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.