On Making The Overtly Feminist Performance That’swhatshesaid

By Hedgebrook Guest

Categories: Women's Voices,

I have this belief that as a performer, my true identity and self is inherently present and important in everything I do. This, by definition, is the exact opposite of acting. Maybe that’s why I don’t call myself an actor any more.

I used to, though. Proudly introduce myself as an actor. There was totally a Chorus Line fantasy fulfilled in the auditions I used to attend. I’d hop on the bus, poring over my monologues and drinking lemon ginger honey tea (good for your voice, I heard!). I’d get to the audition way too early, smile a lot, ignore the other 40 women warming up in the hallway, say my ‘thank you!’s and ‘look forward to hearing from you!’s and then do it all over again the next day. So glamorous! So fun! Living the dream!

Eventually I began to end up in the audience for plays I had auditioned for and not been cast in, curious to see what the girl who got the role (yes, singular, so often there was only one female role) had that I didn’t. This of course, was not the real problem. But I had been told to believe that it was the problem—I needed to be better. Work those monologues! Take more acting classes! Hire a private audition coach! Take voice lessons! Sign up for more dance classes! I deserve that one female role in the play that has 20 dudes in it! Fuck that girl for getting something I deserved! Fuck ME for letting her!

This ‘talent/work-ethic inadequacy’ myth quickly dissolved when the women getting the roles I thought I deserved started to be my friends. Sitting in the audience for their performances, I felt not jealousy or inadequacy but discomfort. How did I not realize during the audition how insignificant and poorly written that female role actually was? There’s something about seeing people you care about perform embarrassing, underdeveloped caricatures of women that really strikes an unforgettable note of simultaneous disappointment and rage.

And so it was not just my own experience of being a female performer, but the additional experience of being friends with other female performers—that caused me to become increasingly upset by the archaic structure of the modern theater. That’s when I decided to make a performance focusing on the most popular roles available for women.

My show is an unapologetically feminist experiment. Playwright Courtney Meaker has assembled a script using only female lines and stage directions taken from the most-produced plays in America. I perform this text as a solo show, in a minimalist, mismatched environment. There are stairs that I climb up and down dozens of times. There are moments of delicate subtlety and moments of musical theater-level dramatization. It is a physical and emotional rampage. It is an exhausting and exhilarating performance and it is called That’swhatshesaid.

I find it nearly impossible to deliver a perfect performance of this piece. Which doesn’t mean I’m not trying to deliver a great performance. In fact, the pursuit of unachievable success is part of the excitement. It’s just the nature of the chaos of the piece that at some point, I will miss something. There is a person on book for me the entire performance. So you may hear me call for line in the middle of shouting a monologue. You may see me walk up to the script and look at it, to reacquaint myself with the text. You may see me drinking water between scenes. You may see me look up at the booth, at my stage manager, shooting him an expression of gratitude. You may experience me shuffling through the audience and sighing heavily.

I have given myself the task of performing all of the female roles I am most likely to see at any mid-to-large sized theater in the country. I do not take this task lightly. I will probably never play these roles outside of That’swhatshesaid. So I am giving it my actor-all, while still maintaining my own, unique, very feminist identity. In this show, I explore acting as feminist self.

That’swhatshesaid runs February 4-7 in Seattle. More info and tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2477377

 

About the Author:

Erin Pike

Erin Pike is a theater/performance artist whose original work has been featured in Seattle at Bryan Ohno Gallery, NEPO5K, and On the Boards; in Portland, OR at Risk/Reward Festival, and at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis. She has also performed as an actor with Annex Theatre, Macha Monkey Productions, Washington Ensemble Theatre, 14/48 Festival, and many others. www.erinpike.com

 


 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

 

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