Tuesday, 12 March 2013

WOW, what a weekend!

As I write this on a freezing Tuesday morning, I’m still basking in the toasty afterglow of a fabulously feminist few days.

On Saturday morning, I was up with the fairies to catch the Megatrain to London, where I spent a zinging weekend at the Women Of the World Festival (WOW) at the Southbank Centre. On the train up I was reading a review copy of the forthcoming Virago anthology Fifty Shades of Feminism, which had only arrived the day before, and in the evening I watched Made In Dagenham in my mini B&B room. I was Not Doing Feminism By Halves. No, siree.

Being at WOW was a wonderful experience. 2013 marked the third WOW festival but the first that I’d attended, and my reason for going was that the women’s comedy event I run, WhatThe Frock! Comedy, had been invited to put on a show in the Royal Festival Hall’s ballroom on the Sunday afternoon. That wasn’t an opportunity I was going to say ‘no’ to. Putting on a show (only our sixth ever) to 500+ people in the UK’s biggest arts centre? Err, yes please.

I headed up a day early to make the most of the festival and to see as much as possible. I lived in London for most of my 20s and still feel very fond of the place, so it’s always nice to have an excuse to go back. The Southbank Centre was somewhere I spent a lot of time in my London years as I both lived and worked nearby, plus I love the heritage of the place and the reasons why it was created in the first place.

To see the buildings (Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall) filled to the rafters with women-friendly stalls and events promoting women in business, women in comedy, women in fashion, women in charities… was brilliant. The buzz in the whole centre was electric, and the atmosphere was nothing but warm, welcoming and inclusive.

I saw several talks over the two days, but with up to 10 events happening simultaneously, I inevitably also missed a great deal. But I did catch a brilliant session celebrating women who don’t have children (whether by choice or by circumstance); debating the outcome of the Levenson Report into how the media continues to view women; the brilliance of Jane Austen. I saw Ruby Wax’s soloshow Losing It, in which she talks frankly and hilariously about her very real mental breakdown and ongoing problems with depression. And it was great to finally see Michael Kaufman talk, having interviewed him a few years previously for his book A Guy’s Guide To Feminism – and he didn’t disappoint.

All three pictures, copyright Southbank Centre

Of course, my main focus was putting on the What The Frock! Comedy show on the Sunday afternoon. With a one-hour timeslot, I’d booked Rosie Wilby as MC, and Shazia Mirza and Danielle Ward for 20-minute slots. It seemed a tough call – the ballroom turned out to be not a ‘room’ but a huge sunken space within the main foyer, meaning there was a lot of background noise and distractions. But it also meant that as well as filling our 500 seats, we gained about 200 extra audience members who were standing around the edges, sitting on the floor at the front, and pulling up chairs to peer over the balcony to watch. It was fabulous. And where else was I going to put on a show where our ‘warm-up act’ was Woman’s Hour’s Jenni Murray (who had done a piece on What The Frock! earlier in the week), and where we were succeeded by Sandi Toksvig?

The tweets and messages I’ve since received from people in the audience, who previously didn’t know about What The Frock! but who had a wonderful time, and who also discovered one or two comedians they didn’t previously know, has made it all so worthwhile. Putting on any show is never a piece of cake – there are contracts to sign, money to be negotiated, publicity to garner, and inevitably technical hitches on the day. But the buzz of the day and the resulting feedback is what always makes it worthwhile. Even as I sat squashed into an uncomfortable corner of a bumpy coach for three hours going home, I was still basking in the glow of a weekend where the women deservedly won.

So, thank you to everyone at WOW and the Royal Festival Hall for inviting What The Frock! along and for taking a punt on an up and coming comedy event. I had a ball, and whether or not What The Frock! comes back for WOW 2014, I’ll certainly be there, come hell or high water.

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