I have only had the opportunity one time to play a character that I defined as life changing, and quite honestly I was almost convinced I would ever get that chance again. I had somewhat happily settled into my acting life of portraying ‘wives, sisters, hand maidens-who sometimes offer comic relief, and ‘other’.
That all changed one fateful yet beautiful day in May, when Rowen Haigh Mahoney approached me about being in a workshop production of a new play called Thunderbodies written by an old friend of hers, Kate Tarker. I told her I would do it before I even read it- I was that acting hungry. She sent me the script via email and told me to look at the role of The President. I read the play, loved it and remember laughing whilst thinking to myself “Thank heavens she asked me to play The President and not Grotilde… That character is crazy.”
Two weeks later Rowen sent me an email telling me she would like to cast me as Grotilde. My heart sank and started beating faster all at the same time. To quote Grotilde, I thought to myself “Who am I to be so fabulous and wonderful? Who am I to have such power?” I closed Safari, shut my laptop down and stood up. I sat back down, opened the computer and logged back into my email. Yup. It was true. I was to play the role of Grotilde- if I wanted her, she wanted me. The doubt that plagues every woman rang in my ear “Who am I?” Over the next few weeks I would love to say that I scoured every word and dove into this fierce character, but that would be lying. I was terrified.
About a week before we started rehearsals I sat myself down in front of the mirror. I had recently read a book on creativity called “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it, she says:
“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” With that idea in mind, I promised myself that I would give everything to this fierce, ballsy, fantastical woman named Grotilde. I chose not to judge her, not to refer to her in negative terms, but instead love her. I would give her everything I had in me even though I felt as though my best hardly reached her worst. Our fearless director Rowen executed our rehearsals with such patience as did my fellow actors while I stumbled, fell, discovered and blossomed. As Grotilde began to grow so did I.
You see my dears, when asked by the fabulously courageous Ashley Popio what I learned by being a part of the Women’s Theatre Festival, I found myself overwhelmed with how much the opportunity changed me. I wish in a way I could be a little less selfish and tell you that Thunderbodies changed the audience members that attended our shows deeply, but I am not sure if that’s true. What I do know for sure is that because one woman (Ashley) had an idea to empower other women, my life has been changed. Before Grotilde I had been called back for the part of a young woman who seduces an elderly man (gross), and before that, a prostitute. I had just sat through three movies within a week starring an all male cast, where the only women were strippers or nagging mothers. I was exhausted by the societal limits that were thrust upon me.
Thunderbodies was a crazy ride. Quite frankly, a ride I terribly wish more people had been able to experience. I loved my fearless cast, crew and director… and I loved my sweet Grotilde.
Through WTF I had the opportunity to speak words written by a woman, that were directed by a woman, that featured phenomenal men and women. I learned that I am powerful. There is nothing about my body to be ashamed of- it all has it’s purpose and that is power. I learned that I can be sexy and intense and terrifying and funny and horrible and amazing all at once. That femininity has as much power as masculinity. That I don’t need to be anything for a man, just as a man does not need to be anything for me. I am of infinite worth on my own accord.
Post WTF I have found a renewed passion for telling the stories of flawed, interesting and unique women. I’m overwhelmed by the immense amounts of stories that are not being heard… stories about women, by women and for women.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says “Life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here. Bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”
Follow Courtney Christison on her blog for further musings and poetry and for latest events and upcoming shows check out her FaceBook page.
Thunderbodies photo by Elizabeth Anderson