Laura is a director.
- Note- this production was initially and erroneously listed as being produced by ReVamp Theater Collective. It was, in fact, presented by The Philadelphia Women’s Theater Festival. We regret the error.
I’ll start with what’s in my pockets: I’ve worked and am friends with several of the people involved in this production. I’m also a director who is really struggling right now to figure out how to make art that feels important and meaningful in this political climate.
Period Play was presented as a staged reading for International Women’s Day by the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival. The show was essentially a series of short vignettes imagining encounters between historical and contemporary figures, from different fields and walks of life—athletes, artists, suffragettes, women’s marchers, Biblical figures, playwrights, authors—all exploring issues of feminism and public female identity.
The play was co-conceived by lead artist Lani Skelly and director Randi Alexis Hickey, and written by Hannah van Sciver. Van Sciver is a really smart writer, and I appreciated the beauty and tension of some of her encounters (like Emily Fernandez as Frida Kahlo and Nicholas Scheppard as Banksy) and the weirdness and joy of others (like Amber Orion as Tig Notaro and Nick Hatcher as Frederick Douglass). These imaginary relationships between real, historical characters were fanciful and sometimes really illuminating. I did, however, find myself wishing for a little bit more conflict or messiness in some of the encounters. Navigating modern, intersectional feminism can be challenging precisely because it means fighting for women and people whose experiences may be radically different than one’s own, and that can be uncomfortable. There were definitely moments that explored intersectionality—the conversation between Babe Didrickson (Jenna Kuerzi) and Tiger Woods (Nick Hatcher) shed some light on the ways that the struggle of a queer “unfeminine” woman in the public eye relate to the struggle of a black man navigating a historically white field—but many of the scenes played out without the tension that is so often a part of learning to grow in awareness of others’ perspectives and experiences. And though the play did feature a diverse cast, in gender and race, I found myself wishing that black women were represented in it. At a time when black women are leading Black Lives Matter and are essential to the leadership of the Women’s March movement, and at a time when white women are being asked more than ever to expand their sometimes flawed feminism, I think their voices are important to hear in a work like this.
This piece was shown as a staged reading, and I think that presents a challenge. Any kind of blocking is tricky to navigate with scripts and music stands. However, more focus could have been given to the script itself, rather than the staging. Some of the use of the space turned out to be more distracting than anything else—there was a big beam in the middle of the playing space, for example, that blocked some of the upstage action. The ensemble was onstage the whole time, and were cast as riders on the Broad Street Line during most scenes they weren’t featured in. The concept gave a nice continuity to the piece, but I often found myself getting distracted from the main action of the short scenes. On the flip side, I felt like I sometimes couldn’t hold on to the thread of the dialogue itself—it seemed like the arc of each scene, the rhythms of the language and the punctuation of the moments of comedy and tension were not always given the attention they needed to sing.
The program notes that this piece was created as part of an effort by the creators to “claim a space for ourselves that doesn’t sound like another production of The Vagina Monologues.” I think that goal—creating feminist and female-centered theatre for today—is great and important. I hope that PWTF, the creators, and playwright continue to develop this piece into something more challenging, more expansive, and even more inclusive and intersectional. They’re off to a good start.