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Nastazja Somers: ‘Everyone blames the big guys but diversity has to start on the fringe’

After training as an actor, Nastazja Somers got tired of the lack of diverse roles for women. She tells Giverny Masso why she set up her own feminist theatre festival…

Tell me about HerStory: Feminist Theatre Festival…

HerStory is a festival of new writing that creates a platform for political discussion and gives a voice to women. If you are craving diversity and multidimensional roles for women in theatre, then HerStory is definitely the place to be. We have just finished our third edition of the festival, which has run every three months. We’ve had so many different applications, and this festival saw all-female companies, a one-woman show from a British-east Asian actor and more. It is very varied and there is something for everyone.

How did you come up with the idea for the festival?

It came to me while working as literary manager at Theatre N16. I was reading scripts and I thought: ‘I am not seeing many roles here for women.’ I then asked myself: ‘What if I make a call for feminist playwrights?’ and from there I thought: ‘What if I make a festival out of it?’ I never expected it to all take off as much as it did. We sell out every time we do it.

What is the issue in theatre surrounding roles for women?

I am trained as an actor and I found out there aren’t many roles out there for women. I want to move away from the way women are portrayed in mainstream media and theatre, and I think when we talk about women in theatre we need more good roles. When I have a chat with women and I ask: ‘What role do you want to play?’, they say Nora or Hedda Gabler. But I think: ‘These playwrights have been dead for a while.’ I don’t see many contemporary playwrights writing good roles for women.

How can the industry change?

I work mainly in the fringe, and in most of the conversations I have people blame the big guys at the top, but at the same time I don’t see many black or ethnic minority actresses or directors in the fringe, or foreign accents in the fringe. I think we have really got to assess the fringe, as every change starts in the grassroots. I work with so many frustrated women and I just thought: ‘enough is enough.’ I thought: ‘We are not going to have any more conversations – we are going to do something about it.’

CV: Nastazja Somers

Training: Court Theatre Training Company, 2013-15
First professional role: Alina in Torn Apart
Agent: None

HerStory: Feminist Theatre Festival runs at Theatre N16, London [1]