrights the means to write for bigger stages and larger casts.
I look at the major theatre in my town, which, due to financial constraints, has halved its programming next year. In its six show season next year, there is one show by a woman, the brilliant Rebecca Northan, with her fantastic improvised Blind Date, which I first saw in 2007 at Harbourfront’s Spiegelshow.
It’s not all like this, of course. I note that Michael Shamata at the Belfry has programmed an all-female season, from Joan McLeod to Joni Mitchell to Alice Munroe to Mom’s The Word… And there has been no big to-do about it, no self-congratulatory press release, just an all-female season, I suppose because it’s 2016.
I am not sure if there is a feminine perspective. Whatever feminine perspective exists, it cannot help but be filtered, adulterated, mitigated, by negotiating with the male gaze, dancing with the patriarchy, trying to balance having a voice with an endless discussion about rape culture and Jian Ghomeshi and objectification. My own personal perspective is feminist, which is more active because it implies that we have not yet achieved equal rights, and is therefore more threatening because it suggests I am not satisfied. I am not satisfied. I am not satisfied.
In my thirty years of being ground down by the vicissitudes of theatre, I have been told that theatres don’t do plays about “women’s issues”, I have been asked why I am so mad, I have been told about meetings where four white male colleagues have looked at each other, recognised their white maleness and said “good thing Yvette isn’t here”.
How do I approach my work as a female practitioner? I work to find female practitioners to with whom to share the stage. I watch for artists with potential and I take them for coffee, I invite them into the room, I drop their names with producers. I let lateral violence roll off me, I am an advocate of joy. I fail, I fail again, I fail better. But I am still doing it, at least today, in this moment.