23800303_2089092071312824_9089249469029343903_oFemininity 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. 

Weirdo Extraordinaires Find Homes at the Glitterbox

15585269_1742874449365829_7244178980150380019_oFortitude of spirit; endurance in spite of all financial limitations and burdens put on resources; a nearly virtuous steadfastness to the art you are committed to producing and the community you seek to uphold; a truly strong gaggle of “weirdo extraordinaires”—these are perhaps the defining, or at least standout, features of a fast growing, scintillating theatre company carving out its niche in a town very saturated with very compelling companies. Glitterbox Theatre, a creative/collaborative theatre space run and located in Bloomfield, somewhat ironically situated behind the myriad of opulent car dealerships that serve as odd bookends to the neighborhood before it transitions into Polish Hill, emphasizes a robustly and undauntingly DIY and self-authenticating approach. For the sake of clarification, “weirdo extraordinares” is a term coined by the one of the four creative leaders and founders of Glitterbox, but, certainly, the designation is high praise and highly applicable for the fascinating crew and fascinating array of shows attached to the venue.

Having reviewed Yinz Like Plays?at the Glitterbox space for Pittsburgh’s Original Short Play Series, I was enamored with the intimacy and air of rustication and grit the space possessed. Sharing a space with other creative/workshop/DIY-centric groups (like Prototype), the venue is entrancing and almost amniotic, giving a sense of immersion and closeness that is a fulcrum for an engaged viewership, regardless of the style or type of show or performance being presented. Much of the commitment and crucialness of space comes from the nomadic—but no less intertwined—quality of the four founders and financial directors of the theatrical space, who had worked and produced together and independently for quite some time. The crew—including Teresa, a writer of musicals and puppet shows (something the space has become known for being a home for); Nick, an actor and composer; and Chris and Matt, talented actors—had the collective impulse to find a space that would “help to nurture and develop a community of people that makes things [they] love to see.” Indeed, the group’s proclivity for “folk” theatre—puppet shows, immersive/interpretative/interactive storytelling, nonconventional musicals, etc.—has been evidenced in the diverse and eclectic stagings and performances put forth thus far. Glitterbox Theatre has hosted monthly Story Times, with different themes or motifs each occasion to shape the parameters of the pieces, and has been the stage for unusually provocative performances, such as Migraciones, a powerful, puppetry-based dramaturge.

What complements the proliferation of “folk” theatre that the individuals responsible for Glitterbox are so wed to, is their unwavering commitment to making Glitterbox the most affordable theatre space in Pittsburgh. While the partners in charge admit that it “remains to be seen how truly sustainable the model is,” the Glitterbox crew managed to secure not only a relatively cheap spot, but thus far maintain a low enough overhead so as not to demand exorbitant fees from performers seeking to use the space (and even providing the space for free for good causes when they are able). The founders of Glitterbox, in the face of personal financial detriment, have and continue to sacrifice in order to make the space maintainable, hospitable, and accessible to a wide theatrical community to continue to espouse their ideology of collaborative, inventive theatre.

Glitterbox Theatre, and the folks responsible for it, strive to uplift marginalized individuals and groups. This is perhaps the most appealing and fascinating component of folk-centric dramaturgy and performance art. When individuals are provided the creative and literal space to produce content without the vexations of high costs or elaborate production, narratives of individuals and groups otherwise unspoken for or under-represented can ecstatically push to the forefront. Glitterbox’s productions—both their own and those by individuals and troupes who have used the space—have frequently been minimalistic in nature, keeping with the space’s immersive, amniotic character. Often, the props and set will be “crudely” designed out of whatever found materials are easily attained—carboard, shoestring, and other crafty accoutrements. Glitterbox is dependent only on a thoroughly maker-mentality, acting as a harbinger for a wave of theatrical productions in the community that harken back to the time many actors, playwrights, producers, set designers and so on recall fondly of creating their art from the ground up. Not only does the DIY aspect proffer more visceral and authentic art from the performers and creators, this brand of ingenious, on-the-fly production creates a more invigorating and participatory experience for the audience.

Looking to their exciting future, the folks at Glitterbox dream of a space that perhaps will have the proper trappings of a prototypical theatre—a green room, a full-fledged box office, mayhaps being their own landlords. Even if those dreams don’t come to fruition, they have within reach goals in site—continuing their tradition of hyper-inclusivity and creating an ever safer, more accessible space for certain groups/individuals who might create in or visit their space (i.e. building ramps for the physically disabled community to use). Future goals and current status considered, Glitterbox theatre is profoundly and intriguingly becoming one of the most unique and welcoming theatrical spaces in Pittsburgh—one in which narratives and performances from queer individuals, feminist individuals, persons of color, disabled individuals, individuals creating narratives on trauma, and so on can find a palisade. To be horrifically trite, perhaps Glitterbox is the exception to the rule—that all that glitters is, in fact, gold, in truly surprising ways.

For more on the Glitterbox and what they’re up to, click here.

The Silver Theater Project Presents Mother Tongue

MTThe Silver Theater Project presented the third of their 2017 inaugural fall season’s Salon Readings with F.J. Hartland’s Mother Tongue on Saturday, at the Glitter Box Theater. Most readers will be familiar with the staged reading of a play, where the actors are still “on book” with perhaps a costume piece or two and a couple of props with generally no scenery. The Salon concept originated in Italy in the 1600s as “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, it serves partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.” The Silver Theater’s Salons are on book and more un-staged, with the readers seated or standing. The important added feature over a staged reading is the opportunity for the audience to interact with the author, readers and each other before, at intermission and after the reading. This serves as a valuable tool for playwrights to try out scripts and revisions. For the audience, it is an opportunity to let your imagination roam, conjuring stage directions, scenery, lighting & costumes in your mind. It also brings the dialogue to the forefront unencumbered by the trappings of a partial or full production.

It has been said that “Love conquers all.” Hartland’s Mother Tongue adds the tincture of time as an essential element of the equation. Bertie, read by Marianne Shaffer, is living in Seattle and divorced from her husband who left her for a younger woman. He later passed away rather suddenly without her seeing him before he met his end. The combination of anger and an admitted tinge of grief sends her into therapy. The solution for her to deal with her “issues” is to become a standup comedian so she can vent and unleash every mean-spirited joke about men and relationships to help her cope with her loss.

Bertie has a gay son in his mid-twenties, Matt (Ezra Dickinson) who is living in New York City and struggling to get his artistic painting career off the ground. The play opens with Matt “under the sheets” with his new love interest, an older gentleman named Cale, (Randy Oliva) who tries to distract himself from Matt’s oral skills by reciting the multiplication and periodic tables out loud. During one tryst as the scene nearly reaches its climax, Bertie, forgetting the time zone difference, rings up Matt. She guesses from Matt’s curt answers that he has a man over and persuades Matt to put him on the line.  Let the grilling begin!

Mother Tongue juxtaposes Bertie’s comedy club routines with scenes of the budding relationship of Matt and Cale as we learn their backstories and the impact of Bertie’s standup career on Matt and his own unresolved issues with his father and his sexuality. The full and complex story of the relationships reveals itself in an emotional and touching fashion as the play comes to an end.

In rehearsal: Randy Olivia as Cale, Liam Ezra Dickinson as Matt and Marianne Schaffer as Bertie
In rehearsal: Randy Olivia as Cale, Liam Ezra Dickinson as Matt and Marianne Schaffer as Bertie

Allison Weakland (BA – Seton Hill) directs the reading as well as delivering the stage directions to the audience. Weakland takes her readers to near performance level acting particularly, the scenes between Matt and Cale. The intimacy of the Glitter Box makes this an ideal venue for Salon Readings, it’s as if you are a fly on the wall listening in without distractions. The facial expressions and body language between the men make their mutual attraction, that turns to love, all the more believable. You can see the Bertie character evolving to become more of a female George Burns or Don Rickles type, or perhaps the attitude of an older Sara Silverman in a more fully developed performance.

Playwright F.J. Hartland (MFA – CMU) has sixteen appearances in the Pittsburgh New Works festival to his credit along with over one-hundred stage directing credits and twenty-six years as an Equity actor. His newest full-length work, Rust, had its world premiere at Duquesne University this past February. Keep Mother Tongue on your radar, I expect to see a full production premiere in Pittsburgh’s future.

Founder and Artistic Director Michael McGovern (BFA – Point Park, MFA – CMU) created the Silver Theatre Project as a venue for actors and authors over forty.  For an enjoyable and affordable evening watching new works come to life in an intimate setting coupled with some nosh, a glass of wine and good conversation, the Silver Theater Projects’ Salon Readings are hard to beat.

The Silver Theater Project takes a winter hiatus (Florida anyone?) returning in the early spring. Follow them to learn of the next reading at https://www.facebook.com/TheSilverTheaterProject/

Salon Readings are one night only events on Sundays at the Glitter Box Theatre in Oakland with a $10 suggested donation per person.

Thanks to the Silver Theater Project for the complimentary tickets.