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Brian Logan: ‘If you like fairness you can be a feminist’

Lucy Jane Parkinson in Joan Lucy Jane Parkinson in Joan
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I’ve just left the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where Camden People’s Theatre associate artist Sh!t Theatre scored a hit with its comic tour d’horizon of contemporary feminism, Women’s Hour. It was commissioned by Camden People’s Theatre, and begins with a recording of my voice: “Hi, I’m Brian Logan,” the audience hears. “I’m the artistic director of Camden People’s Theatre. I commissioned Sh!t Theatre to write an hour about women for my festival of feminism, Calm Down Dear. My festival. I own it. Alright girls, you’ve got an hour. Off you go.”

The Sh!ts, Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit, thought it would a be a wheeze to kickstart their show with this, and of course they’re right. What could be dafter than feminist theatre commissioned by a man, for a feminist festival curated by a man? And yet, the third edition of that festival is about to be unleashed, and it complicates the idea that feminism is the domain of one gender alone more than ever before.

We’ve always sought to ensure that Calm Down Dear isn’t women only – in the inaugural CDD in 2013, the likes of Chris Goode and the Scottish playwright and performer Alan Bissett starred. But this year, we received more submissions from male artists than ever before, some exploring masculinity, some exploring feminism. In our 2015 lineup, Frode Gjerlow and Jonathan Wakeham are two of three co-creators of Filmland, Crank Theatre’s alternative history of cinema; Nick Blackburn collaborates with Sarah Chew on Lilac Wine, a drag show about the 2010 Green Uprising in Tehran; and Myriddin Wannell is on the team behind Emma Frankland’s Rituals for Change.

But while we’ve got some brilliant work by male artists, there’s still a need for more theatre exploring gender identity from the cis male perspective. It feels strange to call for more male voices in an industry dominated by men. But gender inequality is about the interaction between genders, and until we have a more nuanced understanding of masculinity as well as femininity, an equal society will remain a pipe dream.

Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole in Women’s Hour
Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole in Women’s Hour

It’s a point neatly demonstrated by our headline show, Louise Orwin’s A Girl and A Gun, which puts men firmly centre stage. Our first CDD festival, two years ago, was built around Louise’s extraordinary debut Pretty Ugly, which delved into the activities of teenage girls on social media. In its follow-up, Orwin interrogates the objectification of women in the cinema. And she’s doing so by inviting a different male performer on stage with her at each gig. The thing is, it’s not only women who are harmed and infantilised by the process of objectification. It’s men too. Part of the excitement of watching Louise’s new show comes from seeing a guest performer have to adjust his maleness to the 2D version of femininity with which Louise confronts him.

Elsewhere in the festival, we’ve got a piece by Phil Stanier as part of our scratch night, The Big Bang. The Conversations asks ‘who taught us about the relationship between men and women, and how does a father explain feminism to his children? What is the role of a father in feminism?’. This one is dear to my heart, because I, like Phil, am dad to an infant daughter (as well as a baby boy), forever inserting my own commentary into fairytales as I try (and fail) to gloss their disastrous gender politics. Phil’s project makes clear – as if it needed explaining – that men are just as implicated as women in the fight for gender equality. Not only on behalf of our wives and mums, daughter and sisters, but selfishly too – because who wants to be an oppressor? No one requires me to be Palestinian to campaign for justice for Palestine. You don’t have to be a lab rat to oppose vivisection. Anyone who likes fairness can be a feminist.

Of course, this is happening far beyond CPT: in the three years our Calm Down Dear festival has been running, it’s been fascinating to watch fourth-wave feminism impact on the broader theatre landscape. And we’re not alone in identifying that masculinity, with or without the word ‘crisis’ attached, is an urgent topic for the arts to address.

Ira Brand in Break Yourself,
Ira Brand in Break Yourself,

Witness Chris Goode’s Men in the Cities, a disturbing and powerful look at masculinity in crisis in the modern city, or Gary Owen’s Violence and Son, which explores how macho culture gets passed down through the generations. See also Peter McMaster’s all-male Wuthering Heights, the one-on-one Joe Wild Sex Tapes… it’s a lengthening list.

Alongside this engagement with masculinity, artists we work with are concerned with breaking down the walls between genders. In CDD 2015, Emma Frankland, one of CPT’s best-loved artists over many years, presents Rituals for Change, “a series of rituals created to explore a gender transition and the fluid notion of change”. Eilidh MacAskill offers up Stud, “a new performance about penis envy, masculinity, horses and DIY”, which – according to one early reviewer – throws psychoanalysis and misogyny into sharp relief. With Joan, Derby Theatre and Milk Presents retell the Joan of Arc story, zeroing in on questions of gender and starring the 2014 Drag Idol champ Louis Cyfer (aka Lucy Jane Parkinson) in the title role. It’s clear that something’s happening – that a generation of artists feel ill-served by dogmatic conceptions of gender, and that feminism is an exciting context in which alternatives might be explored.

But are these projects feminist? It’s legitimate to ask. Is feminism the demand that women be considered and treated as equal to men in all walks of life? Or is it the fight for gender equality, no matter what the gender? The latter definition covers these projects, which imagine themselves beyond binary male/female thinking. But we’re excited to host that conversation under our feminist festival banner. Whatever your angle, these projects are animated by an opposition to sexism against all genders, and concern for social justice. And they make for electrifying theatre, a persuasive argument in itself.

What emerges clearly from this diverse range of work is that no gender – neither cis male nor cis female, not trans woman or trans man – is well served by sexism, and all have a role to play in pulling it apart and dreaming up better futures. We at CPT are thrilled that that’s already happening under the auspices of Calm Down Dear, while expecting that, yes, more male artists are going to be knocking on our door in future, wanting to make their voices heard in the feminist conversation. Good. I’m happy to represent the patriarchy at the start of Sh!t Theatre’s show. But the sooner it’s accepted – and expected – that people of all genders will be found fighting the feminist fight (and making theatre about it), the better for all of us.

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