The role of Women in Theatre in Scotland was the topic of discussion for the marking of the 2014 International Women’s Day held at the Traverse. The panel was made up writer and director, Zinnie Harris; performing artist, Xana Marwick; actor and director Alison Peebles and designer Lisa Sangster. It was chaired by Nutshell Director, Kate Nelson who spoke of a feminine approach to the discussion, i.e. thinking about the art of doing rather than the politics.
But politics are unavoidable. It may be 2014, but it is still not possible to be complacent about women’s role in society, even in a section of society that should be more enlightened than some. In spite of the citations of women’s success from panel members and the remit of celebrating that success, the sense that was conveyed over the hour’s discussion involving the panel of female theatre professionals and a cross generation audience, many of whom are involved in the arts, was of continued struggle. It was a stark reminder that sexism can be deep dyed even within apparently enlightened males, reminiscent of the old feminist postcard depicting a bloke in a Fair Isle jumper and earring in his left ear with the thought bubble mantra “I must not think about suspenders. I must not think about suspenders.”
Issues like the lack of female roles available to drama students and whether gender equality is a better heading than feminism were raised when the floor was open to the audience. One person said ‘the canon [of dead men] was not bearing down on Scotland as it is in England’ but that may depend on the artistic director. Scotland’s own canon also needs to be addressed within this debate but it raised the question of the tension between staging new writing and the safe box office success of delivering well produced classics.
Zinnie Harris likened writing a play to shouting loudly, something not received well when done in a female voice. Her analogy of women in theatre being like the “forgotten little sister” raised the question of whether a female voice should be reined in to conform. Surely a brave and feminine approach, like the Catherine Deneuve character in the film, Potiche, is what is needed? It is not difficult to think of women who have risen to the top of their profession by adopting male mores and manners; creating fear and loathing in their wake. Shona Blakely Development Manager for Women's Fund for Scotland spoke passionately of her strong belief in the positive sorority of women – a difficult idea to disagree with.
This was a fairly short slot for such a large and important topic but it promises to be part of a conversation that will continue and go out across genders. While no formal conclusion was reached in this open forum, the obvious yet not always true ideal that theatre should reflect the world we live in so should be more feminine was advocated strongly. Part of the importance of such albeit esoteric forums is that we are reminded of the danger of complacency. Vigilance was alive and well in Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre on this International Women’s Day!
All participants donated their time and work to this event and monies raised from will go to Women's Fund for Scotland and Womankind Worldwide.