If you haven’t already heard of The Good Night Ladies, now is as good a time as ever to get in the know. This “feminine focused” arts collective has been creating and supporting gender balanced work in Chicago since 2012. The fourth installment of their annual film festival, CUT! Local. Independent. Short Films., opens Friday, October 23 at The Den Theater.
Founding femmes Jessica Marks, Eve Rydberg and company member, Ashley Thompson, sat down with me over hot toddies at Café Mustache to share the reason The Good Night Ladies exist and how they are working to give space to the stories lost in the gender gap. It was less an interview and more of a dialogue about the lack of feminine presence in the media. Rydberg and Marks met in college and when they joined the “real world” as working actors in Chicago, there was a pattern that quickly emerged in both their experiences.
Jessica Marks: We just kept running into the same things over and over again – the roles that were available for women were always written by men. They were through the male gaze and…
Eve Rydberg: Very often one sided or just inconsequential to the story. Girlfriends, lovers…
JM: The main tale was the white, man’s tale.
ER: So we asked ourselves how could we change that and The Good Night Ladies grew out of that. What can we do? We can produce work. We can facilitate that work and the work of other women to tell their stories.
According to the latest research by the Women’s Media Center, women account for less than 30% of speaking roles in top grossing films and the lack of women as protagonists is representative through every medium of storytelling: films, television, journalism. The Good Night Ladies began with the intention of addressing the lack of representation of women and as such created and supported the work of woman-identified beings. However, their creative process led them to explore more about the Divine Feminine, the sacred feminine energy, the Yin to a world that is predominantly Yang.
JM: The quality of being feminine – where the word feminist and fem come from – its about a set of qualities that we’re trying to promote which are feminine “Yin” qualities: humanisms, empathy, compassion. These things that make women powerful.
Ashley Thompson: As we’ve progressed, it’s about that want and need for collaboration that’s not about getting ahead or ego.
JM: Or a traditional, masculine power model.
ER: We’ve noticed that when we sit down together we work in a very unilateral and circular way. We take a lot of time with things. There’s not a hierarchy – it’s very collaborative. We’re looking at that as a feminine model of working. Women are often pitted against each other or talking about a male character. They are perceived as bitchy or not getting along. But what wave found working with women is that it’s this amazing collaborative experience.
The final film screening in the CUT! Lineup is Siss & Boo, the story of two friends, 20 something women, who find closure in their friendship through death. Written and directed by Thompson, the film employed an entire female cast and crew except for one male sound guy.
ER: The environment on that set was really amazing to witness. There was a lot of care it was not stressful. People were just taking the time that they needed and checking in with each other. That was really cool to see.
AT: Very rare on film set. A lot of time I feel like people hate their life on set. But, we were an emotional film. To be able to check in with people and have them be there was…rad. It was also a small set and some of us knew each other but a lot of people didn’t and we all just clicked.
JM: There is still a maintaining of this idea that women can’t get along. Like you get a group of women in a room together and there’s going to be a bitch fest. It’s such fucked up socialization that we inherited to keep us away from each other. It’s a different kind of collaboration than when men come together. It’s a gathering of queens. It’s a give and take but it’s also like everyone comes in as equals. It’s like a psychic symbiosis. Were all so intuitive and empathic with each other. It’s really beautiful.
While The Good Night Ladies aim to create and support feminine focused work their mission is not inherently feminist. It’s a distinction they are aware of – that they are artists and not academics. Whatever social or political messages arise out of the work being created the motivation is the telling of a story – an untold or ignored story.
JM: Literally, we are being the change we hope to see. Making things with people who are underrepresented even if it’s just in our own work. Recreating this power model. Our work isn’t inherently political which a lot of feminists take issue with. When we did Vagina we refused to put a dictum on the art that was being made. We just wanted to get some rad women on stage to tell their stories and that was enough. I don’t need to talk about the wage gap because women telling their stories are going tube more effective than trying to impress a point on the audience.
ER: We’re seeking to expand the stories that are told. The media presents such narrow lens through which we see things. How can we expand that lens and make it more accurate? It’s been really exciting for us as artists to use The Good Night Ladies to explore anything and everything were interested in making. None of us went to film school and none of us have any formal training. If you had told me five years ago I would be working in the film industry on regular basis I’d have been surprised. But, we did it once, and it was intriguing and exciting and we saw a need for more voices like ours in the industry. So, here we are.
THE GOOD NIGHT LADIES in collaboration with
The Den Theatre present:
‘CUT! Local. Independent. Short Films.
October 23rd, 24th, 29th & 30th
1333 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL, 60622
Doors at 9pm
Tickets available here: $10 advance $12 door