Written by Director of Finance: Danna Solomon
I want to talk a little bit about violence. Unfortunately, when we discourse about women’s narratives, violence is a theme that is irrevocably connected to that conversation. It’s sadly impossible not to talk about violence when we tell women’s stories. We delved into this topic in our first staged reading, Sunday on the Rocks by Theresa Rebeck, which examined violent acts committed towards women by men, as well as towards women by other women. In Sunday on the Rocks, Jen, who was portrayed by Kim Klasner in our reading, is faced with a situation in which she encounters physical acts of violence brought about by a coworker who has been harassing her out of frustration due to his own unrequited feelings. When Jen retreats to her home, a supposedly safe space inhabited by four very different females, she is attacked verbally, as her roommates judge her sexual behavior and verbally harass her for the choices she makes about her body and conduct, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.
This weekend, I brought a friend from out of town to see Zeitgeist Stage Company’s production of Neighbourhood Watch which also deals with issues of violence against women. In this dark comedy, Magda, a meek housewife and clarinet teacher portrayed by Lynn Guerra, is a victim of her violent, cheating husband Luther Bradley, played by Damon Singletery. In the play’s second act, it is revealed that Luther is carrying on the task of beating Magda as instructed by her deceased father, who began the practice of abuse as a method to quell her “evil” feelings of same-sex attraction. While Hilda, portrayed by Shelley Brown, eventually “rescues” Magda from her abusive husband, we ultimately discover that Hilda is actually working her own agenda in painfully manipulative ways, and simply forcing Magda into a different kind of closet. Magda, in her childlike naïveté, believes she has found a friend in Hilda, but is arguably still a victim, silenced and used.
These plays raise our awareness of violence against women, but they also remind us that violence isn’t always physical, and that violence, villainy, and victimhood aren’t gendered. The construction of females as victims has been built and sustained by society as a whole. In the arts, we strive to change this conversation.
I recently started swing dancing. Like in theatre, roles in dance are vaguely gendered: leads are traditionally male and follows are traditionally female, but also like in theatre, men, women, and everyone else can play whatever role they feel most comfortable in at a given moment. These days, many experienced swing dancers are what we call “switch” dancers, meaning they can dance both lead and follow. After all, leaders and followers are defined not by gender or sex, but by a set of qualities which someone of any gender identity could possess. Last week on Valentine’s Day, a friend of mine in East London organized a switch dance bomb as part of the One Billion Rising campaign, which aims to empower women and victims of domestic violence through dance. She and a bunch of dancers displayed the flexibility of their art form, celebrating and showcasing its inclusiveness.
At Maiden Phoenix, we make it our mission to tell women’s stories so that women feel ownership over themselves, their needs, their emotions, and their bodies. We put the violent crimes onto the stage into the spotlight, highlighting what needs to change in order for us to live in an egalitarian world. We examine our past to shape the future. We pay attention to the nuance of character, identity, plot, and the interplay between all of these elements. We play, and sometimes we even dance.