I’ve never considered myself a “feminist” in the stereotypical sense, yet I’m beginning to wonder why. I am a woman, after all, and fundamentally believe in universal equality. However, I’m staring to realize that the level of prejudice of every nature still exists in the world, in greater amounts than I’d like to admit.
I’m beginning to wonder what my role is as a woman in the world, and know no better way to explore this than through my art. Conveniently, I’m currently a part of an all female production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, here at Boston University. While our production does not seek to make some sort of grand statement about either sex, one cannot deny the obvious. If anything, our production says that women can do just as well what men do.
Well, this seems quite obvious, yet I still find myself having to prove my worth as a woman. On a fairy regular basis, I shrug off looks from men who blatantly stare at me on the street, and the guys who give me skeptical looks at the gym. I put on a tough face when I’m walking home alone at night, consciously changing my physicality to look less feminine—that is to say, less fragile, and helpless.
In Romeo and Juliet, I play Lady Montague, Romeo’s mother. As far as Shakespeare’s notably powerful women go, she is not one of them. Yet, there is a truth in her that I admire. While she is hardly strong enough to endure any of the traumatic events of the play, and dies of grief offstage, it is because her heart is too big to process the violence and hatred that exists in Verona, and her only son’s tragic involvement in it.
I read a blog post on HowlRound by Lily Janiak in critique of the way women characters are portrayed onstage. She argues that unlike television, women characters in theatre must be fully developed, and undergo meaningful changes that propel the play forward in order to be—in her point of view—a worthy female character. I don’t disagree with this, yet it would lead me to believe that Lily Janiak would not be so fond of Lady Montague as a model portrayal of women, in contrast to the other women in the play (the fierce Lady Capulet, for example).
The same week I finish with Romeo and Juliet, I begin work on a completely different project, Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures. While I currently have no clue what the concept for the show will be, or what messages we will aim to present with it, I know it will speak in some sense to this subject. The original Broadway performance was a cast of all male, Asian actors. In contrast, our cast will be largely (but not entirely) composed of female, Caucasian actors. Whether intentional or not, this makes a statement.
I am asking of myself to begin a deeper thinking process and have some opinions. I’m not totally sure what they are yet. But, I do know some things:
While I own and take pride in my femininity, I cannot deny the stereotypes that come with it. For this reason, it is so important that we as theatre artists maintain an awareness of what we’re putting out into the world with our art—regardless of the subject. We cannot afford to be careless. We must keep asking ourselves how we can challenge outdated definitions and find the truths of humanity that can speak to everyone, regardless of gender, race, social status, etcetera, and hit that core thing that we all have.
So, I don’t know what this all means yet, but at least I’ve begun the conversation with myself. That’s a starting point.