When it comes to gender equality, the theatre industry sucks. According to a study by Equity in Theatre, the majority of students attending theatre schools are female, but after graduation, jobs are scarce, especially when it comes to running companies and writing plays. Women comprise less than 30 per cent of directors, artistic directors and playwrights.
As the new artistic producer of Handsome Alice Theatre, formerly Urban Curvz, Kate Newby is ideally placed to do something about it.
“Handsome Alice’s tag line is ‘unleashing the female voice’ and my whole intention is to honour the exceptional female artists and theatre makers that make this city our home,” Newby says.
When Newby joined the company last year, one of her first steps was to rebrand. “In the last few years Urban Curvz has focused primarily on its Girls Gone Wild festival and doing one show a year,” says Newby. “Handsome Alice is still a project-based company and we will still do theatre productions but we’re also working on a creation piece with the community.”
Handsome Alice has partnered with Mount Royal University’s department of diversity and human rights and the Calgary Sexual Health Centre to create an opportunity for female MRU students to share their stories through the inVISIBLE Project.
Every Monday, starting this fall, ten local theatre artists, including Jamie Konchak, Julie Orton and Mikambe Simamba, will collaborate with 15 students from MRU to explore what it means to be female in the 21st century. At the beginning of 2017, the group will begin the creation process with the intention of having a piece to show audiences in the spring.
Newby sees the collaboration between the actors and students as a way to offer richer and more complex perspectives. “The experiences we’ve had across Canada in our colleges and university with rape culture and consent are still major issues to be dealt with,” she says. “Women still experience this on a daily basis. It’s time to explore that from our point of view, celebrate ourselves and empower ourselves on our stage by telling our stories and sharing our experiences.”
It’s new territory for the company and for Newby as well, who with decades of experience directing and producing under her belt is determined to allow the piece to develop organically. “We don’t have a preconceived idea or a structure of what it will be like. We want it to be scary and exciting and empowering – all of those things,” says Newby. “It’s an extraordinary experience to create a piece from scratch. Artists can create very easily. It’s much more vulnerable to mix those two worlds, artists and community, and learn from each other.”
The Calgary Sexual Health Centre and MRU will provide counselors and facilitators to participate during the workshops. “There are topics that we’re tackling that could trigger responses and actors are not psychiatrists. We wouldn’t even presume that we could cope with those responses. The counselors at CSHC and MRU will be able to,” says Newby. “It’s a very organic, collaborative and supportive partnership.”
Ultimately, Newby says the goal is to take the completed piece to colleges and universities across the country. “I want the audience to sit there and think ‘I haven’t really thought of that point of view before. I want it to be inclusive, but at the same time it’s going to be risky.”
Luckily, you don’t have to wait until 2017 to see a Handsome Alice production. A co-production with the Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) opens in May and in the fall, One Yellow Rabbit co-founder Denise Clark will direct The Tall Building by Jill Connell for the company. You can also view some of Calgary’s female theatre artists in Handsome Alice’s Virago Project photo series, the first of a three part series by Tim Nguyen’s Citrus Photography, which will be on the Handsome Alice website when it launches in May.
Newby is passionate about her new role. “My main drive is to support female artists. It’s a challenging business to begin with, but as a woman in theatre it’s really hard,” says Newby. “There does need to be a world to support women to move forward in this industry, still, which really pisses me off. I want to honour these female artists and give them the opportunity to shine.”
Tim Nguyen/Citrus Photography
Theatre artist Arielle Rombaugh as part of the Virago Project.
Tim Nguyen/Citrus photograhpy
Theatre artist Mikambe Simamba as part of the Virago Project.