Just over a year ago WITS burst onto the scene in Sydney. I delivered this speech at the first forum. I am so proud of that event, and everything that has come out of the energy we raised in that room. I am so proud of the incredible team that now drives WITS – Lizzie Schebesta, Maryann Wright, Ildiko Susany, Matilda Ridgway, Michela Carattini, and Suzanne Pereira. We fight the good fight for a better industry for all. I am SO proud of Lizzie Schebesta in particular and the incredible leadership she showed as Artistic Director of the inaugural WITS Festival Fatale.
WITS First Think Tank at The Seymour Centre in The York Theatre.
I’m Erica Lovell, I’m one of your facilitators for this evening. Essentially, I’m your Tony Jones. So if it all goes to hell — it’s my head you’re after! Joining me are my co-organisers and facilitators of this meeting, Lizzie Schebesta, Clementine Mills, Maryann Wright, and Libby Munro.
I want to thank all of you for being here on what is, at least for theatre professionals, your weekend. I know a lot of you, and I know many of you will be thinking “well, don’t thank me! Of course I’m here! I’m a woman!” Well, yes, of course. But when you consider that we only got the vote in this country a hundred years ago, and we live in a society that still silences women with the stories it tells and the stories it doesn’t tell, it is astonishing that a group of 300 women can gather to talk about women’s rights without raising suspicion and conjuring images of witches around cauldrons, chanting “hubble, bubble, toil and trouble,” and messing things up for men. Well, mostly.
We have been asked many times why this meeting is for women only. For the most part, people understand and support the decision once we explain that we are not excluding men because we think they are all misogynists and woman-haters, nor because we are all misandrists and men haters, but because women are taught from a very young age to be silent, taught by the fictional stories we are told in books and television and theatre, and the cultural stories we watch playing out between the men and women in our lives, and because we are working in an industry fuelled by charm and amiability and friendship, because of these things, it is imperative that a forum about giving a voice to women actually gives a voice to WOMEN. Purely. Without interruption, without—as much as possible—that cultural pressure to be silent. Without the threat of professional retribution. And the threat is real – we have already had women contacting us with important and damning information but asking not to be named for fear of professional backlash.
There are media present today. Please know that they are all women, and all here to support you, and have all been asked to respect your anonymity if you choose to take the mic at any point tonight. If you are comfortable being named and quoted, please state that clearly before you speak.
We have a responsibility, as professional story-tellers, to tell stories that are complex, and beautiful, and helpful. The stories we tell men and women are the stories they well tell each other, and their children. If in 2015, we are still receiving casting briefs that say “She’s cute, but not hot. He doesn’t have to worry about his friends fantasising about her” — because a woman’s character is entirely defined by how much men want to have sex with her— then there is something wrong with the stories we are telling. If in 2015 we are seeing Sofy Be Fresh commercials telling us that a natural function of the female body, one which allows the production of life, is shameful, disgusting, and turns us into slovenly, unattractive, lunatics with poor personal hygiene, there is something drastically wrong with the stories we are telling.
As professional story-tellers, we are uniquely positioned to push for change. Because art doesn’t just mirror life, but life mirrors art.
We want you to know that if you’re feeling frustrated, angry, indignant—we honour that. Because it’s justified. There are less women on stage and screen than men: you are not imagining it. And if you’re struggling to find women writers and women directors in your season brochures and in the rolling credits, it’s because there’s not many there: you’re not imagining it. And YES – it is because sexism is systemic in our culture and in our industry. Do not allow the culture to gaslight you. Your perception on this one is CRYSTAL. CLEAR.
So if you want to rage, we understand.
Right now, however, we need to keep motivated, because ultimately, action is the only thing that breeds change. Also, we literally don’t have time — either tonight or culturally — to let ourselves be immobilised by our anger, however justified it is. And who here wants to prove our detractors who believed this would just be a bunch of witches and bitches having a whinge — or as I like to call it, a righteous vent—- but who wants to prove them right? I don’t. Let’s celebrate our vision for the future of women.