December 5, 2018 | Arts & Culture
Thanks to movements like #metoo and Time’s Up, issues of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace have become powerful global conversations. But 38 years ago, three iconic women sparked a similar conversation in their own bold and unapologetically funny way.
The film 9 to 5 debuted in 1980, and starred Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin as employees who have had enough of their boss’s sexist behaviour and decide to take matters into their own hands. Last week, MacEwan University opened its theatre season with its own production of 9 to 5, which runs through December 8.
One person you might see in the audience is Dr. Wanda Costen, dean of MacEwan’s School of Business. With a background in gender equity and human resources – and a love of comedy – Wanda has a keen understanding of why the story is still important decades after debuting on screen. And she thinks you should take in the show.
“I was a young adult when the film first came out. I loved it – I thought it was hilarious. But it also tackled an important issue that I could identify with,” she says.
Wanda firmly believes that we shouldn’t avoid conversations about difficult social issues – but sometimes a little help is needed to get the conversation going. She says in those situations, entertainment can be a comfortable entry point.
“Comedy is a great way to bring up things we’re afraid to talk about.”
—Dr. Wanda Costen
“There’s the saying that we can talk about anything except for religion and politics. My response is ‘actually, that's exactly what we should be talking about,’” she says. “If we don’t talk about the contentious ideas that divide us, how do we find solutions? Comedy is a great way to bring up things we’re afraid to talk about because it provides a little levity.”
In the midst of the #metoo movement, productions like 9 to 5 play a valuable role by providing a vivid snapshot of the way things were. According to Wanda, that historical context helps determine the best ways to move forward, and can help prevent the movement from becoming stagnant or regressing.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we’ve also come a long way,” she says. “My students are quite taken aback when I share stories about some of the things I experienced earlier in my career, which pale in comparison to what my mentors went through. So some of what they’ll see in 9 to 5 might be a bit shocking, but that’s a good reminder of why we need to keep pushing forward. We can’t afford to go back to the way things were.”
Though the production has obvious appeal to students in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Communications, and her own students in the School of Business, Wanda hopes it reaches students in every faculty. “I was thinking it would be great for our human resources students to see it, but really, I think students from all programs across the university should go,” she says. “What a brilliant way to engage our future leaders with this topic and spark conversations.
“Plus it’s a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to just laughing and having a great time. I already can’t stop singing the song.”
9 to 5 is playing at MacEwan’s Triffo Theatre through December 8. Tickets are available now. Read the review in The Griff.