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D&D 11: What are we going to do about theatre & the performing arts?

Feminist criticism / reviews of theatre and performing arts - is it useful? - What would you contribute?

Wendy Thomson - 11 January 2016

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Those Who Took Part
Wendy Thomson - Female Arts magazine (called the session)
Laura Kressly - The Plays The Thing UK
Gina Smith - Female Arts
Katie Jackson
Paul Whitlock
Oluwatoyin Odonsi
Vivian Ezugha

We discussed what is a ‘feminist’ review and what is a ‘feminist’ show?

We had to define feminism, those attending agreed this to be (the pursuit of) gender equality.

Bechdel Testing Theatre in Reviews
Would it be helpful to include a Yes / No in reviews which stated if a performance passed the Bechdel test? (see @BechdelTheatre) Responses varied - some said it might be beneficial to the reader (as beneficial as a star rating) but because of the flaws with the Bechdel test (which was created for films) one-women shows for example would always fail the test.*

So it was agreed that it would not be helpful for a review to rate ‘How feminist was the show’? Also a review should not feminist shame.

Critics recording gender split / ethnicity split in productions
Laura Kressly talked about her experiences as a reviewer (Everything Theatre, Remote Goat) and as a critic for her own performing arts review platform ‘The Plays The Thing UK’ she had started to record the gender split of the cast in shows and also the ethnicity split. We discussed if it was possible to implement this at Female Arts.com and the disadvantages which include the difficulty to record this data about the creative team, who are equally relevant to a production.

Who are feminists?
Vivian Ezugha asked if feminist reviews should and can involve men as well as women? (consensus was yes) and we discussed feminist criticism from third world countries, and not just female perspective, we discussed ‘female’ and the fluidty of gender and trans.

Subconscious prejudice in critics
Oluwatoyin Odonsi asked if reviewers consciously try to strip out their prejudices when they review? There can be and there is class, race, lgbtq and regional bias in reviews / reviewers and there can be very different responses from critics to the same show - perhaps due to their experiences / backgrounds.

We discussed the importance of diversity in critics and if this is reflected in mainstream publications e.g. The Guardian (Lyn Gardner, Michael Billington).

Oluwatoyin asked if there is training for theatre critics - Female Arts have reviewer guidelines / manual and we may hold training workshops in future. Laura Kressly recommended the book ‘How to Write about Theatre’ by Mark Fisher and The Guardian's courses.

This D&D session was very helpful to us at Female Arts.com, the leading online publication for female artists and creatives. We are seeking more reviewers (from anywhere in the UK) and we're aiming to hold workshops / training on reviewing from a feminist perspective.

* EDIT: Bechdel Testing Theatre kindly gave some feedback after the report was published: Sorry to have missed this discussion! 1 woman shows pass if 2 female characters played/relayed by 1 actor… though personally I prefer 2 women on stage because a) to see a relationship alive & b) more parts for us! star rating is a good analogy for #BechdelTesting - an indicator, but you'd want to read the whole review.

I'd love to see more in-depth feminist analysis in theatre reviews but of course that's opinions, not data… in film #BechdelTest as a start point has put #feminism & #genderrepresentation higher up reviewers agenda … & made people notice (if not yet change) underrepresentation in terms of numbers, & related issues (pay!) let's aim for both intelligent feminist reviews/analysis/debate & a greater number of parts for #WomenOnStage

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COMMENTS: 1

Wendy Thomson

12 January 2016

Twitter conversation about feminist shaming:

holly robindaughter ‏@holbolrob fascinated by the idea of “feminist shaming” - can you elaborate?

Female Arts Magazine ‏@femalearts
When a reviewer has criticised a production or individual for not being feminist / feminist enough…particularly if a production or individual has promoted itself as being feminist.

holly robindaughter ‏@holbolrob
that's really interesting. I kind of see that as part of the job of feminist criticism & as someone who makes…theatre that I call & market as feminist, I would hope to be called out if my show failed in any way & I've often felt massively let down by shows who market as feminist but have poor race politics or shame women…For certain choices. & have always wanted to see that reflected in reviews.

Female Arts Magazine ‏@femalearts
It's our @femalearts policy to offer private feedback if a show ‘fails’ that we would call a 1 or 2 star review…
we would comment if a show shamed women. But we want to encourage gender equality (and every type of equality)… I don't think it's helpful to publish - “your feminism isn't good enough.” we give an overall opinion on a production.

holly robindaughter ‏@holbolrob
yeah the femalearts reviews I read are always great & engage with flaws well…I just would never considered rigorous feminist critique something to be avoided…& that's how the phrase “feminist shaming” read to me. Thanks for the explanation!

Female Arts Magazine ‏@femalearts
I don't think we avoid feminist critique, but we don't publish if a show is bad, that might be part of the reason why it failed.

holly robindaughter ‏@holbolrob
yeah, I'm not being specific to femalearts here - just wondering about the general application of not “feminist shaming”

Female Arts Magazine ‏@femalearts
Another example would be no platforming.

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