_70434521_gettyNot Safe for Women: The End and Beginning of Objectification

By Brent Stansell, Dramaturg

This January, when British tabloid newspaper The Sun printed an issue without its infamous topless Page 3 girl, some activists said the move marked the end of an era of blatant sexism. Many critics also declared feminist progress when British “lad’s mags” Loaded and Nuts (with their nude photo spreads and raunchy articles) had recently gone under. Did the end of a few publications showing topless photos of women mean genuine progress?

Lucy Kirkwood, an up-and-coming playwright from across the pond (her Olivier-winning Chimerica will appear at Studio Theatre next season), suggests in her hilarious play NSFW that topless photos of women are only one symptom of the sexism saturating our culture. Although the play specifically scrutinizes the indecency and callousness of the British tabloid and fashion industry through its examination of fictional magazines Doghouse and Electra, the situations the play represents expose the ridiculous reality of contemporary social and cultural values. NSFW satirizes a world in which class and gender inequality pervades every human transaction and where women participate willingly and unwillingly in their own objectification.

The bad behavior these characters engage in to great comic effect is actually, most significantly, fueled by the grim economic realities they face. As a scathing satire set against the backdrop of an economic recession, NSFW presents characters living in a world (that looks much like our own) dealing with increased welfare, a widening gap between the rich and poor, and increased competition between young people vying for financial security. Kirkwood’s characters must each make a decision about what they are willing and not willing to do to make a living—with the ramifications of those decisions providing commentary on the extent of our collective desperation and inextricably linking our human worth to our wealth.

Although NSFW was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2012 before the economic collapse of “lad’s mags” and the end of the Page 3 girl, Kirkwood’s play anticipates questions about whether the age of the Internet and social media have expanded our capacity for sexism and objectification. Even though print journalism is hanging on for dear life, Internet publications, YouTube channels, reality television shows, and online porn sites disseminate and perpetuate the same images and values of their handheld forbears. Have we truly grown tired of the kind of sexist and misogynistic material generated by tabloid journalism or have new media adopted the same content and put it in a shinier package? With women’s magazines adopting the same pervasive values, has our culture’s exploitation of women gone past the point of no return? Does the end of a few objectionable magazines mark the beginning of progress or simply the beginning of endless objectification?

Vanya-dramaturgyRe-Righting Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya

by Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe

Whenever the American theatre remembers its conscience it remembers Chekhov.
—Eric Bentley, “Chekhov as Playwright (Reconsiderations, No. XI)”

Eric Bentley’s assertion operates on multiple levels. On one hand, in terms of kinds of aesthetic pleasure, Bentley positions Chekhov’s plays as engaging in difficult pleasures, which are complex and require a kind of focus and attention that immediate pleasures do not demand. On the other hand, since conscience concerns one’s inner feelings and Chekhov’s work is predicated upon the internal and psychological operations of individuals, the statement acknowledges Chekhov’s impact on the development of theatre, for his legacy is that, in some measure, he has influenced everything in the theatre that has come after him.

Indeed, Chekhov’s revolutionized theatre with his technique of concealing action beneath the humdrum conduct of everyday life. He is equally interested in characters’ adherence to banal daily routines as well the effects of a radical breach in routine, both of which are present in Uncle Vanya. In his notebooks, Chekhov declared, “Let everything on the stage be just as complex and at the same time just as simple as in life. People have dinner, merely dinner, but at that moment their happiness is being made or their life is being smashed.”

For Chekhov, action is contained in language, rather than plot. In The Death of Tragedy, George Steiner defined drama as “language under such high pressure of feeling that the words carry a necessary and immediate connotation of gesture.” Moreover, in performance as in everyday life, language consists not only of words but also of spaces between words, of silences that bear the weight of action as well, and involves tempo, cadence and the like. In fact, all of language is a physical act. Chekhov’s writing is extremely concentrated, employing a minimum of words rather than voluminous linguistic excesses, toward the aim of reflecting the truth of real life. In Uncle Vanya, the oft-disjointed dialogue mirrors the stagnant lives of farmers, doctors, servants, retired intellectuals, and boarded beauties.

As Peter Brook observes, “it is construction that counts, rhythm, the purely theatrical poetry that comes not from beautiful words but from the right word at the right moment. In the theatre, someone can say yes in such a way that the yes is no longer ordinary—it can become a beautiful word, because it is the perfect expression of what cannot be expressed in any other way.” It is a simplicity that is as full as silence, and in Chekhov’s plays everything happens in the spaces of these words and silences. Indeed, something is growing inside of each silence in Uncle Vanya—emotion intensifies or diminishes, intention is revealed, action stirs, hope is born, passion crosses over to resignation. Words, silence, gesture and action all work together such that one can operate as a container for another.

For her adaptation of Uncle Vanya, Annie Baker decided that “[t]he goal was to create a version that would make Chekhov happy; to create a version that sounds to our contemporary American ears the way the play sounded to Russian ears during the play’s first productions in the provinces in 1898.” Baker strictly follows Chekhov’s own maxim that the language should be as simple, authentic, and realistic as possible. One strategy for achieving this, according to Baker,

was to preserve all the quoting and name- dropping that takes place in the original Russian. (Waffles’s exclamation “It was a scene worthy of Aivazovsky!” is usually translated as “It was a scene worthy of a painter of shipwrecks!”). Similarly, the grammar of the original text – endless run-on sentences, ellipses, the awkward repetition of words – has been paid special attention. Words like “creep” are an attempt to loyally translate the slang of 19th Century Russia.

Baker offers an adaptation that is unadorned. In so doing, her choices provide spaces for audiences to reflect upon the actions, and perhaps to hear more precisely the intentions behind each expression. Take for example, Baker’s usage of the word “creep.” In his translation, Peter Carson uses “eccentrics,” a term historically applied with a level of tenderness or endearment. Eccentrics are often thought to be charming and might draw one near; whereas, individuals do not routinely wish to draw closer to creeps. Betsy Hulick uses the term “oddball” in her version. However, Bakers monosyllabic term is more efficient when compared to a disyllabic word, and monosyllabics tend to land with stiff force.

Moreover, in one specific instance, Baker writes, “I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all creeps. Everyone in the world, behaving naturally, is a complete creep. So the truth is, Vanya, you’re totally normal.” In contrast, Hulick writes, “I am now of the opinion that it’s normal to be odd. You are perfectly normal.” In this instance, Hulick expresses the sentiment clearly and as two direct and complete thoughts. Whereas Baker’s text sort of meanders, resembling real life and the way in which our ideas are not easily expressed. In this moment especially, these words are offered as comfort, but in moments when comfort is most needed, it can be difficult to know precisely what to say in exactly the right way.

Of her efforts, Baker states, “We will never know if that goal was achieved, but it was the guiding principle behind this text.” Throughout, Baker’s text is unornamented in such a way that reveals its beauty, a beauty that Brook describes as “the perfect expression of what cannot be expressed in any other way.”

IMPOSSIBLE! A Happenstance Circus

Created by Happenstance Theater

June 26 – July 12, 2015
Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

Startling Leaps of Imagination! Daring Feats of Hope! Ferocious Acts of Wonder! IMPOSSIBLE! is a theatrical collage on the theme of Circus set against a backdrop of hard times. In a kaleidoscopic homage to classic circus characters and images from the 1930s and 40s, Happenstance Theater applies virtuosic theatricality to a circus of the imagination. This show is for people of all ages and runs 80 minutes.

We’re delighted you joined us for the Round House Gala: Broadway in Bethesda on Saturday night! The evening was filled with merriment as we enjoyed Norm Lewis’s dazzling voice, Owen Danoff’s original songs, and our dynamic live auction.

handsMonday, March 16, 2015 at 7:30pm

Round House Theatre Bethesda
4545 East-West Highway

Free Admission. Complimentary Open Bar. Light Fare.

Great Deals for New Subscribers!

Click here to RSVP

RBB---NEW-dramaturgyFeminism in Black and White

By Jodi Kanter, Dramaturg

Can a woman “have it all”?  That is, can she create a meaningful and successful life for herself both at work and at home?  And if she is fortunate enough to create such a life, what are the chances that she can sustain it?

For more than half a century, American women have labored to answer this question on the printed page.  Betty Friedan is often credited with being the first to put the question in writing.  In her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, Friedan identified the “problem that has no name”—the dissatisfaction of many middle class women with a life lived entirely in the domestic sphere.  A decade later, in her landmark study of rape, Against Our Will, journalist Susan Brownmiller raised public consciousness about an epidemic of violence against women that plagued the country.  How could women find fulfillment in either work or family in a culture that continually forced them into subordination?  Arguing that mediated images of sexual violence fueled this epidemic, law professor Catherine McKinnon and activist Andrea Dworkin took up their pens in the 1980s to draft anti-pornography legislation in several states. And since the mid-1990s, women of what has been called the Opt Out Generation—those who have left work to raise a family—have written visibly and prodigiously about how difficult it remains to opt back in when they are ready.

It is important to note, too, that not only white, middle class American women have done the writing.  The feminist and civil rights movements separated in the late 1960s for both cultural and strategic reasons.  Many African Americans felt their concerns being pushed to the margins of the women’s movement by its overwhelmingly white leadership.  Others consciously reserved their own prose for what they felt was the more urgent struggle for racial equality.  But many important writers have insisted that their fight for equality as African Americans and their fight for equality as women must not—cannot—be separated.  In 1984, Audre Lorde’s seminal collection of essays, Sister Outsider, spoke directly to the figure of patriarchal culture.  “Perhaps … I am the face of one of your fears,” Lorde wrote, “Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am a lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?”  In 1990, Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought sought for the first time to produce a theoretical framework for reading some of the most important feminist thinkers of the era.  And in 1999, Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost articulated a “hip hop feminism” for the 21st century.  These works continually remind us that the essential question of feminism to not just whether women can have it all but whether all women can have it all?

Nor have feminist writers restricted themselves to the genre of nonfiction.  Poets such as Adrienne Rich and Gwendolyn Brooks have crafted a feminism that is not a matter of the intellect but of the soul.  Novelists such as Toni Morrison and Jean Rhys have demonstrated that the faculty of imagination is central to the progress of feminism and, indeed, to all struggles for liberation.

And then, of course, there are the playwrights, women whose works—from Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, from Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive to Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, from Sarah Ruhl’s The Vibrator Play to Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn—have dramatized feminism as an embodied practice.  For them, as for us who sit in their audiences, feminism lives not only on the page but in the breath, the voice, and the flesh.

A Timeline of Important Events in American Women’s History

1848 – The First Woman’s Rights Convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott and held in Seneca Falls, New York

1866 – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone found the American Equal Rights Association to promote universal suffrage.  Three years later it will change its name to The National Women’s Suffrage Association.

1896 – The National Association of Colored Women is founded.  Mary Church Terrell is its first president.

1920 – In February, the National League of Women Voters is founded.  Six months later, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution grants women the right to vote.

1960 – The Food and Drug administration approves birth control pills.

1963 – The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan is published.

1966 – The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded.

1967 – Inaugural issue of The Phyllis Schlafly Report is mailed to 3,000 supporters.

1968 – Cornell University offers the nation’s first accredited course in women’s studies.

1970 – At the second annual Congress to Unite Women, twenty lesbian feminists challenge straight feminists to confront their homophobia.

1972 – Ms. Magazine begins monthly publication.

1973 – Through Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court overturns antiabortion statues.

1979 – At New York University, Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon organize the first meeting of what will become Women Against Pornography (WAP).

1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman Supreme Court justice.

1982 – ERA fails to be ratified in three states.  Although the amendment is reintroduced in 1983 and 1984, it fails both times due to lack of support in Congress.

1984 – Geraldine Ferraro wins the Democratic nomination for vice president.

1993 – President Clinton signs the Family and Medical Leave Act.

2005 – Hilary Clinton becomes the first First Lady to be elected to public office when she wins a seat in the U.S. Senate, representing New York.

2009 – Sonia Sotomayor becomes the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.