Feminist | Collective | Ladies | Media

I was completely chuffed, flattered, proud and intimidated when Megan Clement-Couzner from the F Collective asked me to share a few words for their website.The site is managed by Megan and (#qanda all star) Eva Cox. Their ‘about‘ section is ace. I particularly enjoy “We have started the F Collection to showcase other orgs and people who are part of a movement that is alive and kicking patriarchy in the arse.”

Of course, I wrote an epic tome on the subject… Highlights can be found here, on their blog. Make sure you click ‘F for Follow’!

I am not entirely comfortable offering ‘advice’ to other artists, though I was asked to. Nor do I hold myself up as an experienced feminist artist. I am a feminist, though, and part of that ethos is believing all women should have the opportunity to express their ideas and beliefs about feminism (and indeed ANYTHING) if they want to.

Below is my full spiel / rant / rave which I sent Megan, in case anyone just can’t get enough…

Megan asked for ‘A few lines about why you started LSiB, what you think/ what you’d change about women’s and queer visibility in performance industry. If you have a word of advice for other women performers too, that would be amazing.’

I said:

I started Lady Sings it Better for a variety of reasons, which could probably be categorised as political, self-indulgent or both! The self-indulgence refers to my passion for performing and my desire to do so with a big group of talented women. I also wanted to create a show which celebrated relationships between women. At first, I was focused on romantic relationships, as a queer woman, so saw reclaiming songs written by men as a great avenue to sing passionately about other women. But, very quickly, with the creative input of the rest of the group, this concept expanded to explore non-romantic relationships as well: friendships, familial relationships etc. Beyond that, Lady is also about examining the male gaze through popular music; we love finding song that are really misogynistic or sexist and turning them upside down!

It’s funny though, this question about creating ‘feminist art’. We got a review last week in Time Out which said we aren’t ‘feminist cabaret in the truest sense’ because we aren’t aggressive enough, our wit isn’t acerbic enough, and we perform the songs with a ‘smile, not a wink’. She seemed to take umbrage in us being happy, cheerful, sweet feminists. Perhaps she didn’t like that we don’t just perform bad songs by men; we also love to take the opportunity to sing really beautiful songs like Billy Joel’s ‘Always a woman’ and Dylan’s ‘It ain’t me, babe’.

Creating art isn’t about deciding to make a ‘feminist show’ and Lady Sings it Better doesn’t have an agenda or ‘message’. It’s women, on stage, singing together about love and sex and size and horses (long story). It’s about entertainment and fun and music and harmony and bad dancing, just as much as it is about feminism and queerness and friendship and male dominance in pop culture.

As for our performance industry and women’s visibility, I think it is a really hard question to comment on. Because of course there are loads of women performing really fabulous empowered art.

I think in Australia though, there is a real reverence of masculinity, especially in comedy. The line up for the Sydney Comedy Festival has hardly any women. You’ve got Magda Szubanski and Catherine Deveny and Marieke Hardy and Hannah Gadsby and others, but really comedy is extremely male dominated. And those women get so much sexist crap for putting themselves out there.

When we say we do ‘cabaret’, most people think we mean burlesque. Indeed, Sydney has a thriving burlesque scene, dominated by women. But comedy and live music, not so much. Look at the triple j hottest 100, it’s always dominated by men. Again, there are fabulous feminists musicians out there like Clare Bowditch, and we can always say ‘it’s better than it was before’, but I don’t need to tell readers of a feminist blog that society is less than ideal for women.

My company, blackcat productions, focuses on work by women and queer artists. I manage it with Phoebe Meredith, my wonderful business partner, and our goal is to grow the company to support emerging female and queer talent. We also seek out other women to work with, like the women who run The Green Room Lounge, our sponsor bar.

It’s also about creating work with a feminist / queer sensibility. I don’t want to listen to more comedy about how hard it is to lose weight or how hard it is to find a man. I’m bored of that. I want to sing songs about being fat and fabulous, and talk about falling in love with women. And I want it to be accessible and enjoyable to everyone. We make a point of targeting a broad audience, not just the queer community and women. We’ve played at Marrickville Library, in Enmore Park, at the National Disability Services Regional Support Worker Conference, to hoardes of straight people at the Adelaide Fringe. We’re in Mardi Gras at the moment, but we genuinely believe we can create queer, feminist entertainment that everyone can enjoy. Except perhaps Fred Nile.

We’ve met some amazing performers in the short time we’ve been doing this, from talented and focused Maxine Kauter, to our dedicated drummer, Lauren Allison (possibly the hardest working underpaid drummer in Sydney), to the girls I sing with in Lady or bassists extraordinaire Hannah James and Shannon Haritos, ali hughes & Leonie Cohen, the women who organise and perform at Chicks with Picks… I could go on. There isn’t a lack of amazing female performers; I just want us to hear more about them! And for them to get paid more. And played more on the radio. And for all their shows to sell out. Speaking of which, please book tickets to see us at the blackcat lounge: sidetrack.com.au

The best advice I could give is to go out and make art! Make sure you constantly work on your skills and craft, because you can always be better. Think of the audience’s experience before your own agenda: your art isn’t just about you, it’s about them. And remember that art is work, not a self-indulgent privilege. Amanda Palmer says art doesn’t have to be hard. There’s truth in that as good entertainment and creativity can be very simple. But selling your art, getting regular work, doing it independently and uncompromisingly? That’s hard and not something I am doing successfully yet.
It’s a job! You will need to be a project manager, a writer, a marketer, a user of social media, your own accountant… And you need a thick skin. Always be more prepared than you think you need to be, reply to emails promptly, rehearse excessively and show the crew respect.

There is a moment in the West Wing where Bartlet says “you got a best friend? Is he smarter than you? Would you trust him with your life? That’s your chief of staff.” Find that person. They might end up being in your band, or they’re a co-writer or your manager or – as in my case – a business partner / co-producer. If I didn’t have Phoebe I wouldn’t do this. You need someone who gets you.

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