Everything Is Possible has been York’s 2017 Big Community Show, a now traditional feat where the people of York come together under the banner of York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre to produce a large-scale production. It’s hugely impressive, not just for the size of the project, but the dedication poured into every costume, prop, scene and line.
Everything Is Possible is the story of the Suffragette movement, and although from a York perspective, it’s not afraid to draw stories from Leeds and London to explore the militant side of the movement. The show is very funny, very important and always makes me very weepy. Massive respect to the creatives, cast and crew.
Stories are important, and of course theatre is the industry of stories. Whilst the fight for the vote was a centralised idea around the movement, it was not just about being allowed to tick a box. The vote represented validation within the political spectrum, to be able to engage with politics. The show admirably talks about the sheer poverty of women in Britain at the turn of the century, the sheer lack of both worker’s and human rights and the fight for them, not just the base desire to tick boxes in a polling booth.
I have been given the very privileged position to programme a series of ‘buskers’ for the opening protest outside the Minster before the show begins, which takes the form of a modern day Women’s March akin to those that boldly defied Trump and the patriarchy across the globe earlier this year. I'm really grateful for this opportunity to be part of it, and I know the poets and musicians who have given their time and resources to perform have been super excited by a wing of this mighty production.
As someone known for ‘protesty stuff’ I can’t deny there are problematic elements to staging a protest, taking the perfromative elements of a movement and making them into the show’s prologue. Though the cast are chanting slogans, and holding banners, and talking to the audience about social issues, the piece is non-partisan in order to be accessible to the public, and also appease the varying degrees of politics within the cast.
All stories have an agenda. The make sure children don’t stray off the path and talk to wolf-like strangers, or go knocking on Gingerbread Houses, or it’s OK to kill giants. Or one day your Prince will come (ugh!). However even, for example, the Sisters Uncut chant of “back up back up we want freedom freedom / Sexist racist cuts we don’t need ‘em need ‘em” suggests an anti-austerity agenda, at odds with the Tory voters of the cast and public. And for the inclusive community aspect of the production, a compromise is required.
With this in mind, it’s been amazing to see some ‘realness’ in the form of buskers I have asked to perform who, without being overly partisan, are able to talk about social issues which the ‘script’ of the play would not necessarily allow, and possibly get the charity of YTR into hot water. The buskers, as outsiders, have a level of rebelliousness that adds an extra spice to the production.
I think this show has reminded me of the privilege as a freelance artist to navigate politics. Both on my personal page, and the Say Owt page, we promoted the Labour Party because their Arts policies (among many) were more beneficial to us and our audiences.
It is fine for me as an individual artist to upset Conservative voters and criticise their Austerity agenda, as well as other social issues because my agenda is solely my own. A production like Everything Is Possible as a massive amount of staff, volunteers and associates with all manner of ideas and politics and must acknowledge
But in actuality, this is the background to all movements. As the show presents, some Suffragettes were all for violence and militancy, willing to break the laws. Others still happy to respectably petition. One thing that the show didn’t quite touch upon (though I do appreciate it can’t cover every single aspect of the massive movement within a 90 minute running time!) was the resistance to the First World War from the Suffragette movement, and how it split into ant-war activists and pacifists (generally from a Socialist and Quaker perspective) and the women prepared to fly the patriotic flag.
But I am proud that the buskers I programmed, and myself as a busker too, were able to add into the mix these other ideas, opinions, poems and songs. Some women smashed windows, some women sold papers, some made tea at meetings. Some people chain themselves to fracking drills, some people film it for legal purposes, and some people make the tea too.
Systems aren’t made of bricks they’re made of people, and the same goes for a movement. A movement needs diversity, as much as there’s the respectable Parliamentary approach to change that some politicians present, we also need the spikier side to protest. As I talked about in a blog from a while ago, keep agitating, keep debating, use your platform as a host, performer, theatre-maker, musician, poet, comedian, manager, audience member, space-owner etc to talk about anger and hope and love and rage. And solidarity.
Deeds Not Words
Unfuck the world
If you want to know more about militant women’s fights across the world:
Sisters Uncut: “Sisters Uncut is a feminist direct action group taking action to defend domestic violence services.”
The Nanas: Anti-Fracking Grannies out to cause trouble for the big energy companies!
War On Women: hardcore punk band dedicated to making Safe Spaces on the Warped Tour
The Norwich Radical: Articles on women in music scenes, from patronising attitudes to periods
Petrol Girls: Feminist hardcore band calling out sexism at festivals (and the world)
YPJ: Kurdish women fighting ISIS in the Middle East