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Short works festival explores feminist voices

by The Concordian March 17, 2015
Short works festival explores feminist voices

Concordia-organized festival tackles tough topics and gives back to the community

By Kirsten Humbert, Staff Writer

What’s the difference between a feminist theatre festival and a theatre festival? It isn’t in the acting, the quality of the storytelling, or the passion of the people involved. The only difference is that a feminist theatre festival gives a voice to those who do not normally have one.

For several years, the Concordia theatre department has been producing The Vagina Monologues. Emily Schon, now a fourth year student in the Concordia theatre department, participated as an actor three years ago and went on to direct the production for the following two. This year however, they wanted to do something different.

Short works festival explores feminist voices. Photo by Keith Race.

Short works festival explores feminist voices. Photo by Keith Race.

“The Vagina Monologues is this monolith of feminism, but it leaves a lot of people out. We talked about what we could do to reach a wider audience,” Schon explained. “There is a system that privileges cisgendered, white, heteronormative, able-bodied men. How do we privilege [other] voices and hear their stories in a way that is useful and gives value to the experiences of these people?”

The program for the festival came with a trigger warning, and a promise of dealing with themes likes transphobia, homophobia, abuse, stereotypes, drug use, and sex work.

In all, the Short Works Feminist Theatre festival was an exceptional effort by all the writers, production team, and the actors. It was a welcome change from the usual Vagina Monologues, giving those in attendance pause to consider realities far removed from their own. Bravo!

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By Rebecca Stacey, Contributor

Eat/Fast (by Michelle Soicher) centres around a young Jewish woman, Yael (Caite Clark), and her Bubbie (Judy Kenigsberg) while they ready for the breaking of the Yom Kippur fast. While the two women help each other prepare the evening’s dinner, Yael explains to her Bubbie that she is bisexual, and it swiftly becomes clear that Yael really wants help preparing for something else: to tell the rest of her family about her sexuality.

Building on the imagery of two women who starve in the interest of tradition while they are surrounded by the food, this play comments on the importance of inherited tradition, culture, and family support, presenting them as equally meaningful in the construction of both personal identity and sexuality. As Yael explains, she is “who she loves,” but that does not change who she has always been.

Following her Bubbie’s advice, Yael decides that now may not be the time to tell the rest of her family. Even though Bubbie’s insistence on silence comes from a place of understanding as opposed to prejudice, she still essentially asks her granddaughter to hide who she is, to “starve” even while she is surrounded by a feast of love and knowledge of who she is and means to be.

In The Scar Tissue (by Ché Baines) is an introspective piece that focuses on enduring the struggles of gender identity. With a very minimalist set, this play uses its extraordinarily powerful cast to tell the story of a transgender teen forced onto the street by an abusive family. This play reinforces that while escapism can be a means of survival, the key to happiness is self-acceptance.

Alone and plagued by rejection, Erik (Ella Storey) falls into drug use as a way of avoiding the memories that threaten to consume her. In the midst of drug-fueled dreams, Erik finds hope in a woman named Emily (Ashia Fredeen) who pleads with Erik to fight for a fulfilled life, and explains that for Erik to find happiness she must recognize Emily’s existence.

Erik then realizes that she and Emily are the same person, and she makes the decision to let Emily live and lead the way to their future. But the struggle does not end when Erik becomes Emily, and the writer highlights the importance of both Erik and Emily’s experiences. Emily needs Erik’s strength just as much as Erik needed to accept Emily. Alone, they could only survive. But together, with the wealth of both of their experiences and memories, they can truly live.

At the Hands of Our Neighbours (by Aly Slominski) starts the show off with a bang. This high-energy satirical piece about women’s liberation and the rise of feminism is filled with clever allegories and charming characters.

Set during the Cold War, Honey (Cleopatra Boudreau) and Dear (Gabriel Schultz) are a couple living a typical, albeit artificial, married life full of superficial concerns and an adherence to traditional roles. He brings home flowers for her after work; she tends the garden and frets about what her neighbours might think. But when a bomb goes off, and the pair face the reality that they may be the only two people left alive, they must confront the lies they are living.

Dear confesses his homosexual relationship with their neighbour, George. Honey accepts this in stride and admits her asexuality before she leaves Dear, stripping off her dress and duties to head off in search of what she wants.

There is more at work here than just the dissolution of an unhappy marriage. While the bomb represents the onset of feminism, the characters’ reactions are symbolic of both the freedom that feminism affords women and the stagnation of men who resist social change. While Honey seeks out possible survivors, Dear stays exactly where he is, clinging to his idea that, if he follows the rules and does everything “right,” there is no need to adjust, even in the face of earth-shattering change.

All of these plays are captivating modern examples of feminist intersections with culture, gender, and sexual identity. They are all perfect examples of how important it is to give opportunities and support to new feminists and new stories. This festival has very much sparked a revolution and will hopefully begin a tradition to continue for many years to come.

The festival ran at Cafe Cleopatra and the Georges-Vanier Cultural Centre from March 13-15. Stay tuned to find out what Revolution They Wrote has lined up for their next short works festival.

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