Lady politicians unite

Group hopes to inspire political currents with a female bent

Sandy Mayzell (left) and Leanne Allen have launched Dancing With The Octopus, and a series of webisodes to get women revved up about political engagement.

Group hopes to inspire political currents with a female bent

For any woman who has ever dreamed of being a lady politician, now’s your chance to do it alongside one of Victoria’s newest political teams, Dancing With The Octopus — an organization that focuses on political engagement with a feminine edge.

The initiative was started by local filmmaker and arts supporter Sandy Mayzell, who partnered with Leanne Allen — former CBC Citizen Janes producer and founder of the interior B.C. magazine, Off-Centre — to collaborate on a number of “tentacle” offshoot projects: one of which is the webisode series titled Kaitlin Fontana: Lady Politician.

“In our current political world, I don’t believe our voices are getting heard, and many issues that are of extreme importance to women are not being reflected in government,” Mayzell says. “There are few role models for women to relate to.”

The 13-part non-partisan series walks viewers through the myths around women and politics: like the idea that women can’t handle debates, or that only low voices get heard.

Vancouver-based improv actress and writer Kaitlin Fontana guides viewers through the segments, with each webisode dramatizing an obstacle faced by women as they engage in the political forum. The series also incorporates writing from Dean Jenkinson of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and the group nabbed their theme song from a Twisted Sister remake, compliments of Bif Naked. Using news clips, stats, comedy scripts and interview snippets with female politicians — like federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Victoria NDP MP Denise Savoie — the series is able to evoke outrage and laughter, nicely tied off with a glimmer of hope for change.

While Mayzell and Allen co-produced, co-wrote and co-directed the series, they both had their own personal reasons for getting the project going.

“You see a lot of people reacting to the images and stories of women in politics and saying, ‘Yeah, but that doesn’t happen now,’ and it’s important we show that it does happen now,” says Allen. “I love satire, though, and letting people just laugh at how unbelievable some of these situations really are.”

Mayzell says she was an activist as early as Grade 4, when a school prayer rubbed her the wrong way. Yet she launched Dancing With The Octopus when she realized she “couldn’t sit on the sidelines and gripe about exclusion any longer.” The project may ultimately include tentacles of theatre, community outreach, a comic book and more.

“The only way we can actually start to change things is to work together, and show women it’s really not so scary to stand up,” Mayzell says, adding that many women deter themselves by thinking that there’s someone better suited, or that they aren’t political experts. “We need these women in politics, and many aren’t aware of the support out there to help them to get involved.”

Allen adds that, while it still seems like an old-boy’s world, there are new tools out there that can be well utilized by anyone.

“Social media may still be one of the most underutilized resources we have at our fingertips,” Allen says. “It’s important that new politicians run with that and let technology get your voice out there as much as you can.”

Fontana, who hosts the Lady Politician webisodes, says that while she would not consider herself a political activist, she is engaged in the Canadian political system and believes that all people should be.

“In Canada particularly, we have a lot of trouble inspiring people to get involved and vote — especially women and youth,” she says. “It’s interesting to be a part of a project like this and hear stories that show how intimidated women are by some of the trash talk and brash attitudes that go into politics … but the tough thing is that we can’t change that until we bring more women into [parliament].”

Fontana, 28, got involved with the production through knowing Allen on another project. While Fontana’s background in theatre helped her fill the symbolic shoes of every woman looking to get involved, she says her own experiences fueled her passion for the project.

“Our generation is so disengaged with the current political process, and we’re demobilized, in part, because it’s made so boring … I’ve really seen how effectively you can engage people when you do it with comedy,” she says. “Just getting people involved in the process is what’s important to me — it doesn’t matter who they vote for.”

While the group has completed two of the hopeful 13 webisodes, Mayzell says more funds will be needed in order to complete the series. The group is hosting a variety of fundraisers, and is hoping to micro-finance the project by seeking donations. M

For information on how to donate, submit a story or get involved, visit dancingwiththeoctopus.com.

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