I would tell people that of the top five reasons I left New York City, one of them was that I couldn’t commute outside of my home to work, to play, to anywhere, without feeling or hearing some sort of harassment from men. Obviously my experience was not exclusive; you can read articles all over the internet of women admitting the same thing. Our private battles fought daily are finally becoming news for everyone to hear and acknowledge. The news comes late, by thousands of years, I’d say, that women are not possessions to be coveted or claimed, and certainly, nor are men.
Since leaving New York, it’s been hard for me to stay quite as connected with what’s happening for my own theatre company. I’ve been feeling like I’m on vacation since my move seven months ago—drinking cheap beers and not feeling the daily stress of, “Will this yoga apparel I’m wearing get me too many looks on the subway?” But with the events in the last week, I was reminded of just how important the work Spicy Witch Productions is. We were founded because six women truly believed that we deserved not only equal opportunity, but to be treated equally to the men in our field. We had had enough of being told to “be sexier” as an acting direction. We needed to provide a place for all people to have a voice and be recognized as valued, and we wanted performances that would make people question and think about their own views on gender and identity.
The shows we have picked for the season feel alarmingly perfect and relevant for where we are right now. Reasons to be Pretty gives us both male and female characters to love and loathe. It is driven by our societal obsession with looks; characters place so much value on physical characteristics that it drives them in and out of relationships with serious force. Steph is in a place of, “I’m trying to look pretty, all right?! I’m trying to make myself feel better because my former boyfriend—this guy that I gave a whole lot of my heart to—couldn’t find me attractive and now it keeps me awake at night, wondering what’s wrong with me.” And Carly, beautiful and pregnant with her first daughter, “I really hope she’s no more than pretty, that’s my wish. That she’s not some beauty queen that people can’t stop staring at because I’d hate that for her.. to be this object, some thing that people can’t help gawking at.”
I know you already know: in today’s world of tinder, facebook, airbrushed models, digital everything, we make it almost impossible to feel physically “enough” because we are constantly on display and constantly compared. I don’t think that we will ever do away completely with a narcissistic or shallow outlook, but we can give it less importance and set an example of power beyond the physical.
In this play we also get #everydaysexism. “Pussy.” “Suck my dick.” The eye roll accompanying the one word statement, “Women.” Casual phrases that get tossed around in this play that make my stomach turn, and then turn again when I realize how many of my own friends and peers subscribe to this vernacular. Language is powerful, and how far do we propagate this sexism by being so casual around belittling the female sex?
The pairing of Reasons to be Pretty with Two Gentlemen of Verona will painfully demonstrate how far we have not come when it comes to this issue. The women of the play, Silvia and Julia, become tokens of friendship for the men to pass between themselves. Proteus attempts to rape Silvia, and then she is given to him anyway as gift by the other Gentleman and Silvia’s courtier, Valentine. It seems insane until you think about the women who were actually shot for refusing sex this past weekend.
The work SWP is doing is a call to action. It must be. We need everyone to say, “This has to stop.” As women, we need to be on each other’s sides to protect and not to judge, and to tell ourselves and our friends to stop making jokes, remarks, and catcalls at the life-threatening expense of respect. Men, the internet is telling you loud and clear, and here is one more voice, if you do nothing and say nothing, you are accountable. We are all accountable now. Let’s make a fucking a change already; a few thousand years is long enough.
Artistic Director, Spicy Witch Productions
Two Gentlemen of Verona and Reasons to be Pretty will be performed by SWP in repertory this December in the Lower East Side.