“Theater has a big, patriarchy shaped problem,” says Erin Pike on the Kickstarter page for That’swhatshesaid, her collaboration with Courtney Meaker. The one-woman show, which ran February 4-7th at Gay City in Seattle, WA., gained unexpected controversy after receiving three cease and desist letters from Samuel French and Dramatist Play Services for adapting text from the productions making up TCG‘s list of the Top Ten Most Produced Plays 2013-14.
Pike describes That’swhatshesaid as a “political, […] necessary feminist force demanding that theater pays attention to what it is asking of female performers.”
This isn’t Pike’s first work confronting the female portrayal through the patriarchal lens. The piece Her Score is described as “a wordless exploration of female objectification.” In Her Score, Pike appears nude in five-inch heels with a large purse on a tiny chair and slowly consumes a number of phallic objects. “What does it mean to be female and under the patriarchy’s constant observation? What exactly are you looking at, anyway? And who gave you permission to look?” These questions she continues to interrogate in That’swhatshesaid with the intent to “change [the] narrative [- We] want the system to be better” as collaborator Courtney Meaker says to American Theatre.
Turning the system on its head is just what Pike, Meaker, and director Hatlo do. Tickets for the event were available in the following options:
Dudes – $20.00 On average you earn 21% more than a woman would in your position! Congrats! Your ticket price reflects this data.
Non-dudes – $15.00 On average you earn 21% less than a dude would in your position. So, we’re discounting your ticket price.
This systematic subversion is twofold: flipping the economic gender inequity and empowering the voice of the theater-going audience and actor-pool majority – females.
Richard Smith of The Stranger identifies the issue at the heart of That’swhatshesaid, “Playwrights perpetuate the patriarchy by creating roles for women that reduce them to one version or another of male fantasy or fear, and playhouses make sure those plays have a home.” In her personal blog, Courtney Meaker writes the following call to action:
“I expect you to speak up. And I’m not talking about actors outing companies. They are often not in a position where they can do that (though if you are someone who feels called to do so, then do). But nothing is going to change unless we start speaking up. […] I also expect you to listen. If someone says they see a problem, listen to them with an open heart even if it’s hard, even if it makes you uncomfortable. [… it’s] uncomfortable, but you get better and you learn, or you end up showing that you are someone who really doesn’t care.”
On her website Pike says “My work is an intimate yet public part of who I am. And I’m okay with that.” She goes on to say in a Hedgebrook article, “I have this belief that as a performer, my true identity and self is inherently present and important in everything I do.” With a background in dance and movement, Pike’s work is not only closely connected with her public persona, but she also makes her own body the topic of discussion. She is inspired by the works of artists like Miranda July, Young Jean-Lee, Marina Abramovic, and Hand2Mouth Theatre, all truly experimental artists who blur the line between character and performer.
She describes her process as:
“[Very] concerned with the initial idea or concept. I spend a lot of time mulling over a concept or an idea, making sure that it’s important and exciting enough to me to devote (potentially years of) my time and energy to making a piece about it. Slowly I begin to share that idea in conversation with friends and other artists, as a means of finding the right collaborators to join the project and begin the work. Once I’ve found the right collaborators, we spend a lot of time talking and discussing the concept to make sure that it is delivered in the most efficient and effective way possible. Eventually, some type of actual, on-the-feet rehearsal period begins (usually very short) and then it performs. I believe that over-rehearsing is the cruelest death of a promising performance. It’s got to have some excitement and room for expansion. If you over-rehearse, you can never get that feeling back. Re: which issues do I seek to address– depends on the piece in particular. Every performance I make usually explores a different issue. It could be hard (but not impossible) to draw a large line of theme between my pieces. That said, as an artist, I am feminist and queer and often those traits are present and visible in my work. My intention of impact is nothing greater than: I want people to question and to think. I cannot ask for any response beyond that.”
She describes her work as a “point of provocation,” and in that regard, Samuel French and Dramatist Play Services should be thanked for blowing up That’swhatshesaid to nationwide coverage. They unwittingly played their part, attempting to blindly silence the female creative voice. There is a segment of the piece in which, “An invisible hand pushes her to the floor. She picks herself up. She’s pushed to the floor again.” Pike not only stood up against SF and DPS, but her and Meaker intend on touring the production nationally, a production that I am beyond thrilled to experience.
“Continued threats against its performance serve no purpose except to further underappreciate the value of women in theater—the very wrong this work seeks to correct,” says Smith.
In a separate article, Rebecca Atkinson-Lord communicates her frustration with the portrayal of females in film, saying, “It isn’t enough for us to simply increase the number of ‘female voices’ or ‘strong female roles’ in the arts landscape, we need to pay closer attention to the kinds of stories those voices and characters tell or we risk regurgitating cultural tropes that perpetuate inequality.”