Waking the Feminists at Fordham

The Waking the Feminists movement visited Fordham University on Sunday, Feb. 28. According to Lisa Tierney-Keogh, playwright and organizer of the movement, it’s time “to kick the door down.”

Waking the Feminists arose in response to the Abbey Theatre’s centennial commemoration of the 1916 Rising in Ireland. Of the ten plays in the theatre’s program, only one was written by a woman and three were directed by women. Waking the Feminists seeks equality for women in Irish theatre.

Speakers at the day's event

Speakers at the day's event

The movement met for a symposium at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. The event featured both a Scholars’ Panel and a Practitioners’ Panel, and it was covered in The Irish Times.

Speaking on the Scholars’ Panel were Montclair State University’s Lucy McDiarmid, Princeton University’s Clair Wills, Glucksman Ireland House NYU’s Abby Bender, New York University’s Kelly Sullivan, Seton Hall University’s Elizabeth Redwine, Manhattan College’s Deirdre O’Leary, and Union College’s Claire Bracken. University of Connecticut’s Mary Burke was the panel’s respondent, and Fordham University’s own Keri Walsh, who organized the day’s event, moderated the discussion.

Speaking on the Practitioners’ Panel were Tierney-Keogh, lighting designer Jane Cox, actress and producer Alison McKenna, comedian Maeve Higgins, director Nicola Murphy, and playwright Honor Molly. Novelist Belinda McKeon moderated the discussion.

The scholars discussed important women of Irish theatre, including Lady Gregory, Sara Allgood, Maud Gonne, Marina Carr, Ursula Rani Sarma, Lady Aberdeen, and Annie Horniman. Redwine pointed out that Sara Allgood, for example, challenged prejudices of acting role/body type correspondences. Bender pointed out that Marina Carr’s plays subverted gender stereotypes and eviscerated “the piety surrounding the shrine of Irish motherhood.” Respondent Burke relatedly stressed the importance of acknowledging the various points-of-view among women in theatre.

Members of the Practitioners' Panel

Members of the Practitioners' Panel

The practitioners discussed their own challenges in Irish theatre.

“Because I was born a girl, I had a less than 15% chance of actually getting my play on stage in my own country’s national theatre,” said Tierney-Keogh.

Murphy discussed how, as a director, she typically has to boost the confidence of actresses, while only having to offer technical advice to actors.

Higgins recounted her experiences of speaking on the radio and having many people call in to complain that they dislike the sound of her voice. “I’m not the one who needs to be fixed,” Higgins said.

Everyone stressed that change requires action. Scholars like Sullivan expressed the need for professors to try to have more women represented on their course syllabi. Molloy, in a performance essay that invited audience participation, urged everyone to remember the strong women of the past and to see each other’s plays. The support of one another, everyone pressed, is the best weapon to combat long-standing prejudices.

“Yes, the patriarchal society still exists,” said Tierney-Keogh, “but what a team of warriors to fight it.”