This coming Saturday is the Civic Theatre’s fifth annual Oscar Party. It’s an obvious celebration for us to institutionalize – after all, what we do is intrinsically tied to the American Film Academy and Hollywood film. But this year, it is about something more and I expect that this year’s Oscar Awards night will carry forward the feminist themes that have been central this year at the Golden Globes and the Grammys.
There is no question that it is heavy and important content, but it’s not exactly the makings of a celebration or party. So now, a few days before our “Wonder Women: Strong Female Leads Oscar Celebration,” I wanted to go into a little detail about the Weimar Cabaret theme that underlines (and, with an astounding live stage lineup for the party, also headlines) our event this year, and how this saucy era speaks to the current moment in women’s rights that we are experiencing.
To start, we are looking forward to presenting a great evening, featuring live music, gravity-defying circus acts, and engaging and enticing burlesque performances, among other things, while dining on sumptuous canapés by Jason Malloff of Cabin Restaurant in Crawford Bay. Our theatre will be transformed to pay homage to a moment in time – 1920s Berlin – when dissenting men and women performed satirical and socio-political songs, dance and comedy. In this period of social liberalization, cabaret performances broke away from the pretty and polite, opting instead for more unique and comical voices that really explored what the female voice could do, as well as many creative — and often debaucherous — dance performances.
Weimar Cabaret culture was effectively extinguished by the Nazi regime, but for a short time women were afforded a loud and brazen voice that rejected the norm. These performers are part of a trajectory of disruptive women over history — women like Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Ida B. Wells, to name just a scant few — who have eschewed established expectations and broken barriers.
In the early 20th century the performers of the Weimar Cabaret also broke new ground for women. The legacy of burlesque is that today many women who learn this dance form in its modern revival enjoy it as an empowering and freeing performance style that continues to test limits and break barriers.
That is, after all, what emancipation is about: freedom and empowerment. These things are only possible when a commitment to equity is present, and equity is only possible when empathy is cultivated first. I’ve also started to wonder if nurturing empathy is really the biggest challenge. When people in power choose to embrace empathy towards groups experiencing inequity, so much more is possible.
As the widely shared meme so aptly goes: “Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you: It’s not pie.” A simple action that we can take to support women is to just show up. Even the small effort of attending an event celebrating women is a simple action that shows love and respect for women, for parity, for equity and for a future of equality.
Which brings us back to March 3. I am looking forward to the Civic’s Oscar Party, and I believe that there is plenty to celebrate. We have a year of so many powerful female characters on screen, so much more transparency in Hollywood, and a growing will to improve conditions for women working in film. Dress in black (white roses optional) or don your favorite strong female lead costume and join us in this festive celebration of women (and all just as a warm up for the introspective show about local women past and present, opening March 8 at Touchstones Nelson).
This moment in time is indeed a political one, but when we embrace empathy and celebrate our own strong female leads, we can be part of the solution. Tickets are still available for “Wonder Women: Strong Female Leads” at civictheatre.ca. It’s a night to celebrate a better future for us all together.
Eleanor Stacey is the executive director of Nelson Civic Theatre Society.