Moving the centre – Whoop’n’Wail guest post

Photo of Ali and Debs in discussion

Ali and Debs in discussion

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… is a new writing showcase with a difference. With six short pieces by both male and female playwrights, all must pass the Bechdel Test, ensuring the female characters’ contribution is significant to the plot. Inspired by Alison Bechdel’s now famous 1987 comic strip, The Rule, the test has become the benchmark for gauging fair gender representation on stage and screen and is, Whoop ‘n’ Wail believe, the lowest bar.

As guest contributors, Whoop ‘n’ Wail founders Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman tell 17Percent about the drive behind the showcase and their plans for their next night, Represents… Desire.

We have been writing together as Whoop ‘n’ Wail since 2011, and one of our passions has always been creating exciting, entertaining theatre populated with significant (and interesting) female characters. This may be born out of our mutual frustration as actresses – frequently auditioning for parts called ‘mum’, ‘sister’, ‘girl’, or ‘whore’! In these scenarios there was always a named male character these women revolved around, and it made us wonder where all the real women were in these stories?

It became apparent that this frustration was shared by most of our creative colleagues, and not just by the women. Both male and female actors, writers and directors expressed their frustration at the paucity of significant characters for their female friends, colleagues and loved ones to play, yet found themselves at a loss when it came to changing the status quo. We began to ask ourselves, what could we do to redress the balance?

Discovered in a cultural theory class at university, the concept of the absent centre truly hit home. White, straight men are the norm and do not need to be described as – in the absence of a description to the contrary – those traits are presumed automatically. All characters that do not fit that mould are ‘other’ – therefore women, LGBT, non-white and older characters become secondary to the male role at the centre. This is not just reflected in drama, these are the stories our societies are built on, and that both men and women respond to.

Because of this, we believe it is important that all of us – male and female writers – are part of challenging this concept by addressing our own assumptions. We need to actively work to tell the ‘other’ stories, about significant characters who are not the absent centre. If we look back through history there have been women working in all spheres of society, as there are non-white, LGBT and older figures of import. All women are not the same, and don’t participate in society in a uniform way. They say behind every great man is a great woman – so let’s hear about it! Let’s make theatre that includes and examines these characters, putting them at the centre without excluding the men that they existed and interacted with.

Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s response to this is Represents…: a showcase with an even number of male and female playwrights on the bill, and an even number of male and female directors taking them from page to stage. Each of the pieces passes the Bechdel Test: they have at least two named female characters, who, at some point talk, to each other about something other than a man.

Produced in association with 17Percent, our debut showcase,Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…The Launch was a sell-out success. This time we took open submissions and, as a jumping off point for writers, set the theme of Desire.  Having received 70 pieces from Canada to New Zealand – as well as home-grown talent – six plays have now been selected and our directors have been busy working with their writers, casting, and getting rehearsals underway. We are delighted to have been invited back to Waterloo East Theatre for our second showcase in February – another fantastic opportunity to bring innovative, entertaining plays to a wonderful central London venue, and with so many talented people involved in its creation. Tickets are on sale now so don’t miss out!

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… Desire

Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TG
Friday 6 – Saturday 7 February 2015, 7.30pm
Tickets on sale now: £10 in advance (£12 on the door)
Box office: 020 7928 0060 /


About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
This entry was posted in 17percenters, event, Launch event, news, Opportunities, plays to see, Women playwrights, women writers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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