Our co-founder Tennessee sits down with the co-founder and co-artistic director of She Said Theatre, Penny Harpham to chat all things theatre and feminism.
Tell me the story of She Said. How did you start out?
She Said began when Seanna van Helten and I were teenagers at the University of Queensland. We were starting to take an avid interest in theatre and realise that this is what we wanted to do with our lives, but were struck by the lack of women in creative leadership positions across the city's theatres and productions. So, we decided to create a company aimed at doing just that: putting women in as many roles as we could - on and off the stage.
So the company aims to provide more roles and create space for women and other underrepresented groups. How do you decide which works you put on?
Our work attempts to uncover the hidden truths and unheard voices in Australian society. In each work we have three house rules: 1) more women than men on every project, 2) culturally diverse casting and 3) it has to be a new Australian text-based work. From there our projects have varied greatly.
HART is a one-man verbatim show co-written and performed by Noongar man Ian Michael using testimonies from the Stolen Generations to demonstrate the ongoing, cyclical trauma that our government's policies have had on Indigenous families. It has has been performed over 100 times now across Australia and NZ in festivals, theatres, one-off events and for school children and it's a great example of our belief that theatre can be used to elevate voices that aren't often given a platform to be heard and help rewrite the history books we've inherited.
Fallen is an ensemble piece featuring six women in 1848 London who were hand picked by Charles Dickens to be part of an experiment in rehabilitation, an effort to solve the 'great social evil of prostitution'. Fictional in character and plot but based in truth (Dickens really ran this home), the play explores the foundation on which Australia was built; if the 'fallen' women were successfully reformed they would be sent off to the British colonies to marry the settlers and populate the New England.
For more info on these shows and others, you can go to our website: shesaidtheatre.com
Tell me a little bit about what you’re working on at the moment.
Salt is a new play by She Said co-Artistic Director, Seanna van Helten, that tracks a young girl (Caitlyn) who becomes a rising star in a 90s sitcom smash hit TV show. We see the world through Caitlyn's eyes as she absorbs the messages being fed to her (your body is your business) and interacts with her co-star and on-screen father, Bobby Salt, a 40-something male comedian who drinks, smokes, does what he likes - the classic Aussie talent. The third character is Sam, Caitlyn and Bobby's manager and Bobby's real-life daughter, who allows us to see the world of glitz and glamour from behind the scenes ('that drifting feeling .... that's all me, the reason any of this exists is because of me'). Salt forces us to see what is behind the machine - to ask the audience to wake up to the reality behind our cherished childhood fantasies and realise that it is not one event that leads to a headline, but a framework that allows some people to go unchecked their entire lives and others to loose their childhoods for our consumption.
You’ve been running the company for 10 years now. What do you find the challenges have been for you as women in a creative industry?
I think it's hard as a young woman to feel like you deserve the job. Everywhere you look there are men leading the way, running the companies, in lead roles - when you see that your whole life it can be impossible to try to imagine yourself in that position. It takes self-belief, a thick skin, good friends and collaborators and also role models to keep on track. That was one of the biggest reasons we moved from Brisbane to Melbourne six years ago - we wanted to be around other female-led practitioners; to track their work, to learn from them, to be inspired by them, to be reminded that there are other ways to create a show and run a company.
Who are your favourite artists or inspirations?
Tammy Anderson, Adena Jacobs, Suzie Dee, Patricia Cornelius, Candy Bowers, The Rabble, Morgan Rose, Paige Rattrey, Pauline Whymann, Zoey Coombs-Marr - that's just a few. There so many women making amazing work in Australia right now ... actually just so many!
If you had just one piece of advice for someone trying to make their creative dreams a reality, what would it be?
Try to find a balance between working hard (you're going to have to work really hard) and having a nice life (this can sometimes be forgotten while you're, you know, working really hard!) Don't be afraid to tell people when you're not feeling well, physically, emotionally and especially mentally. Our industry is among one of the most affected by mental health in the country - speak up when it's you, listen to others, be kind and careful with each other.
Where do you see She Said going in the next year?
HART will tour across the country again next year, Fallen will have a Melbourne season after premiering in Sydney this year, and Seanna and I will be in a long development for a large-scale work that we hope to premier in 2018.
How can people get involved?
Or, better yet, come to our shows and chat to us afterwards! We are always looking to collaborate with women from all ages, backgrounds, disciplines and interests.