Feminism at the Fringe: Why the Words of Women Win
It’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest of its kind in the world with over 40,000 performances to be seen, and even though the population of Edinburgh is supposed to double over August, it still averages out at around 7 audience members per performance. This is hard going for anyone putting on a show, competing with the thousands of others screaming into the crowd to have their shows seen, hoping to be reviewed and praying to be discovered by an agent.
So I feel very lucky to not have to worry about this stress and, instead, have been booked by She Grrrowls as a guest performer for their Fringe series. She Grrrowls is a regular feminist arts night in London of poetry, comedy, music and all things in between. Tonight, we are based in a vault in the basement of the Banshee Labyrinth. It may seem strange, but this haunted Goth bar based in the clubbing area of Edinburgh is where you will find a consistent flow of poetry during the Fringe. Tonight, we are beating the average, there are 12 people in attendance. Just the Friday before, I’d performed to a house party of a 100. You may think I would be disappointed, but this would be to underestimate the strength of the feminist art scene. Carmina Masoliver and Ibizo Lami open the night with words that dig deep into unseen corners and bring out an understanding for the experiences that we have as women that so often get shrugged off. By the time I reach the stage the audience is in the zone. I perform my first poem and I am already hearing acclamations of ‘yes!’ and ‘that’s right’, I play my first track and I can hear fingers snapping, impromptu claps and hollers. By the time I am near the end of my set, in which I ask the audience to sing along with me the words ‘sex pest!’ we are having a party. It’s not the number, it’s the audience, and this group of like-minded people get what is going on here, for everything I give, they are giving back and this is why this audience of 12 people may as well be a few hundred for how much I have enjoyed myself.
The atmosphere that nights like She Grrrowls create are by no means a one-off either. I have had the pleasure of performing at Zero Tolerance ‘Violence Against Women’, Mxogyny’s spoken word event and Birds with Words regular open mics. All these events have provided a unique atmosphere of openness, support and energy. It is at these nights that I am more likely to be blown away by boundaries that are being pushed in the arts by women, trans women and non-binary artists who are finally sharing stories that are so often hidden from day to day conversation.
These shared spaces are essential to help foster a dialogue, to build up the women behind the work and give them the confidence to share their stories to a wider audience. It’s at these events that I am more likely to walk away with friends, more likely to cry and even hug a stranger. I am left thinking about how much I enjoyed Victoria McNulty’s final performance of Confessionals at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, not just because she is a ground-breaking poet who can weave Scot-style lyrics into dark, humorous and powerful stories that will leave you dizzy, but also for how much she gave. With an almost completely female audience, she sacrificed herself to the crowd, sharing the most difficult stories and emotions. I held tight to my tears knowing that if one slipped, I would erupt into ugly loud sobs that would ruin the show, but by the end, I was the only one. When I looked around the room, everyone’s face was wet including Victoria’s and every audience member came to hug her before leaving. It takes big labia to offer your most vulnerable parts to be seen by the world and in the women’s arts scene, I feel this is recognised and treated with the care and acclaim that it should.
Wherever you live, find out about your local women’s arts nights, attend, share and help to grow this amazing scene.
Nadia Freeman: https://iammissleading.com/
She Grrrowls http://shegrrrowls.com/
Zero Tolerance https://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/
Birds with Words https://www.facebook.com/birdswithwordss/
Victoria McNulty https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaMcNultyPoetry/