Celebrating 25 years, Ruby Slippers Theatre's Diane Brown recalls the company's feminist roots
Ruby Slippers Theatre, which is producing Daniel MacIvor’s Communion as part of its 25th-anniversary season, used to be a feminist collective. Remember feminist collectives?
And, true to the spirit of the times, when Ruby Slippers was born, it wasn’t even a theatre company; it was an interdisciplinary experiment. Chatting with the Straight in the lobby of Pacific Theatre, where she is getting ready to perform in Communion, Diane Brown, who is now the company’s sole artistic director, remembers the troupe’s freewheeling early days.
“I wanted to do Mud by María Irene Fornés, and Katrina wanted to do Mud, so we said, ‘Let’s do it together.’ ” Brown is referring to Ruby Slippers’ inaugural production in the Perel Gallery, a third-floor space on Hastings Street, in which a mud-daubed room was an art installation by day and a stage set by night.
The original core group included Brown; Katrina Dunn, who was co–artistic director of Ruby Slippers for nine years before moving over to helm Touchstone Theatre; choreographer Deborah Dunn; and painter Sandra Lockwood.
Not just interdisciplinary, “We were also at the time decidedly feminist,” Brown recalls. But growing pains set in: “We determined quite quickly—within the first couple of years—that you couldn’t get funding as an interdisciplinary collective at that time.” So Ruby Slippers focused on theatre. And when Brown took over as sole artistic director in 1998, she dropped “feminist” from the company’s mission statement. She says she’s still a committed liberationist, but she got tired of fielding criticism from funders and audience members who perceived the work as either too feminist or not feminist enough. Finally, she remembers: “I was, like, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake! We’re just going to do it, then. That analysis is going to be in our work, but we’re not going to put that word out there anymore.’”
The company remains dedicated to social engagement, which may be more important than ever. Ruby Slippers is going strong but, with 25 years’ experience as a cultural worker, Brown believes that “things have gotten worse. We value culture less in our society. So much of our culture is ego-driven. It’s greedy, greedy, greedy.” But she believes that art, including theatrical communion, is the antidote: “Thoughtful citizens who feel connected make better decisions.”