Kathryn Welch: It’s good to talk, so let’s listen to those who are less likely to be heard

Let’s talk about language, and about the way that language reflects and shapes our experience of the world. Whilst it’s easy to assume that we’re each exposed to a cross-section of perspectives, the realities of media access, online news curation, and the concentration of white, middle-and-upper class voices in positions of power means that our views of the world are disproportionately influenced by a small minority.

Over 140,000 people visited the Macrobert Arts Centre last year, helping us to  support a new generation of artists to disrupt the narratives weve come to expect to hear
Over 140,000 people visited the Macrobert Arts Centre last year, helping us to support a new generation of artists to disrupt the narratives weve come to expect to hear

At Macrobert Arts Centre, we wondered what effect this concentration of power might have, and what role we might play in intentionally making space for a wider diversity of perspectives. The opportunity to programme the Traverse Theatre Company’s production of Locker Room Talk – created in response to Donald Trump’s infamous ‘grab them by the pussy’ comment – offered the perfect stimulus to begin this conversation, together with our audiences, partners and wider community.

Through a curated season of live performance, film takeovers and participatory activity, we’ve shaped a programme of events intended to explore the way we talk to and about each other, and to test the impact of widening the network of people whose voices we get to hear. This approach isn’t new to us – over the past three years we’ve used this model of curated ‘Conversations’ to explore topics as diverse as mental health, young people’s activism, the impact of the end of our local 
mining industry and environmentalism.

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This new Conversation will kick off (aptly) on International Women’s Day, when we’re delighted to present award-winning writer Annie George’s live performance of Twa. Accompanied by visual artist Flore Gardner, Twa blends theatrical 
storytelling with digital and live performance drawing to explore stories about women who are silenced or censored and who find other means of expression than just the voice to convey their truths. We’ll host a post-show discussion with Annie and other women we admire to explore how creative expression can become an act of resistance.

Kathryn Welch, Operations Director, Macrobert Arts Centre

We welcomed over 140,000 people through our doors at Macrobert Arts Centre last year. As an organisation with this kind of profile and reach, one of the most powerful ways we can disrupt existing power structures is to hand over our programming decisions to those who are typically under-represented or less well-heard.

With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with Stirling Women’s Aid to support a film takeover at Macrobert Arts Centre. For a weekend this March, we’ve invited Women’s Aid staff, volunteers and service users to become our Film Programmers – choosing what films we screen and selecting films that share a wider perspective on the world. We can’t wait to see what they come up with.

We’ve been inspired in this Conversation by many others – including Stylist magazine’s search for new female film critics (aptly titled Under Her Eye), which quoted research by USC Annenberg in LA showing that only a fifth of film critics are female, and of those only 4.1 per cent are women of colour. One of our own colleagues here at Macrobert – Film Trainee Katie Skinner – wrote a powerful entry for Stylist’s competition, describing documentary The Rape of Reccy Taylor (featured in the programme for 2018’s Central Scotland Documentary Festival), as ‘like being kicked in the face by emotion and having menstrual cramps in your heart’. Her perspective, alongside that of the other shortlisted new reviewers, keenly makes the case for supporting a new generation of artists to disrupt the narratives we’ve come to expect to hear.

Whilst we’ve intentionally chosen artists we know and admire to contribute to our Conversation, we’re also keen to invite everyone to share their own perspectives on the importance of language, connection and empathy. We’re inviting everyone (for which, read: do get involved!) to share with us a photo of people in your life ‘havin’ a blether’ and a short description explaining why this photo is dear to you. We’ll select a number of our favourites to be exhibited in our venue and online. Entries should be submitted to: [email protected] by Thursday 28 February – do get involved.

And finally, to draw our season to a close, we’ll be presenting Locker Room Talk on our main stage this April. This performance is a provocative exploration of how men speak about women in male-only spaces, written by Gary McNair and constructed from interviews with dozens of men from a wide variety of backgrounds. A selection of these conversations is performed, verbatim, by a cast of four women, making for a performance that is at once funny, cringe-worthy, eye-opening and illuminating.

We can’t think of any better way to round off our formal Conversation this spring, and to ensure that discussions about power, language and representation spill out long into the future.

Kathryn Welch, Operations Director, Macrobert Arts Centre