Let’s talk about female characters, not just the lack of them.

@bechdeltheatre’s Beth Watson meets up for a coffee with Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s Ali Kemp to celebrate the upcoming Bechdel Theatre Festival launch.

So Beth, as a fellow actress and feminist, you wanted to do something about representation of women in theatre – what did you do?

I set up a Twitter page. I did it while I was in a room full of feminist theatre types. Actually, I’m not sure if it was my idea or not. I raised the idea of using the Bechdel Test for theatre and someone came up with the idea.

I’m friends with the Bechdel Test Fest people and we started making comparisons between film and theatre.

Twitter is a way of spreading a simple one line message and getting people involved simultaneously. The Bechdel Test is perfect for Twitter because it reduces a very complicated argument to a simple point.

So, why not get people to tweet about Bechdel-busting plays?

When did you know you were onto something?

The amount of tweets I got really quickly. Within a month, I had double the amount of followers than my personal account.

With Twitter, it’s a really supportive thing. Before we’ve even seen a play or passed judgement, we can celebrate that it has women in it, retweet and spread the love.

How did you get from @bechdeltheatre to the Bechdel Theatre Festival?

There is a limit to how far Twitter can take the debate.

I started my own blog but I don’t like ‘Here’s my opinion, take it or leave it’. It’s not my natural way of doing things.

I get a lot more from ‘Hey, let’s meet up for a coffee’.

Where did you find people to meet up for coffee with?

Operating as I normally do by going to lots of events, but rather than saying ‘Oh, it’s a bit shit that there are no parts for women’, I was saying ‘I’ve set up at Twitter page’.

As soon as you say you’re doing something, people say ‘You should speak to …’
Amy Clare Tasker from Gap Salon said why don’t you speak to Whoop ‘n’ Wail; director Bruce Guthrie suggested Naomi Paxton’s Suffrage Plays; Helen Barnett from Sphynx Theatre invited me to one of their salons, and Jo Caird from The Stage wanted to write an article.

You’ve really answered my next question, which was: was it a conscious decision to pull together all the great work that is already being done by practitioners in this field?

Initially I thought, I’ll produce a bunch of new plays that pass the Bechdel Test – but then I found out that’s what you guys do with Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… and I like it a lot but I don’t want to copy it!

So, I decided I’d be more of a vehicle for spreading the word.

Bechdel Theatre meeting Feb 16
Bechdel Theatre Festival planning Feb 2016. (L-R) Beth Watson, Bechdel Theatre; Lizzie Milton, playwright; Ali Kemp, WnW; Ellie Bland, Siberian Lights; Deborah Klayman, WnW; Sophie Dickson, actor/producer; also present Jen Wallace, Bechdel Test Fest; Karen Healy, Pondering Media

And in doing so, you’ve taken a very collaborative approach to your work.

People were asking me, is it just you? Are you doing this on your own? But I want it to be everyone.

There is a lot of talk about when women make theatre, collaboration is the way we work and I thought this approach was more feminist, but a lot of the people who have been involved with Bechdel Theatre have been men.

Perhaps it’s my social conditioning. Before I do anything, I want to ask everyone else’s opinion. We can see it as asking for permission, and women in particular get slagged off for this, but maybe it’s a positive thing.

If you are doing something about feminism, then it’s about supporting other women and so, how could I do that on my own?

And how does talking about women in theatre connect to women in the world?

It’s the feeling of being welcomed into a room because you share certain struggles or lack of privileges.

That’s what I get when I watch a play that represents women. I want to share what I’ve experienced with other women who don’t usually go to the theatre – it’s a misconception that you have to have a degree to understand theatre.

The best conversations I have about theatre are: ‘Oh my god, wasn’t that woman on stage just like your mum?’ or ‘I couldn’t believe she did that, I thought she was making a huge mistake, but maybe she did it because…’.

How will you know that the Bechdel Theatre Festival has been a success? What does success mean to you?

To get people to see plays with women in them and that someone, if not everyone, brings a friend who doesn’t usually go to the theatre.

I want to bring together theatre buffs and first time theatre goers with the people who make theatre. Not just in a Q&A situation where writers, actors and directors tell audiences what feminist theatre is, but by talking together as equals about how female characters affect them.

And ultimately, I want people talking about female characters, in a way that’s not talking about the lack of them.

tNyDnUIf_400x400Meet Beth at The Bechdel Theatre Festival, which launches a series of pop up conversations on Sunday 20th March 2016 at The Arts Theatre, London;

Or follow the conversation @Bechdeltheatre

See you there!


innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice

oops…’xcuse my French

I was enjoying  a recent warm summer’s evening with friends, listening to a rather amusing anecdote, animatedly being told by a member of the party who I’d only just been introduced to. As he peppered his sentence with expletives, he politely leans across to me, the only woman in the group, and whispers “Excuse my French”.  I am in no doubt that his intention was not to exclude me from full enjoyment of the story, but nonetheless, this reaction in my gut was instant. He hadn’t addressed his apology to the other person he’d only just met that evening. As I say, he was being polite, hoping to keep me with a story that he feared that as a woman, I may have recoiled from. How was he supposed to know that I love nothing more than a good bit of effing and blinding?

Could it be perhaps that women are less likely to be the orators, sharers of stories, the tellers of anecdotes, the crackers of jokes? If women are not the story tellers, how are men supposed to be familiar with a woman’s parlance?

This is just one reason why the work of 17Percent is so exciting. Sam Hall is bringing her wonderful She Writes event to London’s Canal Cafe Theatre this month to showcase the work of women playwrights. What’s Through The Door? is an evening of three short plays inspired by a story by HG Wells. We are delighted that one of those plays is ours – Losing Light. We had the pleasure of meeting Amy Clare Tasker last week, who Sam has invited to direct. She has recently moved here from San Fransisco and has been swift to get to work, making contacts and casting. Her energy and enthusiasm is contagious.

We hope that you will be able to come to the showcase on Thursday 25th September at 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale now (£7).


In other news, Debs is busy in rehearsal for the forthcoming Icarus Theatre Company tour of Othello, which begins in Southsea on the 12th September 2013. Check out their website for more information and to book your tickets:


Meanwhile, Ali has had her running shoes on and is in training for the 2013 Great North Run on the 15th September. She is pounding the streets in aid of Mind and you are welcome to show your support by visiting and donating to her fundraising page:


And as she struggles through those difficult miles, she promises to keep her language ladylike 😉