With International Women’s Day just around the corner, I spoke to members of University College Feminists and Durham University Amnesty International about their collaborative event Femstival. Scheduled to be an entirely unique evening of entertainment, its coordinators Milly Rainford and Naoise Murphy promise a vibrant ‘celebration’ of creativity and, of course, women.
When asked about the origin of Femstival, Rainford and Murphy are relatively vague, explaining that the idea came from a ‘chance conversation’ about the work the two societies do, and the creativity of students in Durham. Murphy highlights how they have created an ‘expansive’ multi-arts showcase, which is perhaps unique from other International Women’s Day events. Arguably, Durham is somewhat lacking in such celebrations – although 2016 provided us with the International Women’s Week Showcase, Murphy notes that this was centred on theatre, whereas Femstival will showcase a more diverse range of disciplines and art forms. As Rainford adds, they’re in a sense trying to ‘cover the whole of the arts scene in a small space.’ The evening’s performances will include everything from song to poetry and more – with a large proportion of the music and recitals being student written and composed. Empty Shop will be used to its full advantage with a gallery of visual art and photography showcasing the talented work of Durham’s best creatives.
Murphy and Rainford emphasise that providing a space for performers to exhibit their work was their key aim. Above all, the showcase will provide a platform for a diverse range of voices, artists and talents. There is no overriding message or idea; Rainford comments that it is mostly about the ‘individuals’ rather than an over-arching theme and that performers have been given unlimited creative scope. Their focus was on simply ‘allowing people to express their experiences of being a woman, in whatever way they want to’ and on giving performers the option to answer the question: ‘how do you feel about being a woman in the twentieth century?’
Indeed, Rainford also mentions that the exhibition is inspired by this year’s International Women’s Day theme, ‘be bold for change’. Evidently, this theme has shaped the showcase, as Murphy suggests that to perform in this respect is itself a ‘bold’ statement, since ‘in promoting women’s voices you’re creating change.’
But Femstival will also showcase ‘fun’, as Murphy points out that she wanted to bring people together for a ‘relaxed event’ that is fundamentally aimed at celebrating women. If you’re concerned about finding more serious topics or conversations here, that is certainly not the case. Murphy notes that they aimed to not get ‘bogged down in the politics and the academic discussions,’ but to ‘take a step back’ and appreciate different perspectives. The event will showcase and entertainment, rather than broader questions about gender and women’s rights. Murphy admits, however, that everyone has a different interpretation of International Women’s Day, as ‘it can mean different things to different people.’ But at this point in second term, this showcase is undeniably an attractive opportunity to relax and find entertainment through celebrating women.
Both of its coordinators are optimistic about the event, emphasising that their main aim is to provide a ‘supportive’, pleasant environment in which individuals can share their talents. While Murphy aims for a ‘buzz’, she says that picking out a single performer is impossible since their performances attest to the fact that there are ‘really, really talented women in Durham.’ Both Murphy and Rainford hope that their event can inspire similar creative attempts in the future, but it is apparent that providing a space – even a small one – for such a celebration is itself a reward. We don’t know what the future will hold for such showcases in Durham, but clearly, this collaborative effort will be an entirely worthwhile way to spend an evening. If you fancy some relaxed entertainment and the opportunity to celebrate women, Femstival is the perfect event for you.
‘Femstival’ will take place at Empty Shop HQ on Wednesday, 8th March 2017. Doors will open at 19:00 for the exhibition, with performances from 20:00. Tickets can be purchased on the door. Check out the facebook event here for more information.
Photograph: Tamar Dutton