In celebration and recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Week Five of the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival was all about platforming women’s voices and work. Both the Wildcard and the Top 80 plays featured short plays written and/or directed by women and many focusing on issued concerning women in our society.
The Sunday afternoon began with the performance of the Week Five Wildcard program through which eight 10-minute long plays compete to move through to the Short + Sweet Gala Final. All of the Wildcard plays this week were directed by women and many included women writers, as well. Themes vary significantly between the plays which keeps this program particularly lively. Starting with a piece titled I Haven’t Thought of a Title Yet that turns the frustrations of the writing process into a meta examination of technology as it influences relationships and closing with a play about two women who figure out that they are mere background characters in Frasier, there’s something in the Wildcards for everyone.
A crowd favourite written by Paul Braverman and directed by Felicia Lay depicted the lives of three cognisant sausages (David Hodgkins, Monica Lay, Monikkah Eliah) as they debate the meaning of their existence as a metaphor for climate change and Christian extremism. This play took out the people’s choice award for the afternoon. The Wildcard program also included two excellent solo pieces written, directed, and performed by the same women. Too Cute to Poop monologued a woman (Rebecca Melrose) learning she can simultaneously be loveable and have a fully functioning digestive system. This hilarious story about a romantic trip to Turkey won this piece first place from the judges’ picks. The second solo performance was much more sombre in nature, detailing the physical trauma of miscarrying written, directed, and performed by Janelle Merry. While brutal, the play did well to break the silence on miscarriage and attempt to deconstruct the stigma around such a common experience.
For the main program, the Week Five Top 80 was similarly mixed in tone and content but with a noticeable focus on issues disproportionally effecting women such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and the history of feminism. A play from writer Mel Ryan and director Wendy Winkler of Act IV Theatre Company titled This is What a Feminist Looks Like traced the feminist movement through three lives and three generations from the Suffragettes to the women’s marches of the 60s to the modern day. Each story clearly showed what had changed in that time and what has stayed stubbornly the same. The winner of the people’s choice was Silent Accomplice in which a man (Peter David Allison) revealed the story of his witnessing his neighbour’s (Olga Olshansky) abuse and murder at the hands of her boyfriend. It was a heart-wrenching depiction of wilful ignorance and guilt.
Another stand-out performance, and the play that won the judge’s choice, was another monologue from a woman named Margot (Rebecca Smee) who gleefully recounted for the audience the story of how she killed her husband. It was both cleverly written by Lindsey Brown and wonderfully performed by Smee who had the audience captivated from her first line.
It is devastating to think that a week focusing on the voices of women is still so full of stories about violence and fear. Congratulations to the writers, directors, and performers who shared traumas in this week’s programs; whether true or not the stories likely sat close to home. May the coming year between now and the 2020 Women’s Week bring changes that allow more room for the trivial and silly parts of womanhood.
Short + Sweet Play Festival is running from February 6th – April 12th at Tom Mann Theatre. For more information about the weekly programming and the Gala Finals, please visit here.