Hear Me War- PWTF

Jane

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write about this piece, so I’m going to try to empty my pockets as honestly as I can about that thought process.  My relationship to the PWTF is complicated, because I don’t think they do enough to actively pursue inclusivity, which frustrates me. On the other hand, I look at a program full of women designers, directors, writers tech and admin and I think that what they’re doing there is really important. And I need to keep in mind that not everyone’s feminism is the same, and that I should be wary of judging the festival because what they care about is different from what I care about.

 

Bo

I am coming into this with a lot of similar stuff in my pockets. I am frustrated with the cis nature of their logo, which is petty but as someone who doesn’t present traditionally female all the time it makes me feel kind of weird. I will also confess that I am tired of being a “woman artist”. I would like to just be an artist now please, although it is not WTF’s fault that those divisions are currently important to society.  This is actually something I will struggle with in this review. I want to be able to critique the feminism that I feel uncomfortable with, while also lauding what’s being done and saying “Please keep doing it– maybe just a little more mindfully.”

 

Jane

That is EXACTLY how I feel. I am also keeping in mind that the people who made this are young.  The Festival is young and it’s run by young people with a very good intention.

 

Bo

People, especially women, need space to grow. The last thing I want to is for someone figuring out how to make feminist art to feel unsupported. But I also want to tell the truth about what makes me uncomfortable, because otherwise how the heck do we grow?

 

Jane

I think that Sarah Galante shows a lot of potential here. She’s got some pretty turns of phrase, and a lot of sincerity.  I think that’s part of what I really appreciated about the experience. I see a lot of shows that aren’t my cup of tea, but they aren’t as brave and earnest as this was. I’d rather see an honest, vulnerable try than a cowardly joke or rehashing of the same old stuff any day.

 

Bo

That is very true. I also liked a lot of her turns of phrase. You could tell that she has guts in this piece, which was so great. I don’t want to see anymore pieces about feminism as theory. This was not clinical.

 

Jane

This was very bodily

 

Bo

Oh I think I should add to my pockets that I don’t like musicals much and I don’t see them very often.

 

Jane

I love musicals. Let’s get into it. Want to start with design?

 

Bo

The costumes by LeVonne Lindsey were definitely my favorite part of the design.  She also did Time Is On Our Side. I liked the consistent palette, and the differentiation between characters. I got a lot dramaturgically from the costumes, they said earnest “soldiers” in a nice way, and hinted at individual personalities. I also thought flannel shirt = dad was hilarious.

 

Jane

I agree. And I liked that there was a spectrum of traditional femininity.

 

Bo

Yeah, some people got cute boots, and some people got more utilitarian looks.

 

Jane

And the girl with the guitar wore a bunch of makeup and she was still allowed to hang. Yeah, high femme!

 

Bo

Yeah, that was nice.

 

Jane

So that space is terrible to light. It’s cavernous, and there are about 5 instruments. I don’t think Angela Coleman could have done anything fancy in there if she had wanted to.  I think she got the job done with what was at hand.  She kept people lit, moved the scenes along, placed the focus and got out of the way. It was good use of limited resources.

 

Bo

I wished lighting had done more, but I take your point about the difficult space. I felt like if the director was going to have people stand on boxes, then the lighting should have been equally dramatic and presentational. I see that point, though. I don’t know if it would have been possible

 

Jane

It’s a rough space all around. It must have been so disappointing to have to mic them.

 

Bo

Yeah I was grateful for that choice but I’m sure it came at a cost and lots of tech fun.

 

Jane

I was less into the set design.  The boxes did their job for this very 70’s, Godspell style

 

Bo

The boxes made me crazy.  But that is personal preference.  This is one of those “was this the director’s idea?” moments though.  

 

Jane

Why didn’t you like them?

 

Bo

They felt clunky, they looked like upside down drawers in a way that never related to the show, they weren’t that flexible as shapes, they never hinted at a dangerous or difficult environment.  And in that small a space I’m like “Why stand on boxes?”  However, again see: I don’t know musicals

 

Jane

If that was a misstep, though, it was an overall misstep. The play itself demands a lot of “standing on boxes” thematically. And the play itself avoids any conflict at all. The environment is never difficult nor dangerous.

 

Bo

I don’t like the boxes because it isn’t realism but it isn’t stylistically exciting or surreal in any way. It doesn’t say anything.

 

Jane

But when there are 9 people and each has a story, or if you are doing an educational presentation, it’s practical.  Theater cubes are non-things- they’re more like the idea of levels. That’s why they don’t say anything. You don’t have to be excited about it, but it’s definitely a thing and it’s hard to argue that it was the wrong thing for this script. I think what I’m saying is it’s meant for a didactic style.  Not for a narrative.

 

Bo

Yeah, I get that I’m having a personal reaction here, so I’ll stop whining and say that I do see why Elaina Di Monaco chose that style. It was clear and a good guiding hand for a musical that was being rewritten all the time. And also a piece that is super didactic. There is something to be said for letting the script do its thing.

 

Jane

Before we finish talking about the set, the backdrop is a different story.  Were the wavy lines on the backdrop meant to be a map?

 

Bo

I thought they were vines or something, and then immediately stopped thinking about it.

 

Jane

And then it says DC in giant letters, which does the play a disservice by offering a constant reminder that these women have have no explicit goal, except to arrive in that city.  Also, the backdrop looks DIY, suggesting that the group of marchers made it? But if they had, why would it say that?

 

Bo

I think it offers a good example of how the play could have put the journey and these women at the center, instead of putting a nebulous goal and the wrongs of men/male politicians at the center.

 

Jane

That’s a good point.  

 

And then when it’s ripped down, the big reveal is an old chain link fence, which doesn’t fit the world at all, because they say that there are police barricades.  Instead, this is falling down, abandoned chain link fence that appears to have been there for a while.

 

Bo

With a person shaped gap in it! Making it pretty tough to understand why they wouldn’t just cross it.  I think this makes me a bad audience member but I was just like “GO INSIDE IT’S EASY”

 

Jane

It’s like the play is doing everything it can to not raise the stakes. Another designer might have tried to imply motion to help with the stagnant narrative of the play. Like, they’re going towards something, but that thing is always the same size.

 

Bo

The backdrop felt apocalyptic to me, which I could see as being a gesture towards raising the stakes.  But overall it was just confusing and I agree, stagnant. I think though that Evelyn Shuker has historically been a props designer. So let’s keep in mind that this is her first design.

 

Jane

Right! The festival exists to give opportunities that might not otherwise exist for people to branch out and try new things.

 

Bo

Yes.

 

Jane

I should have put in my pockets that while I like musicals, I am not a musical person with musical talent or knowledge. But I thought the music was very strong. It was professional, it was layered and complex.

 

Bo

I liked some of it.  Sometimes I was bored. It definitely was layered and unexpected in places. My Body is a Bumblebee was one of my favorites.

 

Jane

The singers were tight. Totally on point. The musicians as well.

 

Bo

I am not particularly musical either but some of the singers really hit well for me. Jaime Jarrett is credited as the musical director on the website.

 

Jane

Then a lot of credit to Jaime for really professional work and to Sarah Galante who is a talented composer. Are you ready to talk about the structure of the play?

 

Bo

I think so.

 

Jane

My two major issues with structure are that nothing happens and that there is no real conflict. Both acts stay, unintentionally I believe, mired in just one moment- a complex moment for sure- but just one.

 

Bo

Yes. Nothing happens, there is no real sense of stakes or danger until Sarah’s character is shot. And then they go home to try again next year. The play felt like it wanted to be dedicated to giving each character a voice and backstory, rather than creating a plot.

 

Jane

I have to disagree.  Only three of them really have a backstory and those stories are quite shallow, which is a shame because Galante is clearly capable of expressing a depth of feeling.

 

Bo

I mostly agree with that.

 

Jane

One woman was raped. And that scene is really hard for me. Because it is simultaneously not enough and too much. I hate watching that, but also I hate that she has no new information about or take on sexual assault.  Her accusers are shouting the same old cliches- but the point doesn’t seem to be that this scene could have been written at any time between the late 70’s and now.

 

Bo

There were a lot of cliches.

 

Jane

Yes. Seeing this is painful, so why? I feel like every time we do that, the rehashing loses power for everyone but victims. They’re just becoming words.

 

Bo

Yes but I don’t know any victims that would have felt power in that either.  It’s another moment of “this happens!” And like. The liberal people in that theatre know.

 

Jane

I feel the same way about the abortion story.  It’s just right out of the package. At some point she says “the right to choose what to do with my own body.”It sounds like a stump speech.

 

Bo

I want a different story. I feel kind of emotional about this. I don’t want to hear the story again and again about how someone was assaulted, with nothing new about it and no changing of the narrative.

 

For example, I did like the girl who talked about her mother reading her poems instead of nursery rhymes and missing the memo that Gertrude Stein wasn’t cool. That felt specific and less about the evil of men and more about difficulty being a woman.  I also liked that that girl had a relationship with her mother.

 

Jane

I have a frustration about that that doesn’t maybe belong here, but in addition to a lot of other whitewashing, I was troubled that one of two black characters’ heroes was Gertrude Stein.

 

Bo

Agreed. But let’s finish with what we’re saying about the scenes that feel like the same stories we’ve heard before.. Why am I watching this? That scene specifically for the reasons you brought up makes me feel like I’m not the audience for that piece. So then who is? Here is a major question about WTF in general — are they making theatre for women? Or is the point to make theatre by women artists?  

 

Jane

It’s a good question.

 

Bo

I will say that I think that Galente is capable of avoiding that kind of cliched vagueness. For example, I really liked that dream about her mother, that was visceral and specific and I felt like made me think about some of the older women I owe debts to.

 

Jane

There was the revelation that the main character’s mom was assaulted and murdered. And that was very strange, thematically. I don’t understand the relationship of motherlessness to this piece?

 

Bo

That they are all filling in as mothers for each other.

 

Jane

Oh. But why? What happened to the previous generations? Is this a condemnation of us? That would be an interesting conflict. Which brings me to another issue that I have with the story. Why don’t these women ever have conflict?

 

Bo

Yes, it’s a little disturbing. Seeing a group of women with different goals and philosophies still working towards one goal would be more powerful to me

 

Jane

And it’s a little insidious, this idea that women need to be supportive, because that notion quickly becomes silencing. Especially in this play where racism, homophobia and transphobia are never discussed. I shudder to think what would have happened if one of the women in this story had said “maybe we shouldn’t have a leader,” or “I think you’re marginalizing the black women here.”

 

Bo

It also makes them difficult to identify with. They’re not human. They’re not flawed. An unquestioned “you’re not alone” and “you’re supported and accepted here” environment flatlines women and erases their personalities.

 

Jame

They’re just….victims. They are defined in relationship to how they are treated by men.

 

Bo

Yes. That is exactly it.  I got message after message about victimhood, and only the frame of the play and the march told me there was more. Not the dialogue or the characters or the songs.

 

Jane

There’s a line in one of the songs that says “you’ll see that I’m more than just a dress left on your floor” that made me cringe. It’s centered around proving worth to men.

 

Bo

But remember too that this group is young. And angry. And they have a right to be. And there are some things that they might just need to get out before they can go deeper. Let’s not forget how important it is for young feminists to say “hey! I’m allowed to be angry!”

 

Jane

You’re totally right. They are allowed to do that. But also, I think it’s important to push them, as fellow feminists, to understand that that is a limited viewpoint, especially if your stated goal is “to dismantle the patriarchy.” As an artist, there’s a responsibility be self reflective and self aware. I think this play would be so, so much better if it acknowledged that it is about being a young feminist. No events in the timeline of this play, including memories, happen after, say, college. It’s ok to embrace that the play is about a certain stage of life, or not about all women, but about a certain subset.

 

Bo

But I think that because there is so little theatre made for women. Can a play or a festival say that it’s for white feminists? Because we’re all hungry. It’s hard to be like “I am making this play for a subset of women”.

 

Jane

I think a writer can say either “I can only write what I know, and this is it, “or she can say “I need to know more so I’m bringing in collaborators.” What this play does is say “I speak for everyone,” and that isn’t true. This is a mistake I have also made in my own artmaking.

 

Bo

I guess I’m still wondering about what that does.  

 

Jane

If this were a play about young feminists figuring shit out, with words that acknowledged that they didn’t know the lives of others very well, then I think what it does is tell the truth.

 

Bo

There’s a paradox in here, because if you have the experience and growth to do that, you don’t make this play. I believe this is not Hear Me War’s final form. There is a ton of talent here, and I think it can grow up and out if they acknowledge the lens that they see the world through. If I see this piece as a part of the journey of a young feminist artist, I feel less sad and frustrated. And I want these artmakers to keep going.

 

Jane

Right. And although I come at this task really warily, I also believe that as feminists who support them and want them to keep doing what they do, we also have to take the work seriously, which means being real about the flaws. In my opinion, the play only has one problem that’s unforgivable, and that is the whitewashing. That’s a blind spot that you can’t have as a political artist or a feminist.

 

The idea that a white woman would be shot for giving a political speech is tone deaf and infuriating, when black women are ACTUALLY creating a movement that threatens their lives. Nobody shoots white women.

 

Bo

Their husbands and boyfriends.

 

Jane

You know what I mean.

 

Bo

Let’s not forget the guy that walked into the university in Montreal and shot women just because. A girl who works in comics posted a picture of herself with coworkers with milkshakes and internet trolls lost their shit about it because they hate the idea that happy women/women at all dare to work in comics.  For me, the potential for shooting is in daily life.  I cede your point that white women don’t get shot. Not in THAT way.  But I see the fear in there and I have compassion for it. Even if it needs to acknowledge that black women have 100x the cause for that kind of fear.

 

Jane

They’re different threats. We (white women) are not in physical danger because of our political speech. Some women are.

 

Bo

Yes. And another problem, especially if we think about Black Lives Matter, is that it places a kind of presentational white lady as the pinnacle of activism, when black women have been working without the need for that kind of showy exposure forever.

 

Jane

Right. Exactly.  They can’t go on without her!  What kind of movement is that?

 

Bo

Oh man that just…that hurt. They’re going to go home? Like this whole thing was a cult of personality? That broke my heart.

 

Jane

And having a black actress with no story who doesn’t speak is tokenism. Especially when she has to sing “my ass is Lena Dunham.”  There are so many layers of politics in that, I don’t even know where to start.

 

Bo

I’d really like to talk to some of the actors of color from this piece.  I’d like to know how they felt and what their ownership was.  That feels important to me. Was the process supportive and welcoming? I would imagine Elaina was, at least.

 

Jane

Me, too. I wonder what the process was like.

 

Bo

Also the… ciswashing? Heterowashing?  Having Hannah and Amanda touch each other in the background wasn’t enough for me.  And then the person that came on and explained them/they pronouns in the most clunky way possible

 

Jane

If you are going to do political theater, especially if it’s responding to contemporary issues, you have to be aware of the relevant context. It seems weird to me that this world has no awareness of the actual Women’s March. That really happened, without police barricades or violence. So what has changed in the world since then? Trump is still president in this world. Is it the future? If it’s now, it’s a fantasy

 

Bo

Right, although I think Sarah started writing the play before the Women’s March. I think her idea is that this is supposed to be the march to end all marches, a march across the country. But yeah. What makes it different from previous marches?

 

Jane

Part of the idea is that the women are leaving their homes in a show to men of what it would be like without them, that’s mentioned several times. However, the Women’s March also did that, with the women’s strike, which didn’t work because the truth is, most women can’t walk away from their responsibilities for myriad reasons.

 

Bo

I do think that is a fair thing to explore, though. When you’re in a capitalist society it’s fair to explore your value as a worker.

 

Jane

Sure, at your job. But no one has kids?

 

Bo

Right. They are all young women with no responsibilities that can’t really be walked away from.

 

Jane

Which is why it feels like there are no stakes. Before we wind down, I know you wanted to talk about direction.

 

Bo

I’m not a fan of the boxes, but still there were some decent stage pictures with bodies happening. I felt like her direction gave texture and genuine feeling to most of the cliches.

 

Jane

I think that is totally true. This was a behemoth, and she kept it moving and kept the pictures lively.

 

Bo

There were also a lot of little moments of physical affection between people in the background, and that touched me, because that more than anything for me said ‘we’re a group, we love each other and are comfortable together physically.’  Little bits of affection say trust to me and I appreciated that in the background of the stories about victimhood.

 

Jane

I want to give props to Hannah Van Schiver, who is the fucking queen of giving focus and maintaining the world of a play.

 

Bo.

Her face is magic. Also, I really appreciate Hannah’s commitment and genderqueer presentation as a consistent presence.

 

And Amanda’s Dad was good. I felt that guy, the aging anxious outpaced loving dad. I wish he hadn’t been the most depthful character, and the only one who changes. But I like the kindness Amanda treated him with.

 

Jane

Let me ask you this? Do you think it mattered that they talked so much about how important it was to fight for what you believe in but then never said what they were fighting for?

 

Bo

I do think the play would have been helped by knowing what their goals were. What the world could look like. There’s that moment where they’ say “dismantle it” “tear it apart piece by piece” about the patriarchy.

 

Jane

But I don’t know what that means. And I don’t know if it happens in Washington DC. What’s the point of marching if you aren’t going to do anything when you get there?

 

Bo

I think that’s more about your problems with feminism than any problem with this play.

 

Jane

Fair enough. I think overall, there’s a lot of strength here, and a lot of potential. I would firmly and with love encourage Sarah Galente to expand her knowledge of intersectionality, and challenge herself to poll other voices, but also to trust her instincts and not lose her voice. This is a fantastic starting point for a talented person.

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