Hello and Happy International Women's Day Everyone!
I was lucky enough to be asked to celebrate in a very special way this year as I was asked to speak at an event titled 'Deeds Not Words' at the York Brewery to talk about my blog. I ended up writing a piece on my series 'Deeds Not Words; Women Who Inspire in the Arts and Politics' to read for the event and thought it might be nice to post it here so I have a record of it and can share it with a wider audience...
Hope you enjoy reading!
Deeds not Words!
'I am 19 years old.
I am an actor.
I am a writer.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am a friend.
I am a woman.
I am a feminist.
I am a feminist woman inspired by all the other feminist women around me that I am constantly lucky enough to be surrounded by and sometimes I even get to work with them. Which is pretty cool.
So I take inspiration from all around me, all the time.
But then, last year, I had an idea. What if I was more active in this taking-of-inspiration? What if I actually had the chance to sit down with some of these women, outside of a working environment, and ask them to share their experiences and views so that I could document and learn from them in the most hands on way possible? And then I thought let’s take it further, why not share them on a public platform so that other people can be inspired too?
This is when I came up with the idea of my blog series: ‘Deeds Not Words’; Women Who Inspire in the Arts and Politics’. The dual focus of the project deriving from the fact that women in both industries still face such a critical imbalance and with my interests having shifted to theatre with a strong political voice, it only seemed fitting to include both. The idea for this series was born in the midst of last year when I was heavily involved in a couple of productions focused on strong female characters, written by female writers with largely female production teams. I’d never been so consumed by any project before until both Blue Stockings and Everything is Possible came along in quick succession and inspired my interests more than I could have ever imagined.
First I played Maeve Sullivan in Blue Stockings, Jessica Swale’s piece that premiered at the Globe a couple of years back. I came across the auditions by chance and was purely looking for more acting experience. But what I found was a new cohort of people, unlike anything I’d ever worked with before. Blue Stockings depicts the first female students of Cambridge, back in the early 1900s when it was not allowed for women to graduate. It’s a fantastic play showcasing the women’s thirst for knowledge and desire to be educated despite the back lash they received from their male counter parts and the academic establishment. In the duration of rehearsing and performing this piece at the York Theatre Royal Studio last March, the run actually coincided with last year’s International Women’s day, which was cool, I found a community of people that were eager to tell stories, not just to perform. It was important as a piece of theatre. It carried an important message to an audience. Giving a voice to the Blue Stockings of the past who were deemed inadequate for higher education was a thrill but also seemed necessary. I wasn’t doing this to be on stage anymore, I was doing it because of my duty in representing the women who came before me and fought for my right to educate.
Then came ‘Everything is Possible; The York Suffragettes’.I had one line in this production and can honestly, hand on heart, say it is one of the best experiences I have ever had in theatre. It was just wonderful. Titled the community project, it wasn't hard to depict why. Every single member of that company were there for one reason. To tell this very IMPORTANT story, cast, crew, team. It was a glorious cohort and one that I very much appreciated. This time, we were representing the women who fought for our right to vote and being there in 1900s dress, wearing my Suffragette colours and appearing through the mist and sea of people outside of the minster was one of the most memorable moments of my life so far.
So really, I went looking for projects that would help me develop my acting away from musical theatre and through my involvement in these two projects not only did I achieve this, I discovered my own passion and understanding in why I wanted to make a career in theatre; to give people a voice. And with this project being heavily female orchestrated amidst the ‘Of Women Born’ Season at York Theatre Royal, I had no problem finding the women who would inspire my project and got to it straight away.
First was Barbara Marten. The leading lady of the community production. Our very own Annie Seymour Pearson. I met with Barbara in the theatre cafe during the run. This was my first experience of asking if someone, whom I greatly respected, wanted to be part of my own little project and I don’t think I’ll ever explain just how grateful I am that so many fantastic women have even took the time to reply to my emails, never mind been so lovely and accommodating. Since then I’ve taken interviews with several other creatives from that production such as Bridget Foreman, the fantastic writer behind the project, Sara Perks, the brilliant designer and have plans to meet with both the formidable directors Juliet Forster and Katie Posner. But it didn’t stop there. Quite soon after, I was part of a new company formed in Batley and Spen in honour of the late Jo Cox, curated by a west end production team. Here I met two of the most fantastically brilliant women I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Both Welsh, both wonderful were director Viv Buckley and movement director Julie Hobday,. In just a few short weeks, I struck up a relationship with these two life long friends that I hope will last a lifetime. They made me believe in myself and both have wonderful stories to tell, both being teachers as well as working in the industry, I didn’t hesitate to ask them both to be part of it! I have contacted some local individuals too such as York writer Hannah Davies who is writing her new piece ‘Maiden Speeches’, to be premiered in York and I opened the project with her interview back in November. Basically every opportunity I have, I find new women who inspire to interview and this is something I very much aim to continue with throughout my career.
I think one of my most important aims for this project is representation. After all that’s what we’re fighting for in both these industries so I want to make the project as diverse as possible, not just in terms of background but also in job title. So far I have interviewed teachers, actors, writers, directors and a choreographer. But I want to reach every angle I possibly can and represent as many women as I can so I want stage managers, lighting technicians, comedians, producers, artists, anyone who dares to tackle these crazy, unpredictable, ever-changing industries. I’ve even spoken to local MP Tracy Brabin who is hopefully soon to be involved but she’s very busy being remarkable, much of the time!
The first question I ask the ladies is ‘Which women across history inspire you and do you have any female icons/idols’ and I’ve had some cracking replies. Some standard, and highly understandable such as Margaret Atwood. Some lesser known such as Deborah Frances White, curator of the Guilty Feminist Podcast, one that I now regularly listen to! (Check it out) But all interesting because I think there’s something really special that I get to learn which women inspire the women who inspire me. Just I’m the lucky one who gets to interview them!
The final question I ask is ‘If you were a live a 100 years ago, do you reckon you’d be a Suffragette’?’ To which Sara Perks replied ‘Daft question! (To which i was slightly offended-till I read the rest) she said- l think I am one now - to me the word is just semantics. Until society is genuinely equal, where what biology you have between your legs bares no relation to how you are treated, then we all need to be Suffragettes, surely? The vote was simply the starting line.’
What’s interesting is how some of the answers have inspired my own career aims, Hannah Davies said ‘the things that I’ve done that I’ve been most proud of, or that I’ve got most enjoyment out of have been the things have come out a moment of ’Stuff it, I’ll do this then’, rather than waiting around for someone to give me a job. It’s the ones where you make it yourself or you’ve done stuff on a shoe string budget. Something ad-hock that ends up working and then normally leads to something else. Because usually those things always lead to something. So it’s always been the moments where I’ve gone ‘I’m not going to sit around and wait for that to happen or that phone to ring’, like you are with this, going out there and meeting people and making your own opportunities.’ This is a notion that was mirrored by a lot of the women I’ve interviewed and I am more than ever, inspired to create my own work. And I guess, in a way, like Hannah said, this project is my way of doing just that.
I think it’s so important to find what inspires you to be strong and surrounding yourself with people that make you realise that.
I was raised by a strong woman therefore I aspire to be one.
So I challenge you to think, when you leave here tonight, which women inspire you and how have you allowed them to influence your own life? And how do you intend to inspire others?
Happy International Women’s Day Everyone.
But I must finish by saying that those these ARE just my words, I intend very much on developing a career out of making them into deeds.