There’s nothing quite like activism in entertainment to take art – already inherently political at times – to the next level, and give a performance a little more substance. This weekend sees Mansplaining by Alice Tovey and Ned Dixon hit Sydney, following raves reviews at previous runs on the Australia fringe festival circuit and The Butterfly Club in Melbourne.
We spoke with creator and performer Alice Tovey to find out a little more about her thought process, and to gain a little insight into how she’s managed to combine comedic timing and other talents to best put across such a narrative.
BYO: You wrote Mansplaining with Ned Dixon, who you’ve worked with before. How did this collaboration initially come about, and do you always see eye-to-eye on concepts and themes?
Ned and I met in first year of university studying classical music. We were both very young, dumb and didn't understand how to use our hair straighteners to get the right amount of lift (we do now, and we are both blessed with magnificent cheekbones and fabulous hair). We first came together to work on a comedy festival show called Tres Misérables; a three person, one hour parody show of Les Misérables. From then on we have been creatively inseparable.
I wouldn't work with someone who didn't see eye-to-eye with me. While I think that a mix of different views make for healthy (note: healthy. Not racist, shithead views) social discourse, and I enjoy challenging opinions when I'm working through a concept, I think when working in a creative space it is important to find co-writers and partners who understand you intensely. When you're working towards an end product, you need to find someone who complements you.
BYO: When writing Mansplaining, was there a message you wanted to portray from the get go, or did you just see where your creativity and passion took you?
I didn't have an end point, but I had a start. I knew that I wanted to explore what it meant to be a feminist in the #MeToo era. What it meant to be a feminist and come face-to-face with the more toxic aspects of masculinity. I wanted to take a look at my own relationships with men and reflect on what they say about the world, and what they said about me.
BYO: At what age did you realise you were politically switched on, and was there a particular feminist – or other – cause which lead to this translating to activism?
It may sound strange to some, but my feminist journey truly kicked off when I attended an all girl's catholic school. Being surrounded by powerful women, in a world where women ruled the conversation, gave me a model as to what I thought the ideal world should be. No man ever talked over me when I was growing up. Going to university and having men talk over me and telling me what to think was a real culture shock. Didn't they understand that I was in charge of the scenario? Silly men. My mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother were great, strong feminist models. They are women who are not to be fucked with. These women taught me how to build myself into the person I wanted to be.
I am also a great admirer of leading feminist thinkers Roxanne Gay and Hannah Gadsby. These women gave words to the fire I felt at this stage in my life.
BYO: Your form of activism is quite unique – what do you think the benefits of using entertainment to provoke a conversation about matters of equality?
People are ready to listen when they come to see a show. Generally, a comedy audience is ready to hear something challenging, or at the very least see a different side of their society. I think that by using entertainment, you can easy people into hearing some challenging ideas, and because they're in the head space to enjoy themselves, they might soon learn to enjoy being challenged.
BYO: Many of your audience members will already be rather feminist. Have you had any backlash from those who may not be quite as “woke”?
My favourite story is that of a man (of course) who came to see a show of mine in Adelaide. Long story short I was talking about Malala Yousafzai and the terrible tragedy that was her shooting. He felt the need to interrupt me mid-sentence to tell me that little boys are also sometimes shot (like I didn't know). I told him that he had 30 seconds to explain his position to me and, would you believe it, from that point on he was speechless.
I then told him that he could explain things more to me after the show over a drink, which he could buy with his dollar to my 80 cents.
BYO: How hard do you think it is for women in your industry compared to men, and do you have any specific examples of criticism or struggles you have faced?
People come to my shows assuming that I am going to do certain things, say certain things, because I'm a woman. I feel that subconsciously some producers and programmers think that women's issues aren't universal. Women's issues are human issues, and audiences are more in tune with the wider world than we often give them credit for.
The only difference between my issues and a man's issues is that I don't have to watch Mamma Mia in secret (men, stop watching Mamma Mia in secret. Embrace the Mamma Mia love. You can like pies, footy and ABBA and still be a man).
BYO: Are you working on any other pieces of writing or performances at the moment?
I am! It's all very secret though at the moment. Very secret feminism business. But ask me in a few months and I will desperately need the publicity.
BYO: Finally, do you have any tips for other passionate people or deep thinkers who also want to use the arts as a medium for their activism?
Write what you want to say and don't worry about what you think other people want you to say. And never be afraid to get up and take up your space. It belongs just as much to you as it does to anyone else.
The Old Fitz
129 Dowling Street
August 9 - 11