In June, I was on Twitter late at night (not unusual) and tweeted blindly, "Can I organize an all-female live read of the Entourage pilot?" I didn't think much of it, until it got 19 faves. Immediately, I tagged my dream cast, a group of local actresses I knew were inspiring and brilliant and cool and oddly perfect for the roles. Then I probably watched Netflix on my phone and went to bed. But there was another part of me that thought, "Wow, I should just do this."
This led to the inaugural rendition of a performance series I started this year, called Feminist Live Reads. It's modelled after Jason Reitman's live read series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in which a group of famous actors perform a cold reading of an acclaimed screenplay to an audience (they make me very happy to be alive). The Entourage reading happened in mid-July at Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto. We sold out our tickets in a record five hours and raised more than $500 for the nearby Sistering women's shelter. It was a packed house and the actresses who played Turtle (Degrassi: TNG's Lauren Collins), E (brilliant improviser Kayla Lorette), Johnny Drama (Cara Gee), Vince (Katie Boland) and Ari Gold (Sunnyside's Kathleen Phillips) were committed and game.
I remember watching as Kathleen Phillips, playing Ari Gold, delivered a joke about ejaculating on a Victoria's Secret model: A sense of really vital discomfort and hilarity resonated in the audience. It was fascinating to see what happens when a group of women deliver a script that was never intended for them to play.
I'm a woman in my late 20s and I want to write and direct feature films. And while I've had some success with a music video that I co-directed with my ex-boyfriend about children who form a punk rock band after accidentally killing a police officer (PUP's Guilt Trip – YouTube it!), it can be difficult to navigate the murky waters of the film industry. I was asked for "sexy photographs" by someone who I thought was going to be a lifelong collaborator. I've been asked, "Shouldn't we wait for the director to get here?" while instructing a group of 50 extras on set. After Guilt Trip screened at the Museum of Modern Art in August, I admitted to the ad exec programmer that I was thinking of directing my own work. He tried to talk me out of it.
But the most treacherous thing has been navigating my own sense of self-doubt and insecurity. Because it's hard to make something good. And it's even harder when the industry doesn't believe you should be there in the first place.
In a recent piece for Lena Dunham's newsletter, Lenny, Jennifer Lawrence admitted that wanting to be likeable was a factor when negotiating her contract for American Hustle. Her male co-stars ended up being paid millions more. I think there's been a recent sea change in the cultural conversation, but it's thanks to the fact that women are no longer shutting up. At this year's TIFF, several high-profile Canadian producers took "the Bechdel pledge" to ensure that their work would have two female characters talking about something other than a man.
When it comes to feminism, I feel like I came late to the party. I always listened to what my male co-workers and boyfriends had to say because getting their validation seemed more important. I felt stuck between wanting their approval and a burning desire to reveal my secret, weirdo self. Now, I'm trying to believe in myself and the community of women around me. Believing in women, which is how I guess I might define my practice of feminism, is easy and fun. Once you start practising feminism, there are a million benefits that are based on things like joy and love and trust and empathy. You gain deeper relationships with your friends and collaborators and family members, and you finally know that you're not alone. It's like, by aligning yourself with other women, you finally gain the freedom to be yourself! My girl Taylor Swift knows what I'm talking about (#squadgoals).
This is all to say that, on Oct. 27, I'm staging another Feminist Live Read at Innis Town Hall in Toronto with the Cinema Students Union. We are doing Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, which is a movie I loved at age 15, during my Tarantino phase, when I rented VHS tapes at Blockbuster and wondered if I could pull off a Kangol hat.
An amazing cast of Canadian actresses is suiting up for a great cause. Sook-Yin Lee is playing Mr. White, Nadia Litz is playing Mr. Pink, Mia Kirshner is playing Mr. Blonde, TIFF Rising Star Deragh Campbell is playing Mr. Orange, Jennifer Podemski is playing Joe Cabot, Lorna Wright is playing Nice Guy Eddie, Mina James is playing Mr. Brown and Sabryn Rock is playing Mr. Blue. All of these women inspire me and are amongst some of the most exciting performers in the city.
If you're a filmmaker, heads up: Your actress might be tired of playing the same disposable hottie, manic pixie dream girl, impenetrable ice queen, vulnerable stripper and angry lesbian you've written for them. If they're a minority actress, their opportunities are usually even more limited. The goal of Feminist Live Reads is to raise awareness of the disparity of roles available for women in film and television and to start a dialogue in the industry. After all, there are tons of great roles for women – they just happen to be written for men.
Feminist Live Reads presents Reservoir Dogs runs Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at Innis Town Hall in Toronto. Tickets are $10, with all proceeds going to Elizabeth Fry Toronto (efrytoronto.org), which helps women at-risk with the law find interim housing and social assistance.