The world we live in is constantly changing. Today’s definition of gender has been one of the more notable changes in the last few years with more advocacy for human rights for all, for safe and welcoming LGBTQ* communities and for the basic freedom to be who you are without prejudice.
Although it is 2016 there continue to be debates in Canada regarding gender-neutral bathrooms, the opportunity to hold Pride Parades and the overall safety of those living outside the gender-norm. The unfortunate truth is gender-identity is still a topic heavily discussed and debated even in our growing modern society.
In its 14 years, the annual festival has provided established and emerging female artists with much-needed opportunities to showcase and celebrate their work in the industry.
Up until now, the festival has only featured cisgender females. This year, FemFest takes its first step to redefining what it means to be a woman with the theme of “Transformation” and opening their line-up to include transgender artists.
“It really came out of our desire to show how gender has changed over the years,” says Sarasvàti Productions Artistic Director, Hope McIntyre.
“We often get asked the question, how do you deal with the reality of gender not being binary anymore? So we thought a lot about how we do tackle that in a changing world.”
FemFest 2016: Transformation will feature two transgender artists: spoken-word poet Antonette Rea from Vancouver and Winnipeg’s comedy legend Lara Rae as the host of the Opening Night Cabaret.
Every year Sarasvàti releases a call to playwrights across Canada to submit their work to be featured in the festival. So far submissions have only come from cis females, but McIntyre hopes featuring Rea and Rae will inspire other transgender artists to participate.
“We’ve always shown a diversity of women, but we’ve never before had to deal with someone who wasn’t born a woman or doesn’t fit into the gender box,” says McIntyre.
“It’s kind of sad that we’ve never had a transgender artist submit before so we thought we should dedicate this year to transformation, really open that door, see what’s out there and what might fit around this notion of change, our changing world and our changing definition of gender.”
Miss Understood by Antonette Rea is a touring show from Vancouver being presented at FemFest 2016. It tackles both the injustice and harsh reality of those facing gender discrimination.
The play is a theatrical poem based on Rea’s emotional life story. Rea went from living as a suburban married father of two to suffering abuse as a transgender woman making a living on the streets of Vancouver.
After battling years of prejudice, homelessness and substance abuse, Rea began using creative writing as a way to escape the fear and pain. After writing poetry and making a name for herself in Vancouver’s spoken-word scene, Rea found her material held a powerful message and was inspired to take her writing to the stage with Miss Understood.
“I felt much of my writing, my non-fiction poetry, lent itself to a one woman show as they shed various hues of light on what was the essence of my spirit and soul,” says Rea.
“My pen had become my best friend, my only friend, a way for me to get things out at a time when I was facing so much adversity on a daily basis. I felt I was all alone against the world.”
With so much raw, first-hand experiences, Rea’s play offers a captivating and truthful look into the life of a transgender person in a much-less accepting world.
Miss Understood is produced by Vancouver’s frank theatre company, whose mission is to use performing arts to cultivate positive acceptance of people outside of gender norms.
“Miss Understood will allow the audience to step into someone else’s shoes, the shoes of someone who, because of who they are, lack the privileges most of the us have, and yet was able to find a way to not only survive, but contribute to the world in an impactful way,” says Chris Gatchalian, the frank theatre company’s artistic producer.
“I hope Antonette’s story will inspire each audience member to chart their own journeys towards overcoming whatever challenges they are facing.”
Sarasvàti Productions is proud to present the frank theatre company at FemFest 2016 as part of a mandate to offer powerful and eye-opening performances to Winnipeg audiences. In this way, FemFest will continue to promote human understanding and provide a voice to those who are often silenced by society at large.
See Miss Understood and other amazing works by women playwrights from across Canada at FemFest 2016: Transformation. The festival takes place September 17 to 24, 2016 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Tickets are available by calling 204-204-586-2236 or by visiting femfest.ca.