How I Flunked the Bechdel Test But Found Happiness in Automatic Writing by Ann Marie Shea
This is the third blog in this series featuring Our Voices 12 playwrights writing about the plays they presented on September 30, 2018 in the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre, Wellesley College. This week, playwright Ann Marie Shea writes about presenting a scene from her new play, Drop In.
Recently I came across "the Bechdel Test," a challenge articulated by playwright Alison Bechdel. The test is based on three criteria:
(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who
(2) who talk to each other, about
(3) something besides a man
OK, sister Bechdel, said I, I'll take the challenge. Without having much of an idea where I was headed, I put the keyboard on autopilot and silenced my inner critic, stepping aside to let two female characters (check) talk to each other (check again) about --oops--one of them hogged the conversation with minutia about her late husband's passing. I let a MAN get into the scene. Oh, well. I got two out of three, a score that unfortunately placed me somewhere in the D+ range.
But, however clumsy the start, I found the characters started writing a situation that produced real conflict. Danielle, a librarian in her mid-thirties, has just moved across the country to start a new life. Her new neighbor, Emmie, cannot stop being "helpful," no matter how much Danielle is determined to protect her privacy.
I was blessed at the 2018 Our Voices Festival to have the talents of two superb actresses reading the roles. Kara Emily Krantz, whom I am proud to introduce as my former student, read Danielle, no doubt drawing on her own personal experience, as she is rebuilding her life and her house, after a former boyfriend burned it. (I could not make this up.) Kara has just completed her MFA in playwrighting, so watch out for her--I expect a play about boundary violations is already started in her fertile mind. The role of Emmie was read by the unstoppable Ellen Colton, who managed to turn what I had thought were quirky remarks into full-blown gag lines. At this early stage of composition, I have to consider that this piece may not be the suspense thriller I had envisioned, but rather a comic take on stalking. (Is there anything funny about stalking?)
Stalking? How did we get there? Be patient; I haven't written that part yet. What I have written and what was read at Our Voices XII is a series of short scenes where Danielle is attempting to maintain her new relative anonymity, and Emmie is persistently prying to glean (and manage) all she can about Danielle's biography, shopping habits, interior décor, etc.
(Entering in full stride)
Whew! I was beginning to get worried! I looked in earlier, and I what was I to think when I
didn’t see you up and about? How were your calls?
You said you had to make a lot of calls last night.
Oh yes. Those calls. Fine. Just fine. So you use a speakerphone?
You used both hands to put up those shelves in the living room, and then organizing all those
books. I didn’t see you using a phone all that much.
You really should get solid curtains for all these windows—anyone can see right through the whole house with these sheers that Mrs. Sheridan left—of course she was an old woman, and who would care, but someone like you—well, you never know about peeping toms.