All posts by m.reason

Chris Farley is Fat and Funny

By Rhys Speight

The performer’s greatest tool is their body, and while everyone has one they can be very different. However, this doesn’t translate to what we see in popular media where slim and toned bodies predominate. Deviations from this are so much of an irregularity that the term ‘plus-size actors’ was coined to refer to those whose weight falls above the ridiculous Hollywood standards. As someone who is plus size, being various weights and shapes throughout my life, I can relate to the struggles of being a plus size performer, or a fat actor as I like to call it. One of the genres I have always gravitated towards is comedy as fat actors have always seemed to flourish in this genre, despite it leading to some negative stereotypes and poor mental health for the actors.

The American television variety show Saturday Night Live (abbreviated as SNL) has a history of casting a diverse range of comedians, thus making it inevitable that a range of plus size actors would join their ranks. SNL have proudly given a platform to fat comedians, such as the beloved John Belushi and Chris Farley, both of whom died at age 33 of drug overdoses. The escapades of Farley in particular are still fondly remembered to this day, with one of his most well-known, and in recent years infamous, sketches being the Chippendales Audition from Season 16 in 1990, with guest star Patrick Swayze. Swayze was massive sex symbol of the time, known for his athleticism and dancing, so the logical comedic conclusion would be pairing him with the obese Farley. Chippendale dancers represent a peak of masculinity, their toned bodies and heavily choreographed dance routines being a far cry from Farley’s usual schlubby spontaneous antics. In the sketch, Farley is presented opposite Swayze at an audition panel for the position of a dancer. The joke is very simple: Farley is fat. As he strips his hairy, chubby body is put on full display for the camera, juxtaposed with the toned torso of Swayze. Farley is competing with the biggest sex symbol in America and yet, he has our undivided attention. It is a bizarre effect, intentional or not, as here Farley seems to have all the power in the situation. Despite one of the most aesthetically pleasing men in Hollywood being stood next to him, all eyes are on Farley’s obese body and soon we begin to root for him. Similar to Oliver Hardy, seeing such a large man move with such athleticism and energy instils a sense of euphoria, we are seeing the last thing we expect to happen unfold before our eyes, the whoops and cheers of the audience make it clear who is their preferred dancer.

However, the narrative of the sketch itself is different. In a rather awkward concluding scene, the judges choose Swayze’s character before body shaming Farley’s, bluntly describing his body as “fat and flabby”. The sketch has since gone on to have an infamous reputation, with some pointing to it as part of the reason Farley developed such deep insecurities. The Network Entertainment documentary I am Chris Farley (2015) delves into Farley’s struggle with mental health and drugs, interviewing his friend and fellow comedian Chris Rock, who cited the Chippendale sketch as one of the reasons Farley felt these insecurities, criticising it because:

The joke of it is, basically, ‘We can’t hire you because you’re fat.’ There’s no comic twist to it. It’s just [bleep]ing mean. Chris wanted so much to be liked. As funny as that sketch was…it’s one of the things that killed him. (Rock 2015).

Rock’s criticism is blunt, but also very much in the right. The sketch’s premise is to make fun of Farley’s weight, it is a direct mockery of his body. Watching the sketch now, Farley’s performance gives him the kind of power he has, and the effect it has on the audience that makes them root for him. As a performer he was deeply loved and his style has certainly inspired parts of my own.

Sadly however , this affection was not enough to get through to Farley at the time, and he turned to alcohol, drugs and binge eating in his personal life. The Washington Post’s Justin Moyer discusses these issues in his bluntly named article, ‘How we killed Chris Farley with laughter’ (2015), writing in response to Farley’s view that he felt trapped by both type casting and trying to keep his outrageous comic persona separate from his personal life, “Every character he played seemed ready to burst, and the comic was not inclined — or perhaps too scared — to play against type.” (Moyer 2015).

Moyer goes on to argue that Chris was trapped by a case of “Life imitates art”, the characters that Farley would portray only seemed to get larger and louder, bleeding through into Farley’s real-world personality. In performance, Farley discovered a safe space where he could unload his stress and found not only a place accommodate his large body and increasingly unhealthy lifestyle. Farley eventually escaped the mental trap of SNL and looked to have a promising upcoming career, talking with playwright David Mamet about playing Fatty Arbuckle, a fat comedian accused of rape. A very striking and dramatic role could’ve made Farley’s career. Despite his explosively comedic persona, Farley was a deeply broken and problematic person. Indeed, as an admirer of his, it is upsetting to learn that Farley was convicted of exposing himself to a girl in school, leading to his expulsion. He would ultimately follow in the footsteps of his hero John Belushi and died of a drug overdose at the young age of 33, alone in his apartment.

In being fat and funny, Farley took both aspects too far, and killed himself with them. It would be reassuring to believe that we have learned from Farley’s tragic life, but we haven’t. Fat is still stigmatised as slobbish and clumsy, and fat performers still have to rely on comedic work to get anywhere in the industry, despite how poorly handled the comedy often is. This is a clear case for better written work surrounding fat, though perhaps that is too much to ask of popular media.

Moyer, J. (2015) How we killed Chris Farley with laughter [Internet]

Rock, C. (2015) I am Chris Farley [Documentary] Directed by Brent Hodge and Derik Murray. Vancouver, Canada. Network Entertainment.

Rhys Speight is a BA Drama and Theatre student at York St John University.

This post is a extract from his third year dissertation titled: ‘Fat is… an Issue? An Analysis of the Role of Plus Size Actors and Actresses in the World of Performance

Women’s Anger and its Reclamation through Art

By Kathryn Morris McHarry

The past few years, we have seen an increase in the exposure of inequalities faced by women; movements such as #MeToo have highlighted the oppression women have faced for years and, because of this, society is beginning to be held accountable. Women are rightly angry and more than ever feeling empowered to talk about the injustices they experience. Despite this, it is apparent that a disturbing narrative surrounding female anger persists. Women who express their anger are labelled ‘hysterical’, ‘nasty’ or ‘mad’, devaluing even the most justifiable of feelings.

Soraya Chemlay explains the danger of the demonization of female anger in her book Rage Becomes Her saying that anger:

Makes it clear that we take ourselves seriously. This is true in our homes and in our public lives. By effectively severing anger from ‘good womanhood’, we chose to sever girls and women from the emotion that best protects us against danger and injustice. (Chemlay, 2018, xxi)

In this book Chemlay also explores how socialisation in formative years sets out clear and worrying gender stereotypes concerning anger that only continue to grow, limiting women’s and girls’ emotional expression and behaviour. This idea is supported by a questionnaire study in 2000 in which men and women were asked questions used to assess anger expression and personality traits such as assertiveness, self-esteem, sense of effectiveness, and expectations for success. Deborah Cox said that the study found that:

In the focus group interviews, several women told us they felt that their anger was disabling. They felt ashamed of feeling angry and tried to control it, hide it, and apologize for it. (University of California, 2000)

This supports the idea that women are socialised to see their anger as shameful. This is problematic because anger is an important and powerful emotion which can help individuals in many ways, allowing expression of feelings in an obvious and clear way that makes the world more likely to take notice. This was discussed by Lewis, Fischer and Manstead who explain that ‘The social function of anger is to impose change upon another person’ (2010, 457). However, this is not the only positive function of anger, particularly psychologically. As well as allowing a person to sufficiently air their discontent, anger allows us to recognise injustices and motivates us to right these wrongs and do something, promoting proactivity.

This ability of anger to provide a route for realising wrongdoing and demand change also gives the emotion and its release specific political power; throughout history displays of anger have been used by the oppressed to force a conversation. When anger is recognised for its positive power rather than as a merely negative emotion, it is easier to recognise the detrimental effect that may result when half of the population is made to believe that it is unbecoming. It is important to note that this oppression of female anger serves as a tool for the patriarchy in its systematic oppression of the female voice and thus in its oppression of women. By painting anger and rage as unreasonable in females and simultaneously claiming women who fight against the patriarchy to be ‘angry feminists’, any woman who would consider herself a feminist is portrayed as a bad woman, even when her anger is justifiable.

Like every other sector of our society, the art and theatre worlds have undoubtably perpetuated troubling stereotypes of femininity and specifically women’s anger. This being said, more and more we are seeing examples of practitioners, often women, using their art to challenge patriarchy in its depiction of their emotions.

One example of the deconstruction of the tropes of female anger is Pipilotti Rist’s Ever Is Overall (1997). This large-scale projection installation, filmed on a standard video camera, showed a woman dressed in a pale blue dress and red high heeled shoes happily walking down a street. Accompanied by a dreamy, almost etherial soundtrack and with a large grin on her face she smashes the windows of cars using a metal flower while female police officer salutes her as the walks by. The action seems to provide a cathartic release from the stuffy feminine image we are often shown by the male gaze. The use of the flower as a weapon of destruction is also important to consider. Much like the woman, the flower is considered delicate and feminine but is used in an action of violence. This idea is noted by Serina Ferrao who says ‘The flower represents the delicate nature of the female; Rist describes the flower as “clitoric’” (Ferrao, 2014)

In the video, Rist seems to capture the hidden and confined rage of the exhausted housewife. This image of a woman smashing up a car has become ingrained into modern culture, often linked to the idea of being wronged by men. For example, in 2016 the music video for Beyonce’s Hold Up (2016) was released. This video is startlingly similar to Rist’s, as Knowles-Carter sashays down the street in a long yellow dress and smashes the windows of cars, smiling all the while and in the accompanying song the artist sings about an unfaithful partner. Ariella Grittlen comments ‘The video offers the same exhilaration as Rist’s, the notion that anger itself might free us from everything from cheating spouses to systemic racism and sexism’ (2018). As Grittlen infers, these depictions seem to provide an insight into the female view of anger and rage – that it’s display and acceptance could provide a welcome release and a purge of emotion for the female audience to whom female anger is usually shown to in a negative way.

It is however arguable that this depiction of feminine rage, especially in Beyonce’s case, instead of empowering women, perpetuates the image of the ‘crazy ex/girlfriend’. This has become a worryingly common sexist trope, depicted in TV, film, music, theatre and has been persistently transferred to the general public. As is the same with many sexist myths, the concept of a ‘psycho’ or ‘crazy’ ex applies almost exclusively to women and similar behaviour by men is portrayed as ‘romantic’ rather than unhinged. This is perhaps most clear in modern rom-com films. A recent study by Julia Lippman involved participants watching a range of romantic comedies which depicted arguably abusive and stalker like behaviour from males and then completing a questionnaire on stalking. Lippman found that:
Results indicate that media portrayals of gendered aggression can have prosocial effects, and that the romanticized pursuit behaviours commonly featured in the media as a part of normative courtship can lead to an increase in stalking-supportive beliefs. (Lippman, 2018)

Despite these unfortunate readings, it is my hope that perhaps, if women see their anger reflected in performance and media, they may begin to recognise the positive uses it can have. As Chemlay and Chakrabati note, ‘we have an emotional culture that thinks of [female] anger as destructive and as negative when in fact it’s the way we perceive and manage anger that yields these bad effects.” (2018) Through seeing anger performed by female artists and activists we can begin to acknowledge its positive effects and challenge the patriarchy’s portrayal of the ‘hysterical’, ‘nasty’ or ‘mad’ angry woman and instead recognise why they are right to be angry.


Chemaly, S. (2018). Rage Becomes Her. London: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
University of California, San Francisco. (2000, January 31). Comparison of Anger Expression in Men And Women Reveals Surprising Differences. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 7, 2019 from
Lewis, M., Fischer, A. and Manstead, A. (2010). Handbook of emotions. New York: The Guilford Press, p.457.
Rist, P. (1997). Ever Is Overall.
Ferrao, S. (2014). Pipilotti Rist Ever is over all 1997. [online] Sabrina Ferrao blog. Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].
Knowles-Carter, B. (2016). Beyoncé – Hold Up (Video).

Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2019].
Gittlen, A. (2018). The 7 Most Vengeful Depictions of Female Rage in Art History. [online] Artsy. Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2019].
Caldwell, J., Swan, S. and Woodbrown, D. (2019). PsycNET. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
Lippman, J. (2019). I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You: The Effects of Media Portrayals of Persistent Pursuit on Beliefs About Stalking – Julia R. Lippman, 2018.
Chemaly, S. and Chakrabati, M. (2018). ‘Rage Becomes Her’: The Current Conversation Around Women’s Anger. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].

Karthyn Morris McHarry is a BA Drama and Theatre student at York St John University.

This post is a extract from her third year dissertation titled: ‘The myth of anger as an unfeminine trait in contemporary performance practice.’

All in a Row and ‘Cripping Up’ to Portray Autism in Theatre

By Harry Murdoch

First performed in the Southwark Playhouse in February 2019, All in a Row is a play by Alex Oates centred on the parents of Laurence, an 11-year-old boy with autism. The production gained widespread controversy surrounding the choice to portray Laurence using a grey, expressionless puppet. However, to state that All in a Row’s depiction of autism’s problematic purely because of its use of puppetry ignores other elements which led to the production’s divisive reception, such as the ‘cripping up’ of the puppeteer and Laurence’s framing within the play. I intend to interrogate the impact of these individual components to discover why this production received such harsh criticism.

Although there are arguably aspects of the production which are more problematic, the public discourse focused on the depiction of Laurence using puppetry. Commentators criticised this decision and called for the production’s cancellation, with Frances Ryan suggesting that puppetry reinforced clichéd portrayals of the condition “which characterise neurodiverse individuals as unfeeling and with no autonomy.” (2019) Conversely, there were many who defended the decision, with Miriam Gillinson claiming that “as with all good puppetry – it soon begins to feel human.” (2019) Even this praise however conflicts with the account of Shaun May, who felt that “purely on a technical level All in a Row was not very good puppetry.” (2019) May found the puppet’s design “oddly distracting” (2019) being attached to Hugh Purves, the puppeteer, in a manner which made it look “like he was growing out of Hugh Purves’ groin.” (May, 2019) Other critics similarly criticised the puppetry, with Jane Kemp suggesting the piece would’ve been stronger if it were to “ditch the puppet, and allow the expressive and engaging Purves to act the role he’s already playing,” (2019). These accounts suggest that it would’ve been more appropriate for Laurence to have been simply portrayed by a human actor without the puppet.

In addition to the controversial choice to portray Laurence through puppetry, there’s the fact that the puppeteer, Hugh Purves, doesn’t have autism. This carries its own problematic implications. Non-disabled actors playing a characters with disabilities is commonly referred to as ‘cripping up’. Carrie Sandahl discusses the issues with ‘cripping up’, explaining that non-disabled actors lack the understanding of what it means to be disabled to give an authentic portrayal of someone with that condition. Sandahl writes:

Non-disabled people, even fine actors, understand the disability experience primarily through stereotypes available in mainstream media. These actors often focus on getting the outward shell of the characterization right (how a disabled person might move, speak, carry the body, etc.) but have little access to the lived experience of disability.
(Sandahl, 2010: 236)

Non-disabled performers are often only able to rationalise disabilities through mainstream generalisations of the condition and how they impact someone’s physicality. This results in shallow portrayals, in which the character’s disability is recognisable to an audience but does little to explore what it’s like for someone to live with it. Purves’ depiction of Laurence appears to repeat the pattern of ‘cripping up’, with Gillinson reporting that his performance consisted of recreating mannerisms commonly associated with autism such as “hums, moans, tics and chuckles.” (2019) and highlighting the character’s tendency to repeat activities, describing him “lose himself in Finding Nemo (again), carefully line up his cakes (again), hug and stroke his parents (again)” (Gillinson, 2019). This description is similar to how Stuart Murray describes “possibly the most obvious personification of the condition” (2008: 30) based off Leo Kanner’s 1943 report on autism, which he summarises as “The hand-flapping, self-stimulating, echolalic young child displaying no interest in others and obsessed with rituals” (Murray, 2008: 30). This definition’s an obvious generalisation of autism, with Murray stating that it’s “clearly a characterization, and the formation of a type with specific characteristics.” (Murray, 2008: 30) This depiction makes All in a Row’s portrayal of autism a shallow example of ‘cripping up’, lacking any depth or understanding of what it means to be on the spectrum.

Tobin Siebers similarly discusses the implications of ‘cripping up’, which he refers to as “disability drag” (2008: 116). He explains that watching an actor playing someone with a disability results in “the same experience of exaggeration and performance as when we view a man playing a woman. Audiences, however, rarely recognize the symmetry.” (Siebers, 2008: 115) The overstated portrayals of disability depicted by neurotypical actors is comparable to drag artistry, the difference being that whilst general audiences recognise the over the top nature of a drag act, they view “disability drag” (Siebers, 2008: 116) as closer to real life. Siebers believed that this practice was damaging as it “not only keeps disability out of public view but transforms its reality and its fundamental characteristics.” (2008: 116) both reducing the prominence of individuals who actually have disabilities such as autism and distorting the public’s perception of the impact the condition has. Siebers described disability drag as “a form of masquerade” (2008: 116) as it presents “an exaggerated exhibition of people with disabilities but questioning both the existence and permanence of disability.” (Siebers, 2008: 116) This extravagant, yet temporary act of masquerade’s prominently featured in All in a Row, as the puppet which Purves operates is made in such a way that Laurence’s torso and head is positioned in front of Purves’ own; the puppet functions as a mask for the performer to wear to feign Autism in performance then discard afterwards, delegitimising the lasting impact of Autism on those who have the condition.

There are also elements of All in a Row which reiterate the accepted narrative of people with autism and the role which they occupy. Alice Saville describes Laurence as “peripheral” (2019), disconnected from the drama between the neurotypical characters. Saville observes that Laurence acts as “more of a catalyst than a character” (2019) Existing to create conflict and set the narrative into motion. Murray’s writing on the representation of autism highlights that Laurence’s functional, but emotionally disconnected role is a common trope, observing that “autism is seen to be something that ‘affects’ people, a condition that produces personal stories.” (Murray, 2008: 2) Characters on the spectrum often serve this purpose, with Murray stating that “the character is barely present, a prosthetic figure in the margins used only to make other aspects of the narrative work.” (2008: 32) This is clearly seen in All in a Row, perpetuating this narrative even further through its portrayal of Laurence as a puppet, a literal “prosthetic figure” (Murray, 2008: 32). The play’s less concerned about how Laurence copes with his autism than it is with how his autism impacts those who care for him. Whilst there’s nothing inherently wrong with focusing on the parents of someone with autism rather than the person with the condition themselves, in doing so Oates positions Laurence as a narrative function to be discussed by those around him, rather than a character in his own right.

The issues with All in a Row aren’t particularly problematic in isolation. Oates focusing on the parents of someone with autism rather than the individual themselves isn’t in itself an issue. The concept of portraying the condition through puppetry also had potential to be an inventive alternative to casting an adult actor or having a child play such a challenging role. However, it’s these elements in combination with each other and their clichéd execution which results in the production’s portrayal of autism feeling poorly conceived and lacking innovation.

Gillinson, M. (2019) All in a Row review – autistic child puppet drama has warmth and truth [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 14th July 2019].
Kemp, J. (2019) Review: All In a Row (Southwark Playhouse) [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 1st October 2019].
May, S. (2019) All in a Row Review [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 14th July 2019].
Murray, S. (2008) Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press.
Ryan, F. (2019) Casting a puppet as an autistic child is a grotesque step backwards [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 14th July 2019].
Sandahl, C. (2010) Why Disability Identity Matters: From Dramaturgy to Casting in John Belluso’s Pyretown. In: Henderson, B. ed. and Ostrander, N. ed. Understanding Disability Studies and Performance Studies. London, Routledge. pp. 225-241.
Saville, A. (2019) All in a Row [Internet]. Available from [Acessed 14th July 2019].
Siebers, T. (2008) Disability as Masquerade. In: Disability Theory. Michigan, The University of Michigan Press, pp. 96-199.

Harry Murdoch is a BA Drama and Theatre student at York St John University.

This post is a extract from his third year dissertation titled: ‘Cripping Up’ Vs Authentic Casting: Discussing the Portrayal of Characters with Autism in Theatre.

Inspiring Stories

On the drama and dance courses at York St John we often talk to our students about impact their work will have politically and socially. How theatre and the arts are a vehicle for social justice. We are consequently always really proud when our amazing students go on and work in areas of social justice.

Here we profile three amazing female students and the impact they have had on making the changes they would like to see in the world around them.

Holly Sloan – My Converge Story

“Converge is a unique, award-winning partnership between York St John University and mental health service providers, offering educational opportunities for people in the local community who access mental health services. I was first welcomed to Converge nearly 4 years ago when I joined the Introduction to Theatre Course as a Student Volunteer.

I still remember how it felt the first time I stepped into that group. I was terrified. Eighteen-year-old me was only a few months into University life, still feeling homesick, and didn’t truly understand what mental health was. Yet there I was, stood in a circle of people more diverse than I’d ever been in before, about to participate in a session on the one thing I did understand; theatre.

Two hours later, I went home feeling totally awestruck. We had shared, laughed, and worked together. Despite our mix in ages and life experiences, our combined love of theatre brought us together and quickly dissolved my nerves. Thursday evenings became my favourite night of the week.

Volunteering with Converge shaped my three years as a student, and I completed my Drama: Education and Community degree with a performance lecture disseminating research around why Converge Students engage with theatre. I adored the co-production in Converge. As a York St John Student, I formed close bonds with the Converge Students I worked with because, in the space, we were equals. We supported and learned from each other.

After I finished my degree, I was successful in applying for the Converge Graduate Intern role, which I began in October 2018. This led to a more permanent role as an Administrator and Volunteers Coordinator. I love how varied my work is, from looking after the social media pages to organising events, being a website contributor, supporting the office coordinator, administrating The Discovery Hub and recruiting York St John Student Volunteers to participate in our courses.

Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to do something that felt meaningful. For me, working for Converge goes beyond that. Every day, I am inspired by my colleagues, by the tutors, and by the students. One year after finishing University, I feel so lucky to be at the beginning of a career I love. For me, this will never be ‘just a job’.”

Lydia Crosland – Sparking New Opportunities

“I completed my Undergraduate degree at York St John in English Literature and History which I absolutely loved. By the third year I was spending more time devising plays, acting in productions and working as a Youth Theatre Assistant at York Theatre Royal. I knew then where my passion was moving forward.

In September 2018 I started a Graduate Internship coordinating Platform: YSJ Spark Community Theatre; a partnership between York St John’s School of Performance and Media Production and Spark:York.

Platform: YSJ Spark Community Theatre is driven by a desire to provide quality theatre and arts that are accessible for all. I’m so proud of the work we’ve been able to develop in collaboration and offer because of the rich resource of talent in the student, staff and graduate community at York St John.

Spark is a vibrant location in the city centre drawing social entrepreneurs and emerging northern artists together. We’ve hosted live performances, soirees, open mic nights, exhibitions and student and community events. All have brought different people and communities together – engaging in creativity for social change.

As a young northern woman, I have been supported and given the confidence by the Drama and Theatre Department to develop and platform my creativity beyond the campus walls, push forward my deep desire for the arts to be accessible for all and to make a contribution to YSJ’s social justice mission. My next step is to start the Applied Theatre Masters at YSJ and continue to be an advocate for socially conscious and politically engaged arts practice for YSJ and the city beyond.”

Jessica Robson – When Creativity Promotes Social Change

“For the past 5 years, I‘ve had the opportunity to work on an innovative YSJU social justice project, the York St John University Prison Partnership Project run by Rachel Conlon in the Drama and Dance department. The Project is a partnership between York St John University, HMP New Hall and HMP Askham Grange; it brings together female prisoners and students, two different communities coming together to inspire creativity and promote social change.

I started my journey as an undergraduate Theatre student on the project in my third year where I formed Through the Gap Theatre Company with four other female theatre students. We co-ran theatre and singing workshops on a weekly basis on the project in prison. This is where I began to shape what my professional theatre practice is today.

As a student, I was intrigued by this world of theatre in prisons – a new and unknown creative territory to me. I was drawn to making work with women as collaborators in prison where they were the experts of their own powerful and hard-hitting stories and we were emerging as experts in theatre-making. Together we united to form two performances, one for a mainstream theatre audience that challenged the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding women in the criminal justice system and a performance where we performed alongside the women we had worked with, where they were granted ‘release on temporary license’ to leave the prison which enabled them to perform on campus to a university audience. This moment was powerful and life-affirming, it solidified the journey I would undertake as a theatre maker and drama facilitator. The ability to enable women to be creative and make discoveries and re-imagine new identities and talents beyond prison release in a creative process together. This felt empowering for both me as a student and for the women.

Upon completing my undergraduate course, I immediately started a master’s in Applied Theatre to enable me to further my work on the York St John University Prison Partnership Project. This created many real-world, professional opportunities for me where I was able to experience on the ground workings of a prison context and work alongside world-leading creative industry professionals. Upon completing my master’s programme I was successful in being appointed to the graduate internship for the project, which led to me being employed as a practitioner.

I am now employed as a drama practitioner by the York St John University Prison Partnership Project where I run weekly drama groups in prison and in the community. Here, I share my theatre skills and learning of the criminal justice system with new YSJU students who come onto the project as part of their work placement on the degree course. It is fantastic to feel that I can now impart my learning and knowledge to other students as they embark on their degrees here at YSJU.

The journey I have undergone with the women, prison and theatre staff has been life changing and opened my mind to wider possibilities which has exceeded the initial expectations I had when I first started as a student at university. I am clear about my career moving forward, excited by the possibilities ahead and social justice will be forevermore at the heart of my theatre-making.”

The Pink Ladies and our Sanitary Streamer!

According to BBC’s tampon tax calculator, being 21 and having started my period at around 12, I have so far spent approximately £387.39 on tampons of which £18.45 is Value Added Tax (VAT). A first glance perhaps this doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you remember that this tax is the result of sanitary products being classed as a ‘luxury’ then it starts to feel very different. As Natasha Preskey writes in the Independent:

The average woman buys, uses and throws away 11,000 tampons during her lifetime. In my local Tesco, a box of 20 regular Tampax costs £3.14. This means that someone earning minimum wage must work approximately 38 full working days to pay for her lifetime’s supply.

Across my own lifetime the BBC calculate estimates I’ll spend £1,510.81 on tampons; £71.94 of which will be taxed as a ‘luxury’.

These were the two big issues The Pink Ladies (myself, along with Jo-Jo Hall, Maisie Hayward, Marcia Sanderson, Rebecca Sheard, Lorna McCullough and Courtney Uddoh Mitchell) wanted to investigate and perhaps even tackle through our arts activist project as part of the second year Politically Engaged Practice module. We wanted to raise awareness of the tax which is placed upon sanitary items because the government have deemed them a luxury. You might be interested to know that helicopters, for example, aren’t taxed in the same way because they, of course, aren’t a luxury and are a daily necessity in people’s lives. In contrast children’s car seats are taxed…

We also wanted to emphasise the fact that whilst the luxury tax on top of the already ridiculous price of tampons was clearly absurd, we were fortunate enough to be able to afford them but know that there are thousands of women who cannot and who have to make choices between feeding their family, paying the rent and purchasing sanitary products. This is what sparked our group into action.

We launched our own arts activist project in the form of a tampon/pad making workshop. We were situated in the student’s union and invited people who passed through to come and have a go at making these sanitary products from cost effective craft items – items which would cost less than a box of tampons. We did this to show that if students could find a way to make a tampon for less than 2p (albeit not entirely safe to use, this was art not science) then why couldn’t the Government try to find a solution too? We also wanted an intriguing project to attract people’s attention and open a conversation about period poverty.

Overall the event felt like a success, with feedback being positive and our bunting full with sanitary products. However it did feel a little odd to just stop once the module had finished: we’d all chosen this project because it was something we felt strongly about, it was more than or bigger than simply something we did for assessment. So we were delighted when we were approached by Anne-Marie Evans (Senior Lecturer in English Literature at YSJ) asking if we would like to restage the event as part of a period poverty workshop in Beyond the Vote – a festival celebrating the centenary of women gaining the vote in 1918.

It was perfect! We’d found with the first event that though we’d had conversations with the students about period poverty and the ridiculousness of the tax, it hadn’t been as in-depth as we’d have hoped. The Beyond the Vote workshop allowed us to do this, as well as show that conversations around periods and the things we use for them didn’t need to be taboo subjects anymore. Every woman should be able to talk about it, and every woman should be entitled to the products they need for it. We had an older lady present at the workshop who was relieved that conversations were finally happening around periods and the prices of sanitary products. Later a male student approached, initially wary about taking part because of the stereotype of women blaming men for their struggles; by the end of the workshop he said he realised we weren’t looking to blame but instead just wanted things to change.

By Anne-Marie Chave

Arts Activism

Political Engaged Practice is a year-long strand within level two of the Drama and Theatre programme, delivered for the first time this academic year. In semester 1 students are introduced to concepts and examples of political art and performance; after Christmas they form groups to work on their own politically engaged action.

‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.’ Bertolt Brecht.

The module is interested in how art can use aesthetic and dialogical qualities to intervene into political debates, to encourage people to pause and take notice, to make us view the world differently.

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For the module students initiated and carried out activist projects looking at themes such as lad culture on the university campus; body image; nuclear disarmament; homelessness; and equality of educational opportunities. Their projects included offering free cakes in the main university reception area; drawing people’s nuclear shadows; posing as mannequins in shop windows.

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Students prompted their projects through social media, with the Be Your Own Mannequin project being picked up by Yahoo, who ran a story about project on the news section of their website.

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All the project involved staging interventions in public places, removing both art and politics from specialist or detached environment such as theatre, galleries or parliament and bringing them closer to everyday life. A number of the projects were framed as ‘dialogical’, in that they sought to construct opportunities for conversation about political issues. As one participant commented on the Nuclear Shadows project: ‘I think this piece has started a conversation that needs to be carried on’.

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As one student observed, the module highlighted the particular strengths of theatre at York St John, which include a focus on creativity and a socially engaged ethos:

‘The first thing that springs to mind when thinking about arts activism is being actively involved with something that I care about whilst being as creative as possible, which is pretty much why I’m doing this degree. It is about thinking of ways that we can make a difference by using the strength of a social movement.’

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MA Away Weekend

Students from Masters programmes in Applied Theatre, Music Composition and Theatre & Performance spent the weekend of the 21st and 22nd Sept in the Yorkshire Dales on the 4th MA Away Weekend.

The weekends are a chance for postgraduate students from different disciplines to meet and work together in the barn, field and hillside and away from studio or seminar room. We engaged in long walks, hard thoughts, endless conversation and good food.