James Burns

James Burns

Ridding ourselves of the cultural Albatross


Business woman Karren Brady is the current vice chairman of West Ham United FC and one of Lord Sugar’s aides on The Apprentice. I heard her on Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 celebrating her choice to ‘actively seek out women to promote’, stating; ‘I do not invest in companies that don’t have women on their boards. I feel very passionately about that.’

Karren believes in diversity in business and thus ensures she helps towards equality between the sexes in what I imagine to be a male dominated world.

This sparked me to think about my own choices as a comedienne in a supposedly, similarly male-centric industry. Having created and performed two one-woman comedy cabarets with male directors and predominantly male musicians, have I let down my fellow female artists by forgetting to seek them out as collaborators?

After all, there are female performers who have been at the receiving end of sexism in the arts in subtle and overt ways. For example, the legendary, ‘women aren’t funny’ accusation that hangs like a cultural albatross round our necks. So, as a female performer and supporter of women artists, perhaps I should make an effort to team up with more ladies.

Though, my personal experience of men in the arts has been nothing but supportive and showing complete faith in my abilities. The reason I chose to work with talented men was a mixture of meeting them fortuitously, as well as knowing their reputations as being good practitioners but also for their similar artistic ideals and their belief in my work. In fact, there have times that without the reassuring words of a male director or a theatre manager I would not have had the strength to keep putting myself in the lion’s den.

I regret I am guilty of having accused the collective ‘men’ of dominating theatre and not actively fighting for female artists to have a voice. However, that argument puts me in the victim role, which, let’s face it, is just really unpleasant. As Louise Hay says in her book ‘Opening our Hearts to Men’, ‘we must take responsibility for who we are and what we are doing. We must stop focusing on men and concentrate on changing ourselves.’

I believe that ambition, talent and hard-work get you ahead in this game, as well as a healthy dose of creative collaboration and support.  Instead of blaming or being angry at men for doing well in comedy I look up to them for inspiration. Furthermore, I work endlessly to become one of the many ‘people’ who are performing and devising and being successful. We must stop perpetuating the damaging idea that being a women makes this job harder. Instead, let’s start being positive about the choices we have and the help we’ve gained. Surely then we can encourage, rather than put off the next generation of female artists.  So to all the blokes out there who have supported me thus far, in all your different ways, a huge thank you, you’re all great.    

Damsel Sophie is an international comedy-cabaret-theatre artist and writer. Her shows 'The Damsel in Shining Armour' and 'HOT' will be touring Australia and the UK in 2012. For more details, click here HERE.


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