GUEST POST: What role does theatre have to play in the movement for gender equality?
Caitlin Skinner is Artistic Director and CEO of Stellar Quines, an intersectional feminist theatre company based in Scotland.
Stellar Quines create shows and provide opportunities and support for career development, both on stage and backstage, for creatives at all levels. They believe theatre is a force for change, for collaborating with others and building inclusive coalitions.They commission research and join forces with others to campaign for change, and take their work out into the community with projects that nurture creativity and invite action, all with the aim of achieving greater equality.
Find out more about Hack the Patriarchy and all their other work at www.stellarquines.co.uk.
What role does theatre have to play in the movement for gender equality?
In the middle of all that was 2020, Stellar Quines Theatre Company hosted an online version of a discussion event called Hack the Patriarchy. I set up these events as a freelancer in 2019to create spaces for people who work in the performing arts sector to have more meaningful conversations about gender inequality in Scottish theatre. As I watched the tiny squares multiply on my screen I was in awe of the power that was in the Zoom room. Surely if these people want change, we can make it happen?
There has been an unprecedented cry for change from many in the theatre industry in the last two years. There have been a lot of zoom rooms and twitter feeds holding the industry to account and looking at how the closing of theatres might give us the opportunity to come back better.
So I was keen to see how things might feel different when we launched a new series of Hack the Patriarchy events this year. We have done three so far, with another online event to go before our main all day event at the Edinburgh Fringe which will invite women and non-binary people from across the international performing arts community present in the city in August to look at how the patriarchy is effecting us and what action we can take.
And so far I can see, there has been a real change in the conversation. This time it feels like the industry is listening, it knows it needs to change to survive. That wasn’t the case when we had our first event back in 2019.
But there is a frustration and fatigue with the pace of change, with perceived tokenism and with the feeling that as long as the overall structures don’t change (hello capitalism, hello diminishing government subsidy for the arts) there’s not much that is going to get done. I’ve also heard people express a nervousness in coming to a discussion on feminism because they don’t feel up to date, that they might not have the ‘right’ opinion on an issue or use the ‘correct’ language.
I feel strongly that we can’t let this moment pass despite the frustration and fatigue and that we need to include everyone So, I am asking myself, what can we do about gender inequality in the performing arts but also what role does the performing arts have to play in the movement more broadly?
How do we make the industry more feminist?
A lot of structures in the industry remain pretty hierarchical with a lot of decision making power at the top and very little at the bottom. Working practices are often inflexible and there is an obsession with perfectionism and urgency. We need to let go of these to find better ways of working.
I feel like sometimes there is a bit of Scottish exceptionalism going on within the theatre industry. Scottish theatre didn’t really have its ‘MeToo moment’ until May 2021 when actor Kevin Guthrie was convicted of sexual assault. Thanks to the work of many activists and the brilliant podcast and advocacy group Persistent and Nasty, this conviction meant that Scottish theatre had to confront the fact that sexual harassment was an issue for us too.
Alongside our colleagues at Federation of Scottish Theatre and in response to conversations at Hack the Patriarchy, we are currently running an awareness campaign on sexual harassment in the industry. The campaign provides quick advice and resources to help everyone tackle this behaviour.
How do we amplify intersectional feminist voices?
Yes we need more women in plays, writing plays and directing plays but I am also interested in how the theatre that is on the stage can work towards change. Theatre programming often relies on telling familiar old stories in new ways but Scotland for years has has a real focus on new plays. As theatres reopen it's important not to fill programmes solely with familiar old titles that will get ‘bums on seats’ as we like to say but to make space for plays that allow us to host the conversations about the kind of society we want to be.
What is an intersectional feminist way of making theatre?
I like to think theatre as an art form was not patriarchal when it started and certainly there are and have been many incredible feminist theatre companies (Women’s Theatre Group, Monstrous Regiment, Clean Break, RashDash and more) that have reimagined theatre making processes for themselves. But I still find many feminist artists feel held back by an industry that wasn’t set up for them to succeed.
This summer we are launching a new fellowship programme which will allow practitioners to create their own artistic or career development project lead by their individual line of inquiry. I’m so excited to see the questions theatre practitioners are asking and how they might explore new ways of working.
What is an intersectional feminist way of presenting theatre?
But the biggest question we must be asking ourselves is what is an intersectional feminist approach to reaching audiences? We need a critical feminist eye on everything from show times, prices, facilities, location, access support, marketing and our expectations about who comes to theatre and the role it plays in the everyday lives of the population.
We need to be applying intersectional feminist ways of thinking throughout the industry and so I am inviting everyone to be a part of the conversation. To move collectively into the unknown, with courage and kindness and to seize the opportunities this moment in history has given us.