Holl: It shows just how deeply sexism is ingrained in our society that when two feminists create a musical that fails the Bechdel test, some will pounce; assuming it was down to ignorance.
Liz: How sadly ironic that in 2018, in order for our work to be appropriately analysed, the female makers are required to defend their intelligent, original & innovative approaches, less the end product remain invalid in its central message.
Holl: For the record: one of our first (long) conversations as Lioness co-founders was centred on the Bechdel Test & the fact that our début show 'The Black Stuff' fails it. After lots of discussion, a conscious decision was made. We intended to highlight our female protagonist's very real plight.
Liz: For we identify her as such; while Charles' place is one of either un-likable protagonist or straight-up antagonist, depending on each audience members' individual response & perspective.
Holl: Clarissa was surrounded by men who weren't listening to her. Nevertheless, she stood up against them and pro-actively made decisions that limited the damage they were doing.
Liz: Both to herself, and more importantly, those around her.
Holl: It seems strange that on the one hand we are charged with historical inaccuracy (as though it weren't a deliberate choice) but on the other, criticized for making Clarissa into a victim.
Well, she was a victim.
Liz: And a survivor.
Holl: To make her into anything else would have completely rewritten history. But we do show Clarissa standing up for herself - speaking forthrightly to her husband, retaining her morals when indecently propositioned, and risking imprisonment to enter the library and learn skills that will keep her children alive.
Clarissa is our hero. She does everything on her own without the help of one single man. Moreover, it is her input that helps Charles to make his big discovery. Unfortunately, some seem to assume that this is a historical detail that we've overlooked the importance of, rather than an ironic, fictitious addition. It was written to make a point.
Liz: The process of development, in Lioness’ view, is most invigorating and exciting when approached collaboratively, opening doors to varied artistic practices. We feel our unique fusion of Theatre, Text, Art, Humour & Song gives 'The Black Stuff' an authenticity: insight into our decision making, development & process are on exhibit at our shows. Not as 'filler' or 'extras', but as creative documentation of who we are and what we have to say about the world in which we work.
Holl: You see, we never said that this was a history lesson. It's based on true events, yes. But truth is messy. To tell a good story (particularly with very few resources) it is necessary to consolidate characters, simplify story-lines, and often simply invent details.
Liz: We have chosen to capitalise on the shameful reality that airbrushed Clarissa in history - see previously referred to 'exhibition boards' - to make our point.
We have no idea who Clarissa was.
Now that we have the opportunity to honour her existence as a person on this planet - why not make her a feminist?
Why not use this opportunity to present the argument? That women have always been, and still are, stimulants of change & growth for society as a whole? Both practically (childbearing) and socially; womens' insight, unique intelligence, the ability to empathise & their pre-disposition to talk first & fight later have all contributed to the world in which we live now. Women's roles in the 19th cen were to support: even then it was known the immense capacity women had to change the world. Fearing it, men capitalised on these traits and truncated them - suppressing women as 'merely' 'home-makers'.
This conscious decision - to make Clarissa the real hero of the story, who is immediately disregarded and dismissed once she 'discovers' the elusive formula for Charles - is how we convey the central point that so many men - then and now - simply don't listen to women or value their opinions.
The assumed ignorance on our part, as female-led theatre-makers striving to have our voice heard in this male-dominated environment, only demonstrates the inherent sexism unfortunately still prevalent in the arts today.
Lioness are grateful beyond measure to the women that have come before us, that in 2018, we do not, and will not, face any legal retribution for simply making our voice heard.
The task it seems now is to sing our song louder than any simple misogynists who miss the point:
we are singing for them too.
Lioness Theatre has officially opened its debut show, "The Black Stuff" at GM Fringe. We did two dates in two venues: Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, and The Kings Arms.
These were very different venues, but both super helpful and they gave us a warm welcome. The Unitarian chapel is a beautiful building, set in the round, and its central location on Cross Street near the Royal Exchange is handy for attracting foot traffic. We did so with our huge roller banner and flyers - though the half-page listing in the Fringe brochure may have helped too :)
The chapel has an unusual history, having been an active supporter of the Suffragette movement, and it's now known for its friendliness towards the LGBT+ community. Being LGBT, Unitarian, and a feminist myself, I couldn't be happier that we chose this particular venue.
Pre-sales weren't great at first, and I feared we'd be playing to four people. Luckily numbers turned out to be healthy, and after changing the setup from in-the-round to thrust, we were able to make good use of the space. The acoustics of any perfectly round room such as this will direct all sound back to the centre spot, which was also brightly illuminated. This of course meant in rehearsals we all took our turn shouting at the walls and marvelling at the strange effect. It was like being miked up.
The audience was enthusiastic and responsive, clearly enjoying the humorous aspects of the piece. We had a fair few tweets afterwards. My favourite was simply the word "MELTED!" from a fellow GM Fringer - a reference you'll only understand if you come to see the show!
The following morning a review was posted by MCR Fringe Review which was largely positive: "catchy tunes, sound story-telling and some incredible vocals".
Next up was our second performance at Kings Arms Theatre - the hub of GM Fringe. As it was an afternoon show with no-one on before us, we had a generous amount of time to set up, though not enough time for a full run. With our usual selection of CDs, glossy programmes, and keyrings available, we took a fair amount in merch and on-the-door ticket sales.
The second performance was even better, thanks to the extravagances made available to us at this venue, for instance: an actual lighting rig! We were pleased to welcome Manchester Theatre Awards at this event, and you can read their review here.
Certain things jump out at you when you perform a piece in front of an audience for the first time, so we'll be tightening up the script a bit before our next performance at DN Festival in 2 weeks' time.
After that we have our London performance to look forward to, and hopefully some other theatres. Onwards & upwards!
Hollie Morrell - writer/composer