Sisters will be forced to do it for themselves in this new play about a fictional sporting pioneer
There’s never been a better time to be a woman in sport. Women are no longer forced to the sidelines – they’ve fought their way onto the ground and now they demand more. In 2017 the AFL started AFLW, a popular professional football league for female players. It was a clear signal that equality in sport has made leaps and bounds in the last five years, although there is still a way to go.
There’s a distinct lack of mainstream coverage of women in sport, but that doesn’t mean those stories aren’t being put out into the world. Jane E Thompson is a Melbourne playwright telling some of those stories. Her newest work Fierce explores gender bias, intimacy and the battle for equality. It’s an ode to the game Jane has fallen in and out of love with over time.
Fierce takes place in a world where the women play against the men, rather than in a different league. It explores the masculine culture and Australian-ness of the game. It takes a woman into the testosterone filled boys club that is footy.
We spoke to Jane about her history, Fierce and the mood around AFLW.
What’s your background in theatre?
Any readers are probably not going to have heard of my previous work. And that doesn't make it insignificant to me... But for you guys, mostly I’ve spent the last 20 years in some way or another involved in the small independent theatre sector or at my laptop and then maybe a reading or development if I’m lucky – trying to build and shape play scripts.
It took me a very long time to realise that I wanted to just do theatre. I sort of avoided committing for too long. And now I finally decided that I should just do it if I want to do it. I stopped pretending.
Where did the inspiration for Fierce come from?
I’ve been a big fan of the game for a long time now, since the early ‘90s, but then I sort of fell out of love with it for a while around 2000 to 2001. Then in 2003 and 2004 those stories started to surface about alleged sexual assault with players in the AFL and the NRL, and I remember thinking at the time “Oh well I don’t follow that sport anymore so that’s good isn’t it?” because that really sucked.
And then… I just really liked the game so I found myself coming back to it a bit even though I have still got some issues around the way football sometimes deals with socio-political issues. I’m not 100 per cent sure how I feel about that. My love of the game is conflicted.
Then there was a play commissioned in 2014 that dealt with sexual assault and professional footballers. It’s fair to say I wasn’t a fan. In fact I didn’t like it at all and I was going to write something that was more a critical response to the play. But then a director suggested that maybe I should write a creative response. So I thought about that for a bit and I was like “That’s probably a better idea!” I’m a creative person, I’m a playwright. And I didn’t want to write my version of a play about sexual assault and footballers. Instead I’ve written a play that puts a woman playing professionally with and against the men.
Are you into AFLW?
I am! I watched the inaugural match and I was really emotionally moved by it. I cried like a baby.
Who do you go for?
In the men’s competition I go for Hawthorn and in the women’s I think I’m now a Bulldogs fan. I went to Whitten Oval and it’s really hard to go there and not be moved by just the place and the supporters. I was totally convinced. It’s so hard when your AFL men’s team don’t have an AFL women’s team. I tried to make a decision at the very beginning. I thought “I’m with the dogs, that’s it” and then I was like “Ahh, but Darcy Vescio plays for Carlton” so I was torn because I was going towards the team where I liked the players. I thought “Oh no, Bri Davey – Carlton” but then when I went to the Bulldogs game… The Whitten Oval is a great place to watch the game and I was really happy that I went. My son loved it – he was so excited. His first professional AFL footy game and he was like “This is the best!” He loved it.
It feels a lot more grassroots and organic than the men’s game at the moment because you’re still at those suburban grounds that hold between 5,000 and 20,000 people. So it just feels like back in the day, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when you used to go to those sort of outer suburb grounds. It felt less commercialised.