Gender equality: the battle is not yet won | Stephanie Bonnici

Ahead of her participation in the Masquerade Malta production of Evan Placey’s new play, Girls Like That, actress Stephanie Bonnici speaks to Teodor Reljic about how this story of slut-shaming and online bullying will help bring some very relevant issues to the forefront

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
22 September 2016, 8:45am
Stephanie Bonnici
Stephanie Bonnici
What attracted you to this script in the first place?  

I think it was probably the way by which the topic of feminism is explored. You can have a play that tells of all of women’s struggles in the past and that instructs present generations to appreciate their place in society today. But here you have Evan Placey, who makes us realise that despite all of women’s past triumphs, the issue of gender inequality is still present today – and he shows it to us in ways that we would probably least expect him to.

How would you describe the process of working with director Polly March for this play, especially given that it takes its cue from issues that are very current to young people at the moment? Are you drawing from your own life, or at least doing your own research into how to bring out the key concerns of the play?

Having a female direct this play is great. Having Polly March bring life and energy into a cast of 18 girls is proving to be a challenging yet exciting experience. We acknowledge and appreciate Polly’s skills and she acknowledges how close we are to the play’s topics in real life – and that’s proving to be an interesting recipe that I’m hopeful audiences will appreciate the taste of. 

In rehearsing for this play, there’s a lot of truth that you come across. Some of the lines hit home, others challenge your standpoint on the issues, while with a few others you can’t help but smile. The fact that the script is a collective narrative means that we have to work as an ensemble – and it’s here that all of the different truths that we relate to individually, both as actresses and human beings, come together. 

On that note: would you say you can relate to some of the themes in the play, and what are the benefits of putting these themes up on the stage? Does it help us deal with them, and if so – how?

Friendship, sexuality, bullying, gender equality, feminism, and self-image. From the oldest to the youngest in society, we’ve all encountered these themes at some point in our lives. Girls Like That acknowledges that and while it gives them a new and more current twist, it often hints to the past, its effects on the present, and possibly even the future. What’s great about it, though, is that it’s not didactic in doing so. At so many points throughout the play, audiences will find themselves laughing, even if sometimes it’s just at the irony of the situation. 

As to whether or not the play helps us deal with these themes, I like to think that every piece of theatre affects audiences in different ways and on different levels. I wouldn’t say the play offers a solution, but I do think that it has the potential to create change in the way we think about and view these themes. 

What can local teens learn from a play like this?

My first instinct is to say that the play will remind teens about these themes; but the truth of the matter is that teens are most definitely already aware of what is around them. So the play could help young people realise a whole lot more about their own value, at a stage in their life when they are developing their own thoughts and views on a variety of topics. Additionally, it can also open them up to the relevance that some of these topics have to them – possibly the relevance that is not often presented as such by the many resources that teens have at their fingertips in this day and age. 

What do you make of the local theatre scene, and what would you change about it?

I’ve read this question so many times and very often the answers involve either of the following: ‘it’s developing well’ or ‘we’ve still got a long way to go’ – or else a combination of both. I personally believe that while living on an island like Malta offers many challenges to artists, there’s a lot that it offers artistically that is very often not valued enough. I’m bidding farewell to my teenage years in October and entering the twenties – what many view as adulthood. What I would like to experience more in our local theatre scene, and what I personally want to work on doing throughout my career is risk-taking and identifying the benefits rather than the disadvantages of our limitations as a nation. “Għax aħna żgħar” needs to become a positive rather than a negative situation. Once we walk across that bridge that’s held back so many individuals with great potential for decades, there definitely are places for Maltese artists, particularly young artists, to go. 

Local artists have acknowledged this and it surely reflects in the quality of work that is being presented nowadays. However, aspiring artists still require that sense of encouragement from society and their peers – encouragement that would definitely be a stepping stone forward for them to take the leap into the world of art and theatre.

What’s next for you?

I’m moving into my final year as a Theatre Studies (Hons.) student in October so I can only hope that there’s a lot in store for me in this coming year. What I definitely am aspiring towards is the study and further linking of my theoretical studies with my artistic ventures, by means of exploring innovative ways of addressing the 21st century spectator. I’m hoping to continue developing a personal theatre writing project which I have had to put aside for some time, and to work with (and most importantly learn from) other local artists, performers and theatremakers. 

Girls Like That will be staged at the Blue Box Theatre at M Space, Msida on September 23, 24 and 30 and October 1 and 2 at 20:00. Bookings: www.bluebox.com.mt

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...