Monday, 1 September 2014

Feminist Theatre in The Glasgow School XXIII (part1)

Pam Gems: 'I think the term 'feminist playwright is absolutely meaningless, because it implies polemic, and polemic is about changing things in a direct political way.'

Quoted in Goodman, Contemporary Feminist Theatres

The rise of 'feminist theatre' in Glasgow could be dated back to the first successes of Nic Green's Trilogy: a graduate of the RSC (then the RSAMD), Green developed the three hour long version over several years, incorporating community engagement, an idiosyncratic critique of Bloody Town Hall (a film in which a variety of feminist thinkers confront an increasingly defeated Norman Mailer) and an appeal to audiences to discover Herstory not History

Subsequent years have seen an influx of performers who explicitly identify as feminists, and make work that covers ground familiar from feminist writing ( Leyla Coll O'Reilly's What A Fanny, Jetson and Janssen's celebration of International Women's Day at Tramway and Nick Anderson's graduating piece which explored masculinity through a feminist lens). That many artists graduating from the RCS display an interest in feminism is unsurprising - Green has been a mentor on the course - and its emphasis on an individual creativity encourages engagement with a ideology that sees the personal as political.

Throw in various other apparently feminist productions - such as Dominic Hill's double bill of plays by Caryl Churchill (her very writing style has been described as a challenge to the patriarchal modes of theatre) and performers (Kate E, Deeming's current project is inspired by Virginia Woolf's dictum that an artist must have their own space) - and it seems easy to spot a feminist tradition in contemporary Glasgow performance.

Yet the picture is not that simple. Although Trilogy's impact is hard to overestimate, thanks to its incredible success and longevity, and Green's mentorship of  a subsequent generation of students, explicitly feminist theatre was being made in Glasgow before this year zero. Diane Torr, sometime member of live art supergroup Disband - other members included Barbara Kruger, Ingrid Sischy and Martha Wilson - has been furthering her work as a drag king since the turn of the millennium. 

The Edinburgh company Stella Quines had supported female writers, directors and performers from the 1990s, Alison Pebbles played Elizabeth in Communicado's Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1987), which Joyce MacMillan in The Scotsman described as having 'something more important to say... about womanhood and the nation': nearly twenty years later, she would team up with Deb Jones for a work-in-progress Cuff.

'Feminist theatre' has been in the Glasgow consciousness for a long time. The deeper challenge is whether lumping these diverse practitioners together does anything more than dilute the meaning of their individual works.

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