In 1985, cult cartoonist Alison Bechdel, inspired by a friend, developed criteria by which to gauge gender bias in popular entertainment. Today, that test not only bares Bechdel’s name, it’s applied regularly by discriminating females looking to create more opportunity for women in the worlds of film, television, and theatre.
The freshest set of fingerprints you’ll find on that measuring stick belong to Ottawa actor-producer, Robin Guy. It’s the guiding light, in fact, of the Three Sisters Theatre Company, the on again-off again outfit Guy founded in 2009. Guy uses the Bechdel test to pinpoint worthy properties for mostly but not exclusively female casts.
…so, I guess at this point, you want to know what the criteria of the test is, right? Okay. Here it is:
- The property must feature at least two women in major roles
- These characters must talk to one another
- That talk can be about anything other than a man
Yes, it pares the catalogue at-large considerably but what’s left is usually intelligent, moving, occasionally funny and of times lyrical.
Six years ago, the company gave birth with Birth, a Vagina Monologues-esque look at the rigors and rewards of pregnancy (featuring staged scenes instead of long speeches). Guy put it on as a fundraiser for an educational obstetrical conference. Okay, not exactly Broadway, or even The Bronson Centre, but the eight female actors involved put on a heck of a show and the reception was good enough to inspire Guy to try her hand as actor-producer again. Starting with the company’s upcoming follow-up, Canadian playwright Daniel McIvor’s Marion Bridge, Three Sisters plans on staging shows on a more consistent basis. They’re not ready to make any big announcements yet – they’re too busy putting the finishing touches on the current production – but they’re definitely looking at morphing into a dependable presence.
Marion Bridge, like many a play written for a female cast, is a play about sisters – and more fittingly for a company called Three Sisters, three of them. Set in Cape Breton, the play focuses on an intriguing the trio – a nun, an actor and a recluse – forced to reunite after their diverse personal adventures to deal with their dying mother. “It’s a great story,” gushes Guy, who has admired Governor General Award-winner McIvor’s work for many years. “Each of the characters is fully formed and has her own challenges to deal with.”
Much like her character, Guy has many a ball to juggle herself – after all, being both actor and producer is not exactly an act Three, Scene Two walk-on. Plus, she’s still a rookie. “As an actor-producer, I have what feels like a massive learning curve,” she confesses. “My strategy has been to surround myself with experienced and knowledgeable people. Plus I’ve been having a lot of coffees with colleagues in the theatre community who are experienced producers and picking their brains. I ask a lot of naive questions and just try to absorb everything that they tell me.”
And why would someone constantly plying the floorboards (Guy keeps regular company with companies as Orpheus, Seven Thirty, Plosive, and the Eddie May dinner theatre murder mysteries) plus being busy raising a young son and daughter want to expend all that extra sweat equity? The answer is part feminism, part opportunism: “The reality of being a female actor in Ottawa,” explains Guy, “is that there is a huge pool of extremely talented women all showing up at all the same auditions, competing for maybe one or two parts. It’s pretty tough odds to get work. And there are certain plays and parts I really, really want to do, and the only way to make sure that that happens is to produce them.”
So, starting February 11 at The Gladstone (for a ten day run.) you’ll see Guy, along with the multi-talented Shawna Pasini and award-winning actor-director Cindy Beaton, bridging the gender gap with Bridge.
And once that Bridge has been crossed?
“As soon as we close,” says an eager Guy, “I’ll be reading scripts. Next season isn’t so far away.”