Equal Writes, Tristan Bates Theatre, Monday evening
I was fortunate to have some words I wrote performed at Equal Writes‘ evening of selected scenes, monologues and discussion focusing on women, women’s stories and women in situations we are not presently seeing represented on UK stages.
Here are some other words I heard that night:
There were loads of them there. All sorts. Ones who write plays. Ones who act the plays. Ones who direct the ones who act in the plays. Ones who produced the show that showed the work of the ones who directed the ones who acted the words of the ones who wrote the plays. And every person I met was so enthusiastic, so passionate about the message of increasing the visibility of women in the theatre, of breaking through stereotypes and showing unseen representations of women on stage. All that energy and potential under one roof was very inspiring.
What the hell is that? Seriously, for a writer I really do have a feeble vocabulary (I blame Word’s too convenient thesaurus function). Equal Writes is part of a nationwide campaign towards gender parity in theatre. The Equal Writes site has links to some compelling data and analysis of the imbalance in creative roles within our national theatre. I hadn’t appreciated that there is a persistent 2:1 male-to-female ratio of roles for actors appearing on stage. Shown like that it is clear that something is not quite right.
The plays performed, written by writers with and without Y chromosomes. Many were funny, (Sarah Rutherford’s le Barbe, directed by Hannah Price, was perfectly delivered by Charlotte Randle -so enjoyable). They were funny because they were often unexpected, but nonetheless truthful in their telling. Some were as affecting in a less humorous way and they too were often unexpected in their uncovering of truths and vital for it.
My play was called ‘Piece of Cake’. It was odd hearing the word said so many times outside of my head. It was said in ways I hadn’t quite imagined, brought to vivid life by talented people who had bought into the slice of story wholeheartedly (who knew that Verity, granddaughter of Constance Buttermouse, looked like actress Millie Reeves? I didn’t). And having the opportunity to see this scene performed has enriched the larger cake (screenplay) of which it is part (I feel another draft coming on).
In my head, when I thought of the issue at hand. Not because I hadn’t realised the scope of the lack of parity between genders in theatre (though to be fair, I hadn’t), but because I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘really?’ Is that the way things are? I write stories with women right in the thick of it and I know I’m not the only one. So why aren’t these kinds of stories being shown? On the evidence of the pieces showcased on this evening it can’t be due to lack of quality writing. Is it because there aren’t the female performers and creatives capable of staging the work? No, because they were there too. So why the hold up?
There isn’t an easy answer to that, but its continued hold on theatre relies on our acceptance that it must always be so. What I took from the evening is this: it’s not about drawing lines or splitting something straight down the middle. Stories are hidden everywhere (there’s probably a couple inside you RIGHT NOW), as many as there are people to tell them. Surely it makes sense to share the job of presenting these stories?
Part of that is carrying on, telling the stories you want to tell about whomever you like in the most imaginative way possible. But part of it is also about removing those obstacles which curb the unfettered expression of our stories. The accepted ideas of the limits to the way women can be presented on stage. The idea that women’s stories are less worthy of dramatisation because sometimes they occur differently to men’s. The nonsense ‘common sense’ of wisdom-nuggets like ‘no one wants to see an old lady as a lead’, or ‘this cast needs the strength of a male director’, or ‘Women aren’t funny’. But changes perhaps have to happen both an individual and institutional level, and on either level they depend on the ideas and inspiration of those involved to find a new way of doing things.
Men and women, these are our stories and we deserve to share the collective responsibility of ensuring that they are all told and in the best way possible.
Thank you to the Equal Writes team for a great evening. If you would like to find out more you can, here: