Cecilia Gragnani is the co-founder of Paper Smokers whose show Miles Apart Together will be a VAULT Festival from 17 – 22 March. She talks to Theatre Bubble about the three female explorers the show features, and creating a show that is the Guilty Feminist for the late nineteenth century.
What is Miles Apart Together about and what can audiences expect?
Miles Apart Together is a show that shares the stories of three incredible female explorers from the past, shedding a light on women’s achievements and how they’ve been perceived by a male dominated society.
We see adventurers Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African American descent to hold a pilot license, Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the peak of Mount Everest, and Annie Londonderry Kopchovsky, a Latvian immigrant and the first woman to cycle around the world, come together to share their stories and relive their unprecedented physical feats.
The achievements of Bessie, Junko and Annie became milestones in the path towards women’s rights and freedom, challenging the assumption that the “fairer sex” lacks the physical and mental stamina for big deeds. In the show they come together in a playful ‘podcast’, one of the few industries where women’s conversations lead the way. Imagine The Guilty Feminist set between the end of the 1800s and the 1900s.
How did you first discover Annie Kopchovsky, Bessie Coleman and Junko Tabei?
I read a book about Annie and found her story fascinating, not only because she cycled around the world but because she was also an incredible entrepreneur and entertainer. She left her 2 children for more than a year which was brave because at the time women were expected to look after the home and it was also unseemly for women to cycle, something that played a big role in women’s emancipation. I shared Annie’s story with Katharina, the director of our previous show Diary of an Expat, and instantly we decided to collaborate again on a brand new show.
Intrigued by Annie’s story our curiosity led us to other pioneers and explorers. We found so many women with forgotten stories that deserve to be told. It was overwhelming at the beginning. In the end, we decided to put Annie, Junko and Bessie in the same room. These are three women from different times, continents and religions who each achieved something extraordinary in their fields. Once we found the podcast form we decided that we’d love this to be the first of a series of female stories on explorers.
How do you think the themes of the show chime with today?
As an increasing number of women take on top roles in politics, tech, sport and beyond, it’s important to look at the past to see where we’ve come from and how far we still have to go. These three women are some of history’s most ground-breaking pioneers, coming together in our show to reflect on how much – or how little – has changed since they tore apart the rule book. A lot has changed, but not enough. When asked to draw an engineer, a firefighter, a doctor, children mainly draw male figures. Estimates from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots say there are about 4,000 women pilots worldwide, of about 130,000, that’s just over 3%. There are so little non-white female pilots that they are not even a percentage. Delta Airline had their first black female pilot flying a plane in 2017, Alaskan Airlines in May 2018.
Who are your other favourite unsung women from history?
There are so many, but one woman we are particularly obsessed with at the moment is Beate Uhse, a German pilot and entrepreneur who after World War II decided to start the first sex shop in the world. With the upcoming Vagina Museum and changes in the way we think and talk about women’s bodies, she has really made us think about what it means to be a woman.
What do you want audiences to take away from the show?
We want them to be inspired, especially young women, to fight and change the world for the better, tackling gender inequality head-on. Annie, Bessie and Junko did it and everyone around them said they couldn’t do it. Still today women are not encouraged to explore, be bold and adventurous in the same way that men are and we want this to change. There are many industries that are male-dominated with higher-pay and female-dominated industries, for example caring, that are lower-paid. Gender inequality has come along way but more still needs to be done. For us, theatre is the powerful tool that will help us to do our part to change this.
For more information and to book tickets: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/miles-apart-together/