INTERVIEW: LAUREN STONE & LIBERTY HODES | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Lauren Stone met Liberty Hodes when she was working on the bar at Alphabetti Theatre and Liberty had come to do a residency. Within the space of a conversation, such was their chemistry that they’d decided to run a night together. Three years on and their upcoming show of A Comedy Night That Passes The Bechdel Test, taking place at Alphabetti on Friday 14th February, is a very special third birthday edition of the celebrated alternative comedy night. According to Liberty, audiences can expect “friendship and acceptance – alternative comedy chaos, live-on-stage friendship, and a comedy night where you’re not going to get picked on.”

For these women, it made perfect sense to name their comedy nights after the Bechdel test. As Lauren explains, the test arose from a strip in Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic Dykes To Watch Out For, in which two women are trying to pick a film to see at the cinema, and one of them says she’s got three basic requirements: “One, it has to have at least two women in it…who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.”

When you offer equal representation and respect, women are more likely to want to get involved

“In life, women talk about so many things that aren’t men – art, work, food, hopes and dreams, funny looking dogs – it’s ridiculous that you can’t see that represented on screen.” Lauren points out. That’s why this kind of tongue-in-cheek measure of male-dominated cinema works for them as they strive for better representation in comedy by showcasing women and non-binary performers from the North East and beyond. In the mainstream comedy industry, women still tend to be more tokenised, but Lauren can point to some good practice in the North East currently: “I feel like PUG is achieving something that a lot of more progressive nights and promoters are trying to get at. It’s a performance night that’s always got a genuinely diverse, exciting, challenging line-up, without patronising anyone. Flim Nite have done good work too, with much better representation for non-binary, LGBTQ+ and female-identifying performers. And at a grass-roots level, Axolotl Laughs in the Ouseburn have always got a really mixed line-up, they’re really making an effort to provide a starting-point for women and non-binary acts.”

However, there’s still so much more to be done. Lauren prefers female comperes who are often less patronising in her experience and from personal experience as a performer, Liberty believes there is still a pervading attitude of, ‘This NEXT one is a woman! But don’t worry, she is one of the funny ones!’

So, what can be done to further encourage women to get involved in comedy/performance in the region? Lauren takes the opportunity to address comedy promoters: “Seek out women comics and book them, not just arbitrarily but with attention to their style and where it fits in with the rest of your line-up. Book female comperes.  Book more than one woman on the bill, on a regular basis. Make it an essential part of your practice. Take steps to recognise and discourage sexist behaviour, onstage and off – talk about it, call it out, and if it’s still happening repeatedly, from the same person, stop booking them. The same with music industry line-ups. When you offer equal representation and respect, women are more likely to want to get involved.”

A 21st Comedy Night That Passes The Bechdel Test takes place at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle on Friday 14th February

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