Brian Logan: Men want to be a part of feminist theatre

Camden People’s Theatre’s artistic director Brian Logan on the men taking part in this year’s festival of feminist theatre ”Calm Down, Dear”, and why feminism should support men

Testament will present The Privilege Show at Camden People's Theatre as part of Calm Down, Dear
Testament will present The Privilege Show at Camden People's Theatre as part of Calm Down, Dear

Men in a feminism festival? Isn’t that like foxes at a chicken convention, or Abu Hamza at your bar mitzvah? Some think so – and I respect the opinion. There are precious few spaces where women’s voices take precedence, and feminism is one of them. So who the hell am I – a man, no less – to be programming male artists in Camden People’s Theatre’s annual festival of innovative feminist theatre (which is called, in fond tribute to our dear departed ex-PM, Calm Down, Dear)?

It wasn’t a decision that the CPT team took lightly. Calm Down, Dear is a well-loved highlight of our annual programme of work, the place where acclaimed, envelope-pushing shows like Bridget Christie’s A Bic For Her, Sh!t Theatre’s Women’s Hour and Louise Orwin’s Pretty Ugly made their London premieres. It is rightly valued as a place where the thorniest conversations within contemporary feminism (this year: revenge porn and gender fluidity, the pressure to be maternal and the masculinisation of women in power) are performed and teased out onstage. What do men have to add to those conversations? Who wants feminism mansplained?

Feminism is unlikely to achieve its objectives unless it supports men who criticise or disavow sexism

And yet – we were receiving dozens of applications from male theatremakers eager to join in. That wasn’t happening in a vacuum: across the wider culture, we’ve seen more men critically interrogating their masculinity, and their stake in gender inequality. Whether that’s a feminist thing to do is up for debate. (Some prefer the term pro-feminist; others prefer the term wolf in sheep’s clothing.) But I’m confident it’s of interest to many feminists, that it’s relevant to their cause – and indeed that feminism is unlikely to achieve its objectives unless it supports men who criticise or disavow sexism (‘the patriarchy’, if you prefer) from within.

So we programmed some men. Not many – the festival lineup is still overwhelmingly female, just as the majority of artists in CPT’s year-round programme are women. But we’re really excited by what these interlopers bring to the mix. We’ve got Tom Ross-Williams (created with Oonagh Murphy) sloughing off what he sees as the oppressive trappings of masculinity in Give Me Your Skin. We’ve got the beatboxer and spoken word artist Testament with a new show unpicking his own male privilege. We’ve got Olly Hawes’ devious performance game about the empathy deficit, and its effect on male-female relations.

I hope those we’ve programmed will be judged by their compassion, curiosity and flair

There’s more where that came from – and could have been more still. Artists like Scottee, Theatre Kinaesthetic, Richard Gadd, On the Run, Documental and others are all making work right now that’s critical of masculinity, in common cause with feminism. It wouldn’t be right to cram our festival with this work: it’s a place for female voices, first and foremost. And it’s a delicate context in which to place shows by men. I hope those we’ve programmed won’t be judged by the ideological purity of their feminism– but by their compassion, curiosity and theatrical flair. We at CPT are thrilled to have them, and to add their views – from the faraway end of the gender spectrum – to our festival’s already giddying range of perspectives on women’s oppression, liberation and the battle of the sexes. But does it (always) have to be a battle? Or can it be a collaboration?

Calm Down, Dear runs at Camden People's Theatre until 9 October. For more information, click here.