by Kaethe Fine
Introduced by Anna Birch
A written introduction by the researcher and theatre director Anna Birch tells of the 10 year campaign to raise funds for and erect a statue on Newington Green in London in honour of the ‘Mother’ of Feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft. The unveiling of the statue caused considerable public controversy with some viewers attempting to cover it up. The naked statue designed by artist Maggi Hambling upset many feminists who claimed that it undermined the works of Wollstonecraft and her belief in the equality of women, while others praised the concept of a statue that honoured the spirit of womanhood, rather than simply putting up a representational artwork of Wollstonecraft on a plinth.
Kaethe Fine’s play Wollstonecraft Live! was performed on Newington Green to celebrate the regeneration project of Newington Green and to raise awareness of the campaign for a statue honoring Mary Wollstonecraft.
The play depicts the shooting of a film which centres on a love story between the 18th century radical Mary Wollstonecraft and the writer William Godwin, who was Wollstonecraft’s lover for the last year of her life.
As the cast and crew rehearse a critical tracking shot for the film, dramatic conflicts and the underlying threads of Wollstonecraft’s life are revealed. The relationships in Mary’s life, and her future contribution, all tragically cut short by circumstance, are interwoven through archived material and contemporary dialogue, creating a radiant, moving drama of the woman, and the time in which she lived, loved and died.
Kaethe Fine grew up in New York City and began performing on the streets at age 8 with her girl circus. She attended The New York City High School of Performing Arts and at 15 starred in the feature film The Chosen alongside Robby Benson, Rod Steiger, and Barry Miller. She holds a BFA in Filmmaking from SUNY Purchase, and her short film Clearing, aired on PBS.
In her early days she script supervised and coordinated for directors and producers such as Hal Hartley and James Schamus.
Her first play Motivation for the Meat of Life was produced in New York City at both the William Redfield Theater and subsequently at HERE, Arts Center. Other plays (A Factor of 2, Zero Point Field and Vows) have been developed in both NY and London in association with The Labyrinth Theater Company, RADA Cafe, La Mama etc. and others.
Therapy Rocks, a musical for which she co-wrote the book, was featured in NYMF 2010. Fine has a Masters in Writing for Performance from the University of London’s Goldsmiths College. In 2005, she was commissioned by London-based Fragments & Monuments to conceive, write and associate-produce the site specific performance piece, Wollstonecraft Live! and she is currently writing a screenplay about Mary Wollstonecraft.
Since 1996 Anna Birch has created and produced new performances for locations in and around her home city London, UK and abroad including Holland and Morocco. Her work has been seen at numerous theatres across Britain including the Royal Court and Salisbury Playhouse; festivals have included the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and SPIT-LIT Festival in London. Her artwork has been reviewed by such publications as Time Out, The Guardian and The Independent newspapers, Theatre Forum, Women and Performance and Total Theatre journals. She has lectured about her artwork and supervises PhD students in institutions such as Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London and SMARTlab, University of East London where she is a research fellow. She has been the recipient of a number of grants, fellowships and awards including Awards 4 All arts funding, Royal Netherlands Embassy, and an award from the Royal Court Theatre, London. She is an innovator pushing back the frontiers in performance technology practices with three short films directed by her and a major performance and pedagogy tool for making and analysing new performance works all designed and produced by her. She is Research Fellow in Theatre / Drama at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK and her site-based, multi-media performance company Fragments & Monuments produced the sell-out production of Wollstonecraft Live! written by Kaethe Fine, conceived by Anna Birch and Kaethe Fine, directed and produced by Anna Birch.
‘Mother of feminism reborn in triplicate. Wollstonecraft makes for a great multimedia heroine. Long may she live!’ -The Independent
‘The dialogue provides a satirical commentary on the preoccupations of the film industry. More importantly, however, it invites reflection on the way commercial interests and gendered assumptions can shape Hollywood biopics of women, flattening complex personhood into clichéd narratives of frustration and victimhood or – patronising in their own way – one-dimensional portraits of feisty, go-getting feminists… If Wollstonecraft Live! is postmodern in its self-consciousness, it also has the emotional intensity and spontaneity of abstract expressionism – disorientating but powerful. ‘ – Laura Kirkley, Newcastle University https://www.bsecs.org.uk/criticks-reviews/wollstonecraft-live-search-mary/
‘Past and present are superimposed onto each other, an editing technique which maps the present moment onto the history of the site, subjectivity onto context : the canvas of the site is used to dive into issues of contemporary culture.’ – Live Art Magazine issue 36
“This is not a mere play but a blueprint for a new kind of theater. By sharing the process through which this piece was researched and developed, this book helps us all consider the ways that true rationality can become incompatible with the madness of any age – especially when it comes from a woman. Here’s a terrific read, a wonderful manual for staging a production, and a terrific model for how to bring historical material to life.” – Douglas Rushkoff, Digital theorist and podcast host of NPR-One’s Team Human
Press about the book and statue:
Mary Wollstonecraft sculpture ‘was misunderstood’ | Islington Tribune
Campaigner defends controversial Newington Green statue on first anniversary – Islington Now
Youtube video of the virtual book launch and discussion here