Heroines sprung from Morna Young’s desire to get into a room with fellow writer-performers Belle Jones and Julia Taudevin to explore the concept of a ‘strong woman’. The Strong Women we audition for and play. The Strong Women we are expected to write. And the women that we write regardless of being strong or otherwise. The stories that are told and sung about strong women. Our autobiographical experiences of being self-starting, multi-hatted, often described as strong (or difficult) women in an industry still dominated by the voice of the straight white middle class man. Developed through short development blocks over the last year or so Stellar Quines through their Projects strand are supporting Heriones to find it’s form and energy to move into performance. With this support, we spent a day together at Glasgow’s Women’s Library (GWL).
Julia: Working on Heroines in the GWL felt at the same time really significant and utterly natural. Through exploring Heroines, we create a safe space to share our frustration and despair about our shared experiences of being in the world – and to dream. How do we find a home for our work in this world that is not designed for our work to be at home in? I felt quite literally supported moving around the community room upstairs at the GWL with my two inspiring collaborators knowing that below us was the activity of other people and the words of millions more working to create and maintain such a space. Our small corner of the world is perhaps a little less blinkered when it comes to the need for these spaces than before the election of Donald Trump and the misogyny at the heart of Tory Britain but still I encounter, on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis, the misconception that gender equality is no longer an issue. It seems it isn’t a priority for many organisations and individuals, despite the 50:50 split no longer being a radical notion. I keep coming back to an image from the Women’s Marches that gave me so much hope earlier this year of a person, stooped back, white hair, sunken eyes, wrinkled face, half smiling, half not, holding a placard that said: I CAN’T BELIEVE I STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS FUCKING SHIT. I’m in my 30’s and I feel like that. Every step closer we get to getting through to enough people to make any difference, the wider expanse of disregard reveals itself. But we must keep going. And working on Heriones is part of that for me.
I’m reading Living A Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed right now. I started it when I was at the hairdressers in turn weeping and punching the air and suddenly 4 Non Blondes What’s Up came on the radio and I wanted to jump back in time to the 90’s and take my skinny, black eye-linered 16 year old self and scream “WHY ARE YOU LISTENING TO NIRVANA WHEN YOU COULD BE LISTENING TO THIS????!!!” I’m sure I would have told myself to fuck off, dork (it was the 90’s right? and I went to an American high school). And to be fair, I do know that Kurt helped me find the path to my feminist self as much as Linda Perry and her non-blondes might have. But still, it was an enjoyable time-travel moment. Back to Sara Ahmed. She says that “feminism is sensational. We learn about the feminist cause by the bother feminism causes; by how feminism comes up in public culture as a site of disturbance.” I am proud to say that anything I have written has sought to do this in some way and though Heriones isn’t going to be explicitly feminist in content or even form, it is in process. And therefore it will create disturbance. Because being a woman in this world is a disturbance in itself let along being one who has something to say about being alive or, heaven forbid, joining with others to do the same.
We don’t know what Heriones is going to become yet. Not really. But it is going to drop pebbles of satirical, heartfelt disturbance into our cultural loch. Because all waves begin with the tiniest of weather ripples. There are lots of waves out on the ocean right now and I reckon we’ll get a tsunami when they all come together. Qualifier: I am not a seismologist.
Belle: It is electrifying to have the opportunity to explore the concept of Heroines with Julia and Morna. I’m troubled by the lack of range in remarkable female characters and voices in the mainstream spectrum; with any female character that breaks from the perceived norm seemingly an unpopular challenge for both audience members and performer alike. Given the vast array of entertainment, art and content finding its way into the ever-evolving public consciousness, why are women, their journeys and their characters still largely categorised using pantomimic architypes? The popular blogger ProResting collates some of the farcical female character descriptions she comes across in her career as an actor – from laughably sexist to worryingly misogynistic – on her site: CastingCallWoe .
Clearly, the significance of a woman’s life can’t be measured by her sex appeal or age, yet there still seems to be far less of a variety in representations of the female experience than there are of the white heterosexual male experience. As an actor and as an audience member I’m bored of watching broadly drawn maidens, mothers and crones and far more excited by multi-faceted complex female characters whose value to a storyline is not determined by her relation to the male characters. I’m more interested in (and – lucky me – far more likely to be cast as) the Ugly Sister than Cinderella. It was partly this issue of the scarcity of adequate female roles that drew me to writing. I felt if there were not enough realistic and fascinating parts for women being written then I should at least try to write some myself rather than simply bemoan the fact. And that’s why I’m really excited by the Heroines project, working with two brilliant and inspiring women; tackling the issue head on with humour, insight and creativity.
Although we may have come a long way since having to fight for the right to vote in the UK, there is still a lot to shout about: pay gaps, discrepancies in visibility and the policing of the female body being just some examples. Misogyny is very much alive and well and living on the internet with nearly 50% of women experiencing abuse online according to one survey. Through the Heroines project we are using the tools we have to hand: calling upon our own experiences, research and creative instincts to make our voices heard.
Spending time together in the hugely stimulating surroundings of the Glasgow Women’s Library, Julia, Morna and I were able to revisit ideas from our initial development and cultivate a framework for progressing with the project. We are thrilled to be moving forward with the project and I for one can’t wait to get back in the room with Heroines!
Morna: The year was 2014. I was angry. I was angry about the inherent sexism within our industry. I was angry about the parts I was playing and the response to the female characters I was writing. I was angry about the treatment I’d received as a female artist. I was angry at the Cultural Gatekeepers who still refused to improve their gender policies even though it would be so bloody easy to do. And I really desperately needed to be part of a creative space where I could unpick, process and fire that emotion into something productive.
I picked up the phone and I called Julia and Belle; two friends who were fighting back and producing their own work. Two artists whose work and attitudes I inherently admired. I called them and asked them to collaborate because I wanted / needed to make sense of the world of being a woman again. I initiated the project but it was never ‘mine’ – it has been ‘ours’ from day one. Our voices together. United.
Heroine [her-oh-in] noun
a woman admired for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
The title was tongue-in-cheek but also so very apt in how I viewed my colleagues. Our first development was creative therapy. How I wish I could share some of the stories we told; of the comments we’ve received and the treatment we’ve experienced. Oh – the sheer scandal of it all. It would be so much funnier if it wasn’t real. But it was real. It is real. It’s really really real.
At Glasgow Women’s Library, such an apt and safe environment, we reunited again with our project which has ebbed and flowed and erupted since its initial conception.
The year is 2017. What has changed? Not a lot. Not enough. 50:50 is still a pipedream. True, tangible equality is impossible. I am still angry and resolved but I am also baffled. Why haven’t we progressed? Or worse, why are we going backwards? How can Scottish theatre ever claim to be progressive and forward thinking, pointing our collective left fingers at the establishment, whilst our own politics are stagnant?
So, here was our radical revolution. We chose to laugh. Yes. We completely, truly, honestly and openly laughed. And it was joyously rebellious. So, what is it? Heroines? Is it a play? I don’t know. Heroines is satire. Heroines is heartfelt and raw and poignant and so very, painfully funny. Heroines is storytelling at its most basic and most complex. Heroines is a safe space. Heroines is a project and a place and a collective and a movement. It is so many things. It is cultural therapy.
Heroines asks us to consider the Strong Female Character and all that she is and stands for. It is mythology and philosophy and history. It is a magical land where one dimensional characters are
terrified of becoming complete. It is the mysterious space where the Wicked Witch meets the Virgin Mary and Marilyn Munro. It is a world where three artists – Julia, Belle and Morna – meet, share stories, trade emotions and embrace the cultural sisterhood.
Heroines has no answers. It has questions. So many godamn, demanding questions. It is emotional and bonkers and disturbing. It is everything that I want a project to be.
I could write so much more about the past, the influences, the reasoning and the significance. I could write so much more about my journey and the admiration I have for my colleagues. But I won’t – because all of this will be in the Heroines foundations and explanations and showcases. And we have a word limit.
For now – I am overjoyed to be back in development with Julia and Belle working with the inspirational Stellar Quines and phenomenal Glasgow Women’s Library. They are all Heroines.