Earlier this year, around a kitchen table, two other amazing women and myself established Mixed Bill, a comedy and gender research network. Sara Ahmed in Living a Feminist Life (2017) writes evocatively on the significance of tables for feminist work (gaining a place at the table, turning tables, family disagreements at the dinner table) and her work continues to inspire me to create my own opportunities to progress the feminist agenda of my work. In this instance with a (to use Ahmed’s term) ‘fragile’ feminist network external to any one institution.
I had been thinking about producing an engagement event in relation to my research for a while and couldn’t think of two better partners in crime than Lisa Moore of the University of Salford and Kate Fox, stand-up poet and PhD candidate at Leeds University. Together we are a pretty formidable team and our research areas and interests fit very nicely alongside each other. The event we have been planning is shaping up to be the mother of all symposia. It has been quite tricky to plan due to the quality and range of abstracts we received – we had to make some ruthless decisions as every single abstract outlined a paper that we would have loved to have seen.
Last week we sat down and thrashed it out and have programmed an event that feels in many ways quite revolutionary. We aren’t running concurrent papers so everyone’s voice can be heard by all attendees. There is nothing more frustrating than having to pick between attending one presentation when another, just as relevant, is taking place down the hall – although maybe being the presenter of a paper to a split audience is a contender for the crown? The opportunity for those researching gender and comedy, a growing field, to engage and be challenged by so many different approaches that speak directly to their area is exciting too – as often gender and comedy is ring-fenced in a panel of its own within larger discussions of comedy (those researching gender and comedy often find themselves thrown together irrespective of the way their paper may be a better fit with, say, panels on political satire or musical comedy). As the fundamental premise of our event is women and comedy and the opportunities women have to represent themselves through comedy, the programmed panels give a chance to address this from multiple perspectives, with multiple examples from different countries, eras and approaches.
Our event will also include several non-traditional presentations/ performances and interventions into the area to give attendees the chance to engage with (and learn from) the ideas and opinions of those who work within comedy and performance. We are pushing very hard to ensure our event is inclusive to all and are discussing various approaches we can take to try to impact on the diversity of our field. We all feel strongly that we have to go beyond just saying we want to be diverse in our programming and attendance make-up to find active and practical ways of addressing this.
It is very exciting to be setting off on this new adventure with Mixed Bill, as producing events and inspiring engagement as part of a team is where I think I work best. Between us we have lots of ideas about where to explore next and I also can’t wait to meet all the amazing people who will be joining us at the start of this exciting new phase for gender and comedy research in October.