If you are a theatre artist or enthusiast (and let's face it, if you're reading this blog, you probably are), then by now you have heard about the kerfuffle over the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, in which the title character is styled to evoke Donald Trump, and is assassinated in an apparently very bloody fashion (full disclosure, I haven't seen the production). This depiction has incited such outrage among certain segments of the population that two of the production's corporate sponsors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, withdrew their support, and another of the Public's corporate sponsors, American Express, has gone out of its way to let people know they are not financially tied to this particular show.
The fact that some ruffled right-wing feathers made Delta and Bank of America drop their support like a hot potato is disturbing enough, but as I was reading about the controversy, what really struck me was a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. that read, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
As many artists and individuals were quick to point out, all art is political in some way, and depending on who you ask, being political is its main function. And as anyone who has ever had 10th grade English knows, Julius Caesar has always been a political play, dating back to its original publication in the 17th century. The play focuses on the treacherous navigation of public good versus personal gain, the corrupting influence of power, and the dangers of an unchecked leader whose popular rhetoric may mask sinister intentions (staging and casting choices aside, how can you not do a production of this play in 2017 without drawing parallels to the current state of American politics?). And it's not like this is the first production of Julius Caesar to incorporate current events into its concept.
Trump, Jr.'s comments are a shot across the bow, an attempt to undermine and intimidate not just theatre companies, but all artistic communities, by calling into question whether taxpayers should be funding art whose messages or implications offend them. As is the case with most things tweeted by the Trump family, it's a bs argument, because there are no taxpayers dollars funding this production, but
--**Contains spoilers about the film Wonder Woman**
Confession time: I have never read a Wonder Woman comic book. I have never seen the Wonder Woman TV show. My ignorance of comic book characters, lore and universes is probably second only to my ignorance of professional sports (hockey is still happening? STILL????) and I regularly make my more in-the-know friends shake their heads in consternation with my confusion of the DC and Marvel universes.
That being said, I was still pretty darn excited about the fact that, after 76 years, Wonder Woman was getting her own live-action feature film because, as our own Erin Carr said, representation matters. I mean, how many Batman reboots does it take to get to the center of Bruce Wayne's brooding? I don't need to fork over $15 every two years to see the same story retold with more explosions and worse acting (sorry, Ben Affleck - stick to directing). But a film exploring the backstory of a different, under-represented character who happens to be a woman? In the words of Fry, shut up and take my money.
Because of my general ignorance of Wonder Woman, any expectations or skepticism I had of the film were hinged on broader concerns of how Hollywood would treat her as a female character. Would she be oversexualized? Would she somehow be undermined by the male characters? Would there be some bullshit love story because we all know that all women really want is a dude with a strong jawline to sweep them off their feet, saving the world be damned?
Those concerns turned out to be both founded and unfounded. Sure, Wonder Woman’s costume is short and tight, but it actually provides more coverage than Lynda Carter’s costume from the 1970’s TV show, and it’s undeniably more functional than the more period-appropriate clothes Diana tries on during the London shopping spree scene. Additionally, Patty Jenkins’ direction doesn’t fetishize Diana’s body – I can’t recall a close-up of a heaving bosom or slow-pan of Gal Gadot’s statuesque frame. The male characters may be initially struck by Diana’s beauty, but they quickly learn that there is a hell of a lot more beneath the surface.
Likewise, the male characters quickly learn that their attempts to undermine her, however well-intentioned, are unnecessary and ill-advised, which is a pleasant subversion of expectations. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) starts off the film by mansplaining war to an Amazon warrior goddess, but by the end, when she is locked in her epic final battle with Ares, the God of War (Professor Lupin! Say it ain’t so!), he knows there is nothing he can do for her that she can’t do for herself, again subverting the insinuation that, even though she’s a superhero, she still needs a man to bail her out.
And as for that love story? Yeah, it’s there. In the words of Liz Lemon, "Commencing eyeroll sequence." It's not the main focus of the plot, so I'll at least give it that. If they're going to continue shoehorning romantic storylines into the plots of future Wonder Woman features, here's hoping that they use them to explore Diana's bisexuality next time.
But what I really want to talk about is the way Wonder Woman shows war through a woman's eyes. The movie is set in the last days of World War I, which at the time was known as "The Great War" and the "War to End All Wars." While Diana has been told stories of war and trained for war her whole life, her arrival in the trenches is her first real exposure to actual warfare, and her immediate response is "Holy shit, this is awful, why do people do this to each other? How do we save these innocent lives from this hellish destruction?" (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) My point is, Diana enters the field of battle and sees the human toll of war, something that is often lost in movies told from a male perspective, whether they are superhero or actual war movies. In Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor represents that point-of-view - he is also on a mission to stop the war, but he's not going to let a little thing like innocent civilian casualties get in his way. As is often the case in superhero and war movies, these innocent lives lost are collateral damage, an unfortunate sidenote in the hero's journey to save the world. But it's Diana who points out, these people are the world. If the mission is to stop the war to save humanity, you actually have to give a fuck about humanity. And mind you, this is not a sheltered, squeamish little lady offering naive morals in the face of massive destruction; this is warrior goddess who has been training for slaughter and self-defense since she could walk.
I'm reminded of something my mother used to say: "If women were in charge, there would be no wars, because no mother wants to send her child into battle." Sure, that's an overarching statement in many ways, but I think it speaks to the heart of why Diana sees war in a different perspective than her male counterparts. Too often in movies and life, we lose sight of what the human cost of war actually is. Diana shows that you can be fierce, and fight for justice and peace, but ultimately, if we're not fighting to preserve the dignity and safety of human life, what are we fighting for?
-- Kristen Scatton
This is not your ordinary superhero. And it's not one to be skipped.
This past Thursday night, I went to see the midnight showing of Wonder Woman. Now a little bit about me, I've been obsessed with Wonder Woman since I was nine years old when I received my first Wonder Woman comic - the August '87 comic by George Pérez. I was mesmerized. This version emphasized her strength and the importance of mythology in her backstory. It gave her spirit depth and showed a woman who was fearless rather than just attractive. Wonder Woman is what inspired me to dive deeper into the storytelling of comics/graphic novels, study stage combat in high school and ultimately begin this company with Carly. Wonder Woman was not a sex symbol, but rather a true symbol of hope through adversity.
When this movie was initially announced, I was skeptic. How would they bring this warrior to life? Would Hollywood over-sexualize her as they had so many other heroines? I have seen my share of superhero films. Well, actually, I've seen several people's share of superhero films. So I am no stranger to the transition from comic to screen and the adjustments made in backstories. However, with the current state of the world, this particular backstory needed to click. We need to see someone raised with strong morals who fights with hope, not just because they can skill-wise, but because it's the RIGHT thing to do. Our children need a role model of a human who uses all skills, whether super or not, to help the world become a better place.
Thanks to the brilliant direction by Patty Jenkins, my fears became just vapors in the wind. Jenkins brought this warrior to life in way that hadn't been done before. Wonder Woman, known as Diana Prince, is a princess on Themyscira - an island of Amazonian female warriors - and from an early age has the fire to protect those she loves. The kids in our country right now need to see that they can play a positive role in helping better the world. That no matter their gender, race, religion, sexuality or ethnicity, if you are determined, you can change the course of history.
It cannot be put into words how impactful it is to see a woman in a powerful position, being treated with the respect she deserves, due to her strength. I can only hope that young girls seeing Wonder Woman come to life, will realize that the glass ceiling is only there to be shattered.
Change their minds and change the world.
As some of you may know, when I'm not being the Associate Artistic Director and Resident Playwright of ReVamp Collective by night, or an administrative extraordinaire by day, I dabble in stand-up comedy. (And by dabble, I mean I've gotten just about gotten my pinkie toe wet - I just started doing stand-up last fall, and have only performed a handful of times, always at "Your Sunday's Best," hosted by the Berserker Residents at Quig's, because they're nice and they like me there.)
But it's fun and I've been looking for more ways to learn and grow as a stand-up comedian, so when I heard about the Women in Comedy Festival happening in Boston April 19-23, I decided to get my whole damn foot wet, and see what it was all about.
The Women in Comedy Festival is an annual event celebrating (you guess it) funny ladies. The festival doesn't focus solely on stand-up, but also includes improv, sketch, musical comedy, filmmakers and storytellers. Over the course of five days, there were dozens of shows, workshops, panels, interviews, live podcasts and more, featuring headlining acts that included Rachel Dratch, RIta Rudner and Sasheer Zamata.
I was only able to be in Beantown Saturday and Sunday, but I packed a lot in to those 24 hours. Here are some highlights:
Q: Why do you feel this story needs to be told right now?
CARLY L. BODNAR: Our country is so divided on so many issues at this moment in time. This story of a young man who dies of a heroin overdose is a story that crosses party lines. So many people that I personally know have dealt with opiate addiction in their families. It is a story about romantic and familial love, dealing with the death of a loved one and what you could and could not control. This story is not only about addiction and death, but also toxic masculinity and how feminism fits into that world.
Q: What's the approach to telling this story?
CARLY L. BODNAR: This story is so close to my roots, growing up in a struggling town affected by the lack of high paying jobs and rising drug use. While I have a deep understanding of where this story takes place it is a story that is taking place in towns all over this country. My approach is one of understanding and compassion for those who are dealing with substance abuse, economic instability, and an ever changing world that these characters may not fully understand. Whenever I work on a piece I am always interested in exploring the human aspect of the characters and the deeper emotional depths. While this story is one of death there are also moments of levity. It was important to find these moments in the piece as well as looking at the grieving process. The lights and sound were key in telling the story and creating each space. This piece lives in three different worlds; the day Jimmy dies, the day of Jimmy's funeral and Jimmy's memories. I knew I wanted to use the sound and lights to differentiate each timeline.
Q: What's the process in getting this story onto it's feet?
CARLY L. BODNAR: For me it is always a process of play. I am interested in letting the actors explore the text and the space in a very organic way. This piece lives in three different worlds; the day Jimmy dies, the day of Jimmy's funeral and Jimmy's memories. All of the actors are living moment to moment while jumping between each timeline. We talked a lot about the world this play lives in which is small town America and how that differs from a suburban and/or city setting. There is much more emphasis in these towns on family dynamics, stability, nostalgia, and gender roles.
Q: Any additional thoughts on some of the themes of the play? Whether that's addiction, toxic masculinity, class warfare, clash between conservatives and liberals, etc
CARLY L. BODNAR: Working on the piece we found layers of addiction outside of opiate use. The exploration of what we use as a society to cope with the things that afflict us such as caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs and pot use are heavy themes throughout the piece. The piece also touches on a deep passive aggressiveness and what is "acceptable to talk about". My own experience in my small town upbringing was it is not polite to talk about politics or religion. There is a level of propriety that must be upheld to keep the status quo. The character of Christina has experienced the city living and been awakened to larger, more global ideas. She comes back to her small town home and is confronted with notions of a simpler time. Some characters try to grasp these larger ideas while others dismiss them as the notions of an outsider. There is a level of conformity that must happen in this society. There is a specific way to life and any change or mention of change disrupts the status quo these characters have created for themselves. In dealing with the death of their best friend, brother and boyfriend, the status quo has been shifted and all three characters are asking the universal question of why in their own ways; Christina with her larger worldly ideas and outside prospective of this town; Phil who loves his home, but realizes that it may not be what he seems and Scott who is engrained in this society that champions specific gender roles, specifically "men being men".
Ask any of my friends, and they'll tell you this is true: although my primary writing medium is playwriting, although I've had staged readings of ten-minute and full-length plays I've written, although I have an MFA in Playwriting, for the last 8 years I've felt a teensy bit disingenuous calling myself a playwright, because there was that one final element of the identity that eluded me - the actual production. The full-on, off-book, blocked out, lights/set/sound/costumes whole shebang. Maybe I was a person who wrote plays, but until a play of mine was fully produced, I didn't feel I fully earned the moniker of playwright.
That changed as of last night, with the opening of ReVamp Collective's production of my play Jimmy Gorski is Dead. For the first time, I saw the complete journey of my work from the page to the stage, and thanks to the amazing director, actors, designers and other production team members, it's been an incredible journey from start to finish.
I knew I was in good hands with Carly Bodnar at the helm. As a person, I've known her for nearly two decades, and have watched her grow into a strong, smart, talented woman. As a director and collaborator, I've worked with her enough to trust her implicitly, and know that I was putting my baby in very capable hands.
From the first read-through, I knew that we had a fantastic cast who would bring these characters, who really do feel like my children, to life in a way that was honest, sympathetic and believable. Watching them work and play together, discovering who these characters are and building their relationships, was so much fun. Jimmy Gorski is Dead might not be the most light-hearted play, but there was lots of levity in the room, whether it was Richie (Jimmy) and Arlen (Phil) improvising on guitar or or Carly offering line notes on how to best say "Suck a bag of dicks, Phil." I'm pretty sure that no matter how many productions of Jimmy Gorski is Dead there are (fingers crossed there are more!) I will always see these actors as the characters.
Throughout tech rehearsal, as Raven Buck's set was coming together, and Amanda Jensen and Damien Figueras were adding their beautiful lights and sounds, it felt almost surreal that this whole world was being created because of words I wrote. As a writer, you always have a certain image in your mind of what the world of the play looks like, but trust me, the world that these brilliant designers created is way better than anything I could have imagined.
Of course, the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) part of the process is getting the finished product in front of audience. We've only had a few audiences so far, but I already feel like the hours and hours hunched over my computer, and the hundreds (thousands?) of trees I've killed in the process of re-writes were worth it (I do owe the world a fuck-ton of trees). While I know reactions will vary, my hope is that everyone leaves the theater having connected with something in the piece, and they felt it was 90 minutes well-spent. And if not, hopefully I'll get 'em with the next one. And there will be a next one. After all, I am a real playwright now.
-Kristen M. Scatton
Q: Why do you feel this story needs to be told right now? This story is at once timely and timeless. The process of grieving a loved one, worrying about what the future holds, the decision to stay where everything is familiar versus venturing into the wider world...these are all part of the human experience. But the opioid epidemic, fueled by the over-prescribing of opioid-based painkillers, is something that has been growing in the U.S. for years, to the point where it is affecting people of all genders, races, ages, economic backgrounds and geographic locations. The first step in getting people to address this as the public health crisis it is, is to make people understand that this can happen to anyone, with devastating consequences.
Q: What's the approach to telling this story? In a lot of ways, this was an easy to play to write, since it's rooted in my own personal experiences of losing a loved one suddenly, and living in a small town that felt familiar and comforting, yet horribly restrictive at the same time. I wanted those experiences to inform the characters, the setting, and the overall tone of the play. I also wanted to challenge myself to grow as a playwright, which was the impetus for the play's structure, which shifts back and forth in time, and is almost like two plays happening simultaneously. We see Jimmy alive, as well as the aftermath of his death, so how do those two storylines inform each other? What clues do we get, and how do they build tension? At its core, it's a pretty straightforward story, but I didn't want to tell it in a straightforward way.
Q: What's the process in getting this story onto its feet? My favorite part of being a playwright is getting into the room with the director and actors and seeing the words take on a life of their own. There really is a certain magic that happens when the ink on the page becomes actual dialogue and actions. And nine times out of ten, the actors and director make it so much better than I could have ever imagined. That's the beauty of collaborative arts - it takes a little bit of the pressure off, because I know as long as there are smart actors and smart directors working on a piece, they will find layers and moments and emotions that enhance it so much. In this particular case, working with Carly as the director is great because we've known each other forever, so I trust her completely, and feel very open and comfortable working with her. Since we're from the same hometown, she also inherently understands the world this play is set in, which is also a huge benefit.
Q Any additional thoughts on some of the themes of the play? Whether that's addiction, toxic masculinity, class warfare, clash between conservatives and liberals, etc. One of the important functions of theatre, in my opinion, is to expose us to the unfamiliar, and show us what we still have in common as human beings despite our differences. This play is set in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, which is only two hours and 100 miles north of Philadelphia, but could very well be on a different planet. This disconnect became more evident than ever to me during the election last year, when everyone in my Philadelphia circles thought there was no way Trump would win, while two hours north in my hometown, I saw street after street where every lawn had a "Trump/Pence" sign on it. This play doesn't deal with the election, but I hope it demonstrates the different mentality and culture of this place, while also shining a light on what emotions and experiences are universal to all of us.
First read-through of our spring production, Jimmy Gorski is Dead was a success!
What a wonderful group of artists to be working on such a charged piece.
In line with our mission to create inspiring work that investigates societal constructs and to cultivate theatrical discourse, this production shines a heavy light on the horrific increase in drug abuse and overdose in the past decade.
Words from the playwright, Kristen M. Scatton: “This play was originally written as a way to express the grieving process after a sudden loss in my own life. It has since evolved into a play that also touches on several current social issues including the U.S. heroin epidemic and its origins in prescription drug use, toxic masculinity, and the clash between conservative and liberal values. I view it as an "emotional autopsy," a study of the incidents and decisions in a person's life that lead them to a particular moment - in this case, an irrevocably tragic decision.”
We are thrilled to be performing this world-premiere at a time when these topics could not be more important. Overdose knows no age, no party lines, no economic status. Heroin use has been increasing in recent years among men and women, and it has more than doubled in the past decade among young adults aged 18 to 25 years. Here in Philadelphia, the opioid epidemic has hit horrific heights. There is an area just north of the Kensington area that is home to 75 to 125 addicts at any given time and is known as the East Coast's largest heroin market.
Most addicts do not start out with the knowledge they are heading into a rabbit hole. But by the time they are seeking out that next high, to recreate the feeling of escape they so desperately desire, they are already going into hiding. But for most as they use hide, they work to cover their tracks. Whether their loved ones see the tracks or not, whether they sense the hiding or not, they are still yearning to only see the pure in the one in their life who is traveling down this rabbit hole. Until they get left behind,
This show explores both the story of someone working to escape and the ones he leaves behind. The people who could sense the hiding, but either turned an eye or didn't look hard enough. The guilt of the survivors and the co-dependents.
This coming Sunday we are debuting our first annual ten-minute play festival with Brief (Political) Encounters. This particular festival will feature seven ten-minute plays by local playwrights that explore gender roles and stereotypes in the political world.
A year ago we knew we wanted to establish a play festival featuring local playwrights, but the theme was still in discussion. As the primaries took hold, we started to look at the gender roles that are expected and demanded in politics and we wanted to expand upon those issues. Whether you identify as a nasty woman, as an invisible voter among the masses or facing a stereotype that is difficult to break, we want to shine a light on local playwrights' opinions and words.
So we invite you this Sunday, February 5th at 8PM, at Plays & Players in Philadelphia, to attend this event! Tickets available online or at the door. And then afterwards stick around to talk about what else we can do to battle these issues in our current and future political climate. We are in a time of turmoil and the only way forward is to come together.
In addition - we want to ask YOU for your thoughts on our next Brief Encounters theme. In our next Patron-only post we will be offering several options to choose from for our 2018 Brief Encounters: ten-minute play festival. So if you'd like to join in on the conversation - no time like the present to become a patron!
-- Erin Carr
It's been a very long two weeks.
To start, the day before the inauguration there was a national event that took theatre and the arts fully into the activist world:
On January 19, 2017, EXACTLY at 5:30 p.m. in each time zone across the country, members of the theater community - from Broadway to regional theaters to high schools and colleges and community theaters - came together to launch The Ghostlight Project. Gathering outside of theaters on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, people joined in a collective, simultaneous action, together creating “light” for challenging times ahead. Inspired by the tradition of leaving a "ghost light" on in a darkened theater, artists and communities made or renewed a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone--regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
This was an inspiring moment of gathering within a larger resistance to intolerance at all levels. ReVamp Collective vowed to fight for equality, and this was just another step in fighting for social justice and equity.
Then the day after the inauguration another monumental event occurred that ReVamp Collective was proud to take part in:
The Women's March on Washington.
On Saturday, January 21st, millions of people around the world came together to raise our voices. On every continent people of all genders, sexual identities, races, religions and political beliefs came together to fight for women's rights, civil rights, LQBTQIA rights, immigration rights, proper education, and many other issues currently under attack by the current administration. We were represented in both Washington D.C. and Cincinnati, Ohio. And what a sensational experience it was for all. Listening to powerful messages by some of the top movers and shakers of this century, seeing families march together, watching people of all backgrounds find similarity in their fight for humanity - it fills you with something that has been missing lately: hope.
However, both of these events were not just a day - they were both the start of a movement. Using our voices to speak up on issues that matter to us, opening our arms to those who have been pushed aside and fighting to make a better world.
-- Erin Carr