Week 9: Fierce Femmes with Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel
This week I (Yasmin) was set up with an incredible line up of badass femme-centered work. It’s been so exciting participating in the Chicago Theatre Triathlon this week and I hope my coverage has inspired you to volunteer. This week featured a variety of work across the decades (and one maybe in the future? Looking at you, On Clover Road).
To be honest, I’ve slept on a lot of film—especially from pre-1990s. What a time-warp treat to watch 9 to 5 starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin. Though produced in 1980, it’s incredible how timely a film about inequality and sexism fits right into our modern day. We follow three women who fantasize about taking down their machismo boss, but a marijuana-induced fugue quickly becomes reality in this vintage satire. We still live in a world built for men by people of color and womxn, but it was incredible to see the dreams of flexible hours, in-house daycare, equal pay, and personalized work spaces. This is a film quite revolutionary for its time and we would gain so much by manifesting the world we deserve.
If you don't know me, it's time you did. Find out more here! (Yes, this recap was temporarily hijacked by Mariah. Lift yourself and lift your friends higher. Back to Yasmin.)
Do you know what a “dramaturg” is? Think of us as the play detectives (a la Ernie Nolan) of the arts. We question, we research, we facilitate, we synthesize, we write, we curate. We’re a third eye in the rehearsal room. There's a professional organization called the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA). It is a femme-powered field, and I am super lucky to be matched with a team operating with so much intention and care. I have the privilege of serving as the Local Conference Coordinator for our 2019 conference “CROSSING BORDERS, Pt. 2: Action in a Time of Division”. On this day, I had the pleasure of co-working on the conference handbook, which includes tips and tricks for navigating Chicago streets, food, transit, and the arts. Nothing beats an Albany Park jungle apartment, hot tea, and rogue kitties on a snowy winter evening.
If you get your hands on the script of this choreopoem, make sure it includes the excellent origin essay by Ntozake Shange, the playwright herself. Here we read on the process of crafting her seven poetic monologues, which follow seven womxn who are trying to survive in a world not built for them (sensing a theme?). They are met with racism, oppression, sexism, poverty, and more. But they find strength in the support of other womxn, ancestors and peers who have walked through the same battlefield of life. Though my experience is that of a sometimes white-passing, sometimes not, woman of color, I still felt parts of my life were dragged across the page. There are lines I would tattoo on my body if I viewed my body worthy of stamping such visceral prowess. Lines acknowledging the danger in being nice to strangers. Lines exploring the peril of staying in relationships past their due date. In her essay, Shange even praises the different interpretations and stagings of her play since its first ensemble production in 1976. So much history moves with this work, on and off-stage. I am so excited to see it on its feet at Court Theatre this March!
I need to write a longer piece on this magnificent play by Morgan Gould because I witnessed one of the best plays of my life. So much of myself was on stage. I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart is my new anthem in life and love. Though we sit entrenched in a body-posi movement, it is unfortunately still radical to stage a fat femme (Samantha) who loves herself. It’s radical for her to state, "He's okay with being 6th", in reference to her boyfriend, as in being 6th on her list of priorities which is so stellar—I am here for it! I loved Sam and her clothes, but didn't buy the plot twist. Well, didn't want to buy it. Sam is an incredible writer (albeit struggling, but aren't we all?) with a brilliant apartment and gay best friend. A 15-year friendship takes nurturing, and their choice of path is belting Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and The Golden Girls theme. The difference with this almost stereotypical play is that the characters are fleshed out and you WANNA FUCKING TEAR THEM APART. And love them. And befriend them. Go see this up at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.
As much as this play seemed to mess with the future, it was very much rooted in our reality. On Clover Road, produced by American Blues Theater, follows the desperation of a mother trying to get her daughter back from a cult. It confirms a couple of my beliefs. One being that men are trash. Number two that everyone should have a therapist (preferably free). This play was scary because it mirrored our world from an angle rarely in my purview. The cast was stellar, but I will always side eye shows that cast the singular person of color as a villain. We don’t really learn about the characters, as we are just as stuck in time as they are. Mixed feelings overall.
When I say I “do theater” most jump to the conclusion that I act, which can’t be farther from the truth. Well, until I came on as a Core Artist on Free Street’s 50th anniversary show Still/Here: A manifesto for joy and survival. But this show is devised, which means the stories and movement come from us, the ensemble. Though I don’t act in the traditional sense, through these rehearsals I’ve pushed my body to do things I didn’t know it was capable of. My Monday nights and Saturday mornings with FST are a blessing I continue to cherish. We have an upcoming workshop at 7pm on March 14th at FST. All are welcome!
My final evening was spent brushing up on a play I will be assistant dramaturging. Too Heavy for Your Pocket by Jireh Breon Holder at TimeLine Theatre follows two couples during the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a sore reminder that no matter how fiercely Black people put their bodies on the line, change is incremental and oftentimes costly. No spoilers! But our team is a dream and I can’t wait to begin rehearsals on this timely play. It’s shaping up to be the most intense dramaturgy I’ve faced yet.
See y'all in a week or two ;)