It’s still a strug­gle for women in the­atre, on­stage and off

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - KEVIN PROKOSH

AL­MOST ev­ery week it seems there is an­other mag­a­zine cover declar­ing that women are tak­ing over the world and leav­ing con­tem­po­rary men in their dust.

A bas­tion of male­dom that has yet to be over­run by the rise in ma­tri­archy is the­atre, where to­day fe­male play­wrights write as few as 30 per cent of the plays seen on our stages. Fewer than 17 per cent of all plays pro­duced in the United States are writ­ten by fe­males. Only 11 per cent of all plays pro­duced on Broad­way are penned by women. Those num­bers es­pe­cially ran­kle women in light of the fact that the typ­i­cal the­atre au­di­ence is 65-70 per cent fe­male.

Such dis­par­ity has given rise re­cently to a move­ment of sev­eral women’s groups de­mand­ing 50/50 by 2020. They are or­ga­niz­ing speak­outs south of the bor­der about the con­tin­ued and un­ac­cept­able ex­clu­sion of women from the main stages of global the­atre.

In Canada, or­ga­niz­ers of events like FemFest rarely have to field ques­tions about their rai­son d’etre.

“I would love noth­ing more than for FemFest not to be needed any­more, but it is,” says Hope McIn­tyre, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Sarasvàti Pro­duc­tions which pro­duces the an­nual show­case cel­e­brat­ing its 10th an­niver­sary this year.

“When you look at the whole coun­try, we’re ob­vi­ously not where we’d like to be,” she says dur­ing an in­ter­view this week. “For us, it’s about mak­ing sure women play­wrights have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties, 50/50 would mean they have at least half a chance.”

And it’s not just fe­male play­wrights suf­fer­ing gen­der in­equal­ity. If there were more fe­male drama­tists telling their sto­ries on­stage, there would be more fe­male char­ac­ters and more ac­tresses needed to play them.

“A higher per­cent­age of the­atre students are fe­male, but it doesn’t trans­late into em­ploy­ment af­ter school,” says McIn­tyre, who teaches at Opens to­day, to Sept. 22 Asper Cen­tre for The­atre and Film Tick­ets: $10 for sin­gle shows at or at the door the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg. “They are be­ing trained, but they are grad­u­at­ing and find­ing there aren’t enough roles for them.”

FemFest is a case of women do­ing it for them­selves with 65 fe­male the­atre artists work­ing this week.

There is rea­son for McIn­tyre to be op­ti­mistic, as all the new plays in pro­fes­sional Win­nipeg the­atre this sea­son are writ­ten by women. The Brink, by Win­nipeg­ger Ellen Peter­son, opens the Prairie The­atre Ex­change sea­son, which also in­cludes the pre­mière of This Is War by Toronto’s Han­nah Moscov­itch. An­other Toron­to­nian, Niki Lan­dau, is pen­ning the script of the highly an­tic­i­pated new ver­sion of Gone With the Wind at the Royal Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre, while Rewrit­ten, by Win­nipeg’s Alix Sobler, closes the WJT sea­son.

FemFest de­buts two new ti­tles: Empty by McIn­tyre and Im­mi­gra­tion Sto­ries, which was cre­ated in part­ner­ship with the Im­mi­grant Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­i­toba. Empty — which will be pre­sented Fri­day at 7 p.m. and next Satur­day at 2 p.m. — fo­cuses on food banks and the wide range of peo­ple who use them. Im­mi­gra­tion Sto­ries — Thurs­day and Satur­day at 7 p.m. — looks at the hopes, dreams and tri­als of new­com­ers to Canada.

One of the new fea­tures this year is called Bake-Off, in which five lo­cal play­wrights have been given iden­ti­cal in­gre­di­ents and two weeks to whip up a play. The re­sults will be read Mon­day at 7 p.m. Mar­cia John­son, Muriel Hogue, Jessy Ardern, Tyler White and Han­nah Foul­ger cooked up their scripts, which had to in­volve an ice rink, a cake, a sur­prise visit and a slap. The win­ner, as judged by au­di­ence votes, will be slot­ted into FemFest 2013.

“It’s about in­spir­ing new work by women,” says McIn­tyre. “We are giv- ing them the in­spi­ra­tion and the dead­line. It forces them to do the writ­ing.”

FemFest is also host­ing three tour­ing pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing Sono­fabitch Stew: The Drunken Life of Calamity Jane, pre­sented by Van­cou­ver’s Shame­less Hussy Pro­duc­tions. It tells the story of a gen­der stud­ies pro­fes­sor who takes on the per­son­al­ity of a whip­wield­ing Calamity Jane.

Also com­ing from Van­cou­ver is Women in Fish, a mul­ti­me­dia per­for­mance that weaves the tragedy of fish­ing boat lost in a storm with the dev­as­ta­tion of the global fish­ing in­dus­try. My Preg­nant Brother by Montreal’s Joanna Nut­ter is the true story of her younger sis­ter, who was is the midst of a gen­der change when she be­came preg­nant.

In hon­our of its 10th an­niver­sary, FemFest is bring­ing in lead­ing Cana­dian play­wright Ju­dith Thomp­son, a two-time win­ner of the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Award for drama for a read­ing at 5 p.m. Wed­nes­day.

“I wanted some­one who could come and share her suc­cesses and tell us how she be­came one of the great Cana­dian play­wrights,” McIn­tyre says. “For me, the first per­son that came to mind was Ju­dith Thomp­son.”

Daune Camp­bell as Calamity Jane.

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