It’s International Women’s Day. And while there are always various political debates about it I do think it’s as good a day as any to celebrate the women who inspire us. I try to vary my lists or posts year on year, so this year I’m going with Women who have shaped my life in some way.
This year is a theatrical theme. And a mix of ‘famous’ people, and those from ‘real life’. Oh also the number is a lie. It’s technically 6/7.
First up is the Academic- inspiration/friend/mentor call her what you will (Superwoman-Mc-Awesome is catchy) cheerleader I wish I’d met YEARS ago. Kirsty Segdeman. If you’re a theatre academic you’ll probably know Kirsty. She’s a brilliant academic, and master of the gif-paired tweet thread. She works on Audience research and is kicking down doors to make theatres, and Universities listen to researchers. She’s also a fantastic champion of PhD students and Early Career Academics. And a voice for the working class/unfunded among those. Above all else shes’ a tireless cheerleader, and brilliant friend. Here’s a her twitter, give her a follow.
Look it’s not IWD on this blog without a reference to Gillian Anderson. If we’re talking ‘famous’ women, she is hands down the most influential woman in my life. Dana Scully as a character shaped my teenage years, and my future self in ways no other woman- real or fictional has. Indirectly, I’m a Doctor because of her. Firstly because Scully taught me that women shouldn’t hide their intelligence. Secondly, she made me want to be ‘Dr’ something. And thirdly, if it weren’t for Gillian Anderson I’d never have set foot in a theatre. More on that on is here.
I went to my first play because Gillian was in it. And I begged my Mum to take me all the way to London to see the woman I adored on stage. And while in part I was ‘just’ fangirling. I was also sat there falling in love with the theatre. I still have the notes I scribbled in the margins on the train home.
And it’s rare you can say a teen idol of yours genuinely continues to shape your life. From playing the kind of women I want to see on stage and screen, to writing books, to being an outspoken activist and advocate. Gillian Anderson is a constant source of inspiration, and motivation to be a better woman. And to lift up other women with me. I may have wanted to be Dana Scully when I grew up, but actually now I want to be Gillian Anderson when I grow up.
Elise Davison and Beth House
These ladies come as a package. In the best way. Elise Davison and Beth House They run Taking Flight Theatre company. For whom I am honoured to be Chair of the board of Trustees. Taking Flight makes inclusive theatre, and makes theatre inclusive. That is everything they make has inclusive work at the heart of it- think integrated BSL and audio description. Think disabled actors being part of every company. Think all the things everyone else should be doing.
They also campaign tirelessly for inclusive theatre, accessible theatre and all round a more open accesible arts scene. And they do it all with company built from nothing, and like so many of the women out there juggling family life as well. And again they are tireless supporters and cheerleaders of me and all I know, and I’m really lucky to know them. Every time I think none of it’s worth it any more, I look at the work they do, and remember it is.
Stephanie J Block
For those who don’t know, she is a fiercely talent Broadway actress. I first saw her in ‘The Boy From Oz’ , which was also the first musical I ever saw. Formative in so many ways, for making me fall in love with musicals for also being the musical that set me on the path to my PhD research. As a 19 year old discovering musicals for the first time I fangirled HARD for Stephanie. My first fangirl-crush on a Broadway performer, I’ve been lucky enough to see her in several shows since (not bad considering I live in Cardiff!). But what started as a teen fangirl moment allowed me to follow the career of a brilliantly talented, but also wonderfully principled and inspiring woman.
Stephanie J Block may never know how seeing ‘The Boy from Oz’ changed my life. Because of that musical I went on to rediscover my love of drama/theatre. I went to RADA. I came back to that musical when starting to think about a PhD- it’s actually the core of my ‘theatre about AIDS’ ideas starting. What she also may never know is the kindness she showed a 19 year old, who was living far from home at that point, who had just lost a parent. When I fan-girled at her on my trip to the show, the kindness she showed me- listening to my no doubt ramblings, talking to me about my studies, stayed with me as a lesson on how to treat people. And that important moment of someone you admire, when you are young, taking and interest, really pushed me to do the same. For kindness and in her work, she shaped me without knowing it.
Last year I cried my face off (that’s the technical term) watching her perform in Falsettos, a musical I’ve studied, written on and talked endlessly about as an academic. I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t seen this woman, in a musical once upon a time and been incredibly inspired. And that felt like such a powerful thing.
It’s rare you get to meet, let alone talk at length with someone whose work you admire so greatly- or whose work is about to impact on your life so greatly. So I feel really lucky to say that the last of my list did just that. And has impacted my life in ways direct and indirect I can’t even begin to count.
Firstly, in the abstract. As the genius kick-arse (British spelling please) theatre director she is. Like anyone with an eye on British theatre in the last few decades I’d repeatedly found myself admiring, an inspired by the work Marianne Elliott has brought to the stage. In a field where we still all to rarely have women in ‘top jobs’ to look up to, seeing someone not only at the top of her game, but also unafraid to take creative risks while there, was and is an inspiration to a generation of women in theatre.
That in itself is enough to shape a person. Little did I know when I was shouting “WAR HORSE IS INNOVATIVE THEATRE” at my PhD supervisors while defending it’s relevance to a discussion of AIDS in theatre (true story) that one day I’d be chatting to Elliott about Angels in America.
Elliott may be an genius director, whose work on Angels in America has reshaped my thoughts on the play, after a decade of working on it. But what she did for me personally by letting me have a tiny part in that, is something I still can’t quantify. It seems a simple thing, but the fact that she wanted my input. That she told other at the NT about me, and that she let me write that programme essay have had a remarkable impact on my life.
In practical ways, people saw that essay, or heard about my work on the play. And doors have opened a crack. (After years of physically trying to beat them down). But more than that, even without that. The simple fact she thought my work was worth listening to. Academia, life, theatre had all beaten me down. But that act of a woman reaching out and saying ‘yes you are worth listening to’ really did change everything. And that’s the power of what women supporting women, lowering the ladder instead of pulling it up can do.
If Marianne had chosen to ignore the person brave (or stupid) enough to email and say ‘hey I know this play better than you do right now’ I probably wouldn’t have given up before the curtain even came up on Angels. Instead I’m writing the book I always wanted to write. I’ve been commissioned to write a play. I’m writing articles about theatre again. And more importantly last summer I fell in love with it all again.
The fact that Elliott also has the company I’m most excited about (as I wrote about here) that promises to give a platform to more female creatives, gives me so much hope for women in the industry. Because I can’t think of a better woman to lead the way.
And of course to the countless women who inspire and shape my life every day. Friends, family, colleagues. Let’s keep building each other up, shaping each others lives in the best ways possible.