by Leah Siegel
I once had an acting instructor who, whenever he got frustrated with the work of my male classmates, would go off on them about the privileges of their gender.
“Women have to work 10 times harder while competing for less work,” he’d say. “In a typical play, there will probably be two female roles – and one of them will be a maid.”
Things have been changing, though. From Daisy Ridley’s Rey in Star Wars to the all-female crew of Annihilation, it’s not uncommon to see a female action star grace the big screen. The sexual harassment scandals which rocked cultural institutions from Hollywood to Broadway over the past year have further sparked important conversations on power and gender in the entertainment industry.
Enter stage left the Femme Series at The Cultch: a month dedicated to the work of female and female-identifying artists. Executive Director Heather Redfern launched the series a couple years back. “It’s allowed me to be very forthright about including work that has some pretty good, hard-hitting feminist content,” she says.
Last year the series was just starting up again as the Canadian theatre world had its own #MeToo moment, when a co-founder of prominent Toronto theatre Soulpepper was accused of sexual harassment. “One of the most successful events of the series [last year] was just an opportunity where we invited women and men, whoever wanted to come from the arts community, to a cocktail party, and to talk to each other,” Redfern recalls. “Something that simple — just inviting people in to have a conversation — was really empowering for all of us.”
And that combination of empowerment and creating connections within a community is ultimately what Redfern hopes for with the series. “I want people to come away feeling more empathetic, powerful and strong — like they’re part of something, like they’re not alone,” she says.
The series starts with a musical group from Ukraine with international influences. “They sing in several different languages, but they’re really rooted in very traditional Ukrainian music, as well,” Redfern says. “It’s like the accordion meets Pussy Riot. It’s very political.”
Later in January comes a cross between a karaoke session and what Redfern describes as “basically a feminist rant.” Don’t let that intimidate you, though. “I saw Power Ballad in Edinburgh in the summer of 2017, and at first I thought, ‘I’m not going to like this,’” Redfern says, “and by the end I was in tears; I was singing along. It’s a perfect example of why the Femme Series is important, because it’s short, it’s not really a full-length piece, but my god is it ever powerful, and strong, and sexy.” Before attending, study up on your Blondie, Redfern advises.
Much Ado About Nothing
The series officially concludes with a comedy by Shakespeare — with a twist. Much Ado is pleasant little romp in the countryside in which most characters have both the maturity and the hormone levels of your average middle schooler. No tragedy à la Othello or Romeo and Juliet here — but a classic nonetheless. In a reversal of what would have been the norm in Shakespeare’s time, female actors will be playing all the roles in this take by Classic Chic (the first local company to be included in the Femme Series).
During the span of the series, The Cultch will host a number of other related events. Highlights include feminist karaoke with Julia Croft of Power Ballad on January 25, and a performance by Hawaiian singer and hula dancer Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole on January 27. Details can be found at thecultch.com.
The Femme Series runs from January 15-February 16 at the Cultch.feminism, femme series, local, The Cultch, theatre