Now, it is probably known to most of you reading this that the Yorkshire girl has finally flown the nest across to Liverpool and, I’d like to add, has settled in rather nicely to the city life. Drama school is crazy busy but truly fantastic so I am fully ready and excited to see what the next three years living in this wonderful city will bring. But something you may not already know about me is that though my roots are firmly in Yorkshire soil, my family, on my mum’s side are actually Irish. My little Nanny Mary came all the way from Galway to Leeds when she was very young to make a life here in Yorkshire and being very fond of her and her many stories of beautiful Galway and the Aran Isles, I’ve always been intrigued and really quite proud of my Irish heritage.
So, as you can imagine, in my first week here at LIPA at my university fresher’s fair, I was not expecting to come across something that shed a little light on that in the shape of The Liverpool Irish Festival. As I made my way over to the stand, I was greeted by the wonderful Emma Smith, who I later found out was the director of the entire festival and she kindly told me a little more about it. The Liverpool Irish Festival began in 2003 and this year will be the 16th time it has returned to the city. This year the theme is ‘migration’ since it is estimated that a huge 50-75% of the Liverpool population has Irish heritage. The Irish community here in Liverpool is fantastically prominent and extremely welcoming. This much was made clear on the festival’s opening night event at the Liverpool Irish Centre last Thursday 18th October as each guest was welcomed with a healthy portion of Irish stew and a glass of Guinness. The evening was a wonderful celebration of music and poetry to set the tone nicely for what was to come in the following ten days.
But there was one concept and annual platform throughout the festival that caught my attention most of all upon meeting Emma and that was the theme of In:Visible Women. A collective focus throughout many of the festival’s events that explores women's stories and the issues women are still facing today and those they have faced historically, particularly in certain Irish communities. In:Visible Women is both an event and a trail through the #LIF2018 programme and the programme states that it is ‘embedded in to the very fabric of the festival.’ Having a huge interest in this area and with the feminist theme already prominent in my writing, I selected my volunteering events carefully to provide some insight into some of the areas I am most excited to learn more about. A full day out on Saturday 20th and a night at the cinema on Tuesday 23rd meant I got to see the following, fantastic events:
In:Visible Women 2018 Event, Central Library
When I arrived at Central Library on Saturday morning, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I made my way to the fourth floor and took a moment to take in the stunning views of the city from the roof, (if you live in Liverpool and haven't done that yet, what are you doing, get ON it) and then sat down for a truly inspiring and eclectic mix of women telling their stories or enlightening us on foundations and charities that they are part of ensure the safe and free expression of women in this country and around the world.
Introduced by Emma, the festival’s director, she told the room how the concept had come about. Inspired by her own experiences of victim blaming and the want to act and say better, she realised that previously throughout the festival, women were being ignored. But now, In:Visible Women ensures that a quarter if not a third of the festival’s programmes comes from women’s voices and underpins the issues that women have faced and are currently facing, which is really rather current given the recent political climate of #MeToo and successful #RepealTheEighth campaigns.
Then Jessica Ihejetoh took the lead and shared with us about the Women of the World Festival or WOW. WOW is both a global women’s festival and movement with inclusion at it’s very heart. Founded by Jude Kelly, the festivals happen throughout the globe to champion the message that ‘ART is for EVERYBODY’. They ‘believe in the power of women and girls’ and aim to ‘free constraints on men’ and with 2 million people involved worldwide and having held 56 festivals over 30 countries, their influence and message is ever growing.
Carrie Barrett and Leeanne O‘Donnell showcased two monologues from Carrie’s ‘Five Houses’, a series of monologues from five women’s stories from varying socioeconomic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Both are founding members of Moyross Community Drama. The pieces were natural and heartfelt, a charming interlude to the factual events and discussions of the morning. Both showed difficult, honest accounts of domestic violence and were well received by the audience.
Afrah Quissim was up next and introduced herself as a woman who is Arab, Irish, Scouse and proud of it. Afrah founded SAVERA UK, a charity that operates across the UK providing services to individuals from BME communities who are at risk of domestic or honour based abuse, female genital mutilation or forced marriage. The charity’s noble aim is to break the taboo around these issues and stop pretending that it doesn’t happen under our noses every single day and they believe that ‘cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable.’ Alfrah finished with a harrowing view that they actively try and abolish as some people believe ‘Blood is thicker than water’ but in many cases ‘honour is thicker than blood’ and that can have catastrophic consequences to individuals and cultures collectively.
The final speaker was Julie McNamara, creative force behind ‘Vital Xposure'. Both activist and artist focused on work driven by social justice, Julie shared her film ‘The Knitting Circle’ and how it had came about. Based on the testimonies of people who survived the asylums closed in the 1980s, The Knitting Circle is based on the stories of 73 storytellers who survived endless torture and abuse behind closed doors and how Julie was inspired to tell them by their resilience and ‘little moments of rebellion.’
I also was lucky enough to be able to get a ticket to the SOLD OUT Guilty Feminist Podcast, Liverpool Irish Festival Special at the Liverpool Playhouse but since I have A LOT to say about this one, I’ll got a whole other blog post coming your way about that.
An Evening of Theatre Downstairs at The Royal Court; ‘Baggage’ and ‘The Morning After the Life Before’
I was delighted to find the perfect end to my day at the festival with two plays downstairs at the Royal Court. The first being ‘Baggage’ written by Bev Clark and produced by ‘Hand in Hand Theatre’. This short introduces Sandra and Annie, two women with extremely different circumstances who find common place despite their differences. The well written piece is touching to behold and sheds light on the harsh reality of homelessness and how life can really kick you in the teeth sometimes and us who are lucky enough to have pettier troubles than where our next meal is coming from, should be extremely grateful for what we have. The friendship formed between the two women provides a warming conclusion whilst shedding light on some tougher issues.
The finale to the day was probably, for me, the highlight. I was truly inspired by Ann Blake’s honest and humorous ‘The Morning After the Life Before’. This extremely touching and personal account of falling in love, ‘coming out’ in a devout catholic Irish family, dealing with internalised homophobia and finally campaigning for marriage equality tells the story of Ann and celebrates the landmark historical moment when Ireland became the world’s first country to support same sex marriage by popular vote. Ann’s story presented by Ann herself and actor Lucia Smyth, displays a lifetime of dealing with comments about her ‘lifestyle choice’ followed by ‘no offence’ remarks and explains the shame that was so wrongly instilled in them to be ‘engaged in a country where they couldn't get married.’ I was really very moved to hear the anecdotes and personal accounts of the #HomeToVote phenomenon that resulted in such a necessary outcome for today’s equality. Ann’s use of storytelling was remarkable and compelling, using music, movement and even cake to win the audience’s hearts. What touched me most of all though was her confession that the development of the production actually began way back in 2015 to help the cause, where she proudly announced that this version clearly had a slightly different ending as she gestured to her now wife, Jenny on the front row. Incredibly touching and real, I was really inspired by Ann’s piece and was very glad to tell her so after the show! Definitely someone who’s work I will be following in the future.
IndieCork: New Irish Shorts from Women, Picture House at FACT
The final event I volunteered for was the selection of female led shorts from the IndieCork Film Festival 2018. Hosted by Mick Hannigan, director of the festival, he shared the new addition to this year’s festival; the award for emerging female Irish directors. The selection was eclectic, exploring a multitude of issues such as the housing crisis, child loss, the Irish language and those within the LGBTQ community. Though each of the films had brilliant qualities, the one that stood out most for me was ‘Cry Rosa’, a short directed by Imogen Murphy and centred around a brilliant and brave little girl of mixed race, Rosa (fantastically portrayed by young actress Grace Flemming), born to a white Irish single parent mother and the bullying struggles they face in 1980s Belfast. The selection celebrated what women bring to the festival and was greatly received by the audience and the beautiful venue of FACT was a treat.
Volunteering at the Liverpool Irish Festival has been a really wonderful experience and I feel one that will very beneficial to my time here. It’s easy at a place that is as fantastic as LIPA to get surrounded by the ‘LIPA bubble.’ But the tutors here are very encouraging that we get ourselves out in the city too and volunteering at festivals such as this that have such broad programmes are a great way of fulfilling that. I would absolutely recommend doing the festival to any university student, especially those at LIPA as the exploration of the arts throughout is quite superb.
So if you’re reading this and think ‘Well that’s absolutely something I would have liked to have a peruse at, YOU STILL CAN. The festival runs until the 28th October. I’ll attach the link to the website here. Stay tuned for my next post about for more about The Guilty Feminist podcast at the Liverpool Playhouse!