Bechdel Theatre is inspired by the Bechdel test, created by Alison Bechdel* and Liz Wallace in the lesbian comic book strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985.
The comic features two lesbians going to the cinema, with one character sharing they will only watch a film if it meets three criteria:
There are at least two women in it
Who talk to each other
About something besides a man
Whilst not a measurement of how FEMINIST something is (and not the definitive tick-box-exercise-to-give-yourself-a-pat-on-the-back that many cis guys think it is), we use The Bechdel test (The Test) as a starting point to provoke conversation on how gender is represented in performance. As a queer-led company, we aim to also amplify the queer origins of The Test and include performance by people of all marginalised genders and sexualities, as is also demonstrated in Bechdel’s work which features lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans characters.
*We named Bechdel Theatre after the ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ comic strip by Alison Bechdel, but not in collaboration with the artist herself. Alison Bechdel is NOT personally involved or affiliated with this organisation in any way. We did once chat to her though, and she was really lovely - DO meet your heroes!
The idea for Bechdel Theatre was born in 2015 at a Devoted and Disgruntled Satellite Open Space event - a live community forum where attendees pose questions and provoke discussion relating to all things on stage. This one focused on gender and performance.
Fresh from attending an invigorating Bechdel Test Fest film screening, Beth asked the question “What happens if we apply the Bechdel Test to theatre?”. That evening, the @BechdelTheatre Twitter account was created to retweet shows that pass The Test and help audiences find queer and feminist theatre.
Aware of the limitations of 2015 Twitter (in the days of 140 characters & no threads!) Beth started holding in-person discussion spaces in theatres of shows that passed The Test, now called the Bechdel Circle.
In March 2016, the first Bechdel Theatre performance event raised enough money to head to Edinburgh Fringe with a couple of sheets of stickers reading “This show passes the Bechdel Test!” to highlight the posters of shows.
In 2016, fresh from attending Edinburgh Fringe, spotting Bechdel stickers and wondering why there were so few theatre podcasts (let alone queer feminist ones), Pippa came on board as a self-taught podcast producer and co-host.
Since 2017, both of us have collaborated on all of Bechdel Theatre’s activities. In 2020, the company gained its first-ever (!!!) funding grant from the Arts Council England, allowing us to move away from volunteering our time, and focus on organizational development and strategic planning across our three main areas of activity: community engagement, public advocacy, and artist development.
We’re a community-led company that is rooted in and responsive to lived experience.
We actively identify gaps in gender representation in theatre and offer empathetic, creative and alternative modes of engagement. We listen, reflect and adapt to our community’s changing needs and environments, to ensure our impact is meaningful and representative.
We join the dots between performance, the people making it, the people watching it and the spaces that platform it.
We believe in solidarity and collaboration as a route to collective liberation and recognise our position amongst a broad group of activists striving for social justice within the arts and culture sectors, and the wider world.
We focus on highlighting where the change is happening, amplifying examples of positive progress.
We believe in the power of everyone who creates, works in, and engages with theatre & performance to collectively build a better future now.
We believe that mutually supportive communities play a vital role in generating change.
We create opportunities & make spaces for people to engage with performance and participate in creative and social activities for the sake of their own empowerment, enjoyment and expression.