Four performers tackling feminist issues at the Fringe interview each other

This article is from 2018

Four performers tackling feminist issues at the Fringe interview each other

Queens of Sheba / Guy Sanders

We talk to Lee Minora, who talks to Amanda Kelleher, who has questions for Miranda Prag, who interviews Jessica Hagan

This year, there are a large number of works calling themselves feminist, and drawing attention to movements like #metoo. This would have been remarkable in 1973: in 2018, it stands out because of the abject failure of the broader theatre scene to engage consistently with female representation. Lee Minora's White Feminist wants to go further than a surface celebration.

You're asking for a broader interrogation of feminist theatre: can you tell me a bit about that?

Lee Minora: A broader interrogation of feminist theatre has to come from a broader interrogation of feminism itself. My show White Feminist is an exploration of … white feminists! White women, like me, find ourselves in dual roles as oppressor and oppressed. Navigating gender and privilege comes with heaps of juicy, complicated hypocrisy and failures that can be painfully funny and biting.

Do you think that theatre – especially at the Fringe – is an effective place for this conversation?

Lee: Hell yes! I'd grown so bored by the theatre of good intentions; theatre that seems to be congratulating liberals instead of challenging them. Why was I watching so many plays that were designed to educate MAGA hat-wearing, conservatives, who don't even go to theatre? I set out to make a piece that interrogated good intentions, that could flex and evolve with current events, and meets the people in the room where they are. So yes, it's a great place to have this conversation and get the piss taken out of you.

So: are you one of the good ones?

Lee: Ha! This is the question of the show, Gareth! But for me: Oh God, no. I think the 'good ones' are the self- satisfied, virtue-signalling ones, who believe they've figured out feminism. But I think being a good feminist or ally is like having good hygiene. You have to bathe all the time to be hygienic. You have to constantly be learning, and self-evaluating, and fucking-up, and looking at your mistakes, and then trying again so you can be better and better.

It's possible that this white male needs to take a backseat, for once. Amanda Kelleher's Coccinellidae has a soundscape collating women's voices: Lee Minora has a few questions to ask her.

Lee: Hi Amanda. I'm excited to have the chance to chat with you. Your show sounds really rad. I understand coccinellidea are a type of bug often called lady beetles. What made you choose that title?

Amanda Kelleher: I called it Coccinellidae (Ladybird in Latin) for two reasons. Being called a bird in Britain really annoys me – as does lady. Both terms for me signify appeasement and rules and being minimised. By co-opting the phrase and mispronouncing it (cock-in-a-lady) it was a tongue in cheek refusal to be the little lady, setting my stall from the get go. No more apologising!

Your show is asking what happens if we maximise women instead of shrinking them. 2018 has brought a feminist reckoning, with things like #metoo and Times Up, women are taking up more space than ever and it's incredible. Tell me how your show connects to what's happening in feminism right now?

Just like the first vote in Britain being for women of privilege, this up-turn in finding our voice is predominantly felt by the middle classes. I've interviewed lots of women and many don't feel maximised. The audio interviews are woven into the soundscape of the show. During all of this, I mainly throw myself round the stage, doing things that many women would never dream to do, like draw a face on my wobbly belly.

The show celebrates our innate power, our bigness, our taking space. We need some optimism now to create change and on a small level, that's what I hope the show will do.

Amanda Kelleher speaks to Miranda Prag, from This Is Just Who I Am, a critique of 'selfie culture'.

Amanda: I love the premise of your show. We all get so pulled into the falsity of the perfect projection of the selfie, how do you challenge this on stage?

Miranda Prag: I was thinking about the way we create these false identities for ourselves – the selves we want other people to see – and how these identities are essentially a 'performance' pretending to be authentic. And so that's what This Is Just Who I Am is – a performance pretending not to be a performance. I parody myself, or a person like me – a white, middle class woman in her twenties – and poke fun at all the tactics we employ in the hope of appearing intelligent, well-informed, feminist, cool, fun etc.

Why did you choose to explore identity?

The internet has given us the means to project our ideal selves in countless different ways, and 'selfie culture' is permeating society more and more, particularly among young people. We're constantly comparing ourselves to each other, and feeling inadequate. We've become wary of saying the wrong things, and so keen to be seen as the 'right' kind of person, that we've become caricatures of ourselves. So, I wanted to make a show that found the humour in that – in a person trying hard to be seen the right way but perhaps getting it a bit wrong every time, and all the contradictions and hypocrisies that throws up.

Miranda Prag takes the baton and chats to Jessica Hagan from Queens of Sheba, an expose of misogynoir, the prejudice against black women.

Miranda Prag: Firstly, the show sounds brilliant! Prejudice against black women is a big, urgent subject – why did you decide to approach it through the story of four women?

Jessica Hagan: Thank you! Addressing the subject through the story of these four women was actually Ryan Calais Cameron's idea. Ryan adapted a series of spoken word pieces I'd written for Queens of Sheba and created a storyline from them. I just wanted the story to be told by black women full stop. The most important thing was that the subject was addressed by the women who are directly affected.

What does the wider feminist landscape look like to you at the moment, and how does your show fit into it?

Good question. The feminism I was initially introduced to was, and still is, extremely white / Eurocentric. It's something I've struggled to fit into personally despite agreeing with a lot of the goals that feminism hopes to achieve (and is achieving). Going to Ghana, being around the matriarchs in my family and engaging with other black women who struggled to identify with the present day feminist movement revealed to me that the wider feminist landscape is completely different to the loud, white, privileged female voice that speaks over the rest of us.

Queens of Sheba reflects those voices; it's black women telling everyone else to be quiet and listen to us. No one telling us how to feel, what we should believe in or how we should 'empower' ourselves. We demand that all men and non-black and white women listen and learn as we address their prejudices and how they contribute towards the general mistreatment of black women. In short, it doesn't fit in because it doesn't need to.

White Feminist, Tollbooth Market, 4–25 Aug, 9.45pm, free.
Coccinellidae, theSpace @ North Bridge, 2–11 Aug, 11.35am, £5 (£3).
This Is Just Who I Am, Assembly Rooms, 4–25 Aug (not 20), 8.55pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8.50–£9.50). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £7.
Queens of Sheba, Underbelly Cowgate, 4–26 Aug, 6.50pm, £11 (£10). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £7.

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