Girls Gone Wilde Festival host lively discussion about problems and solutions

History, business and plain old outdated sexism are all potential reasons why women in the theatre are still facing inequities in the field. But many Calgary actors, playwrights and directors say none of these are excuses.

Jaqueline Russell, artistic director at Calgary’s Urban Curvz Theatre says while it’s not hard to find women working in the arts, significant problems persist.

“Women in the arts tend to work on the fringes or for less money than men.”

Last month, Russell’s theatre company hosted the Calgary festival, Girls Gone Wilde, dedicated to getting more women into theatre and attracting bigger audiences to work being done by women.

“The main concern for me is that there is a lack of female representation in the stories we see,” explains Russell. “Be it in movies, television, film, all of our pop culture, I mean it’s getting slowly better in small incremental steps but in theatre particularly we don’t see a lot of roles for women that are engaging and complex.”

A 2006 report produced by the Playwrights Guild of Canada illustrates concerns voiced by Russell and many others who spoke at a panel at the Calgary festival. The report, headed by theatre practitioner, academic, and arts administrator Rebecca Burton, showed that between the year 2000 and 2005, women comprised 33 per cent of the nation’s artistic directors, 34 per cent of the directors, and 28 per cent of the produced playwrights.

Russell’s company, Urban Curvz Theatre, is just one of many small companies trying to dissolve gender inequity. Another company is Ellipsis Tree Collective, or ETC, run by actor and director Janelle Cooper.

Cooper says she is working hard to create more opportunities not only for women, but also for minorities.

“I was workshopping a play with Urban Curvz theatre and three of the actors in the play were black females and we talked tirelessly during our time together about how there weren’t enough opportunities in the city for us,” Cooper explains.Members of the Women in Theatre panel listen intently as Nicky Loach speaks from the heart on issues of theatre equity at Urban Curvz Theatre in Calgary, March 21, 2015.

Photo by Ato Baako

Cooper says that after six years of extremely hard work, she is achieving what she set out to do with her company — bringing diversity to the stage.

“ETC is not some award-winning performance collective,” says Cooper. “You know, ETC really was born out of that deficit and out of the need to provide opportunities for artists like ourselves and to foster and nurture that artistry so that we could start to build a community of artists that are recognized and that are respected for their craft and for that tireless work and energy that goes into this business.”

On a larger scale, initiatives such as 50/50 by 2020 by the League of Professional Theatre Women are also pushing to achieve parity for women in theatre. However, with 2020 only five years away, some professionals at the Girls Gone Wilde Festival in Calgary remain skeptical.

Actor, director and playwright Karen Hines says that equity by 2020 is not going to happen, however she does not dispute that change in the industry is occurring.

“50/50 by 2020? I don’t think so,” says Hines. “Maybe we could say 50/50 in 20, just 20.”

Hines’ 20-year estimate may not be far off. As playwright Eugene Stickland suggests, theatre is an extremely slow moving industry.

“It moves like a glacier,” laughs Stickland. “Compared to the music industry, which just moves like a rocket. I would think after opera it’s the slowest moving art form.”

So what is the answer? Nobody really seems sure. But one thing that artists at last month’s gathering seem to agree on is the importance of having an open dialogue about what’s going on.

“We’ve been taught to see our bodies as ‘a man is as good as his word, a woman is a sum of her parts.’ — That’s just culturally, historically, how we’ve come to understand things,” says actor, director and instructor Val Planche of A Speak Effect.

“So I think the question for women is how do we find the voice, how do we unite our parts, take responsibility for our parts and start to allow each other’s voices to be heard without fear?”

msutton@cjournal.ca

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To contact the editors responsible for this story; Bre Brezinski at bbrezinski@cjournal.ca; Evan Manconi at emanconi@cjournal.ca 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Girls Gone Wilde. The Calgary Journal regrets the error.