"I’ve been surrounded by inspiring women throughout my life": Happy International Women's Day
In celebration of International Women's Day and the inspiring women who are integral to The REP, two of our 2018 Furnace artists, Rachael Mainwaring and Manjeet Mann share what it means to be a woman in theatre today.
What women have inspired you?
RM: I've been surrounded by inspiring women throughout my life, from my wonderful mum to my four-year-old firecracker of a daughter. I often wonder what equality will look like for her generation. Career wise, women and theatre have been hugely influential and inspiring in the way they champion female artists and support women in the wider community. Working for them can be a life changing experience.
MM: I get inspired by a lot of women - those who make things happen, change their lives, create a difference, speak for others. The list is endless, but three women who are quite important to me are: Phoolan Devi, an illiterate Dalit woman sold to a group of bandits, who survived and became a member of Parliament fighting for equality for women and lower caste people in India; Sampat Pal Devi, a social activist who saves and empowers women after fleeing her own abusive marriage at 16; and Jayaben Desai, who led the strike at the Grunwick dispute in 1976, which led to major changes in the British Labour Movement. These women are my fuel, their stories keep me going.
What advice would you give to women aspiring to work in theatre?
RM: Go for it! Theatre used to be a very male dominated world but it is rapidly changing and women are represented far more widely, across all departments. The REP is a great example of this. I still feel there is a way to go before that equality extends to working mothers. Theatre is a notoriously difficult career to maintain once you have had children, but it doesn't have to be.
MM: Start creating your own work. Your voice is valid and as an individual no-one will tell a story like you. It's important to create a landscape which sees women empowering other women. Generosity like this can change the course of someone's career. At The REP there is one of the most generous women I have ever come across in theatre and that lady is Tessa Walker.
What impact can theatre have on women within the local community?
RM: I have been lucky enough to witness the startling impact theatre can have on the local community. I recently worked on a wonderful project with Women and Theatre called 'open doors'. Women from a local community group shared stories and experiences, from which writers created a short play, which the women themselves performed. It was life changing project for all involved and it was an empowering experience for them. Seeing their confidence grow was awesome as well the listening to the conversations it created amongst the audience who saw it.
MM: I was actually reading a study recently in the Journal of Social Work about women's community theatre. It explored how a community theatre project contributed considerably to the participants' empowerment, especially in terms of self-esteem, critical awareness, expression of inner voice and propensity to act. This kept me focused when starting my own community project, knowing why I'm doing it and who I'm doing it for.
Why is International Women's Day important to you?
RM: 2018 is an interesting year with the Centenary of Women's suffrage and the Time's Up movement sparking debate and conversations that will undoubtedly bring about change for women's rights. It is also important to me this year because I'm currently working on a community project with women in North Birmingham whose stories are so inspiring. Women are amazing and we should celebrate all of our achievements, which are so often unsung. If you've ever seen a women, replying to work emails, while cooking tea, listening to the day's adventures and still working through that eternal 'to do list', which encompasses several other people's needs, you'll agree they are fairly marvellous.
MM: For me it's a reminder that women must keep fighting. There is still much work to be done everywhere, and the time is now.