For the past eight weeks of my life, I have been blessed to direct SHEBANG: an all-female sketch comedy show written and created by us– a handful of 21 year old female college seniors.
The piece itself is incredible. We set out a lot of goals at the top of our process, and happened to hit every single one of them. Here’s a visual of what our goals looked like:
We wanted to create a comedic piece that would push boundaries, incite change, and empower our audience to enter difficult dialogues about our present moment.
and seriously, objectively, it’s doing all of that. We are sticking to our goals and taking risks.
I know, because my feelings were hurt last night.
Last night, my high school theatre teacher saw the piece. This man has been my mentor and a father figure since I joined his summer camp at eight years old. One of my dreams has always been the day he would come see the culmination of my academic career, my senior thesis, and be so proud and elated of & for me.
Seating him, I was a little nervous. He has seen three Acting theses of his previous students at this school before and LOVED them–I’m the first Theatre Arts major thesis he’s seen, SHEBANG is totally it’s own thing, and I was already worried about the diversion/comparison that could be present. Then I was nervous, (as I have been with all family seeing the show) because there is some mature content and language used throughout, but I figured he could handle it well.
The lights went down, the show started, and my stomach dropped as I realized three fundamental truths at the exact same time:
Number 1: holy sh*t, he is here
Number 2: holy sh*t, he is our target audience
Number 3: holy sh*t, he is not going to handle it well
This man grew up in a military family, teaches in the town where he grew up, has lived in the same home for almost his entire life, and you can find him in the front row of church every Sunday. His heart is gold and he is the truest mentor I have ever had, still, his identity cannot be denied.
Our piece does not attack this identity. However, our piece presents an challenging viewpoint to probably most of his identity’s beliefs.
SHEBANG is a millennial skewering of every facet of our lives in the contemporary moment, where nothing and no one is spared. We satirize everything from ignorance to over-wokeness, sexuality and gender identity, age, race, politicians, civilians, all of it. The piece has a clear point of view, through our undeniably liberal 21 year old female lens, but we have been careful to never prioritize preachy over comedy.
After the show I stepped out to the world’s most supportive lobby– my friends and family hugged me and wept and surrounded me with so much love.
I approached my high school theatre teacher, who was surrounded by a group of current seniors from my high school (more on them later). He was talking to them with his arms crossed, and I walked up and hugged him and jokingly said “Don’t repeat any of the words you heard in there!”
My mentor, father figure, theatre teacher hugged me and said, “Straight white men are not the problem with America”. I said, with some sass, “Ahhh thank you, that was the artistic culmination of my last four years” He handed me flowers, side-hugged me again, and left.
And that was it.
No “Congratulations”, no “I love you” or “I’m proud of you”. Just the world’s most horrifying sentence to hear in response to my thesis (and in general), a hug, and gone.
I waited for the text that I’ve received after so many theatrical performances he’s witnessed. Something like “Great work tonight. Very proud.”
… and got none.
I think he hated my thesis. Seriously, genuinely, did not like it. I think if he listened to it, he may have derived some meaning and felt less attacked, but I think he stopped listening and made up his mind.
My dad and my stepdad are both straight white blue collar “townie” men, know NOTHING about theatre, and loved SHEBANG. They each had tears in their eyes congratulating me, recognizing my hard work and the art they had witnessed.
So why is it that this man, who taught me my foundation of theatrical knowledge, could not say a word about the merits of the piece? Like, besides the content, what about stage composition? I directed 27 different worlds. 27 transitions that are clear moments of storytelling and humor. Nothing. It all seemed to be lost in a wave of defensive frustration towards the content of the piece.
I am incredibly hurt and disappointed in this reaction.
Still, it’s better than neutrality.
This piece made someone upset. It stirred something in someone who disagreed. He literally could not put aside his frustration with the piece to verbally champion my hard work. That can only mean that our POV is strong and we are pretty much doing what we set out to do.
There’s a good part though. This is also the result of a strong POV:
Those aforementioned high school seniors?
It’s a group of young women I have watched grow up since they were about eight years old. I have watched them grow from feisty young girls to articulate and compassionate women. They came to surprise me at my senior thesis, and. they. loved it. When I ran out into their arms and they looked at me with loving eyes and gushed their loving gushes and snapchatted me their loving snapchats, I knew I also fulfilled my other goal.
My entire hope with this entire thesis and in my entire life is to empower and inspire young women to wield their own power. The positive response I have received as I look into teary and excited eyes of young women and my female peers is everything I could hope for and more. I’m watching young women feel heard, and appreciated, and “I want to do that for my thesis” and the gratitude expressed for just putting five brilliant female storytellers onstage is overwhelming.
So, yeah. I guess my art is doing exactly what I wanted it to do. It feels really easy and really tough all at the very same time. And I think thats the whole point, right?
I will make a life around this.