The Party Somewhere Else is a Nottingham-based collective of maverick creatives championing women in the arts. Their week-long festival of performances, workshops and theatre led by women aims to throw open the doors to those that may have felt shut out in the past.
“We want to showcase and give a platform to some of the really brilliant work that’s being made, not just by women, but by women-led teams and organisations,” says Tilly Branson, director, producer and marketing lead for the collective. “We want to provide spaces for important and sometimes difficult conversations, about how we can represent not just women’s voices as a whole, but all the different women who face additional barriers in the arts.”
The collective got its name from an event that founding members attended, all around women in the theatre. One of the panelist at the event was asked about the frustration felt at not being let into certain spaces, and they replied: “If you’re not being invited to the party, go and have the party somewhere else.” Tilly explains: “When we started running events in Nottingham, that had really stuck with us. We didn’t want it to be about knocking on doors – we wanted to be celebrating.”
“I’m really interested in how we reach out to people who might not ordinarily come to the theatre,” says Kath Akers, a drama therapist and another member of the Party team. “We’ve got an opportunity to tell a really diverse range of stories about the female experience, and open up that conversation to as many people as possible.”
Why is women-led theatre so important?
All of the organisers feel strongly about the importance of supporting women-led theatre, and showcasing the wealth of talent that women have to offer the arts that can often go unsupported, underfunded and unnoticed.
“We’ve had thousands of years of theatre being quite a patriarchal structure in its very form,” says Nikki Disney, who focuses on accessibility and programming the festival. “We’ve had centuries of women not being represented, or if they are, it’s through a male gaze. There’s been an unspoken agreement up until recently that this wasn’t of interest.”
“Self-identifying women are 50% of the population, and 67% of theatre tickets are purchased by women,” explains Kath. “But overwhelmingly we see pieces written and directed by men. It’s so important to give a platform where women have the creative agency over women’s stories.”
“I think it’s really obvious that there should be more of it, because it’s really good!” adds Ria Ashcroft, the festival’s project manager. “This festival shouldn’t really be necessary, there should already be loads of opportunities and places to put this really exciting work on, but it still needs highlighting. We want to hold the door open as wide as possible to let as many people as possible in.”
How does the current theatre scene support (or not support) women?
“I think it’s really important to say that we came together as a collective of independent artists, and held our first events at a venue run by one of our group,” says Tilly. “For The Party Somewhere Else festival, Nottingham Playhouse has given us their space and we could not do it without their support, which is a huge step forward.”
“There’s a lot of high profile change going on,” adds Kath, “but I think theatre is still a lot of catching up to do. It’s across the board – we need more female writers, directors and more female roles.”
“Big theatres tend to want to put on shows they know will be bring in loads of money, and there’s still a question around who’s going to want to see a show all about women – will men want to come and see it?” says Ria. “But if it’s all about men, you don’t hear people asking if it’s relevant to women.”
“I think there’s a big push for diversity and inclusivity agenda,” adds Nikki, “and as we move forward in this millennium we are starting to question what gender is a lot more, and seeing a lot of work come through about tackling gender being one defined thing. Hopefully our festival can start pushing those kinds of agendas in the future!”
How do you prioritise intersectionality?
“Sometimes it can be easy to jump to being defensive when someone points something out that you’ve missed,” says Tilly. “I think it’s really important to listen and think about what more you can do. There’s a difference between giving someone else an opportunity to have a little bit of time or space, and giving up your seat at the table.”
The collective actively reaches out to find out what they should be doing to address the issues of all women – their open house, a free event taking place on the Saturday, is something they have done before. “It’s an ongoing thing,” says Tilly, “It involves some uncomfortable conversations, but someone once said big changes don’t come from comfortable conversations.”
“The last time we did this it was a lovely chance for people to come and tell us what they need as artists," says Ria. “It will be really interesting to see how that conversation’s developed.”
“It’s so important to be intersectional, to open up to questions, and most importantly to listen,” continues Kath. “It’s quite dangerous to say we’ve covered all bases. The fact is, my life experience means that I’ve not had access to some experiences other women have had. I can’t say I even know what boxes we’ve got to tick.”
“I think it’s really important festival to support in terms of ensuring that these events continue to happen,” says Nikki. “And there are serious points within it, but overarching, we are a party. We want that party to run through everything we do, so there’s going to be excitement joy and celebration.”
“We’re so excited and we hope that this is the beginning of a longer journey,” adds Kath. “We hope to put on more events and continue to work with Nottingham. There’s so many exciting things happening and we’re so happy to be part of it, working alongside other women collectives.”
The Party Somewhere Else runs from Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 March 2018 at Nottingham Playhouse.