This past semester, I took a class called “Theater and Culture.” Needless to say, my understanding of the power of theater increased exponentially. This art truly has the power to change things in the world, address serious issues in a way that wakes people up, and grow communities. For our final projects, we created pieces of theater. Devising theater is not something that I have much experience in. I have thought about it, but I had never actually been in charge of a project before. I partnered with the wonderful MacKenzie Ward to create a piece about women and anger. Our first realization was that women tend to deny that they are angry about something. They say “I’m not angry, i’m just (fill in the blank).” I wasn’t interested in finding out if women were supposed to be angry, explore whether or not it was justified, or decide what the differences were between men and women. We were open-minded to find out what the project would turn into, according to our workshops and the women we would interview.
Now, here came the beginning of a lot of hard work. We did two workshops with groups of women. We used story circles, physical work, and theatrical games in order to open the discussion about anger. The stories that were told in those workshops were precious, and I hold them very delicately. We also made the discovery that using physical work/dance was vital to the project. Once the anger was expressed, it just seemed to linger in the air, so we added in movement. I collected classical music and began to choreograph, experimenting with different ways that dance can physicalize the journey of our piece. We interviewed women, and began to write a script off of those interviews. The show was cast, and we started rehearsals. The structure included opening monologues, movement and music, and then progressed to a point in which the actors wrote on a big board multiple phrases to complete “I’m not angry, I’m just…” The climax of the piece was the dance in the middle, that symbolized the anger finally being expressed. The second portion included monologues about expressing anger, as opposed to the first half being about containing the anger.
This all sounds super convoluted and complicated, but that’s because I find it hard to express how fascinating, growing, and beautifully hard this project was. Collaborating with Mackenzie was a learning experience in itself. We had to learn about balance, kindness, push and pull, and support. The lovely cast of women were the most wiling and eager group of people possible. Some of them were saying their own words, and some carried other people’s stories. Some were dancers and others had to learn. All of it had to be figured about, which is always how a show finally happens.
They learned to wrestle, spin, carry strength, and move as an ensemble. I had never before been in the creator’s shoes of a show before, and I now understand how important it is to keep in the calm, be kind, and strong. The experience of a group of women coming together and talking about what it means to live with anger is something that I deeply value. There are not that many places where women are free to do that, much less welcome to do that, or have witnesses see it happen. The ethics of writing a devised show were hard to learn, but worth it. When someone tells you their story, you must respect it, carry it carefully, and only do with it what the person lets you. You must never just take their story and forget that is came from someone. All stories have an origination, even if they have been changed through time. I now value stories so much more now, in that I see them as something that was told to me by the original person, that I see the humanity behind it. Having women do that and carry one another’s stories meant that they were also carrying one another. I hope that from this project, people would be more open to talking about anger, stories, support, and the journey of working with people.
All photos are courtesy of the talented Keenan Dava.
Photographed include: Jill Kuhlman, Grace Holmen, McKenna Biedebach, Mary Clancy, and Rebecca Watkins.