Category Archives: ending violence against women

MEASURE 4 MEASURE

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Sometimes computer actions become applicable to my life… “force quit! … FORCE QUIT!” I state at my laptop computer while an article on my website browser decides not to allow me to shut… IT… off.

 

My behavior is probably tied to a control issue on some small scale – probably linked to aspects of my world that I feel like I can’t shut off – informing my behavior. Be like subway train cars that have no air conditioning in July; be like sleepy eyelids closing when all I want to do is stay up and work – or watch YouTube interviews; be like my miniscule budget when there are so many good shows right now waiting to be watched on Broadway and even beyond the Big Apple.

 

Well, so be it. I love having that “Force Quit…” option though. It hides there waiting to be clicked behind the bitten apple icon on the top left of my 13” screen. I guess that’s how we might illustrate freedom on some scale nowadays. So many options – one happens to be “Force Quit…” thanks to some computer engineer answering necessity somewhere in the universe.

force quit!

Perhaps on some scale that’s the seed of Isabella’s issues in Measure For Measure. Control. A non-virtual, perhaps emotional, ‘Force Quit’ of IT – whatever it happened to be to Isabella. Control over… her own body and free will to choose whether to use her body as a trade to save her brother’s life – or whether to allow herself an ability to remain ‘chaste’. In the sense of this Shakespeare play, a definition of chastity extends to Isabella’s ability to maintain her preparation to become ‘married to God’ as a nun. This would require her to keep all hands off her body and refrain from expressions and receptions of sexual desire – including those of a judge named Angelo (Thomas Jay Ryan) who offers pardon of her brother’s life up in return.

 

Well… now… what a dilemma for a woman like Shakespeare’s Isabella (Cara Ricketts) – or really any person living in that time or ours. To come to the awareness that what is right in her mind, heart and body are in connection to a higher power and faith that she strongly connects to; and that this internal connection is weighed outside of her body very differently by various people – even people she loves and respects deeply. A favorite monologue of mine happens to be an Isabella monologue that I learned in school – it gets right at the crux of the plot issue when Isabella is forced to choose between her chastity or giving it up in order to save her brother’s life (good ol’Bill with those high stakes). Isabella speaks through the problem out loud and alone by reflecting on Angelo’s proposition (good ol’Bill with ability to create irony – I was on the sidelines urging her to be feministic about it all at the end of Act II scene 4…):

 

Thought 1:

 

To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,

Who would believe me? O, perilous mouths,

That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,

Either of condemnation or approof;

Bidding the law make court’sy to their will;

Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,

to follow as it draws!

 

Whenever I hear those words I have a strong inclination towards ‘ouch!’ right in my heart center. It would definitely make the character Isabella want to shut off her other energy centers (head & hips). The poetic words of the play speak to me and make Carrie Robinson want to kick, push and curse on Isabella’s behalf. I remember in my classroom setting at school watching my friends/ classmates start to cry when I spoke those words for Isabella. And as an audience member on Wednesday night in the professional theatre setting, I watched Ricketts tap all of those same inclinations into her still body and decide to reason through the injustice she has discovered before moving to…

 

Thought 2:

 

… I’ll to my brother:

Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood,

Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour,

That, had he twenty heads to tender down

On twenty bloody blocks, he’ld yield them up,

Before his sister should her body stoop

To such abhorred pollution.

 

I heard Isabella consider the effect of her decisions on her brother’s behalf – and wonder what he would have done for her. What if he had his free will and fair use of his body and mind, and was not fall’n by prompture of the blood? She believes that he would have fought for her or used his body to prevent a sister from having to give hers up. And so her dilemma widens and deepens in her love and belief attached to her brother’s ideas around ‘honour’.

 

If they had a shiny coin – would Isabella be heads or tails? If she chose ‘heads’ and began to represent the coin’s minted face as landed up towards the sky – would she let her twirling tail on the other side of her coin, having fallen down, dictate the future? So Isabella reasons further by daring to spin into the dark abyss of her dilemma toward a solution:

 

Thought 3:

 

Then, Isabel, live chaste and brother, die:

More than our brother is our chastity.

I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,

And fit his mind to death, for his soul’s rest.

 

So it’s hard enough to be a judge and decide whether to let a person who has been convicted of a crime face a sentence of death or to go free (I would imagine from my measly time as a mock Chief Justice in law school). But this play begs the question of how it would feel across the chessboard if the judge turned a responsibility granted by Shakespeare’s god-fearing Italian government into a trade for his own use; effectively hooking his power and responsibility granted by law to pull a female body closer to his own plate for sexual purposes. Of course, he attempts to keep his arching line invisible as it contravenes the very laws he’s meant to keepsake. The play then begins to tick around the Duke (Jonathan Cake) discovering his role in preventing injustice within a realm and system that requires him, due to birth status, to rule and oversee the governance of.

 

Jonathan Cake delivers a fine and compelling illustration of the Duke’s character arc in discovering and being compelled by Isabella’s experience to use his knowledge, intelligence, power and privilege towards allowing a woman to have control over her own body. What a concept to be written into a play when a society, like Shakespeare’s, still prescribed that women were not considered people; let alone people capable of making decisions on their own bodies (be virgin or not!) without a male kin’s stamp of approval. At this point in the world’s history women weren’t even deemed capable of having the right to ask for control over their own bodies!

 

I watched Cake/Duke pick apart the problem with rebellion, with language, with observance and reflection, with dialogue, with a Friar’s disguise, with tears and laughter, with love and with reasoned control and I fell a little in love with the Duke from the audience. He took a variety of action on stage that compelled me to see the whole problem and to want to resolve it – just as he found himself wanting to resolve it. Having worked the Isabella monologue in school, I’d never put myself in the Duke’s position before. Isn’t that funny – what a bit of gender neutrality occurs nowadays as a female watching the play – many women are now in a position to relate to the Duke as a person in control over people, governance and even homes; as well as to Isabella as a woman with threats to the control of her body.

 

It’s easier said than done nowadays even with progressions to women’s rights – the system Isabella found herself in indicates the root of some systemic ways of thinking about women’s rights that we still struggle with today across the globe. It occurred to me that Shakespeare’s text only compels my emotions nowadays because it is still relevant. So the emotion can be translated into a metaphoric “Force Quit…” button on my laptop – but on some scale, depending on where a person lives in this world, the dilemmas and threats in this play still ring true. Isabella matters and her brother Claudio matters (Leland Fowler)  – people facing problems that be like Isabella and Claudio’s matter – life isn’t as simple as flipping a coin to let heads and tails dictate an outcome. Just as the Duke discovers this – I was able to reflect on this in the audience – and I thought – well maybe that was the intention of the playwright then:

 

For, though his line of life went soon about,

The life yet of his lines shall never out. – Hugh Holland on William Shakespeare.

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Its very rhythm, within a title granted by Shakespeare, teeter-totters to our ears and forces us to place and balance similar consonants with similar vowels. The carrying out of the play forces us to place and balance right from wrong in our consciences and our understanding of humanity. It is both black and white; both cruel and kind; both male and female; both true and false; both high and low; and it matters. What a unique and balanced title from the Bard collection:

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Consonant for Vowel.

 

Ding for Dong.

 

Tick for Tock.

 

Teeter for Totter.

 

virgin statue

Enthroned Virgin (by Goro di Gregorio (active ca. 1300-1334) – statue on display at The Cloisters, New York City.

Last, but not least, if I could time-travel… I’d sit in on Meryl Streep’s Isabella in 1976… if only that were possible!

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LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?

crucible

 

I went to see a play about those women… namely the ones that were burned at the stake and/or hung on poles (called witches or sorceresses). Being a pre-Harry-Potter-era play that means that witches and sorcery were associated with the devil (every gradation of evil was bad) in a society where power was held largely in the hands of Christian settlers and land title owners. Any other pre-existing ideologies and people that might challenge the prevailing norms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were considered lower and incompatible to solving community conflict. Women were not the only sufferers of this community condemnation; yet women were prima facie targets.

 

The play is called THE CRUCIBLE and a very endearing ensemble is bringing Arthur Miller’s challenging work to life over at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th. It is being directed by Ivo Van Hove. The set alternates between an eery, charcoal and chalky inspired mix of classroom materials and images that bring up imaginings of institutionalized detention. The alternating rooms are the simple Proctor house and a town hall converted into a trial center. The simple and minimal sets, combined with economical music & sound design that included children and women’s singing in the background, were fitting and aided my imagining of the conflicts in the play.

 

The play’s conflict centers around accusations of a teenage girl, Abigail (the talented Saoirse Ronan), who claims that certain people in her community are targeting her and others with supernatural powers. The conflict unfolds because Abigail’s younger female cousin, Betty, falls ill from their participation in a group of women dancing and an attempt to cast love spells in the woods. In the uncovering of these activities and accusations, most of the community is put to trial, the adultery of John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) with Abigail is found out, and many women are destroyed due to a chain of accusations budding from Abigail’s strong defences.

 

Mainly I’ve got to say this play is thought-provoking. I suppose what this play really does is entreats an audience’s mind towards looking at how a group of women started to be called the negative connotation of ‘witch(es)’; and what series of human (as opposed to supernatural) actions, words, ideologies and accountabilities (or lack thereof) grounded and were interpreted towards a community’s condemnation of women. It also examines what people and systems this community implemented in an attempt to resolve conflict. Being an American play rooted in the struggles of early American settlers the characters and conflict bear relevance today.

 

It becomes pretty clear as the play moves forward that it is not the supernatural that causes the chain of man-made penalties that ensue. A most interesting character for me is actually the, however unlikeable, Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciaran Hinds) who is tasked with getting facts straight in the midst of the community members’ personal ties to each other and accusations towards each other. He asks questions that bring together the common facts of each of the community members’ stories to try to figure out what is a truth and what is not, what accusations are made out of fear of peril and what accusations are founded by criminal action. His character is like a flashlight peering through the spaces in the crowd and begging: where is there room to understand how confusion began and what is the root of it?

 

The root of the confusion turns out to be the adultery of an otherwise humble farmer, John Proctor, and a teenage girl, Abigail, who tells him that she’s in love with him. In a society where adultery is cause for jail-time and even death their lust destroys John’s opinion of himself and Abigail’s ability to trust the people who have condemned her for the feelings she understands to be true and restricted. One of the women Abigail condemns turns out to be Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo), John’s wife, and by the end of the play we are made to feel the love and guilt John possesses over the pain his wife is in.

 

The self-inflicted torture John partakes in the face of his forced confession are puzzling. He feels he has already given away his soul and chooses not to publicly tarnish his name. As heart wrenching as his human struggle is to watch (and in that same dilemma with a family at stake I’m not sure what I’d do in his shoes)… it is puzzling because his struggle happens to be in contrast to 39 women in the play who have just publicly perished for supernatural actions they did not commit. It is a given fact that women have often kept their souls and given away their names with no questions asked and no opportunity for rebuttal. I’m sure Miller set this conundrum up on purpose.

 

Like I said, the play is thought-provoking. In the end this play always makes me disturbed and I feel bad for the whole town! I feel it’s a good play to look at though – and the thoughts and feelings it provokes are relevant although complex. Where the individual and community interests intersect can be a dangerous issue – yet we must struggle with this interface every day. In the case of The Crucible the individual/community interface, we learn, is an immensely dangerous issue when there is nothing to prevent individual accusations from causing women (and people in general) to be not just prima facie targets, but convicted ones. In fact an invisible and unexplainable harm can (and did historically) cause women to unjustly and disproportionately perish.

 

The strength of this production lies in the actors playing the love with each other. The decisions and accusations they make are difficult because we get a sense of familiarity off the top with all the members and generations of the small community so that when they find themselves in a confusing and fearful disarray – there is a sense of misaligned duties and choices that are heightened to war-like status against their own people. We understand their motivations are rooted in keeping loved ones from harm. The play is unnerving and hair-raising in it’s turning of ‘love thy neighbor’ on its head.

 

Apart from the production, the Walter Kerr Theatre has a really beautiful roof!

 

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THE WIZARD OF OZ, Margaret Hamilton, 1939

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KEEPING WHAT WE LOVE ALIVE

 

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I AM MORE THAN INSPIRED… I AM PROUD!

 

It happened because I went to see an Off-Off-Broadway show that my classmates and friends staged last night!

 

Dolores is a one-act play shedding light on sisterhood and struggles with domestic violence. The play was written by Edward Allan Baker – whom I happened to meet last night- as I was helping out at the box office at The Playroom Theatre. (Yeah… so that was cool…)

 

Most importantly the play was raising awareness about domestic violence and violence against women. The beautiful and talented ladies Paulina Cossio (in my drama school grad year!) and Luisa Muhr (Artistic Director of the Fengari Ensemble co-producing this play) worked with director Kathleen McNenny to bring forth this story of sibling love and strive for healthy lives despite unimaginable, violent and cyclical circumstances.

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I learn by going where I have to go. – Theodore Roethke

 

I’ve shared this quote in a Thank You card that I once gave to the dialect coach of this play, Julia Lenardon, who was also one of my voice and speech teachers in drama school. I like it because it embodies what she instilled in me when learning about a dialect (she informed me that in this play the ladies are from Rhode Island). By taking the time to get very specific and learn how to speak and sound the way that another person speaks it can often give an actor insight into how to look through the eyes of that character.

 

I was reminded of the Roethke’s quote because I witnessed my friendly friends embody and transform into two characters (dialect and all) that have suffered and/or witnessed violent crimes. In doing so I began to be introduced to Dolores (Cossio), a woman currently compelled into retaliation and self-defense after years of domestic violence, and her sister Sandra (Muhr), who grew up watching Dolores enter abusive relationships and has journeyed into a marriage of her own that she finds comfortable and safe. These two contrasting personalities and experiences highlighted a journey from childhood until this very crucial point in their lives where Dolores has decided she can’t take the abuse anymore.

 

The play inadvertently helps the audience understand better what abusive and/or violent cycles of behaviour look like, how they disguise themselves into domestic life and relationships from an early age, and (if the cycles are not addressed or broken) how they will unfortunately resurface in adult relationships again and again.

 

We try to keep what we love alive. We do it by our daily living and by our work. My need to learn about other people’s lives through books and plays has been a need to make life more vivid as I am living it. Not to let the days go by unnumbered or without meaning. And the longer I have lived the more I have counted on the life force of work to keep me alive. – Marian Seldes.

 

I like, and was reminded of, this Seldes quote because as actors and theatre makers and participants we get to do exactly that – keep what we love alive. We can do it by learning about other people’s lives; women like Sandra and Dolores who can shed light on breaking cycles of violence. In doing so, even if we don’t share the extreme experiences of the characters by transforming into them we can recognize that some people do. We can recognize that these lives and these issues matter. We can work together to do what we love to do (embody other people) and it’s inevitable that we will touch other souls that way. Maybe even contribute to ending cycles of violence!

 

Our work, if we give ourselves over to it and support each other’s efforts, can keep stories alive! A tradition even older than Shakespeare himself! In following this tradition, and in focusing on doing our work well… it will in turn keep us alive in our love of working. I saw my friends do this last night – and they’ll do it again for the last two performances on Wednesday night. Oh and I’ll be in the box office helping out… I wonder who else will show up? Hehe

 

Tickets and information about DOLORES, the Fengari Ensemble and/or how to donate to SHEARED (an organization raising awareness about domestic violence): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dolores-fengari-ensemble#/ 


 “…[t]he most reliable predictor of whether a country is violent within itself— or will use military violence against another country— is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy: it’s violence against females. It normalizes all other violence.” – Gloria Steinem, My Life On The Road

(photo courtesy of Rob Douthat)

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