Practitioner Voices: Jodie Allinson

Interviewed September 2004 by Becca Gill as part of the Total Theatre Explores research project.

Jodie Allinson is a performer, deviser and facilitator. She works with a variety of groups exploring the theory, practice and context of performance through the creation of original work.

She also works with Emily Underwood as part of BURST Theatre, developing new pieces of cross-disciplinary performance.

She is currently based at the University of Glamorgan, where she is studying for a PhD on multimedia theatre in Wales.

How do you describe your artform practice?

Film events and cross-disciplinary work.

How do you describe your work?

We make work connected with popular culture and youth culture. We are very interested in MTV, youth anti-organisation movements, fashion, the way that young people (and I include myself in this bracket) engage with the culture around them, whether they appropriate it or how they make sense of it. So, we use popular forms, one of our videos used the format of a pop video and the nature of viewing in terms of the spectator.

What are your main areas of inspiration and do they change with each project?

They change with each project, we usually start by asking each other 'what are you interested in at the moment?' and we have a long time to meet and allow our interests to evolve. Because we both work or study away from our artistic work and have never been funded, we have the luxury of working without deadlines. It starts with a personal interest that develops, and is always in relation to our environment or something happening politically which has an impact on our life.

Where do you show your work?

We tend to show our work in Cardiff at The Chapter, we haven't got the funds to tour so we keep our work very small scale.

Does gender matter in performance?

I think it does on two levels, one being how you work with people. I work with another woman, we have a close relationship and have a certain approach to projects and any problems. When we have collaborated with men, they have tended (without generalising) to have a different way of working in a devising situation, particularly in relation to the notion of having a director. The men we have worked with have been keen on having one person responsible for overseeing the project. We tend to work on a very equal level, so when we have worked in mixed-gender situations this has caused a number of clashes. In performance it matters the minute you put two women on stage, it is 'women's performance'. What position and what stance you take and society's opinion of what is appropriate for women to perform is imposed upon the performance work.

Does your body determine the work you make or the way in which you make it?

My theatre training was based on physical theatre. When I left university, I worked with theatre companies and I aspired to be a physical performer who trained eight hours a day, who has a strong physical fit body, who had dance training, who had gymnastic training, who could basically dictate the work they made through their body. I couldn't do that, I didn't have access to a space and I didn't have the money not to work and train for eight hours a day, and I also didn't have the physicality to be able to do that. So it took a long time for me to feel comfortable; to make work that came from my body as opposed to thinking that my body had to fit a conformed opinion of the work that I was supposed to make. I had to redefine what physical theatre was in terms of my own body. In Cardiff, there are a lot of gay male physical performers who are very strong and fit.

So, there is a particular aesthetic that we have been surrounded with. The female performers that I know with a dance background have gone into more cross-artform practice.

Would you consider your artistic priorities to be different to those of men?

I don't think my personal priorities are just related to my gender, they are related to my locality in the world and my understanding of the world: to challenge hegemonic cultural forms, like television and the media generally, how we relate to them and how our culture is presented to us as being very separate and something we are very passively presented with - and I think those are concerns for all human beings but of course within that gender is intrinsic. So, I also respond to those concerns as a woman and the very specific way in which women are presented in these cultural forms, I have to respond to it as a woman, as well as a thirty year-old or whatever else.

I think that men have had less reason or opportunity to question their gender and who they are, I think because men fit into society a little bit better because it is geared to that (another huge generalisation). For example, the last project I did was a collaboration with two men, there were various problems and the group split into two, two men and two women. We (me and the other female collaborator) would go away and discuss the problems from the perspective of our approaches in terms of gender. The men would go away and discuss the problem in terms of the individuals and personal differences. Because they have not particularly had a reason to think of it in terms of their male perspective on issues, they would say how we operated in relation to us being women, but never in terms of them as men.

How would you define feminism?

I think I'm still trying to work that one out. Every time I come up with a definition I question it. For me at this point it is about men and women and recognising that there have been specific roles constructed in relation to how men operate and how women operate and that these are reflected right through our institutions our attitudes and the way in which we approach our lives. Feminism, for me, is about constant questioning and challenging of those definitions. As human beings, we are a lot more complex than these identity brackets in which we put ourselves.

Would you call yourself a feminist and what does that term mean in relation to yourself and your work?

Yes, I think it informs everything I do.

Do you think that theatre can effect social change?

I think theatre in its broadest sense, making, working with people and drama, can effect social change on a very grass-roots level; it works in a gradual and sustained way in terms of transforming attitudes and raising awareness and allowing people to explore things. The occasional piece of theatre can change the way in which we view the world in a very profound way.

How would you define the effect of the funding system on women's performance work?

It's a huge issue. I've never been funded; I've been funded for my academic work, I'm not funded for my performance work. It's very difficult to get funding, the economics of it means if you are a female performer you have to make money. A lot of the performers I know either have another career to support themselves and then do their performance in the evenings or at weekends when they are knackered and they beg borrow and steal where they can. Or they have part-time work as waitresses or in pubs and that is not sustainable in the long-term at all. The whole issue of having children is an issue amongst women I know, when they get to their late twenties, which for me when you start to create interesting performance work, there is no support and no recognition of how that impacts on you as a female performer.

There is also the issue of the unstable life, which occurs when you are a performer that leads to a lot of women I know giving up.

What from your perspective is the future for women within performance?

Coming to the Landscapes conference (September 2004, University of Northampton, where this interview takes place) has been my first opportunity to talk with a group of women on a large scale... I don't feel a part of a network of women, and therefore would not think of the future of women's performance but more of the future of performance as a whole. Which is a shame!

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