I didn’t realize how much I needed a festival like this; how much we needed a festival like this… If you’ve never experienced the constant “shhh” of society, than you are either very lucky, or male (and probably cis, white, and abled body, too). If you’ve never been told to smile, or be grateful, or be kind, or be a good little girl, or speak up, or stay silent, or be strong, or be feminine, or love children, or love your career, or find a good man, or never settle, or lose weight, or love yourself, or dress up, or don’t try too hard, or…or…or….you can’t know the constant stress of having to be the best all the time for all people. You can’t know how hard it is to find yourself in the midst of being yourself for everyone else.
I’ve lost and gained my sense of self a hundred times over in the nearly three decades I’ve been on this earth. I’ve had men take my voice from me, other women, strangers, friends, lovers, family, and my art. I’ve struggled to be true to myself while still getting work. Not taking shit while still being malleable as an artist. It’s exhausting. And it’s isolating.
Bare Theatre’s Titus Andronicus was the first time I was in a room full of women. Period. Not just as an actor, but as a person. And it was the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had. We took an honest look at our own prejudices. Our own struggles. Our own shortcomings. We embraced them. Accepted them. And found ways to change what we could in order to lift each other up. We questioned more and judged less. We confronted each other when there were problems; unafraid to ask for what we needed. We made mistakes, and together, we let those mistakes make each of us stronger. The hardest part of that process was stepping back in to the rest of the world.
The first WTF meeting was the same way; a large room full of women from all walks of life clamoring for representation as artists and people. And just like Titus, it was hard work. And there were different voices with different opinions. And it was overwhelming. But what do you expect when everyone in that room had been “shhh’d” throughout their life, and were now given the opportunity to speak freely? I was fortunate enough to both get cast in Decision Height, and to moderate a panel discussion on Body Types, Stereotypes, and Typecasting. I am forever thankful for these two experiences.
Decision Height is the first time in my career I was allowed to play the full spectrum of human emotion as a woman. That may sound like a small thing if every role you’ve ever had was a fully realized character on paper before you ever started rehearsal, but it’s a big deal when almost every role you’ve ever had expresses exactly one emotion or desire as a human being. Trying to flush out a fully realized character when your character has a single motivation for an entire play is hard work. Work that almost always goes unnoticed. The number of times I’ve played “fat, funny friend” or “strong, warrior woman” is staggering. And though both are fun to do, they end up becoming stereotypes of themselves. Justifying choices when the script doesn’t support them becomes a never ending battle.
But Eddie was different. She was sassy, and snarky, and strong. The type of warrior woman I often play. But she was also fiercely loyal to her brother and her sisters-in-arms. She was stubborn, and blunt, and passionate, and awkward, and sensitive, and stern, and had no tact, and didn’t care what anyone thought, but wanted these women to look up to her. She wanted to prove she was better than every man on that base, while still being a staunch supporter for the one man in her life that never let her down, her brother. She stayed strong as the women around her struggled. She was enraged when another woman chose her family over her career. She was beside herself when she lost her brother. In under 2 hours, this woman experienced the best and worst of the human condition. She expressed the loving tender parts, and the not so tender. She was beautiful. Flawed. Perfect. And completely average. She was who I am every day walking down the street. I will always love her.
As selfish as I was to find my own voice in Decision Height, I also found the voices of women who had equally been “shhh’d”. These brave women, these WASPs, served our country with dignity and honor. And just like many women face, they were swept under the rug, never to be spoken of again. These women died for their country, for their brothers oversees, and for each other. But unlike their brothers, they weren’t even considered members of our military. Denied the rights that all soldiers are given upon burial. No flag. No letter. No place in Arlington. It wasn’t until the 70’s that the WASP program was declassified. And it wasn’t until THIS YEAR that Elaine Harmon was laid to rest with her fellow veterans in Arlington. WTF?
From there, I went straight in to my panel discussion on Body Types, Stereotypes, and Typecasting. I could write forever on this subject, but I’ve written far too much already, and it deserves more than a quick blurb at the end of this thing. But that panel, for me, was my chance to let other women be heard. For other women who had found their voice during this process (or maybe hadn’t found it yet) to speak up. To be understood as people; as women. To no longer stay quiet about issues that affect the community and the audiences who support us. For me, it was the culmination of all the blood, sweat, and tears I had given to my art. It was about being seen, heard, and most importantly, valued.
I salute you for reading this. I salute all women for standing up and demanding to be heard. I salute this festival, and every single person who had a hand in its existence. I salute the Women Airforce Service Pilots. I salute our voice. May we never be silenced again.
(Photo credit Todd Buker)