The Women’s Festival

In 1977, the women from Gay Sweatshop were instrumental in creating the first women’s festival in Europe at The Drill Hall on Chenies Street. The resident company, Action Space, managed The Drill Hall. Although the women’s festival was not a Gay Sweatshop festival, it was organised largely by Julie Parker, Nancy Duiguid and Kate Crutchley. The festival marked the beginning of Gay Sweatshop’s association with Action Space/ The Drill Hall, which was to remain the company’s producing theatre for the next twenty years. The festival ran for three weeks and was predominantly a lesbian event. It exemplified the relationship between Gay Sweatshop and the Women’s movement.

‘Nancy goes the Drill Hall and asks the collective can we do Voices by Susan Griffin, which I directed, but then she said, but I’d like to do a festival around it and the collective agreed, because it wasn’t Julie Parker then, she came with the women’s project. What happened was that we got a bit of funding for that. And there’s a programme somewhere, 3 weeks, we did Voices the play, everyday there was a concert before it where you got people like Jam Today, Frankie Armstrong and Victoria Wood. And loads of other people which Nicole brought.

Julie Parker did workshops. Barabara Britten who is an artist and Mary Moore arranged crafts and art exhibitions. Ria Novell did photography. I directed the play and did the overall administration and booked the theatre groups. There was also a crèche that went with the workshops. It was like every space in the Drill Hall was used for every minute of the day and night. People came with backpacks from all over the world and had to dump them in some space somewhere and they’d read about it. You’ll see the calendar and its just pages and pages of listings. … (Other companies) I can’t remember the names, I just remember the people who came in lije. The people who did very early prototype of the Women’s Theatre Group, it was called the Three Marias Project. Natasha Morgan, Cunning Stunts, there was a show about Depo Provera, Michele Frankel, a very pretty girl. They were all people who became other groups. … I don’t know if it was called Time Out of City Limits at the time but one of the other, but they did an article. We had to keep reprinting these leaflets because they were getting used up, and the companies printed their own as well. … Sylvia Hammet, and there was a violinist type person, and Maggie Nicholas that I notice is still going strong. Improvising workshops. And so all that happened and although I did the administration it was all largely down to Nancy Duiguid, because it was her vision and she was in the play I directed.’
(Kate Crutchley interview)

‘I think there were twelve of us in some sort of organisation, but really the key people in that were Nancy and Kate, as I remember it. I volunteered to curate a women’s craft exhibition, which had me going all over the country and seeing stuff and inviting them here. … There were art exhibitions that Barbara had set up, performances, workshops, people discussing, it was just a buzz. I don’t know whether there had been something like it before or elsewhere. I was in that particularly bubble but I’m sure there were other bubbles, there were women in Bradford doing amazing work at the time. A lot of gay women had the energy, they probably didn’t have the children to worry about. There were actually all sorts of conference type things around. The gay women they had their eyes open all the time. There was a sort of chat up scene going on. There were people like Mandy Merck around, she wrote for Time Out, an American, very political. There were feminist, political meetings which straight women and gay women would go to. That was the whole socialist area that I never really engaged in, mine was just the gay movement. I think I was much more a willing supporter, designer. No intellectual leadership, that’s not me.’
(Mary Moore interview)

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