This live read series is making 'fetch' happen with feminist twists on Hollywood movies

The fifth edition of Feminist Live Reads will take on Tina Fey's 'Mean Girls' this week in Toronto, raising money for Trans Lifeline.

Its fifth edition will take on Tina Fey's 'Mean Girls' this week in Toronto

The cast of the 'Almost Famous' edition of the Live Reads, held in Vancouver in 2015. (Lee Snelgar)

When the movie based on the HBO series Entourage was coming out in theatres two summers ago, writer and filmmaker Chandler Levack decided to use it as opportunity to discuss something Entourage was hardly a bellwether for: the roles available to women in film and TV.

Basically, Levack got together a group of talented, funny women to perform the Entourage pilot script live for a Toronto audience, with proceeds from the event raising money for women's charities. 

"People were really into it and our cast was amazing," Levack tells CBC Arts, noting Katie Boland, Cara Gee, Kayla Lorette, Lauren Collins and Kathleen Phillips among that "entourage" (pun intended). "It got me thinking about what happens when women perform a script that was never intended for them to play — and how that kind of 'flipping the script' could generate some interesting discussion about the disparity of roles available to women in film and TV. Ultimately, I just want to encourage diversity in the industry and provoke discussion about what kinds of roles women get to play in movies and what movies usually say about women."

Ultimately, I just want to encourage diversity in the industry and provoke discussion about what kinds of roles women get to play in movies and what movies usually say about women.- Chandler Levack, Feminist Live Reads

The series has continued regularly since its inception, touring the country and including takes on Reservoir Dogs, Almost Famous and Ocean's Eleven. They've featured actors like Mia Kirshner, Diana Bang and Maxim Roy, as well as musicians (Jasamine White-Gluz from No Joy), novelists (Heather O'Neill) and even restaurateurs (Jen Agg of the Toronto's Black Hoof).

"We also usually have a few woke dudes in the mix, playing the 'token female,'" Levack adds. Jacob Tierney played the Julia Roberts role in the Ocean's Eleven edition, for example.  

The series was inspired by Jason Reitman's Live Read series, which Levack saw at TIFF in 2012 (that edition featured American Beauty). "I thought it was so inspiring and cool to hear a screenplay read aloud. So all of this is in debt to what he created, but with a feminist twist!"

Tina Fey's 'Mean Girls' (2004) is the latest film to be tackled by the Feminist Live Reads series. (Paramount Pictures/Associated Press)

That twist continues this week with the fifth edition of the series, which for the first time focuses on a script that is primarily female: Tina Fey's Mean Girls. But that doesn't make it any less relevant to Levack's mission.

"Tina Fey's script is so smart and funny and subversive," Levack says. "She manages to take all of these tropes we'd seen in high school movies before but make her 'regulation hotties' and social outcasts flawed, hilarious and human, which is very rare for roles for women. And Regina George is one of the greatest villains in all of cinema! I've never done a Feminist Live Read where we've had women play women before. But there are so many great characters for women in Mean Girls and I wanted to create a strong female ensemble. It's also incredibly beloved and iconic. Every line of dialogue in the film is a GIF or a meme waiting to happen."

Levack also notes that Mean Girls was ahead of its time in terms of acknowledging LGBTQ issues in a mainstream movie — so in honour of that, all proceeds will go to Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline for trans people which is staffed by trans operators and available 24 hours a day. Trans performers Jesse Todd (playing Damian) and Vivek Shraya (playing Cady Heron, Lindsay Lohan's leading role) are among the cast.

Vivek Shraya, who will be playing Cady Heron in the "Mean Girls" edition. (Emmett Race)

"I guess I wanted to promote the visibility of a population whose very identity is under threat and promote a spirit of inclusivity through a really fun evening," Levack says. "It's really easy to feel paralyzed staring at your screen all the time, and it's nice to just create something that you would like to go to that also can raise money for a worthy cause."

And while Naomi Skwarna, co-star of the Toronto indie film Dim the Fluorescents, will once again be told to stop trying to make "fetch" happen onstage this week as she portrays Gretchen Wieners, Levack's series certainly reflects the meaning behind Weiners' famously failed catchphrase.

Feminist Live Reads Presents... Tina Fey's Mean Girls. Featuring Vivek Shraya, Michelle Mylett, Naomi Skwarna, Vanessa Matsui, Ennis Esmer, Grace Glowicki, Jesse Todd and Jay McCarrol. Apr 13, 6:45pm. Revue Cinema, Toronto. Tickets available at EventBrite.


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.


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