International Womens Day 2024 at the Society of Antiquities

You can watch the entire event on YouTube here.

I told four stories about five women from the Beyond Notability academic database. Each story shone a creative light onto the womens lives, bringing in emotion and heart.

I was working with (often) rather dry data! Each tale was an iceberg-tip, the culmination of months of research, interviews and thought. I was transforming facts and figures into living breathing stories.

As this was an academic project, my stories were a little unusual. I had to get the balance right between fact, research and imagination. As we were focussed on bringing the research to life, I was asked NOT to simply dramatise the most exciting moments in the womens lives. This was NOT life and death, it was about context and inner life.

So, definitely no quests, no fantasy, no battles…Nothing like that! The stories didn’t even have plot twists. For a storyteller, this is quite a challenge. Instead, I chose to talk about a moment of eye contact, a fragment of memory, a broken dish and a pair of flat shoes! I also took the opportunity to “zoom out” and look at the wider context which the women lived in and also, to really bring the setting to life too.

There was a temptation to idealise the subjects but this is unhelpful. I aimed to be truthful –but also compassionate, after all, we’re all only human!

Read about the stories here.

Also, I tailored each story closely for that specific occasion. In this case, I know I’d be speaking to a room full of academics! As I created each performance, I chose my language and facts and approach, knowing what kind of person was going to be listening.

(This was slightly nerve-racking for me, because the stories didn’t truly come alive until the moment I spoke them at the event.)

I was happy to get lovely responses and comments after each story, it made all the work very worthwhile– it was also relief as I’d been working blind for many months.

Here’s a few comments lifted from X: “absolutely enthralling” “I loved your thought-provoking performances” “brilliant” “My absolute favourite part of today’s event is the vivid dramatisation of moments in women’s lives by Vanessa Woolf” (More feedback comments at the bottom of the post)

I was SO lucky to work closely with Amara, she is one of those inspirational leads who bring out the best in everyone around them.

I was also grateful to George for making sure that I had pin-sharp sound throughout. Having great sound is often neglected but it makes a huge difference to the audience’s enjoyment and reaction.

It was brilliant to get nice feedback at the end of a long road!

The event was organised by Dr Amara Thornton, Dr Katherine Harloe and Dr Debbie Challis as part of the Beyond Notability project. The day’s programme was excellent. We enjoyed a constellation of incredibly varied presentations by people like Julia Pascal (Pascale Theatre Co), a theatre-maker who spoke about the challenges of bringing historical women to life using drama, Catherine Clarke (Institute of Historical Research) who spoke about the use of AI in historical research (fascinating) plus a fabulous practical session of dress-up with Jo Badger, a historical costume-maker. I was electrified by the talk by Pamela Franklin of the Caribbean Social Forum, especially because she works in Woolwich and Greenwich, very close to home. Jennifer Wexler (English Heritage) talked about Grimes Graves in a way which made me long to visit, Marie Basting, author of My Family and Other Romans, delighted and intrigued, she added a dash of wonder to the day. Other highlights included a thourght provoking talk from Emma Anderson and Bryony Renshaw (Silk Museum Macclesfield) and fantastic artwork by Katy Drake and Kath Van Uytrecht (Artists-in-Residence).

I’m so grateful to be part of such a special, supportive and inspirational day.

Find out more about me and join my mailing list here.

pic: Dr Amara Thornton, me, Dr Katherine Harloe.

More feedback under the picture.

Here’s some more feedback about the stories and the day.

“I really enjoyed the way the stories situated the women in the midst of their everyday lives which made you appreciate how women had to juggle their busy lives as mothers and housewives in order to carve out time to carry out their research/work. We all appreciate how difficult it was for women to pursue their academic interests /careers but the stories really succeeded in bringing the extent of that struggle to the fore. Thank you!”

“It was a great day, combining creativity and research and really bringing these erased stories to life.”

“Complexity and sense of place”

“I found all of them inspiring – amazing work!”

“The Stories did an excellent job at filling in the gaps between archival finds and creating an emotionally relatable story.”

“Very engaging way of reaching an audience. The voice is a very powerful tool & draws you in.”

“They are a brilliant way of making past lives come alive”

“Very engaging, informative and entertaining”

“I’d never heard of these women and genius to have a storyteller”

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