Feminist Festival Returns to Oak Cliff in May to Challenge the Trope of the Damsel in Distress

This year, Women Galore will encompass a theater festival called DAMN!sels.
This year, Women Galore will encompass a theater festival called DAMN!sels.
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In spring 2016, the co-owners of the Wild Detectives bookstore approached Dallas-based literary wunderkind Lauren Smart with a question: How can we address gender disparity in the publishing industry?

Smart loved what the bookstore – which is also a bar, music venue and sometimes a theater – represented and saw great potential. She began collaborating with Wild Detectives on their literary programming and was quickly given ownership of what would become a month of events celebrating women, called Women Galore.

The original name? “Pussy Galore” – a character in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, who runs a crime syndicate of lesbian, Amazonian cat burglars.

The name didn’t take, however. Smart says participants in the festival got worried that the name was too provocative. Smart wanted to take back the name, to remove it from being a slur used to demean women. Little did she know we’d have a president one year later who famously used the term to brag about sexual assault.

It’s for this reason that the festival feels more urgent this year. Smart says the theme for the month is asking what it means to be a feminist and what we mean when we talk about living feminism.

The second iteration of Women Galore begins with a “Backyard Activism Day” on April 30. It's “an event dedicated to helping engaged citizens plug into the causes that will actually make a difference in their city and in the lives of their fellow citizens,” Smart says.

The monthlong literary arts fest is expanding to include new neighborhood partners in the Bishop Arts District and offers headlining authors including Chris Kraus (I Love Dick), Jessa Crispin (Why I’m Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto) and Sady Doyle (Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear ... and Why). It will also include a small theater festival: DAMN!sels, presented by House Party Theatre (HPT).

The brainchild of SMU senior Haley Nelson, DAMN!sels is a festival of short plays and music entirely written, directed and produced by women to a common theme: the “damsel in distress.” It will include plays by Anyika McMillan-Herod, Janielle Kastner and Eva MeiLing Pollitt, directed by Selena Anguiano, Shelby-Allison Hibbs and Kristen Kelso.

The pieces are staged non-conventionally and audiences will be guided from set to set by a female musician performing an original song inspired by the play’s script.

Nelson gave the writers and musicians complete ownership over what they created for the festival. She was originally inspired to create a theater festival because she’s discouraged by the under-representation of female artists in theater and wanted to see the stories of women told differently.

Kelso, a graduate student in literary translation at the University of Texas at Dallas, says her research has taught her a lot about the “static myth” of the patriarchy and how present it is in theater and film. When women are portrayed, there is a touch of the damsel in distress trope, she says.

Both Nelson and Kelso attribute the successes they’ve had in theater to their willingness to simply ask for work, something they say young women don’t often know they can do. That’s how Kelso got a job as assistant director for Shakespeare Dallas and as a dramaturg for Kitchen Dog Theatre.

They also credit the support they’ve received from other female artists in the community. Smart echoes this.

“How quickly people throughout the city have raised their hand to collaborate on Women Galore is perhaps the most encouraging thing about this initiative,” Smart writes on the Wild Detectives’ website. Bars in the neighborhood are even donating a portion of the sales from certain women-themed cocktails to Genesis Women’s Shelter.

For more information on DAMN!sels, and the lineup for the month, check out the Wild Detectives’ website. Performances for DAMN!sels will take place at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 11, through Saturday, May 13.

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