In Claire McIntyre’s award-winning play Low Level Panic, currently showing at the Old Fitz, Amy Ingram performs one of three leading female roles in a cast that emphasises women’s voices.
With the goal of unflinchingly exploring the way society views women’s lives, bodies, sexuality and safety, Low Level Panic has allowed Ingram to explore her own perception and experiences of womanhood.
Talking to Ingram during the rehearsal process for the show, she spoke about the expectations female actors have to face in the business. Acknowledging that women face different challenges in their varying workplaces, Ingram believes that theatrical occupations are beginning to realise their gender imbalance and are slowly working towards parity and equality.
“If my profession is anything to go by, then what I know to be true is that we [women] work bloody hard: to be noticed, to be recognised, to be taken seriously, to be given opportunities that just go beyond ‘looking’ the right way. It is getting better on our stages but we still have a long way to go in terms of equality and diversity of roles.
“Often the roles women receive are supporting, and I don’t mean a ‘minor’ role, I mean a character who is there specifically to support the journey of a male character. […] We are realising that strong female voices are important, that our characters don’t always have to be archetypes. We are more, and so should our characters be.”
Discussing (among other things) elements of “the male and female gaze and women as sexual objects, the nature of friendship, the potential violence [women] face on a daily basis, and […] characters going through everyday struggles and realisations”, Ingram says that Low Level Panic is about igniting questions, not giving answers. She hopes theatre that includes the voices of women will contribute to public discussion of gendered issues, and that working together, men and women will be able to solve these problems.
“I want [audiences] to walk away with a head full of questions, with discussion bursting from their lips, and whether it is or not I want this show to be for men and women and for those questions and discussions to be shared amongst them. We cannot live in isolation of each other. We cannot change alone.”
When asked outright if this show is a feminist piece, Ingram responded that the way the audience interprets the feminism of the show will revolve around their own understanding and definition of the ideology of the movement. She acknowledges that this season of Low Level Panic represents the experiences of straight, white women, but hopes the material does not exclude anyone else.
“I think this show is ABOUT women. Their lives, their struggles, their triumphs. But part of me is also sad when a play full of women can only be described as a feminist play or play purely for women. This show has a political agenda – yes. We are working hard to entertain our audiences – yes. So isn’t that just good theatre? That is my personal take on it. I think many people would say this is a purely feminist play, but I don’t think I really know what that means anymore.”
“The way the play stands at the moment is represented by straight white females but hopefully does not therefore exclude everyone else. I think this play could be represented by a multitude of voices in a multitude of combinations… Women are women and humans are humans. We are not our weight, sexual preferences, gender, skin colour, religion, jobs or lunch choices. So while we may not reflect everyone in the world we can hope to encourage everyone to try and have empathy for them.”
Speaking about the similarities between herself and her character, Ingram describes herself as a contradiction, and believes that her character is struggling with the same contradictions. She also believes that she and her character share insecurities with many women, including the other actors and characters in the show.
“I am a constant contradiction. But over the years I have come to embrace those contradictions, trust my voice and my instincts. Work harder to stand up for those around me and be ok with whatever version of myself I am into right now. I have little patience for nonsense and I don’t think anyone should have to justify his or her existence in any form (although we constantly have to). My character does, more so to herself than anyone else.
“Jo (my character) is still struggling with those contradictions in herself and outside expectations placed on her. If you let it, what you believe the worldview of you is can crush you. It can be debilitating and suffocating and that is something I, my character, the other actors, and the other characters are all struggling with on a daily basis.”
Calling herself “lucky” to have worked with many talented women throughout her career, Ingram mentions that the bonds formed between the women working on this show allowed for a cohesive and productive rehearsal experience.
“The connection we three have formed makes everything so much easier and more exciting, as we can take risks with each other, push and challenge [each] other while feeling completely supported. I always believe that each role you take on changes your inner makeup somehow. You always walk away slightly different than when you started, some characters and shows more so than others. In this show I can already feel how I am changed, how these women have changed me.”
“‘Strong’ women are not a rarity – they are everywhere you look. Chances are you are sitting next to one on a train, in your home, walking past one of them on the street. Being surrounded by such a strong female presence is something hopefully everyone is already experiencing. Sometimes all it takes is for someone else to be quiet for a second and let [their] presence be felt.”
Low Level Panic will conclude its season at the Old Fitz on 12 August. Further information can be found at this link.