Less talk, more action: At the Feminist F--k It Festival, time is so beyond up it's not even funny
Toronto has a new feminist performance festival, and they're here to smash the status quo
Amidst a backdrop of shimmering purple streamers, a graffiti wall and a packed room of expectant audience members, head curators Claire Burns and Sedina Fiati welcomed everyone to the first night of the inaugural Feminist Fuck It Festival. In the program, the manifesto was stated clearly:
"The FEMINIST FUCK IT FEST is all about celebrating female centric performance work. We're saying FUCK IT to the status quo. FUCK IT. Time IS up. FUCK IT. Let's throw an art party!"
At the centre of this celebration is the play Ganga's Ganja by Radha S. Menon, which will be staged each night of the festival. Surprisingly funny and at moments very heartwarming, the play follows two sisters attempting to treat an incurable disease by avoiding pharmaceutical drugs and instead relying on homegrown marijuana in a post-apocalyptic and highly regulated world. On the opening night, audiences laughed loudly at the sisters' banter and noisily protested the cheesy pickup lines of a particularly smarmy traveling salesman, offering up a collective "fuck it" of their own to traditional theatre decorum.
It has been almost nine years since the last edition of Hysteria, the annual festival of women's art that was put on each year by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Now the proverbial mantle has been taken by The Storefront Theatre with a two week celebration that will include cabarets, comedy shows, musical performances, workshops, film, family events, parties, karaoke and theatre by Canadian and international artists who are all presenting art with a feminist lens.
But what does that mean today?
In 2009 — the last year Hysteria was staged — celebrities weren't expected to clearly articulate their stance on equal pay, sexual assault and gun control. In 2009, there were no hashtags or movements that mobilized people under the banners of Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, Standing Rock or Me Too. And in 2009, high school students didn't lead a march on Washington in conjunction with protests all around the world calling for gun control. The world has experienced monumental shifts and feminism has been at the forefront of much of it.
So how does that translate in a feminist art festival? I had the opportunity to discuss this question and much more with Burns and Fiati a few days before the festival.
I'm sick of being second-guessed, my opinions being dismissed and my voice being unaccounted for professionally. I am a boss-ass woman and fuck it to all those people who have chosen not to see that.- Claire Burns, Feminist Fuck It Festival curator
Tell me the origin story of this festival. How did it come together?
Claire Burns: We were programming for Storefront's 2017-2018 season and there were so many submissions from women, queer, non-binary performers. We were like, "We should do programming JUST for these people." We started talking about feminism and female and non-binary driven work and realized that there's no festival specific for that anymore. I was also like, "Fuck, we should call it the Feminist Fuck It Festival" — cause fuck it, I am so over women not being at the front. Personally the "fuck it" is a middle finger to the status quo and the general assumption that if it's between me and a man in the room, the man must be the boss. I'm sick of being second-guessed, my opinions being dismissed and my voice being unaccounted for professionally. I am a boss-ass woman and fuck it to all those people who have chosen not to see that.
Sedina Fiati: Yes, I agree. It was definitely Claire's idea! She came to the season programming meeting and we all loved the name and the concept. As Claire said, there hasn't been one since Hysteria — although, major shoutouts to Rhubarb and SummerWorks, both helmed by fabulous women and presenting feminist work for sure. We're glad to have a festival to focus exclusively on women and non-binary folks. I've been a feminist since I was 12, so this festival is [a] dream come true, combining both art and activism.
What is the significance of having this inaugural festival at this particular cultural and political moment?
CB: I think it's actually serendipitous that we scheduled this fest to happen now (pre-production having started in January 2017). We are in a moment where trans/POC/fem visibility is being prioritized. Old white guys have been running the show for so long. With the upheavals of those power hierarchies, we are at a moment when society seems to be ready to embrace feminist ideologies and inclusivity as viable alternatives in terms of organizational leadership and structure.
SF: I have been an activist for a while now, so even when activism is no longer trending, I'll still be here with everyone who wants a better world. It is exciting to see us as women/non-binary stand up and say no more. We've been doing it for a while now. With each generation, another layer of oppression is removed. We keep saying "no more" to different aspects of our lives that have been repressed and saying yes to liberation. It is always the time for a feminist festival!
For me, feminism right now — no matter what wave we are in — is about intersectionality, recognizing various genders, using social media and the internet in general to organize.- Sedina Fiati, Feminist Fuck It Festival curator
The online description of the festival describes this current moment as one of "third wave feminism" but there are some that argue we are actually in a fourth wave moment. This fourth wave was ushered in with the age of social media and has exposed strong intergenerational divides that often play out on digital platforms. Why did you choose third wave feminism as your framing? How does the art featured reflect the many layers of today's feminist movement(s)?
CB: Haha — we ARE in the fourth wave, right? It's funny with feminism; as a self-proclaimed feminist, I still somehow feel like I don't know enough about it. Like I need a professor or something to tell me which phase we are in — that I don't feel that I have that power myself. The art in the fest is intersectional. They aren't "issue" plays or performances — they feature trans/female bodies in the space — and those creators [and] performers might hold a myriad of other prismic identities. I think the programming reflects that. There is no one-size-fits-all feminist experience. Feminism can be held and owned by any and all.
SF: I could 100% agree that a fourth wave could be happening. So exciting! It's also so hard to recognize a revolution when it's happening — when you're in the midst of being enveloped by a wave and you're still getting wet, you know? For me, feminism right now — no matter what wave we are in — is about intersectionality, recognizing various genders, using social media and the internet in general to organize. It's also, dare I say, joyful — respectful of beauty rituals and naming underrecognized, life-saving behaviours that women/non-binary folks have been doing for eons (like the concept of emotional labour, recognizing sex work as real work, how caregiving is completely undervalued) and not taking no shit. We're also still fighting to maintain reproductive rights and improve pay equity — the gains that were made in the past that some old school folks want to erode. That ain't happening. To pull some African American Vernacular, we're snatching edges here.
Why is it important to have this festival right now in Toronto?
SF: For me, the festival is really about walking our talk. We can talk a lot in Toronto — panel after panel, article after article. I want to see our arts scene embodying an inclusive framework. Less talk, more action. Let's use our resources to give underrepresented artists a platform.
Who is your ideal audience? Who is this festival for?
CB: Party people, women, queers, POC, non-binary folk, curious art aficionados, marijuana activists, feminists (obvs), students, millennials, youngsters, oldsters, families, babies. For everyone who's interested in being entertained and supporting intersectional feminism.
Feminist Fuck It Festival. Until April 22nd. 360 Geary Lane, Toronto. www.thestorefronttheatre.com