Melissa is a white cis woman, a new play enthusiast, a feminist. She craves theatre that connects urgent ideas to human stories.

Jane is a director and dramaturg.

Connie is a white cis woman and works as an actor in Philadelphia

Evangeline is a white cis woman who thinks art will save us.

 

Jane

Let’s empty our pockets. I saw Hello! Sadness! in its first iteration at the Kimmel Center and I came home telling people that it was the best thing I’d ever seen on a stage. I was so excited that it was coming back.

 

Evangeline

I knew very little about this show coming in. Hadn’t seen any version of it, don’t know Mary. I know that her show is currently running at InterAct, but other than that I had some pretty empty pockets!

 

Melissa

I’m very familiar with Mary’s work, and had been looking forward to this piece since I missed it at the Kimmel Center. However, I was carrying a lot of negativity with me into the show: I’ve had a really hard couple of weeks at work and in the world, and I actually find FringeArts to be an alienating venue. I also had a pretty rough day at work today so I’m coming into this conversation with tired/sad pockets

 

Jane

I think we all had /have the election in our pockets. I came to the show directly from the protests at Lowe’s Hotel.

 

Connie

I knew nothing about the piece at all so I was walking in completely in the dark.  Though, I had just seen Marcus/Emma at interAct a couple days before and I have seen Mary’s work before.

 

Evangeline

Besides America, I had nothing in my pockets. To be honest, I was wondering if this show was going to feel relevant or applicable…I try not to read too much about a show before I go see it, so going on only the title, I was curious how I might draw parallels. But then, obviously. It was like Mary took a peek into my brain.

 

Connie

Personally, I was really hoping to like it. Marcus/Emma aside, I feel like I’ve had a rough go with the last few plays I’ve seen where I walk in and it’s like “Surprise! This play is full of men who hate women!” I was feeling desperate for a good theatrical experience.

 

Jane

I’ve been feeling that so long that I wouldn’t have gone to a show at all if I didn’t know this one was safe (and healing.)

I’m feeling pretty over theater these days

 

Evangeline

Well, if I was feeling over theater before I saw this show, I am not now.

 

Melissa

Absolutely seconded

 

Connie

Yes, agreed. 100%.

 

Jane

Completely restorative. Of faith and well being.

 

Melissa

Mary managed to take everything I’ve been feeling about my place–physically, politically, occupationally, artistically–and reaffirm the fact and power of my existence.  All of my work is in the arts, and it’s been hard because I feel like, ‘what the fuck is the point of theatre right now?’

Evangeline

Or ‘what the fuck is the point of BAD theatre right now?’

 

Connie

It’s great was how much that exact thought is part of the show. It examined that question  ‘why should we keep making art’ without ever, ever feeling self important.

 

Evangeline

Totally. One of the amazing things that Mary did was decidedly re-establish the need for – as you said, Jane- restorative theatre.

 

Jane

Let’s step back a little and talk about the design elements. What did you all think of the use of projections?

 

Connie

Loved it. I think some of the best use of video I’ve ever seen.

 

Evangeline

I’m a little more on the fence. I think the most exciting parts were those when she mimicked what the projections were doing onstage…in terms of serving as a backdrop, I was neither super excited nor distracted by them.

 

Jane

I usually hate projections, because they often feel like a lazy way out of giving information that could be given theatrically

But in this case I felt like they were a part of the world of the play, not a substitute for it.

 

Connie

I never felt that the video elements overwhelmed her, either. They were never more interesting than her, which is something that can go wrong for any production.

 

Melissa

I agree with Evangeline, watching Mary’s interaction with the projections was the most stimulating for me. However, I will say that the progressive darkening of the poppy field was super evocative–I didn’t notice it until the end of the show, but it was subtle and heartbreaking. Maria Shaplin did well on that front.

 

Connie

I kept thinking of the Wizard of Oz and I can’t figure out if that was intentional.

 

Evangeline

Sometimes I wonder how much the intended effect of projections can just be achieved with sound. Like, the sound design around the Rouen Joan of Arc crypt and the poppy field felt enough.

 

Melissa

At first I thought the same thing. The poppy field on its own I think was communicated well enough by the pink lighting Andrew Thompson created. What paid off for me was the clouds that changed over the course of the show in that image. Like her safe space was being corrupted.

 

Jane

Yes, I think that’s right. And I thought the lights were perfect because they stayed out of it. I think it takes a really good designer to look at all that empty space and leave it alone. The lights always supported and never distracted.

 

Melissa

Completely agree.

 

Jane

I think Andrew Thompson understood that Mary was illuminating the work she didn’t need any help.

 

Jane

I particularly appreciated the footage of Fred Hampton. I think it kept this from feeling too much like storytelling.

 

Melissa

And too much her claiming someone else. It gave us a reference for her so it never felt like “The Fred Hampton Story PRESENTED BY MARY!!!!!”

 

Jane

I think with his story especially, it was important to let him speak for himself.

 

Evangeline

Those clips and projections did a great job of putting the show in the now. The reminder that we are not beyond this.

 

Jane

And that was something that had changed from the original and I think made it stronger.

 

Jane

What did you think of the sound?

 

Melissa

I didn’t really notice it so I guess it was successful.

 

Jane

I’m thinking a lot about the “ding” sound when things appeared (dioramas, the castle). It’s evocative. It belongs to an informative video in the 50’s or 60’s, which creates an ironic sense of being passively instructed.

 

Evangeline

The sound certainly brought the show out of a kind of flatness. Instead of “we’re in a field of poppies”, or “we’re in a field of poppies” and the field of poppies projection, we had all of those things plus the sound of birds. It made my entryway into her play much more like entering an ecosystem rather than a one-dimensional experience.

 

Connie

I completely agree! Every design element worked so well together to support the world. It felt round and whole. Like your example, the poppy field description, plus the projection, plus the sound of the birds told me (without telling me) that I was supposed to feel at ease here. And when those elements changed I changed with them, again without being told by the performer that I should now feel differently. This was a production that trusted the people watching it

 

Evangeline

I think, on a dramaturgical/playwriting level, what impressed me so much about this show was how swiftly and naturally Mary was able to thread together her worlds and bring them to a place of convergence. If there were moments where I was ahead of it, it was only because I was craving them so much.

 

Jane

Yes, that’s exactly how I felt.

 

Evangeline

For example: as the sexist comedian saying “Come on!” over and over again, I knew what was coming next (her layering of the French sex worker’s ‘Allez’). But expecting those motifs to resurface never took me out of the momentum of the play.

 

Jane

I was so deeply in the world that I could easily surf through places where it wasn’t clear yet how a new element tied in.

 

Melissa

Mary’s a master of repetition, I’ve noticed that a lot in her other work. She’s so so smart about what motifs she deploys and when. This was no exception.

 

Evangeline

I’m always interested how the “one person” functions in one person shows- are we seeing multiple characters, or is this a journey we are going on with only one person onstage? And I think Hello! Sadness! is a great example of a one-person show that brings together different voices and characters without it feeling like a clown show.

 

Jane

She really is a master story weaver.

 

Connie

Yes. Yes. She knows how to make every iteration feel both unique, an opportunity to see something in a different light, and also the threads that connect it. I’ll never hear “come on” the same way again.

 

Jane

There’s something really spiritual about the way she creates these small mantras “allez” and “she can handle it” and “come on.”

And then when they’re applied in different situations, they have all the power of a prayer.  Like you’ve been hearing it since you were a child.

 

Evangeline

Oh that’s so true. I’ve had that final “J’existe!” in my head all weekend.

 

Melissa

Same.

 

Jane

I think she’s also masterful about knowing how much we can take before we need to breathe or laugh. It’s genius, I can’t wrap my head around how perfectly timed it was. A kind of emotional ergonomics.

 

Connie

I also think the key to the script’s success is its specificity.  This is not a play that tries to be ‘universal’. This is a play about a white woman who is a grown up, trying to come to terms with a world that hates her because she’s a woman, but hates other people more, and how theatre feels stupid sometimes. But how we all want to be part of that stupidity, using Hamlet as the example.

 

Evangeline

That’s really well put.

 

Melissa

Yes.

 

Jane

Does everyone here identify as a white woman?

 

Evangeline

Yep.

 

Melissa

I do

 

Connie

Yes.

 

Jane

OK, just want to get that out of our pockets. This was about us, and for us. Although with that said. I deeply appreciate the moment when Mary becomes the thief by appropriating Fred Hampton’s coat.

 

Jane

I think it’s extremely important. She took responsibility for her whiteness, she took responsibility for what it meant for her to tell his story.

 

Evangeline

There was a moment at the Fred Hampton museum in Chicago where the audience was led on a tour of the museum’s wax figure dioramas – a callback to Joan of Arc’s dioramas. Because Mary had stood in as Joan of Arc’s wax figure prevously, I was steeling myself to stand in for Fred.

 

Jane

Me, too! I was so afraid she would do that. But she was too smart.

 

Connie

Yes, yes, yes. This script and direction was intentional.

 

Evangeline

Right. So when she repeated the Joan of Arc diorama tableaus I realized that this was not a creator that was unaware or confused. She knew it could go towards a place of appropriation and intentionally showed us that that’s just not the way to make good theater. I felt so comforted by that.

 

Jane

Me, too.

 

Melissa

I was wondering when the show was going to touch on that; I’d read a couple of preview articles Mary did about the shows she has this month and she specifically asks this question: “How could someone like me get involved in the struggle for the liberation of all peoples — especially people of color — while still profiting from my own privilege?”

 

Connie

That article made me buy my ticket!

 

Jane

This show had a really big impact on me, and it seems like on all of you also. But my response is realIy personal, really deep and really visceral. I have a hard time articulating it.

 

Melissa

I think I just needed it.

 

Evangeline

At least in my case, it reaffirmed what I already knew about the upcoming years: that a lot of us are going to probably lose. But that it’s a necessary fight, and that to not engage would be even worse. It reminded me to find strength in the truth of what we’re fighting for. You know, j’existe.

 

Connie

For me, it was a play that said “I see you”.

 

Jane

I think I so rarely see myself on stage. So theater usually makes me feel more alone. I feel like the things inside me don’t exist outside me. So to have those things articulated and articulated beautifully made me feel, literally, like a person. J’existe indeed.

 

Evangeline

That’s really interesting. Actually, now that you’re articulating that, I’m realizing that on some level, I couldn’t really see myself in Mary – not because we’re not feeling the same way or going through similar journeys, but because of her self-descriptor ‘small’. Whereas the world so often operates to make women feel small and vulnerable, I have never fit into the word ‘small’ – mostly because of body size growing up. Instead, I feel that dismissal in words like ‘gross’ or ‘weird’. It’s two different descriptors for the same bullshit. So as soon as she said the word ‘small’, I knew that we were not experiencing the white supremacist patriarchy in the same way – but that we were both experiencing it nonetheless. I think that above all else was what profoundly moved me, and what emboldened me to keep fighting.

 

Jane

Oof. That ‘small’ rides my veins every day all day. Small. Dismissable. Small. But by articulating that feeling, Mary elevated it and gave it value. It takes away so much shame.

 

Connie

And it came back around for me. After so many “Surprise! Misogyny!” play experiences, to have the macro and micro experiences displayed on a stage made me feel less alone.

 

Jane

The comic.

 

Evangeline

That was the most difficult part.

 

Jane

I feel like I live my life in that audience. With everyone laughing around me. “Come on!” How liberating to sit in front of that set and see it laid bare for what it is. No one is laughing.

 

Connie

Yeah! It hurt but like the way taking a scab off hurts! I wanted to shout “Yes! This is every day! This is every single day! And you can’t not hear it!”

 

Jane

Melissa, what made it a good experience for you?

 

Melissa

I think I said it earlier: it was what I needed. It said, “art is stupid, you’re right, but also this is art and it’s hitting you, and also you feel stupid, and you’re not wrong, but you exist and you’re trying and that is an act of revolution and resistance. You are enough and you will never be enough” It was the right play for me right now. Going into this conversation I knew I was going to sit back a bit because all of my thoughts are “Yes good 100% A+”

 

Jane

Mine, too, and I think that’s ok. I don’t feel uncritical. I loved this with my heart and guts but also my brain. It’s just that good. I feel blessed to have seen it, and grateful that we have Mary.

 

Melissa

Yes.

 

Evangeline

We’re going to need shows like this in the future.

 

Connie

Yes. I think, to go off what Melissa articulated so well, it’s a play that reminded me I’m allowed to be a complicated, complex human. I can, in fact, contain multitudes. I can feel small and know speaking up is of the highest imperative.  I can think theatre is stupid but also love it and want to create it. I can hurt and feel strong. I can want myself to be better and know I’m doing the best I can. Big props to the direction, which I don’t think we’ve discussed yet.

 

Melissa

Yeah Annie Wilson made this into a finely tuned machine.

 

Jane

So precise. This is specific, passionate and detailed-oriented genius. Wilson’s work is as invisible as the stitches on a perfectly tailored suit. We’ll never know the extent to which she made it what it is

 

Connie

Yes, final thought is. Much play. Very feel. Would play again. A++.

 

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3 thoughts on “Hello! Sadness!- Fringe Arts

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