“Why do you identify as a feminist?”, I asked Yvonne when I first sat down with her at the British Council’s Women in the Creative Industries event. “Because I’m a human being” she responded.
Yvonne Murphy is a Freelance Director/Producer and Artistic Director of Omidaze Productions. She directed an all-female Richard III and Henrey IV co-production with Wales Millennium Centre. She is a passionate believer in accessible and diverse theatre. In terms of accessibility, Omidaze Productions challenge how certain plays can be staged, where they can be staged and who they are for. “I am interested in creating a sense of disturbance in a positive way and allowing people different access to a cultural venue, allowing them to see that cultural venue with fresh eyes and allowing that cultural venue to see itself with fresh eyes, and I think that helps break down barriers to access.”
Another thing she does is the open rehearsal strategy, where they take their rehearsals into schools, particularly acknowledged deprived areas of Cardiff where people who go to those schools might not have access Shakespeare theatre and the arts.
“I am only interested in creating theatre that has a purpose, that will create conversation and help shift change in a positive way; as well as being entertainment. “
The actors rehearse in front of the children and there is a workshop session at the end of the rehearsal, the feedback and reaction to this is remarkable. “One of the schools that we went into, and this is quite indicative of all the schools. I asked them to put their hands up who had ever been inside a theatre building, not even to see a show, just walked inside a theatre building. There were 60 kids and 3 kids put their hand up.”
As the event was titled “Women in the Creative Industries” we discussed sexism and discrimination in theatre, when Yvonne first started out as a director she was told numerous times that she won’t still be around as she’ll go off and have kids. “No one says that to men,” she said. “Men are 50% responsible for having the kids, so I think that that is quite a major barrier that hasn’t actually shifted and changed that much in my working life.”
She believes movements such as Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign are long overdue: “Until we really start to change the structures of our organistions and the way we work, then we are never going to really change things.”
“I wanted to put a spotlight on gender inequality in the industry because I’ve done a lot of research and discovered that our industry is one of the worst for it.”
Yvonne doesn’t feel that gender equality is something that will be reached through natural progression and she emphasised the importance of making a change which spurred her on to create an all-female Shakespeare. However it wasn’t just an all-female cast, she had an all-female cast, crew and creative team working on Richard III. “The only people who had a slight problem with it were people in the industry which I found quite interesting.” So she went out and did a lot of research into what the people of the public thought: “No one I spoke to, from the smallest kid in a primary school to the eldest person on the street in Cardiff had an issue at school. But no one could give me an example of women playing men, so I was interested in why that was and what I could do to change that.”
It is interesting to see how the dynamic of an all female production, both cast and crew, would work. “The main feedback that I got from people involved in it whether they were actors or crew is that they felt that they had more space to speak as themselves.” Not that anyone had a problem working in a mixed gender cast, but Yvonne found it interesting to see how it worked differently.
In her second production, Henry IV, she had an all-female cast and crew but her circus and movement director was male. “I found it interesting that I didn’t define him as male, I defined him as a creative and that for me is the utopia,” she said. “I would like to live to see the day that female playwrights aren’t described as female playwrights, they’re just described as playwrights, and as I director I don’t have the prefix ‘female’ infront of it.”
“I would like to do an all-female production and not have to put all ‘female’ in front of it because it is just normal, but we have to swing the pendulum to the extreme in order for it to settle in the middle.”
The feedback she received from both productions was predominantly about the way in which the female actors gave a new meaning to the text. “People heard them as if for the first time because they were coming out of women’s mouths, so the issues and themes of war and conflict and our repsonses to threat felt fresh, sharp and relevant.”
I asked Yvonne whether or not she is planning to do another all-female Shakespeare, she is interested in Shakespeare and the classics and how some roles may not be gender specific but always seem to be played by men. She is planning to do a classic that is 50/50 gender but flip some of the roles and look at it through a different lens.
In terms of the Wonder Women festival’s Women in the Creative Industries event, Yvonne highlighted the importance of events like these. “I think it is about having a spotlight and a constructive conversation, using a piece of art as a central conversation, and to use it as a springboard, is really exciting.” In regard to moving forward in the industry she said: “We need to look at the people that hold the power, the decision makers and the gatekeepers. We need to look at board level and leadership roles and make sure all people, not just girls, are the future.”