International Women’s Day: Who we’re celebrating at AYT

Its International Women’s Day – and a chance to take a moment to celebrate the diverse achievements of our female peers, reflect on gender inequalities still pervasive throughout our global societies and thank those who have inspired us.

At AYT, we asked some of our writers and contributors to tell us more about which women working within the arts have inspired them this year.

Theatre and the wider arts are bursting with talented, passionate and determined women, from writers to performers, directors, crew and administrators. Here are the women some of our own team chose as inspiration this year:

Lyn Gardner
Guardian theatre writer

Gardner was picked as a source of inspiration by both Daniel Perks, AYT review writer, and Justine Malone, AYT guest blogger.

Here’s what they had to say:

“It’s no secret that Lyn is a tour de force in the world of theatre, championing new theatre, innovative writing and fringe productions, which are the lifeblood of the industry. The unwritten queen of the Edinburgh Fringe, an endorsement from Lyn is to know that you are making impactful, exciting and provocative theatre. As well as all this, Lyn frequently takes workshops, discussions and talks that offer advice and encouragement to young people trying to get into the industry, or even simply wanting to write for pleasure. It is this kind of encouragement that the theatre criticism and theatre journalism world thrives on, yearns for and lives by.” – Daniel Perks

“I have been a reader of Lyn’s reviews and articles for a few years, but the transition from readership to full-blown admiration happened when I went to see her speak at a TheatreCraft conference in 2014. Lyn – like her writing – is open, human, witty, engaging, thoughtful and honest. She stands up against pompousness – not just in arts journalism, but the arts as a whole. With reason and clarity she stands her ground against those who continue to cling so tightly to the sinking mast of ‘traditionalism’, interrogating the true value of creating and assessing theatre. Lyn says what she means, and means what she says. In the ‘man’s world’ of journalism, I admire that.” – Justine Malone

Katharine Williams
Lighting designer, writer, and founder of Crew for Calais

Williams was picked by guest blogger and actor Loren O’Dair, who has written about her work with Crew for Calais for AYT.

“Seven per cent of lighting designers are women. It occurred to Katharine on her first trip to volunteer in the Calais refugee camp that there were a wide variety of skills within the theatre industry – not least compassion and shelter-building skills – that could be very useful in such circumstances. As her companion drove them out of the channel tunnel back into England, she was phoning colleagues at scenery workshops, and Crew for Calais was born, with a Twitter feed and a Crowdfunder. Within two weeks, a team were back out in Calais with shelters they had built in England. Katharine makes things happen: a truly active activist. She has overseen her brainchild grow enormously in various ways, sending volunteers to do practical work in France and Greece, as well as raising awareness and offering alternative narratives about refugees through theatre. Most recently Katharine curated a mini-season of rapid response shows at Vault Festival, including a play she wrote. Walk with Me is a vivid, poetic, bold, honest, epic call for a non-violent revolution. I was burning when I spoke its words to the audience. Katharine is brave, she has extraordinary integrity, and amazing instincts. She finds ways to facilitate everyone being the very best version of ourselves that we can be. Which inspires the work we create, and how we make it.” – Loren O’Dair

Hadley Freeman
Guardian columnist and author

If art reflects life, than Freeman is a writer who has a knack for distilling her female experience of life and laying it bare for her readers. Samuel Sims, our reviews coordinator, picked her as his inspiration:

“Last year, I loaned a book out from the library and basically, life has ever been the same. Devouring Hadley Freeman’s 2013 memoir / survival guide, Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies was both euphorically enlightening and bloody stressful. The writer’s musings on such areas as film, celeb mags, mental health and friendship are so obvious; so simple it makes you wonder at what point your brain fell out, but rather than feeling stupid, you feel intensely educated.

I’ve long been an advocator for groups that are thought of as ‘lesser’ within society but Freeman, who also writes a regular column for The Guardian directed me into the rather tempestuous area of feminism, with the struggles it still has but that change is possible.” – Samuel Sims

Rosie Kay
Artistic Director of Rosie Kay Dance Company

Emily May, AYT reviewer, picked Kay, citing her fearless approach to tackling complex cultural issues, and her dedication to high quality dance theatre as reasons to be inspired:

“Rosie Kay is the female choreographer that inspires me and motivates me to pursue a career in the arts. I first met Rosie as a student on the Birmingham DXchange Centre for Advanced Training, where, as the Course Leader she inspired me and countless other young dancers to reach their potential as aspiring dance artists. From joining 4th Battalion the Rifles to research for her work Five Soldiers, to being Artist in Residence at Oxford University’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnogrophy, to delving into the subversive world of the Illuminati and conspiracy theory for her latest piece MK Ultra (premiering at the Birmingham Rep on 17th March, then touring the UK) Rosie’s commitment to fearlessly tackling complex subject matters inspires me to constantly challenge myself by exploring and researching outside of my comfort zone.  Rosie’s dedication to creating high quality dance theatre works that are relevant to contemporary society is equalled by her commitment to investing in others, whether it be community groups or emerging artists, and I feel privileged to have had Rosie Kay as my mentor and friend over the past few years.” – Emily May

Emma Rice
Outgoing Artistic Director of The Globe Theatre

Hannah Marsh, Managing Editor of AYT, picked Rice for her fortitude and dignity following a controversy-laden parting of the ways.

“When the Globe announced Emma Rice’s impending departure, there was a collective shooting of eyebrows into hairlines and an outpouring of disappointment for the way the theatre handled the relationship. Sure, Rice’s productions had been bold, confidently moving away from The Globe’s ‘original practices’, but they knew that when they hired her, so I’m not sure what they expected her to deliver if not that. The clunky handling gave the impression of unpleasant internal politics and a faltering lack of coherence when it came to committing to an artistic vision and ambition. Despite the furore, Rice herself remained dignified, sticking to a brief, restrained comment in the theatre’s press announcement. Just days before, the Stage ran a piece in which Rice spoke out about the loaded criticism she receives as a woman running one of the UK’s major theatres, and redressing gender imbalances became a key ambition for her during her tenure. We still have her 2017 Summer Season to look forward to, but for every woman who’s ever received gender-specific criticism, felt more easily disposed of than male counterparts or wanted to stick it to a Board of older, white men, I nominate Rice as an example of how to handle a stinging blow with dignity, privacy and your professional reputation not only intact but defended passionately by most of the industry you work in.” – Hannah Marsh

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