Broken Leg Theatre is currently in the thick of creating a new play. Setting out to reflect some of the changing experiences of being a woman living in the UK over the past hundred years. Big subject! It’s one that we were inspired to approach through our own experiences. The idea was initially triggered by a chat in the pub between Co-Directors of Broken Leg Theatre; Anna Jefferson and Alice Trueman. They were talking about their feelings of conflict around the many demands that work, family and relationships were exerting on their lives and wondered if women had ever been under so much pressure to have it all.
But it’s a subject we could never have done justice without the input of hundreds of women up and down the country. Women who over the past two years, have generously shared their diverse and inspirational experiences with us. Broken Leg Theatre have run forums with midwifery circles, older peoples groups, university students and mums with babies. And have discussed diverse topics such as experiences of feminism and sexism; what triggers feelings of guilt; the best advice your mother ever gave you and secrets passed between women in the family.
Their stories have been revelatory and a total honour to share. Galvanised, and wanting to spread the net ever wider, we set up a website – threegenerationsfowomen.co.uk [live link] – where any woman anywhere can share their answers to these and other questions, completely anonymously. So far, more than 2000 women have done so, their ages spanning from 15 – 102, and that number just keeps growing.
The more we have set out to talk to women, the more we have found that the topics – of the differences in female experience and particularly of the special perspectives and secrets that women have shared – connect with very live issues. The stories shared with us have told of secret children, desert treks, army stand offs, and adventures in solo parenting. They paint pictures of a world that in some ways has changed radically, and in others stayed the same. For me, coming to the show as my first project back after having my own first child, I have been struck by how important and empowering it is to hear other women’s experiences. To start to understand that the tensions between family and independent life are long-standing and hard-fought; to witness how the challenges women face have evolved and stayed the same.
It’s not an overstatement to say that making the show has plugged us all in to a wider movement.
Of course, translating the stories of more than 2000 women into meaningful dramatic form presents its own challenges. One way we’ve sought to do it justice has been to produce the show using an all-female team, something which has turned out to be more unusual than one might expect. Our incredible creatives include Ria Parry (National Theatre Studio resident director, Bush Theatre associate company), Simone Romaniuk (Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre company, Adelaide Festival designer) and Ella Wahstrom (sound design for Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Letter to a Man, and Jethro Compton’s Bunker Trilogy) with dramaturgy by Kirsty Housley (currently directing Complicite’s The Encounter). More than half of this team are mums themselves and we have worked hard to deliver a process that supports full participation of all our artists alongside meaningful family lives (not easy on a small Arts Council grant!).
We’re so pleased also to be offering a mum and baby friendly performance at The Lowry during our run so we can extend this principle out to our audiences. We also plan to keep threegenerationsofwomen.co.uk [live link] going long after the tour – to become a lasting living archive of lived female experience which we hope can go on to inspire and empower others, whether they see the show or not (although we hope they will!).
We tell one story in this production – an original tale of one family and the three women whose secrets have underpinned and, perhaps, undermined it. But we’ve worked hard to craft a show that resonates with many different experiences – of friendship, motherhood, daughterhood and work – recounted in our research. And we hope that our overall approach to the project invites women of all ages and backgrounds to identify themselves in the project – because this is a story for us all, and it seems the time is right to tell it.
Blog by Beccy Smith – producer Broken Leg Theatre
Three Generations of Women comes to The Lowry Fri 25 – Sat 26 March. For more infomation click here.