Theatre maker, Louise Wilcox, discusses the challenges of making feminist theatre and debunking internalised sexist beliefs about theatre making.
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So making art is hard! Especially when you’re in it. And I don’t mean that romantic sort of hard where self-medicating and mental health problems are glamourised. It’s just hard, the self doubt is real! In my desire to create a truly feminist space for Crimson Wave – Craft The Resistance, I was confronted with how I was unwittingly bringing a patriarchal understanding of theatre and power into my work. This went even deeper with the realisation that I had also been applying those values to myself, and as a result defining my worth as an artist, and woman, by those standards.
Theatre, (especially physical theatre) has typically valued ‘masculine’ displays of strength and power. Bold, sweaty, physically powerful and virtuosic, skill and prowess which sets you apart from the mere mortals of the audience. We reward artists that are confident, uncompromising and selfish, because that’s our societal understanding of ‘genius’. They’re someone who treats people like crap but we forgive them because, you know, art. Traditionally there is no room for self doubt, consideration or compromise for the sake of the welfare of yourself or others. This understanding of art and it’s process is inherently patriarchal, and as such although society says ‘this is how we make art’, it is also by that same token only acceptable for male artists to behave that way. The same behaviour by female artists in particular has been deemed shocking.
Although I have been (vocally!) against this societal trope, I was unaware of how I had internalised it. There was a part of me that thought if I wasn’t displaying these traits as a performer and maker, making things that were extreme in that particular way, that anything I was producing just wasn’t good enough, it had no value artistic or otherwise. During my explorations for Crimson Wave, I realised I had been devaluing ‘feminine’ impulses in myself – I was pushing forward and overemphasising power, physical strength etc., in an effort to be what I thought was good enough, to be daring in a very particular and traditionally masculine way. This meant dulling my caring, generous, softer, smaller, more ‘feminine’ impulses. Of course this is in no way to say that men and non-binary people aren’t also all of those things, but rather that these traits are assigned a (binary) gender by society.
It’s not even necessarily about the decisions you make, but rather how you make them. I’m trying to discover what it means for me to make with care and softness, and radical kindness, to myself as well as to others and to the work. Honouring impulses that come from a different place, a place less loved and respected by society, and by myself.
But can you ever truly emancipate yourself from power structures that have been instilled in you since birth? Especially while you still live within them? Crimson Wave – Craft The Resistance is my attempt.