A Love Letter to FNTM FEST

Ellie Cole 

I’m not a writer. (Other than the essays that I- note to self- should be writing for my degree.) And though I’m not what people may consider to be the epitome of ‘shy and retiring’, I’m not usually one to share my thoughts publicly via ye olde written word. In short, I apologise for my lack of eloquence and flair.

FNTM is, very simply, a festival created by people who may experience disadvantage because of their gender identity or presentation.

Now would probably be the point at which I should shower you with statistics or case studies to demonstrate the existence of a gender paradigm, but I think that a short trip down google lane will do that just fine. We have sought to be as inclusive and sensitive as possible with regard to gender. It’s an incredibly important and deeply personal thing, and as such the way that we address, and regard gender is equally important.

FNTM Arts Fest began 6 months ago when a group of friends were sitting in a flat and discussed how frustrating it is too feel as though you’re on the back foot and not really understanding why. Or rather, completely understanding that it was to do with our gender, but not really knowing what to do about it. We were a bit tired of complaining about the abundance of talented actors around competing for the comparatively few roles that were accessible to women, let alone non-binary and trans people. Then there are the issues faced by theatre technicians, and the often hostile and ‘macho’ environment that can be found in that sphere as well. So we thought ‘f*ck it – lets put on our own show’. Except we then realised that one show is great, but what about all the other arts out there? There is such a phenomenal abundance of talent on offer; why not show that off as well? Why stop at theatre when gendered discrimination occurs across the arts, everywhere, constantly? So, we branched out, included dance, poetry, comedy, new writing, panels, workshops and artwork. It then took convincing people to take on coordinating these events, and FNTM was born.

 

FNTM ARTS FEST

So why have we only opened up our roles to those who identify as women, non- binary or trans? Gender affords certain people certain privileges, and so the reason for this collaboration with these self- identifying groups is that these are the people who genuinely feel disenfranchised within creative spaces that they love – be it theatre, dance, art, poetry etc. A question that we’ve seen arise during the creation of FNTM is ‘Why are non-binary people often ‘grouped’ with women? Why not male and non-binary?’ I’m not going to pretend that I have detailed and excessive knowledge in this area, but from speaking to people about it and reading what I can, the simple answer is that these are both groups are disadvantaged owing to the simple fact that they identify in these ways. An interesting and very important follow up point is also often raised – ‘By consistently pairing self- identifying women and non-binary groups, are we equating their identities?’ Again, I’m going to give a short answer: no. And nor should we. But often this is the impression that is given and is something that we have tried to dispel. Equally, we are not identifying women and trans men or trans men and non-binary people, we merely seek to welcome and celebrate another group that may experience these disadvantages.

I’m not sure that I can do justice to the love, dedication and creativity of everyone involved in bringing this festival to life. In all honesty, I thought that it was going to be nothing more than a pipe dream. But that quickly changed as more and more people came onboard and poured nothing but energy, excitement and enthusiasm into their roles.  (Look at that alliteration- Maybe I am a writer after all…)

So here we are the day after our first event, and we’ve got so much to offer. This is a festival built from scratch by talented, driven and creative people saying ‘Yes, we need this and I want to help create this’. And as such, it is basically one big celebration, and we invite anyone and everyone to come and celebrate with us.

SKINS
‘SKINS’ by Kitya Mark, co- curator of ‘Inkwell: a Night of Art and Poetry’ (25 Feb,  part of FNTM Fest)

 

FNTM is our way of attempting a solution. FNTM is an expression of ourselves. FNTM is not the entire sum of our collective creativity, but we hope it goes some way in showing it.

FNTM Arts Fest opened on February 17 with ‘MARK MY WORDS’, a night of new writing described by Kate Collins to Cambridge Girl Talk as a chance to give new writers the opportunity to have their work ‘explored and discussed’ with judges Becky Prestwich (Royal Exchange Theatre, BBC), Afshan D’souza Lodhi (Z-Arts, Dog Horn Publishing) and Serafina Cusack (Theatre 503, The Bread and Roses Theatre). In a time where ‘the most recognised UK theatres have been pretty dismal when it comes to programming plays by female writers, and even worse when it comes to programming work by non-binary and trans writers’ MARK MY WORDS hopes to provide an accessible space to showcase work that is ‘touching and dark, lighthearted and sharp’, but most of all ‘important to the people who write them.’

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