Waking the Feminists NYC

Last week I had the privilege to participate in Waking the Feminists as it arrived in NYC from Dublin. This movement began when women protested at the Abbey Theatre about the lack of women playwrights being included in Ireland's centenary celebration, Waking the Nation.

Waking the Feminists literally galvanized a nation and now Lisa Tierney-Keogh has brought the project and its aims to the U.S. shores. She invited women to give testimonies. The evening was, in essence, a call for women across artistic disciplines to work together -- to lead, inspire and stand up for equality. The event made it clear that the issues in theatre are very similar to the issues in TV and film. We all need to join forces to solve these problems. 

You can find more information about the movement on Waking the Feminists' site.  

Here are excerpts from some of the powerful speeches that evening:

Lisa Tierney-Keogh - Playwright 

My vision for Waking The Feminists in New York is to get everyone talking and then bring every person, every movement, every organization demanding equality for women in theatre together and unite as one big force to create change.

I wrote my first play fifteen years ago. I’ve watched conversations about the lack of women playwrights surface again and again, and every time I’d think to myself, ‘no there isn’t!’ Over the years, I learned to suppress the pain of being overlooked and ignored, the pain of being constantly pushed back. My way of coping with this total and utter bollox was to put blinders on, rock back and forth and pretend it wasn’t happening. I convinced myself I wasn’t working hard enough, that there was obviously something wrong with me or my work wasn’t good enough. I kept hearing that my plays were “strong,” which to me became code for ‘we’re not going to produce this.’ I convinced myself I wasn’t a feminist because the patriarchy wasn’t the problem, I was. I had to do that to survive, to push away the ache, to keep working, to keep my strength in tact because if I stopped and let it in, let the obvious, blatant bias I was facing every damn day, I would not be able to cope. I would not be able to write. And that wasn’t an option. I watched my male contemporaries being produced and celebrated, as I kept plugging away, all the while trying to hush that quiet voice inside me that kept getting louder and louder saying "this is wrong."

The truth is the odds were stacked against me. Because I was born a girl, I had a less than 15% chance of actually getting my play on stage in my own country’s national theatre. That’s a real statistic.

There’s no going back now. There can be no more quiet. There can be no more hush. There can be no more shoving us into a corner labeled ‘reading series’ or ‘short plays,’ the programming equivalent of a snug, the tiny area in a bar where women were supposed to be. That’s your place, ladies. Off you go and sit in it.

Dianne Nora - Playwright

I began my graduate studies in playwriting at Trinity College, in Dublin, where a writing instructor told me early on that as a woman, if I wanted to get my work produced, I'd have to stop using profanity entirely. So, I wanted to start off tonight by saying fuck that. 

Censorship has no place in our rehearsal rooms, our classrooms, and least of all our theatres. 

I often return to a quotation from the queer theorist Eileen A. Joy, describing the need to discuss queerness, sex and even love, openly, particularly in academia. She writes, "There should be no limits whatsoever on what we can say to each other in rooms such as these and we should never want to stop talking like this.

To put that in my own words, it's time to cop the fuck on, or fuck the fuck off. 

Rachael Gilkey – Irish Arts Center

Lisa asked the speakers tonight to consider their own goals and vision for change for gender parity. For me, as a feminist from birth, as a lover of the arts, as a programmer, my biggest vision for our cultural sector is to remove the sense of Other from the underrepresented. When you can hold a panel on Irish writing and call it “Irish Playwrights” and on stage see an actual representation of Irish writing, equal representation of women and men, because the normative has become diverse, then we’ve achieved something. But for now, it is all too necessary to hold a second panel in response to the first, and call it Irish Women Playwrights. When we can take the Otherness out of how we talk about our art, we will have landed in a truly unique and never before seen era of cultural programming.

Emily Bergl - Actress

So why in this day and age are many of these female playwrights still considered “emerging?” Why in this day and age is it still so, that by and large male criticism is the only critical voice we hear, and the only voice that is directly linked to Box Office profits? I keep reading pieces in Times about the lack of female playwrights being produced in NY, the lack of women’s roles. I keep reading interesting profiles on the women playwrights that are being produced, albeit not enough. Why, then, are the female journalists at the Times only assigned to review off Broadway works, or off off Broadway works, or Fringe Fesitvals or productions in Bushwick? If we want to see change in the theatre, let’s not just look to who’s producing the plays, let’s look to who’s telling us what we should see.

Ludovica Villar-Hauser - Director, Works by Women

With women being more than 50% of the population and buying about 70% of theatre tickets, we' re the ones who have the power to change things. If each of us were to pick ONE initiative, ONE action AND commit to putting our money to projects (plays, musicals, film, books, etc.) where women are represented by at least 50%, we would achieve parity once and for all.