To start with: why are you holding these play-readings?
Mainly to raise the profile of these plays in Oxford. There aren’t enough student productions here of plays written by women and I thought a good way to tackle to this would be to hold some relaxed readings, and show that these plays exist, and more importantly, that they’re good.
Is the need to raise the profile due to prejudice or simply a lack of good female playwrights?
Well, the generation of female playwrights only really kicked off in the 20th century. There’s a huge canon of male playwrights in the English language stretching all the way back to the Mystery plays, whereas the first successful female playwright – Aphra Behn – only emerged in the 17th century.
I also think that there’s a basic screen of prejudice that people have towards female writers that you probably wouldn’t get with male writers – they think you can take female writers with a pinch of salt because you expect them to be writing about “women’s issues.”
Why in a pub?
A couple of reasons. I was keen to allow non-university members to participate in the readings, and I also wanted there to be a setting in which people could meet the OUDS Committee and ask them any questions they may have about student drama. And the White Rabbit is bloody great.
Is there an overriding theme to the four plays, aside from being written by women?
There isn’t an overarching theme, but I did try and choose them based on their importance within the feminist movement: Detroit was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, an annual prize awarded to female writers, Her Naked Skin – the play we’re doing next week – was the first play written by a woman to be seen on the National’s Olivier stage; and Top Girls is still a very relevant discussion of the work/home dilemma that faces many women today.
Have you got any aims apart from raising awareness of female-written plays?
I am keen for OUDS to be concerned with University-wide, and worldwide, issues and feminism is definitely a good place to start. I’d like to show that feminism and drama can and should sit hand in hand within the student body, and that we can work together to achieve shared aims.
You study English Literature. Do you think women’s writing is well represented on the English Literature course at the University?
Not really – but that’s lots to do with the fact that there simply aren’t as many female writers across history. When Laurie Penny came to speak in the feminism debate, she said that in her time here, the course was dominated by male writers, and so she chose to write on Elizabethan female dramatists instead. Her tutor was not particularly happy with this decision, and tried to veer her back on track, leaving Laurie dismissive of her course and approving of whisky.
But I suppose it is really up to your tutor; I’ve generally been able to choose to focus on female writers, where possible, but I don’t know if everyone across the Faculty has the same opportunity.
Is this going to be a reoccurring event?
Yes. We’re focussing on different minority group playwrights each term, and are thinking of doing gay playwrights in Michaelmas. Look forward to some Tony Kushner.
Do you think that the Oxford drama scene tends towards the traditional in the plays they choose?
I think there is definitely a tendency to go with the safe and sellable. Unfortunately, what that means is going with writers people have heard of, and nine times out of ten those writers will be male.
What has been the response been so far?
We’ve had some really positive feedback after the readings, and on our event on Facebook, and after the first play-reading, some Danish visitors to Oxford approached me to say how much they enjoyed it, asking if we did them every day, which was wonderful.
Summarise the next play in a yoga position?
Erm, it’s about suffragettes. So, definitely not ‘downward dog’… ‘warrior’, I suppose?
Tell me why I should come along instead of going to Bridge?
It’s early in the evening and is 10 per cent off drinks so a perfect pre-lash.
Plays in the Pub will return to the White Rabbit next week, 8pm Thursday of 6th Week (30th May) with a reading of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Her Naked Skin