Amy Mevorach's Our Voices Guest Blog: Stepping Out of the mold & mask of niceness & pleasantry
The first day I worked here, a Chinese man said, ‘These girls are cutthroat. They will cut your throat. Remember that.’ I would have remembered without him telling me to. You see what I mean? This isn’t the Mickey Mouse Club. This is the dungeon and we are the dragons. We hiss flame like Desiree who kicked a 6 inch heel into some guy’s teeth. Or we hold it in and let it burn our guts.
– From Eros in Paradise, a monologue by Amy Mevorach
When I was a teenager I read plays constantly – Eugene O’Neil, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, August Wilson, Harold Pinter, Henrik Ibsen, Samuel Beckett, Shakespeare, and almost all of Neil Simon and Tennessee Williams. I memorized monologues –Aunt Dan and Lemon, In the Boom Boom Room. I was Emily saying goodbye to Grover’s Corners. I was Hamlet contemplating suicide. It never occurred to me that even the women’s voices were written by men.
At Our Voices this year I heard, in Cassie Seinuk’s play, dialogue between two women about breast feeding. I had never seen a play about that before – and why not? Women talk about it all the time, at playgroups, waiting to pick up children from dance class, at lactation support groups. Why has dialogue on this subject been out of the spotlight for so long?
As readers, as actors, as theater audience, we are inducted into an artificial world. That is the dream of the play. But what I realized through the Our Voices festival is that we remain in an artificial world even after the play is over. It is the artificial world where men’s voices are louder, where men’s perspectives take precedence, and women’s concerns are not considered interesting to an audience.
Because of Our Voices, the curtain is falling on that drama. Our disbelief can be released from suspension. Riveting, moving stories are being told.
The monologue I contributed to Our Voices this year was in the voice of Eros, a stripper. From her body, through her eyes, the world of the strip club, Paradise, appears, not as spectacle or titillation, but as the dangerous place it is. I performed the monologue myself, and this opportunity to showcase anger and fear was delightful. It was an opportunity to step out of the mold of niceness and pleasantry that often feels like an inflexible mask. To portray the ugliness of a place designed to peddle beauty is to reveal a liberating truth, and that, I feel, is the purpose of theater, revealing truths boldly, gently, hilariously.
Telling our stories is about being heard by others and also about hearing ourselves. It is about stepping into the spotlight, being seen, and seeing ourselves. In a photograph of my performance I saw a hunch in my shoulders, an adaptive posture I adopted to make my body smaller, lower, more submissive, less threatening to men. The posture was keeping me from truly becoming the character I portrayed, and it posed the question, who is this submissive stance keeping from becoming off stage?
Who are we? We are given our fathers names. We take our husbands names. If we divorce, who are we then? Who will we be when the tethers to patriarchy are severed?
For her fifth birthday, my daughter was given a Barbie suited up to ride a Vespa. The plastic fasteners that attached her and the motorbike to the box were almost invisible, but so numerous that I doubted my scissors could ever release her. Even her hair was sewed into a plastic sheath. With persistence, we broke the pulchritudinous doll out. With persistence and sharpness, we will snip ourselves free.
I was 37 when I read Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” a taut, engaging, compassionate, living play. I was 39 when The American Repertory Theater in Cambridge debuted Eve Ensler’s one woman show “In the Body of the World,” directed by Diane Paulus. Each time a woman tells her story truthfully, through her senses and perceptions, one of the tethers is cut, for all women. And a tether cut will not be reattached. As I heard Eve Ensler say to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now: The War and Peace Report, “Women are out of the box. We’re not going back in.”