Nasty Womxn premiers at the Alexander Bar

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Nasty Womxn — Masali Baduza, Kathleen Stephens and Maria Vos. Photo credit: Sharyn Seidel

The Furies will be staging their newest work, Nasty Womxn, at the Alexander Bar’s Upstairs Theatre this October and November, with previews starting Monday 30 October. The official run will commence on Monday 6 and end on Tuesday 14 November.

Nasty Womxn is what you get when you mix Greek mythology, reality TV, gold spray paint, and a writer with no filter. Drawing on the Greek mythologies of Persephone, Medusa, and other not-so-well-known characters, Nasty Womxn is a collection of sketches about contemporary womxn just trying to get from one day to the next.

Written and directed by Dara Beth, Nasty Womxn stars Kathleen Stephens, Masali Baduza and Maria Vos. The CJC chatted to Dara Beth about this production.

What’s with the spelling of the word ‘womxn’? What does it mean?
It’s funny you should ask because this exact conversation is discussed in Nasty Womxn. The reason behind spelling ‘womxn’ with an ‘x’ is two-fold: firstly, the etymology of the word ‘woman’ is directly attached to the word ‘man’, not unlike the word’s historical track record. Women are often only acknowledged in relation to men, as a comparison, the other. Spelling ‘womxn’ with an ‘x’ is an attempt to break the signification of ‘womxn’ from man, so that it is a stand-alone word with its own identity.
Moreover, for the greater part of history, ‘woman’ has been used to signify a particular identity — someone born possessing a certain type of reproductive system, someone looking and behaving a certain way. Often, the definition is extended to include certain ‘duties’ or roles such as getting married, having children and looking after a home. And while these are all valid experiences, this definition negates a lot of individuals who still feel that they are womxn even if they do not tick these boxes. For instance, queer womxn, intersex womxn, trans womxn, non-binary individuals, and more. So spelling ‘womxn’ with an ‘x’ also becomes a means of practicing inclusivity.

Can you tell us some of the issues contemporary womxn are dealing with, and how your show addresses these?
It’s bodily autonomy, body positivity, sex positivity, sisterhood and support. It’s representation. We don’t need to see impossible beauty standards and flawless experiences of love. We need to know that there are womxn out there dealing with issues just as (un)gracefully as we are. We don’t need more tropes or stereotypes. We need real womxn.
The play uses humorous situations to explore some very big, often intimidating topics. Nasty Womxn is an attempt to put theory to practice, to talk about matters such as gender and bodily autonomy in a way that is engaging and discursive. And to make these broad topics human. To give them a face.
The production was inspired by one too many stories in Greek mythology of womxn who became monsters as a result of either being attacked by men or by refusing them. There seems to be no middle ground, no compromise. These womxn, with names and families and lives were doomed to be monsters, for just existing. And Nasty Womxn takes these mythologies and reimagines them in today’s world, the new context in which we become monsters for merely existing and celebrates us for doing so.
For as much genuine conversation around gender and identity that occurs, the play also explores not needing to explain yourself, celebrates a sisterhood founded on accepting one another, believing each other and not waiting for proof to do so.

Is this your first stint at writing and directing? if not, how was this different? If so, how has the experience been?

Officially, this is my first stint at writing and directing a full-length play on my own. I just completed my BA Hon in Theatre and Performance from UCT this January and there hasn’t been much time to stage professional work but I did perform a full-length musical review earlier this year called Just a Song and a Dance which I co-wrote with my mom, Sharyn Seidel.
When I’m not writing, we perform in a two-piece cabaret duo called Plumsong and the show was a mix of song and behind-the-scene style dialogue of what it’s like to perform at one of our average gigs.

Writing Just a Song and a Dance was certainly different to Nasty Womxn. For starters, writing with another person (at least for our process) means you can’t put off writing a certain scene or sketch until 3am. We also drew quite heavily from personal experience to inform the dialogue, which we knew would be performed by us and as a result was often very similar to our day-to-day communication.
Writing Nasty Womxn has been a lot more trying; mostly I have flip-flopped between sheer panic, numbing writer’s block and furious fits of writing. Not only, but I am obsessive and relentless and insist upon ensuring that every choice I make has been heavily researched. Just a Song and a Dance was about my personal experiences as a performer but Nasty Womxn required countless nights of Greek mythological family trees being drawn, in-depth analyses into stories of Persephone, Medusa, the fates, and some very painstaking hours of binge watching the Kardashians (which sounds incongruous until you watch the play.)

I had the pleasure of direction from Blythe Stuart Linger with input from Kathleen Stephens on Just a Song and a Dance but for Nasty Womxn I am the director. I directed several short productions during my studies but suddenly there is no lecturer setting weekly deadlines, no one waiting to give me feedback. The experience has been challenging as I’m also self-producing the play which means my mind is split between planning rehearsals, designing lights and costume, painting set, budgeting and being there for my actors in the moment but I have an amazing cast who make me excited to work, who remind why theatre is still important and who push me to grow. Kathleen, Masali and Maria bring a life to the script I could never have imagined. I also have a strong support system who have made the experience as painless as possible, from make-up artist Natasha Williams to illustrator Annie Bekker, and graphic designer, photographer and all-round mother extraordinaire, Sharyn Seidel.
After this process I know this is just the beginning.

For more information or to book tickets for Nasty Womxn contact Alexander Bar’s Upstairs Theatre at 021 300 1088 or upstairs@alexanderbar.co.za.

For information about The Furies, visit The Furies’ facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thefuriescooperative.

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