Since before the days of the suffragettes, women have been fighting to have their voices heard. Armed with an all-female cast and crew and a few props, this local theatre company has joined that fight.
Ferre Play Theatre is a Saskatoon-born company that is fighting to give women more opportunities in the world of theatre. Birthed in the wake of an all-female production of J. Caesar put on by Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan in 2016, the theatre is now making waves in the theatre community.
The company was formed as a reaction to the lack of opportunities for women in theatre and is zealous in their pursuit of the development of femaleidentifying and non-binary artists in the community.
Their inaugural production, an adaptation of The Penelopiad by Margeret Atwood, tells the tragic story of Queen Penelope and her 12 maids. It is a retelling of Homer’s epic poem Illiad that highlights the plight of the women who were left behind while Homer was off fighting Trojans and cyclopes alike.
The Penelopiad brings to the limelight the tales of women who were often afterthoughts in the stories of the exploits of men. This is a fitting first production as bringing women into the spotlight is one Ferre Play’s goals.
Heather Morrison is one of the five founders of Ferre Play Theatre and plays Helen in the production. Speaking on the power of representation, Morrison says that a company like Ferre Play is important, especially to a younger generation.
“When we see strong women and we see women succeeding and we see women as the heroes, it changes us and we can see ourselves in that role,” Morrison said. “And what we really hope to do for younger generations is say … there’s going to be an opportunity here.”
“It’s a different energy in the room when it’s only women,” Morrison said.
“It was mind-blowing to just be in the room with women and [have] all these things that you didn’t know that you had inside yourself come forward,” she said. “It’s exhilarating to see what women can create together.”
Alongside their five pillars of integrity, courage, inclusion, passion and innovation, Ferre Play also values the powers of “womanhood and strength” — these are their raisons d’être according to their website. Making the stories of women heard is a priority of the company and adds to the aptness of The Penelopiad as their first production.
“There’s so much more to [the women’s] story… Here, we are saying women have been fucked over, women are getting fucked over,” she said. “Here’s a story of these women; let’s make their story important. And one that needs to be heard.”
One challenge that the theatre has faced from critics is the idea that by creating an all-female theatre company, they are excluding men and further perpetuating the lack of equality that they claim to be fighting. Morrison’s rebuttal to this is clear — if there was no need for the company, it would not exist.
“Anything that challenges the status quo can be threatening to people … and when you have a group of people that have always belonged to any place they go, it’s difficult to have a place where their needs aren’t the priority,” Morrison said.
Ferre Play Theatre also features accessible ticket pricing, where you are allowed to pay what you can afford. Tickets are $10, $20 or $50, and the buyer chooses the price they want to pay based on what they can afford.
“If you can afford more, you get a $50 ticket because you’re supporting women in theatre and so far it’s balancing out. The people that have money are basically supplementing the tickets for the people that don’t,” said Morrison. “It’s amazing.”
We’ve come a long way from the olden days of Shakespeare when it was illegal for women to be on stage, but the existence of companies like Ferre Play proves that the equality of women in theatre still has a ways to go.
Moving forward, Ferre Play Theatre will continue making waves with their implicit activism — and hopefully, towards a successful end.
“I hope that there is some collective sense of community or alignment that happens because people can have this experience,” Morrison said. “[The Penelopiad is] not a happy tale … it’s bad. But it’s also beautiful. And it’s cathartic as well.”
Tomilola Ojo/ Culture Editor
Photo: Nicole Stevenson/ Supplied