Times of political unrest have long been fertile ground for growing art and no times have been quite as rocky as these thanks to Donald Trump. As movements are being made across the world to silence dissenting voices, marginalised groups are becoming stronger through their unity and their need to be heard. London is already a hotbed for this kind of discourse with anti-Trump Marches and multiple debates on the public stage.
After the reintroduction of the Global Gagging Rule by Donald Trump at the beginning of 2017 Jessica Guise and Owen Findley wanted to provide a British artistic response to the President’s actions. The result was Untold Stories, a feminist, new writing, quasi-flash-mob-style, fundraising evening for two charities affected most by his decision – IPPF and Marie Stopes.
Writers include the award-winning Penelope Skinner and Offies nominated Jess Moore, plus actress Alice Eve. The company of actresses will include Tamara Lawrance, Gabby Wong (Rogue One) and Natalie Simpson, along with Eleanor Rhode and Lucy Jane Atkinson are on board as directors. The group of female playwrights will have a week to write a short piece each. At the end of that week, the team of actors and directors will rehearse and perform them in just one weekend.
We caught up with Owen co-founder of Untold Stories ahead of the one-off performance at RADA Studios on Sunday 29 April; to discuss intersectionality and theatre’s role in politics.
Tell us about the charities that the night is in aid of:
The night is for IPPF and Marie Stopes. These two were severely hit by Donald Trump's Global Gagging Order of last year, which withdrew US funding for anybody that 'promoted' abortion. Most charities dealing with family planning and female sexual and reproductive health deal with this issue. Marie Stopes, in particular, was hit by this as their focus is to provide support, counselling and treatment for couples who are considering abortion as an option. These charities are about the right to choose, for both parents, about when, where and how they have children.
What is it about this night that makes it feminist?
From my point of view, a feminist is someone who stands for the equality of the genders, for balance. It is very easy as a man, especially one who knows many clever, successful women, to think that being a woman is fine, that people listen to them and what they have to say – a "the women I know seem to be doing really well, and seem to be being treated as equals, so it’s clearly fine!" line of thought.
I think the events of the last few months – Weinstein, the TimesUp movement, #MeToo, the gender pay gap row etc. – have shown that is this is not the case. The voice of women is still quieter in the public sphere than that of men. Even the men who think we’re listening, we’re not. Not properly, I think. We need to turn down our own voices a bit. This night is about giving women a chance to start to redress the balance, to have their voices turned up to 11, and to tell the stories that they feel need to be told, whatever those are. Very simply, we are trying to redress the balance, to make sure that the female voice is just as heard as the male because at the moment it is not heard enough. That is what I think makes this night feminist.
What do you hope to achieve with the night?
Firstly, to raise as much money for these charities as possible but also to raise awareness of the work these charities do and the impact that the decisions made in the US have had. I also wanted to show how much feminine talent is out there. There’s heaps of it and it should be showed off more. I want a kick-ass evening of great theatre and I’m sure I’ll get it. In the long term it would be great to have UT as an annual event of female-focused theatre, an event where feminine practitioners can have a place to showcase and to practice their craft (in rather intense conditions!), and to keep a channel open for the female voice.
Does the lineup reflect recent ideas of intersectionality?
I wanted to have as representative a company as possible. It’s about everyone’s stories so I wanted the widest range of experiences and backgrounds and ethnicities that I could find. We could always have a more widespread field of backgrounds and if UT has a life beyond this year it would be great to be even more inclusive.
How do you think the theatre world has reacted to the recent changes to the political landscape?
This is where the inspiration for this evening came from. Last year I felt that there was an amazing outcry in the US acting scene over the actions of Trump but nothing here. I wanted to have a massive shout out of British theatrical political fury. But, when I started trying to put this event on, I realised that these things take a while to put together. I think that good steps are being taken. The recent evening at the Old Vic for the centenary of women’s suffrage was great, for example. But the movement is slow. The reasons for that I understand better now. You can have an idea to make a statement, to push things on, but it takes months for it to reach the public eye so it looks like a delayed reaction. There is a way to go, as with everywhere.
What role does theatre play in politics?
It can play a crucial role. It always has – see the staging of Richard II in Elizabethan times, to Brecht, to Angels in America. The stories we tell ourselves tell us things about ourselves, about what we regard as important. The way we can make a change is by telling ourselves different stories to make new things important. The theatre is one of the best places for that, as it’s live. It’s a very overplayed point but having something in the room with you can affect you more than seeing it on the screen. A gig is always better live than watching it on Youtube. It also allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes, live with that experience, and truly realise that things need to change. To make it political though it has to be accessible. It has to feel that it’s for everyone, like TV; that it is not just for the posh rich guys from West London and the tourists. There needs to be cheaper tickets, in general, but especially for young people so it becomes easy for them to go and to make it a thing that it becomes normal to go to.
The arts are the jester at court. They sit on the edge of the room, telling the world the truth of who they are and what’s going on. They are the mirror in which people can see themselves and when we can truly see ourselves we can change. That’s political, in my view.
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