Updated: Monday, 14th October 2019 @ 11:10am

'Blood, sweat and sh*t': Salford's The Bluestocking Theatre Company is here to tackle inequality for women

'Blood, sweat and sh*t': Salford's The Bluestocking Theatre Company is here to tackle inequality for women

| By Grace Marshall

The arts have always been a reflection of real-life. 

So, why then, do women rarely ever see a realistic representation of a true woman in the arts?

I mean, honestly ladies, when was the last time you woke up with your hair spread in perfect ringlets across your pillow with naturally clear skin and a visible glow so beautiful that you had approximately seven men fighting for your affections?

As nice as that would be, I doubt it has ever happened. And, if it has, I would really like to know your secret.

Even the more ‘realistic’ characters in the arts fail to represent all aspects of being a woman.

It has become increasingly more obvious that the arts only equate ‘realism’ to ‘intense-level-sarcasm-that-makes-women-even-sexier-under-the-male-gaze’. 

And, with the sudden high influx of young people suffering with mental health problems, proper representation is more important than ever.

Slowly, but surely, a new narrative is emerging: one where women feel able to create and perform art that speaks their truth. 

And, this is exactly the new narrative Victoria Tunnah is seeking to create.

Victoria, a Salford University graduate, is aiming to showcase the reality of being female through the creation of her new theatre group The Bluestocking Theatre Group.

With its core principle of showcasing women as they truly are, the group aims to give those identifying as women more of a voice in the arts, allowing them to tell their stories with acceptance.

In a modern world that both silently and openly judges and condemns women for not conforming to the socially acceptable standards of beauty or femininity, there is a definite need for an injection of realism into the female characters we see today.

When addressing the necessity of companies such as The Bluestocking Theatre Company, Victoria released this statement.

"I think a lot of actresses feel when the roles do come they often lack...well, the realness of women - the actual blood, sweat and shit of what it is to be a female in this world.

"It’s absolutely vital that we begin to tell women’s stories, to give ourselves a new narrative, for entertainment purposes - most women I know are hilarious - and for us to redress massive inequality which a lot of us would like to pretend no longer exists. Believe me, it does."

The Bluestocking Theatre Company will have its inaugural performance at the Manchester Fringe Festival’s venue The Kings Arms Studio on July 20 and 21, with the all-new play Emergency Door Release.

Written and performed by Victoria herself, the play is described as exploring "society’s expectations of women, the inherited narratives that shape our view of ourselves and the world and the devastating impact that can have."

Yet, the potent message of such a play does not come at the cost of a seemingly exciting plot.

"The show follows party girl Louise as she has a breakdown, the realisation dawning that she’s about to hit thirty and the clock is ticking, loudly.

"Meandering through her soul snatching career, diabolical love life and slavish addiction to alcohol, we watch as Louise grapples with the choking feeling that something is very, very wrong."

Mancunian Matters were lucky enough to gain insider access into the creative process of Victoria Tunnah, with an insightful interview exploring Victoria’s inspiration, female representation and taking to the stage alone.

If you wish to be a part of this new narrative and witness this new, one-woman show, then tickets can be found here: https://manchesterfringe.eventotron.com/?event=37334 

Or, email the box office at: gmfringe@gmail.com

Was there any particular moment that inspired either Emergency Door Release or The Bluestocking Theatre Company?

There wasn’t one particular moment that sparked the launch of The Bluestocking Theatre Company, it’s been on my mind for years.

I knew what I was going to call it when I saw a book about the Bluestocking Society in the library about five years ago, I just did nothing about it!

It was more just a sneaking feeling that as women we’re being woefully short changed in the game of life and it’s up to us to do something about it. Representation in the media and arts, using our voices and telling our stories is critical if we are to move forward. And I’ve always loved women!

All my mates growing up were real human characters, funny and intelligent and ridiculous, just as complex and intriguing as the boys in our group, and yet you get older and look around for that continued connection and representation of ourselves in the arts and you’re like – where did they go?

I’m currently surrounded by epic inspiring women. I’ve seen performances by women that have blown my socks off and it strikes me as mind-blowingly sad that we don’t have adequate opportunities to see ourselves, our stories, our lives reflected back at us, that the entirety of humanity doesn’t get more instances to know women, in all our messy brilliant beautiful glory.

I want to address that where I can with my work. I think people are ready for it, a new narrative. When we remember that women are human beings worthy of just as much respect as men – a shocking and absurd notion to a great many people (men and women) - we remember that we require dignity and rights and that begins with us telling our stories, creating empathy and a common humanity.

I seem to fall into two categories that experience lack of representation in the arts – female and ‘working class,’ I acknowledge there are more.

So initially I simply wanted to improve my chances of getting to perform! I was aware that as a female my chances of performing a real flesh and blood character were slim, but as time’s gone on and I’ve started getting older, I’m entering this weird space where I’m not quite ‘Mum’ material yet am just out of that ‘hot young thing’ twenties era. What a depressing state of affairs.

Do male actors ever truly worry about aging or the lack of three dimensionality of the characters they’re portraying? I really don’t think so. So this year I knew it was now or never. I needed to do something instead of sitting around moaning about it, so I launched The Bluestocking Theatre Company, still in its babyhood but learning all the time.

Are there any female characters that you do find to be representative of real women. If so, who?

I’m sure there are many that I’m not aware of yet, I’m not saying they don’t exist, that would be absurd, but proportionately still nowhere near what we need.

Phoebe Waller Bridge is doing amazing things, Fleabag was described as ‘absolutely filthy’ by some reviewers when it first came out because she talks about porn and arseholes, no nudity, just that kind of stark direct language coming out of a woman’s mouth is still quite shocking to us, and yet as we women know that’s how we often talk (to each other at least). So nothing shocking for us really.

I thought Francis McDormand’s character in Three Bill Boards Outside Ebbing Missouri was brilliant, refreshing in her desire, her ‘want’ to get justice for her daughter and the way she portrayed that, again, very real, and we’re just not used to seeing it that often.

What do you think could be done to increase realistic female representation in the arts and how do you intend to do this through your new company?

Well who is telling women’s stories? Primarily women but we’re still (on the whole) afraid to use our voices, to be heard, and you only have to look at the vitriol aimed at visible women in the media – social and mainstream – to see why.

I think honesty is key. Women beginning to be honest about how it feels to live in the world. Are we really being honest with each other, with ourselves? I don’t think we are.

When you look at the brutal reality of domestic violence and just how many women are being raped and murdered each week in the UK alone, it’s disturbing.

Everyday in the newspaper – everyday – there’s a story about a woman being killed or seriously harmed by a man. I love men but it’s got to stop, or we at least need to start being honest here about how our society/culture views us that those kinds of events are happening constantly and we’re not really addressing it, we treat it as it’s inevitable. Isn’t that odd?

Women truly connecting with themselves, using their voices and their own lived experience and expressing that without fear, insisting on being heard will help tremendously to increase realistic representation. Realistically, this isn’t happening yet because we’re still not truly expressing how we feel in a patriarchal world.

Taking to the stage alone is incredibly brave, how do you prepare/rehearse for something like this?

I agree, and we’ll see how it goes! Could be the biggest mistake of my life. I’m going to prepare by not thinking about it and simply going through it, come what may.

No matter what, I’m going to learn a lot. I’ve got mates who’ll cast an eye over it, I trust their judgement. They wouldn’t let me take to the stage with something that’s appalling would they? Would they…?

In regards to 'Emergency Door Release', you say that the show will tackle the pressures of beauty, how do you think we, as women, can embrace ourselves and not feel pressured to conform to 'typical beauty standards'?

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Beauty Myth’ by Naomi Wolf. Brilliant book. To know that the entire ‘beauty’ industry works by lowering women’s self esteem – it can’t operate otherwise – is a relief.

It’s a stark depressing read but she rounds it off with some chipper optimism, this book was written in the early 90s and is still more than relevant so there’s tons to do.

She leaves it by saying we have to begin to work towards feeling beautiful, self-defined, claiming our own sense of what ‘beauty’ means to us, because it’s a cultural creation anyway that changes with the whims of the patriarchy.

100 years ago it was pale and voluptuous, lately it’s tanned and skinny, what next? Pink spots and a green Mohawk? We can’t keep letting ourselves be dictated to like that. And when does it end?

I can’t be bothered spending my life obsessing about whether or not people think I’m pretty, it’ll be wiped away in a few years anyway. And it costs so much money I can’t afford it. Yes I want to be attractive, I enjoy looking nice but it can’t define you. You’re fucked if it does.

We also have to work at becoming aware of our feelings towards other women, we’ve been conditioned to distrust each other, to judge each other harshly and generally dislike ourselves and our Sisters. Yeah I said it, let’s start there, by reclaiming that word – Sister, and building a fortress-like camaraderie between us because we bloody need it.

What does it mean to you to be a feminist? Is it inclusive of all women?

It’s a big question. We have to educate ourselves about what our Foremothers went through to get us here, about how the patriarchy works and how it affects us all on an individual level, because it does.

Because there’s still so much work to be done. Of course it’s inclusive of all women, and men – we need all the help we can get! And make no mistake it is men’s issue too. It’s about freeing ourselves isn’t it?

It’s about our rights, our right to dignity, to humanity. So many of us are still denied this, and those in power are not going to hand us the key, we’ve got to forge it ourselves. We have no choice.

****

While we may still have a while to go, creative work, such as that of Victoria Tunnah, is definitely paving the way for a more representative media and hopefully, a more accepting society.

And, if you just can’t get enough of Victoria’s work, she will also be directing a piece for Fight Like Girl in August of 2019 -  "an incredible night of short plays where all proceeds go to raise awareness of Breast Cancer."

Image courtesy of MAP via YouTube, with thanks.