SkirtsAfire to burn glass ceiling

The Rebel Skirts play at Skirts Afire

The Rebel Skirts play at Skirts Afire

Whatever you think of grouping artists by gender first and by their art second, consider the all-female SkirtsAfire “herArts” festival – playing March 6-9 at venues around Alberta Avenue – as “theatrical affirmative action.”

The stats on theatrical sexual equality in Canada are “grim,” says festival director Annette Loiselle, citing a 2008 study done by the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT). It showed, she says, that 71% of both artistic directors and produced playwrights are men, as are 64% of independent directors, while ironically 60% of theatre audiences are women, and so are 68% of students enrolled in performing arts programs. Maybe these women hadn’t got out of school in time to have an effect on the other numbers, but there seems to be some inequality. In Edmonton, Loiselle can name just two female artistic directors out of more than a dozen.

“I think it’s a tradition that is much too slow in changing,” she says. “I hope we’re moving forward. We’re trying to help with that process.”

So there is justification, if any is needed, for a women’s arts festival just as there is for International Women’s Day, which happens to fall on March 8. SkirtsAfire is meant to celebrate women in the arts through a wide variety of disciplines, theatre, visual art, comedy, music. Local fans should already know the comedy variety show spoof Hey Ladies!, Edmonton’s current Poet Laureate Mary Pinkoski and some of our top female recording artists like Two Bears North and Nuela Charles, among others. Film is also component with a screening of Rosie Dransfeld’s documentary on prostitution in Edmonton, Who Cares, part of the Ladies in the Lens screenings on March 6.

Men are certainly not excluded, Loiselle says. For instance, Anatolia Speaks is a one-woman show that was written by Kenneth Brown.

“It’s about a Bosnian refugee, and it’s a fantastic story. We’re not going to say no to a good story if it’s written by a man,” Loiselle says, and in fact would – posed with the obvious hypothetical question – welcome a men’s festival, “why not?” mentioning the fact that Russia celebrated International Men’s Day (Defender of the Fatherland Day) on Feb. 23, during the Sochi Olympics.

Development is crucial on getting any play to the main stage, whoever wrote it. This year’s Skirts Afire features a “staged reading” of the new play The Easy Road by Kristen Finlay, the reading being the second step in the process to full production, and part of this festival’s mandate of creative development.

On the whole question of gender relations, with so much time being spent on political correctness and searching for examples of sexism, Loiselle says with a laugh, “I hate that we have to tread so carefully. You know what? We’re just putting on a festival, right? We just happen to be doing women’s work. So what? We still want men to come and play, and we still want men in the audiences. These stories aren’t just for women. They’re for everybody.”

See HERE for full SkirtsAfire schedule.