That creative rascal Joss Whedon has opined that he is frequently asked, “Why do you write strong women characters?” to which he replies, “Because you keep asking that question.” It’s a good retort, but I think he misses the mark just a little bit. Having written a few strong women throughout the years – my “Venus Envy”, “Killing Angela”, “The Observatory” and “The Tearful Assassin” are all led by mighty women characters – I’ve been asked variations on that question. Why do I keep writing strong women characters? My answer: what other kind are there?
I confess it was not my intention to be a “woman writer”; rather, when I’ve sat down at my clunky old PC, miraculously still running Windows XP, I’ve only gone where my imagination wanted me to go. However, in retrospect, it seems in my blood to rely on the intelligent complexities of female characters instead of men. Why? I find male characters are easily shunt into being a protagonist or antagonist, whereas I find women to be infinitely more complex than that and thus more reflective of the real world. My life is full of people who are part hero, part villain, part saint, part sinner. So it makes a logical sense that those are the people who I digest in my brain and let spill onto the printed page.
“Mine” is a play I started working on a couple of years ago, as an exercise for a possible short film to accompany a 48 hour guerilla film competition. In the film, a woman was hounded by the memory of a vicious attack, played in the film by a shadowy male character, but the memory did it’s most damage when it interacted with other memories and skewed his (their) host. As a film, I couldn’t quite explore this theme fully within the 8-10 minute range I was writing for, so another idea took its place and “Mine” went back to the shelf.
As I came off the production of 2015’s”Bully“, which inspired a great range of reviews from “love it” to “hate it” but which definitely increased the diversity of the Chicago Fringe Festival by having a dual cast (one white, one African American), the idea of “Mine” came back up due to an unlikely source: Hillary Clinton. I wanted to explore the “even memories have secrets” theme along with the systemic sexism that seemed to be lobbed at Ms. Clinton from every angle. Example: even some of my most learned friends gobbled up the Kool Aid and dubbed her a “bitch” or “cunt.” Ridiculous. Thus, I went to work on “Mine” and developed the most complex, thick, horrifying and compassionate piece I’ve written in my life.
Casting was remarkably easy. I needed an actor to portray the lead character, Amber, who not only I could trust personally but also could develop the character in full, revealing disparate but essential traits under the microscope and in panorama. The choice was easy: Kimmy Higginbotham, with whom I’ve worked on two plays, a commercial and a short film. For her shadow memory, I knew SHE needed someone she could trust, thus I wound up casting myself. The two of us have a natural rapport onstage, and despite how horrifying the text gets, and it gets plenty horrifying, we can work together and exit every performance unscathed personally.
As I’ve mentioned to friends and family, this piece is very personal to me. I think it is a solid piece of theater, and an opening to have some difficult conversations about things women are routinely shamed about (not only the assault implied in the production, but society’s own denigrations of women in general). For perhaps the first time, I’m not at all concerned about press or reviews or adulation. I just want to communicate.
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THE CHICAGO FRINGE FESTIVAL 2016
Location: CCJP Meeting Hall, 5320 W Giddings St, Chicago, IL 60630-3604
Friday, 9/2/2016 @ 7pm
Saturday, 9/3/2016 @ 230pm
Sunday, 9/4/2016 @ 830pm
Monday, 9/5/2016 @ 10pm
Friday, 9/9/2016 @ 7pm
Saturday, 9/10/2016 @ 530pm
Sunday, 9/11/2016 @ 400pm