Femininity is rarely allowed to exist or function outside of intentional or unintentional archetypes. Since so much of the conception of femininity coincides with the process of othering or making women into The Other, it is inevitable that femininity slides into ghettoized realms. The Nymph. The All-Giving Mother. The Domestic Goddess. The Mad Woman. The Frigid Bitch. The Soccer Mom. The list is endless, each installment diluting characteristics and complexities of women and femininity into reproducible and digestible tropes to reduce their selfhood. Often this process of reducing femininity and women to archetypes is so insidious that it is often internalized and recreated by women or feminine entities in an attempt to bestow power, but ultimately sublimating the feminine radiance and narrative that could be achievable or attainable.
In their most recent creative endeavor, the members of the unconventional dramatic collective folkLAB—a community and self-sustained theatre group aimed at putting forth an eclectic array of performance pieces in three-week intensives that focus on unifying themes of race, gender, sexuality, spirituality etc.—challenge the imbedded conventions and archetypes of femininity that often have a deleterious impact on the strength of female voice, identity and autonomous narrative. The piece, evocatively and assertively titled FEMME, is a forty-five minute exploration into the types of archetypes of femininity that are definable and strikingly recognizable to individuals fairly well versed in folk lore and themes of mythological narratives. FEMME—starring the outstandingly committed and invigoratingly promising Asia Bey, Paige Borak, Abigail Lis-Perlis and Kelsey Robinson—is, on a cursory level, a piece centering around a feminine-mystique bildungsroman in which a young bean sprout escapes the earthly realm to a mythic, feminine-fueled cosmic utopia (of sorts) after overwhelming feelings of rejection from her verdant earthly family.
The play, which utilizes the unique space in Bloomfield’s Glitterbox theatre to move through the story’s elements in a way which involves the audience (who, at the beginning of the piece, are told they are about to embark on their cosmic “birthing” process that will conclude with their violent, sanguine expulsion from a womb), tracks the bean sprout as she meets three feminine forces—a vegetative spirit; a neurotic story teller; and a sensuous mother spirit. As the bean sprout—whose womanly physical growth is remarked upon at each stage of her journey—goes through her “birth” journey that the audience was presumably intended to partake in (and the “surprise” element of her arrival is played with deftness by the women), she challenges the trenchant expectations that each character has for their feminine archetype.
This is the real power of FEMME’s takeaway—the challenging and deconstruction of imbedded feminine archetypes for the sake of elevating female identities. While the nontraditional uses of space and defying of theatrical conventions of dramaturge (that is, the interactive opening and the idea of the play “upended” by the bean sprout’s arrival) were certainly compelling and well executed (which takes a lot for me to say, as such toying with space often make me uncomfortable to the point of spoiling the experience), FEMME was most profound in its relentless dismantling of feminine archetypes that were initially presented in the narrative as being “truly feminine” or deeply meaningful. As the bean sprout interacts with the first guide on her spiritual/symbolic birth journey, the vegetative feminine spirit, she questions who that spirit truly is and what her journey and worldly pains were. She challenges her to remember her own body and growth instead of focusing only on the individuals she is meant to elevate. When she meets the story teller, who spends her time meticulously taking notes on every individual she meets to document their life, the bean sprout challenges her to revisit and retell her own story (which, without revealing too much, is perhaps one of the more haunting moments of inventive storytelling I’ve seen in quite some time). Finally, when the bean sprout meets the sensuous mother spirit, the two engage in what it truly means to be born, to have one’s dimensions and selfhood ascertained (and if that is even should be an achievable thing at all).
The play culminates in a gorgeous combination of physical performance and dance, and the company capitalizes on the brevity of the play to strengthen the audience’s lasting impression. folkLAB promises an outstanding output if their creative ventures match the uniqueness and luminousness of the FEMME.
FEMME has unfortunately already closed but you can find out more about Folklab here.