“I have been angry for a very long time,” says Louise Oliver, in a firm and steady tone. Looking around at the current cultural discourse, with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements gathering speed and acquiring as many detractors and supporters along the way, it may be hard for some to remember a time before this landscape. However, this anger has been building for a long time and is finally not only being noticed but also heeded. That is the nature of a cultural shift, much like the tectonic plates. Slight movements, barely noticeable, before, one day, unpreventable and irrevocable change.
But what’s next? Where to put this anger, that has been legitimate for centuries, that is only just starting to find allies outside of feminist circles? Abuse and subjugation of women and women-identified people is extensive, continues today and is pervasive throughout all industries and societies. So where to start? Sometimes, it really is best to begin with what you know. Enter Persistent & Nasty.
“The tipping point was actually in August last year, just before Weinstein broke,” explains Louise, an actor, producer and writer herself. “Then when #MeToo and Time’s Up followed, we knew we were onto something global, that it wasn’t just us. That it was never just us.”
Louise, with Elaine Stirrat, Emilie Patry and Belle Jones, are the group of actors and writers behind Persistent & Nasty (P&N), planning and hosting the series. They have known and worked with each other for years, sharing their own trials and tribulations of being women working in stage and screen, trying to roll with the punches of sexist casting calls, not being taken seriously as artists, and the eternal Catch-22 of what’s expected from you as a woman in the creative industries.
“But then when I tried to organise an event at the Fringe in August and couldn’t find a suitable play that was written by a woman, with all-female roles, bar Caryl Churchill, I realised something had to give,” says Louise, “and that, really, the event should be a discussion about why we are in this place that we are in. And that’s where P&N was born.”
P&N a platform for female-identified humans working in the stage and screen industry. Each date in the series has a different theme, with the June event prioritising queer culture and the gender spectrum. The format of the of the evening is in two parts. First, there’s a rehearsed reading of a piece of writing for theatre, film or TV by a female-identified writer. This is followed by an open forum discussion with an invited industry guest. Male, male-identified, and gender fluid audience members are also very welcome. Each evening is recorded in a podcast, whilst the “core coven” of the four founders also podcast their thoughts and reflections as they go through the challenges and lessons of organising P&N.
Attending a P&N event is a unique experience. Unlike a lot of table reads or scratch nights, each writer’s piece is not there for development discussion or constructive criticism. After a reading, the panel and audience engage in a dialogue of questions and comments about the themes raised by the piece. To put it simply, the how of the piece is not the focus but, instead, the why. The exchange provided by P&N is electric, reminiscent of the consciousness raising gatherings of the second wave but with a focus on intersectionality that has been sorely missing from so much of the mainstream feminist movement. The core coven are aware that their particular identities are cis and white, actively reaching out to create new bonds with communities that have been marginalised or overlooked, giving them a platform to speak and an opportunity to be heard.
“World domination is the plan,” Louise laughs, wryly. “I’d love to create an intersectional index of writers and creative talent, almost like an agency, to have a resource for P&N writers and a way to get the gatekeepers to see them and their work. Maybe even chapters of P&N in other countries, helping other people to create their own collectives. We are still working it out as we go, though!”
The next Persistent & Nasty event is at 7pm on Thursday June 28th at the CCA, Glasgow.