Feminist student and teacher

It was one year ago this month that I first became acquainted with Female Arts. I was on a train with my ex -boyfriend who was checking his twitter when he saw a link to Female Arts through the Camden Fringe Festival feed. Female Arts was enquiring about women in the industry who may be interested in becoming reviewers. Knowing that I was a feminist theatre practitioner, he forwarded the link to me; I got in touch with Wendy and the rest is history.

I never set out to be a reviewer, but I am passionately interested in theatre and especially women in theatre. I wrote the first draft of my first review immediately after seeing my first Female Arts play, then I sent it to a few friends for feedback, edited and changed a few things and finally sent it off. Now, a year later, I am far more confident. There was a time when I wouldn’t submit a review until my ex-boyfriend had read it (not terribly feminist!), now I write more swiftly and have stopped asking anyone (except my Female Arts editors) for any advice. I started reviewing because I thought it would give me the discipline to formulate articulate and thought out opinions of plays that I’ve seen, rather than simply saying ‘yeh it was good’. Female Arts has done more for me than I could ever do for Female Arts. Through this company I have met some wonderful feminist professionals – both male and female – and have been exposed to work I would never normally have been aware of.

Last October I began my masters degree at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and found out that both my Female Arts editors are masters alumni from the same school. The network in this industry is both very close and very wide. The individual and personal support I have been given from Female Arts has been absolutely extraordinary and although I’ve met both Wendy and Sophie only once, I feel I know them very well as they have both been so supportive and generous.

I am not ashamed to say that I am struggling with my masters course. I define myself as a traditional practitioner in that I write a play, draft it, re-draft it, cast it, rehearse it and then produce it. The course that I am on (Advanced Theatre Practice) is more about experimental, devised and collaborative work, and it’s taken me way out of my comfort zone. I recently set up a meeting with a lady who did her masters at a different school last year and told her my woes. She gave me a very refreshing and clear insight. She asked me why I had chosen to do this course. I told her I wanted to go outside of my comfort zone and she asked me why, in that case, was I so surprised at finding myself uncomfortable? Food for thought absolutely.

I think my main problem is that at 31, I am one of the oldest students on my course and for the last ten years since graduating I have been making work and trying my best at being a practitioner. Also, I left a job as a performance supervisor at a popular London tourist attraction where I lead a cast of 24 actors daily and 49 actors overall to suddenly become a student beholden to whatever the teacher tasks us with. I am also a part-time acting teacher at another London drama school and sometimes go from being a student at Central to being a teacher at Rose Bruford within 90 minutes. Giving up the leadership role and then juggling it with being a part time leader and full time student really plays with my head. I am learning more about being a teacher from being a student again! The last time I was a student I was a very young woman and didn’t really know what I wanted. Now I’m older and I know (I think!) what I want. It’s very hard being in formal education again while juggling grown up life.

This is me, and this is my first blog for Female Arts. I am still a relatively young professional in London. I subscribe to the school that acting is a craft that can be learned by anyone, and that talent, while great, is not necessarily sustainable without understanding, context and learned skills. I teach my students on the principles of respect, risk taking, and commitment to the work. I firmly believe that theatre work is a job like any other and that our job as artists is to communicate, educate, provoke and stimulate our audiences who all have jobs, lives and stresses of their own. I do not believe that artists are any more important than any other professionals; the only thing we all must strive for in our various chosen careers is to make a difference and to contribute, and most of all, to be good to each other – in small or big ways. I was made a feminist at the age of 18 by three men. In a room filled with women, my tutor asked us to raise our hands if we considered ourselves feminists; the only hand that went up was his own. He promised that by the end of our BA, we would be raising our hands-proudly- as feminists. He and his colleague (they deserve to be named: Steven Dykes, Tony James and Andrew Freisner) then set out to empower and enlighten us. I realise the irony of men teaching women about feminism but then again feminism is not a female issue, it is humanitarian. They taught me what a feminist was and not be afraid of the ‘f’ word. As a feminist I argue that yes, men do need to take women more seriously, but women must also take themselves and each other more seriously and not rely on the outdated principle that our successes are defined by men.

(c) Jade Allen 2014