With the support of Arts Council England and the Feminist Review Trust I have recently conducted a period of research and development to complete a draft of my new play ‘Gaze’.
The play has taken on many iterations in its lifetime. Starting in January 2018 I put a call out for submissions from female/non-binary writers to create a short monologue about a notable woman from film history. From these submissions I shortlisted 12 monologues to take to the next stage, which was a week of R&D in the studio with a director, Karen Traynor, and two actors to work on and develop the monologues. The original aim was to weave these monologues together, connecting them through my own narrative.
Moving forwards, we decided that the monologues worked really well as a compilation of individual entities, and I have instead pursued writing my first full-length play, partly inspired by the monologues and my original interest in the wonderful Alice Guy Blache, the first female filmmaker. Throughout 2019 I have worked on developing my ideas and research for the play, such as themes of film history, feminism, gender politics and mental health, which are all subjects I feel incredibly passionate about. Tying them together, I have come to produce, ‘Gaze’.
Working in the studio with Karen leading the direction, and three wonderful actors, we workshopped ideas and scenarios, and developed character context and backgrounds. We also experimented with film and projection, sound design, and I received amazing support from a dramaturg. This all led to me being able to write a full first draft and I am now working with my producer to approach venues with the aim of touring the production in autumn 2020.
As a disabled artist I feel passionate about supporting accessibility to the arts and so I have utilised the funding offered from the Arts Council and the Feminist Review Trust, to not only develop my play but also to develop an access plan which is intrinsic to the production and tour. I want to integrate access as a priority and so I have spent time researching and receiving help and advice from experts and organisations who support people with disabilities to explore the barriers that people face when trying to attend the theatre, and finding ways to overcome this.
I am excited about what the future holds for my play and cannot wait for the next stage…watch this space!
By Sarah Gonnet
Photos Copyright Matt Jamie
I want to share with you all some photos from the R+D week we ran for the play. During the week we looked at all twelve of the monologues; and the week culminated in a showing of six of them.
It was a lot of material to cover in one week, but we got through it, and these photos capture some scenes of us deep in thought!
Thank you to our director Karen Traynor, our producer Chloe Stott and our two actors- Ayesha De Garci and Helen MacFarlane!!
As part of The Female Gaze play development, Eliza Clark edited and illustrated these zines- our first physical publication!!
Copies of the zines can be found in cultural venues and bookshops across Newcastle.
A digital version is available here: https://thefemalegazemagazine.bigcartel.com/product/the-female-gaze-zine
It has been an exciting few days. We held auditions on Saturday, and I have been spending some time planning out the two workshops which will be run during the R+D week.
Hearing the monologues we used as audition pieces, read a number of times, made me realise again how powerful the writing we gathered from the open call is. I’m looking forward to developing each monologue!
I’ve also been keeping the research up, most recently reading an in-depth study of Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon; and a book about Scottish art-film director Margaret Tait. Both of these awesome women are included in the final twelve monologues.
BOOKING FOR THE R+D SHOWING IS AVAILABLE HERE: https://www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/whats-on-menu/coming-up/17-whats-on-articles/315-the-female-gaze-work-in-development
Auditions have just been announced for The Female Gaze R+D sharing in July!! Take a look here to apply: https://www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/news/auditions
Also you can now reserve seats for the showing on the 14th July. Book here: https://www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/whats-on-menu/coming-up/17-whats-on-articles/315-the-female-gaze-work-in-development
(Photo: Maya Deren in Meshes of the Afternoon)
By Sarah Gonnet
This is week four of really diving into the research. Alongside watching films from Alice Guy Blache, Maya Deren and Jane Arden, I have been reading about pre-code cinema.
The Hays Code banned portrayals of extramarital sex, interracial marriage, abortion, and many other aspects of cinematic storytelling; disproportionately effecting the representation of issues around race and women. After the Hays Code was implemented, expression of women’s sexuality was not permitted; and, absurdly, even when a white actor “blacked-up” (which was unfortunately quite common) there could not be an onscreen kiss between a character played by a white actor and a character played by a black actor.
The studios signed the Hays Code papers in 1930. They signed it because they ultimately feared government censorship over independent censorship. It was not the first lot of censorship papers they had signed, and in previous years they had been able to haggle with agreements, and basically continue making films in the same way they would have done anyway. For a few years (until mid-1934) the same thing happened with this new code. However, ultimately it came into effect and blighted the way films were made for decades. We are only just getting over the effects of the code now.
Alongside my research on the Hays Code; I have also been finding it interesting to compare the silent shorts of Alice Guy-Blache and those by Maya Deren. Alice Guy Blache made hers between 1896 and the beginning of the 1940s; whilst Maya Deren made hers in the two decades following- the 1940s and 1950s.
Both were experimenters in form and content; however Guy Blache’s experiments mostly consist of a new take on comedy, whilst Maya Deren’s look into female identity. The pacing of each is very important. Guy Blache’s cover the story as fast as they can, in order to emphasize the comedy. Meanwhile Deren’s films have a glacial pace which allows the audience to carefully examine what she is conveying to the audience.
Both lots of films were made independently of the Hollywood studio system. Deren’s by choice- she valued experimentation over commercialism; whilst at the beginning of Guy Blache’s career Hollywood wasn’t established as the film factory it is today. This freedom allowed both filmmakers to push the nature of film forward. They also both saw their films as pieces of art as opposed to commodities.
By Sarah Gonnet
I’m not usually one to use several exclamation marks; but I’m very excited today because The Female Gaze play just got funding to run an R+D week in July!! A big thank you to Chloe Stott our producer!!
The week will be focused on developing the script of the play, and will include public workshops on women and film, as well as a sharing of the work in progress at the end of the week. Watch this space for a confirmation of dates and to book.
The play will consist of a narrative written by me, and the following monologues:
Dorothy Arzner by Anna Novitzky
Louise Beavers ‘A Mammy of All Work” by Milethia Thomas
Sewing Circles: A Monologue About Jean Acker by Zoe Murtagh
A Brutal Ending (about Lorenza Mazzetti) by Ruby Lawrence
Jane Arden Monologue by Eleni Zezas
Vivien Leigh by Mhairi Ledgerwood
When Agnes Varda Came for Tea by Jayne Morley
Hattie McDaniel by Beverly Andrews
Margaret Tait by Carys Crossen
Jane ‘too black to be’ White by Ailish Fowler
Thelma Schoonmaker by Diane McInerney
Mapping the Terrain- After Maya Deren by Sarah Featherstone
Now I’m off to celebrate, and then get going doing more research and some writing!
We can officially use these logos (!):
By Sarah Gonnet
At this point in the process, I am watching a lot of films to get a real sense of each of the women included in the play.
Included on my watchlist are films such as Christopher Strong which was directed by Dorothy Arzner in 1933. Arzner was the only woman film director working in the US during the 1930s.
Imitation of Life (1934, not the 1959 film of the same name) stars Louise Beavers. The film looks at race in America and gender politics, as well as motherhood.
I will also be watching Beloved which contains the final on screen performance of Jane White; and working my way through a boxset of Agnes Varda films.
I looking forward to watching them all, and I will let you know how I get on in a later post.
By Sarah Gonnet
I handwrite all of my first drafts, something many other writers of my generation think is a bit strange; but then I’d be the first to admit that I am a bit strange.
This project has grown out of my strangeness, my propensity for obsessions on certain subjects. In the case of this play, my obsessiveness has been focused on both intersectional feminism and film. There has been a lot of research to process. I have been piecing together, from books, articles and the films themselves, the history of film which we aren’t told in the weighty volumes, that claim to catalogue the whole of the cinematic story. A history of women filmmakers.
It has been (and is a still ongoing) epic task. Without my obsessive personality I wouldn’t have got this far- finally jotting down some scenes for The Female Gaze play!
With the weight of my reading, and watching, behind me; I now have to carefully do the high-wire balancing act, which consists of not pumping the script full of facts, but instead suggesting the full breadth of the history, through as few words as possible. Yet I also have to take care to not be too oblique, and let people leave the theatre without a thorough knowledge of what I want to explore throughout the piece. Keeping the play alive, depends on a balancing act between these two poles.
Most of the writing of the play will be done after our R+D week, based on workshops and feedback from the public. So for now I am jotting down odd scenes, and ideas for scenes as they come to me. I am loving the process of beginning to shape a piece of art out of all that I have absorbed.
By Sarah Gonnet
Alice Guy-Blaché was the first director of a narrative film. Her short The Cabbage Fairy (1896) was the first film with a story. The men who came before her focused on recording reality- factory workers, a train coming into a platform, studies on how animals move. Meanwhile, Alice Guy-Blaché, an avid reader, thought that there was more to the cinematic arts than scientific discovery.
Guy-Blaché was twenty-three when she made The Cabbage Fairy, and working as a secretary at a photography company in France. Her career quickly progressed from there, she became head of production when the Gaumont studio was set up. She then moved to America in 1907 and created her own studio- Solax.
Yet the Great Depression and the First World War damaged cinema irreparably. It began to be seen as a business rather than an art, films became more standardized, and women were not welcome. Guy-Blaché ended her life living off money from writing stories for magazines and supported by her daughter.
Guy-Blaché’s story is at the heart of the latest Female Gaze project- a play about the history of women in film. Her story reflects the shape of the industry’s attitude towards women.
We received sixty-seven submissions of monologues from which twelve have been selected. I am currently doing the research for the narrative which will link these monologues together. Guy-Blaché is key to that narrative, which follows the adventures of her and a modern day film student.
Over the next few months I will be sharing with you all how the project is developing. But for now I’m going back to my reading!