Babes Speak: Kelly Yacono

Kelly Yacono HeadshotYour name?
Where are you from?
I’m from the good ol’ town of Steger, IL.
What’s something people would never guess about you from looking at you?
Due to a detached retina a little over 10 years ago (and not doing something about it right away), my eyesight in my right eye is a little warped. I can see fine but I definitely need the help of my left eye to read properly.
What made you decide to pursue Theatre?
Ah, yes. The year was [CENSORED] and 16 year old Kelly had to choose between playing varsity softball or trying out for the musical which happened to be Grease (one of my absolute favorites). Due to unforeseen circumstances, the musical ended up being The Fantasticks and I got cast in the role of “Henry”. I wore a bald cap and mustache; did my best “British Old Man” voice; and moved around slap-stickily. I remember that feeling of making my first entrance onstage, feeling the energy of the audience, feeling the lights in my eyes and making people laugh. After that, the seed was planted.
What drew you to Stage Combat?
Definitely through the help of Mr. Dan Foss. At the time, he was getting ready to direct the Babes’ show, Susan Swayne & the Bewildered Bride. I didn’t really have any stage combat experience at the time and he told me that R&D Choreography was offering a Smallsword for the Stage class (which is the weapon used in Swayne). I took the class and fell in love with it.  I loved how it exercised a different part of my brain and challenged me in ways I had never been challenged before. Still does! I love how stage combat overall enhances storytelling.
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Susan Swayne… 2012

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Susan Swayne… 2012

What’s your favorite weapon?
Well, you never forget your first, so for me it’s the Smallsword (and of course my trusty old phoenix feather wand).
What drew you to Babes With Blades?
The first Babes show I saw was The Double. It was such a fun and unique show. When I heard that the Babes were offering a Swashbuckling workshop where you could learn the fighting style used in The Double, I jumped at it. After that, I took the aforementioned Smallsword class; auditioned for Swayne; and luckily got cast (I ran around my house squee-ing after receiving the news – true story. Just ask my fiancee). Through doing Swayne, I met and got to know a lot of Babes. Everyone’s energy and awesomeness drew me in. I’m so lucky and happy to be part of such a hard working group of amazing ladies.
Who is your role model (and why)?
I’m definitely inspired by a lot of people. The first that come to mind are my Mom and Dad. Both of my parents worked so hard to support my brother and I. It’s through them that I know the value of perseverance and hard work. I look up to my brother who always inspired me to push myself (unbeknownst to him, I think). Through him, I pushed myself to improve my skills at sports, school, and band. All three of them have offered me nothing but support in my life and I’m eternally grateful to them for that.
Bo Thomas Shenanigry

Kelly (right) with Megan Schemmel working hard in rehearsals for Bo Thomas and the Case of the Sky Pirates, 2013

What women’s issue is most important to you?
I gotta say, it’s letting WOMEN decide what to do with their own bodies! I seriously can’t believe some of the things that are being said by politicians not to mention some of the legislation that is being passed. There are too many times I’ve said, “Wait. This article WASN’T written by The Onion?” In the same vein, the war on Planned Parenthood. There was a time in my life where I relied on Planned Parenthood for healthcare as I’m sure many women have and continue to do. I’m trying to be diplomatic with this answer but at the end of the day, men should not be controlling what women do with their own bodies.
What is one small thing people can do to effect change in their community in regards to this issue?
Be an ally. Listen to people’s stories. Offer your support. Doing these things can speak volumes if we’re all doing it.
**Be sure to see Kelly live in action as Cookie, Aunt Henny, the Pie Lady, and more in our upcoming production of 180 Degree Rule**
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Better Together – Collaborating on 180 Degree Rule (Part 1)

Though playwrights often rely heavily on a team of friends, editors, directors, actors, and audience members to help bring their work to life, it is less common to see a work with two playwrights attached. How do two separate souls collaborate on a creation as personal as a full-length play? We asked ensemble member Barbara Lhota to give some insight on the process of collaborating with the late M.E.H. Lewis on our upcoming world premiere 180 Degree Rule. What follows is the first in a series of posts that not only illuminate the process of collaborating on a piece for the stage, but serve as a fitting memorial for a great artist and friend of the company.

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Margaret, while working with Barbara on 180 Degree Rule at The Waterfront Cafe.

The Background

We always had “The Babes” in mind for this work, and both of us loved the idea of telling women’s stories, particularly those of female characters that we don’t frequently get to see dramatized: tough women, inventors, artists, scientists, archaeologists, coders, film directors.

I always say that each play I write has a different process. Some emerge quite easily without much pushing. Some are coaxed gently with offers of popcorn and drink to get them on the page. Still others require the big mental clamp and a couple of epidurals. Delivery-style does not necessarily predict outcome or success. Having worked with Margaret on two full-lengths and the outlining of a third, my sense is that she did a lot of pre-thinking work. She did a lot of “letting the soup stew till it’s ready,” as our dramaturg Heather Meyers likes to say. Once it had been on the heat awhile, Margaret wrote effortlessly. I don’t imagine her computer’s backspace key is nearly as worn as mine.

I admire one thing very much in myself, and that is that I tend to choose genuine souls: witty, talented people with fabulous vocabularies, sharp minds, who know when to tell people to “f-off” at the right time and place. I consider Margaret a perfect example of that, and I consider her one of the best yings to my yang. I miss her daily, weekly – particularly on Fridays because that was the day we’d meet to work. We’d work at cafes, diners, and each others’ houses.

You are more than friends when you write together – it’s sort of like finding a soul mate. Your collaborator is someone who shares your values and who is also willing to share the characters in your brain. It’s a rarity. And yet both of us had done it several times before because I think we were/are both collaborators at heart. In this case, the time and place was right for both of us. We were on the same wavelength, same page, and we were very close in age, so we shared the same timeline. We got each other’s jokes and references. We understood each other.

When we started outlining 180 Degree Rule, she had recently finished her play Freshly Fallen Snow, which was produced with Chicago Dramatists. I was in the midst of Leapfest with Stage Left Theatre with Warped. Both plays used memory and perspective in different ways, so these thoughts were ever-present.

Having those ideas in mind, I expect I can only present this collaboration of 180 through my eyes. I wish she could tell you her perspective, too, but this is only possible now through our emails.

Pre-180 – Destined to Work Together

MEH Lewis & Barb Lhota

“You are more than friends when you write together.”

Margaret and I formally met back in 2010 or 2011. Both of us had several mutual friends and artistic cohorts in common: Amy Harmon, Leigh Barrett, Kate Black-Spence, Joe and Lila Stromer, to name only a few. I always admired Margaret’s work. When Babes With Blades Theatre Company had an opportunity to apply for Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep using the concept of women and war, I suggested we reach out to talented playwright friends. At the top of the list was M.E.H. Lewis. I asked Amy if Margaret would be willing to write a short piece using the concept of women and war through history to see if we could gather an interesting collection for an evening. We playwrights started to develop our work individually because there was preliminary interest. But, we didn’t have a full script completed (we had very little time) and who knows who else applied…they turned us down for one reason or another.

Our BWBTC Artistic Director, Leigh, and (at the time) Managing Director, Amy, asked if anyone still wanted to work on these play ideas. Both Margaret and I said, “Yes, we would! AND we’d like to work together.” Happy me!

…to be continued

**Be sure to see 180 Degree Rule come to life in our World Premiere Production Opening April 25th!**
Blog Post contributed by Barbara Lhota

 

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Babes Speak: Amy E. Harmon

Amy E HarmonYour name?
Amy E. Harmon
Where are you from?
An exceptionally small town in SW Michigan, with a one-year detour to Aberdeen, Scotland.  College in Evanston, IL.  Chicago after that.
What’s something people would never guess about you from looking at you?
I’m a life-long potential carrier for mad cow disease.
What made you decide to pursue theatre?
Mad cow disease.
Also: I’ve always loved books for the way they open the door to entirely different perspectives, lives, worlds… it’s possible to come away from each book with new information, a more robust sense of empathy, a wilder pick-bag of daydreams.  At its best, theatre is like that too – with the added terror/wonder of collaborating with other people on the experience.
Also: I was supposed to be an academic.  It was fun to put a spoke in people’s wheels.
What drew you to stage combat?
As an undergrad at NU – in I think spring 1994? – I was seriously disgruntled with college theatre and looking for an outlet.  I picked a fencing class because a) it took place on the other end of campus from the theatre school and b) I figured once I wasn’t disgruntled anymore, maybe I could use some of the fencing moves onstage.  I took the class; then one of my roommates, who was already a fencer, brought me to a couple team practices.  It turned out that right about then women’s collegiate fencing was expanding from one weapon (foil) to two (foil and epee) and the team, like Mars, needed women.  So, I joined on a whim and ended up looooooving it. I fenced varsity epee my junior and senior years. Once I’d graduated, though, it was too expensive a hobby to maintain on my own and I missed the workout and the team camaraderie. I started dabbling in stage combat as a reasonable substitute in about 1998, and took my first actual classes in about 1999/2000. (I also knew a lot of folks who’d taken stage combat in college or picked some up here and there, and many of them were interested in working together on fight-heavy shows.  In order to play with them, I had to acquire their skill set – or else I got stuck being the rescuee every time, and who wants that?)
My first stage combat classes were super frustrating.  As a fencer, I relied on a combination of basic (increasing as I went along, but definitely still basic) skills and a few dirty tricks. Plus, being left-handed was a huge advantage because most of my opponents didn’t know how to deal with me.  Stage combat, ironically, was a more controlled discipline for me than fencing, and I had to start by learning that control; also, many of my initial instructors tried to “make me over as a righty” because they didn’t want to teach a lefty, and that didn’t help my control at all. Also, I made the mistake of starting with broadsword, which you don’t use at all the way you would an epee. The one thing that was always easy for me was footwork – we spent at least an hour per practice on footwork while I was fencing, and it’s in my body forever.

Wolf and Harmon-Macbeth

Amy (right) with Kat Wolf, Macbeth, 2009

I actually dropped stage combat for about a year after my first couple classes, then tried it again and liked it better. I began liking it more and more as I went along, in part because I put my foot down and trained left-handed (actually, I think that augmented the experience for me, because not only was I learning moves and technique, but I was learning to adapt them on the fly so as not to inconvenience my partners), and in part because I started with some classes with light, point-driven weapons that allowed me to use my fencing skills much more than, say, a broadsword would.
What’s your favorite weapon?
I love smallsword – it’s such a formal, constrained style, so rooted in precision and pointwork.  Channeling the kind of passion that would cause you to PULL a sword into the rigidity of smallsword technique is a glorious challenge – the poetic equivalent of focusing your overwhelming emotional outpouring into a sonnet form, I’d imagine – and gives you so much delicious tension to play with.  And finding those moments in the story of the fight when you simply cannot control yourself, and break form, for better or for worse, is a joy.
What drew you to Babes With Blades?
I heard about BWBTC for quite some time before considering working with them, mostly through Stephanie Repin, who did her first show with the Babes in 1998.  Stephanie knew I was dabbling in stage combat, and invited me to work out with the group in about 2001 – but I was coming off kind of a major depression at that point, and while I was getting better, it was just too many new people all at once for me to handle.  I kept them on my radar, though, and started regularly attending workouts, and occasionally subbing in for gigs, in 2002.  I was invited to join the company in 2003, and took part in the re-organization that transitioned us from a “benevolent dictatorship” under Dawn “Sam” Alden (Sammie’s words, not mine) to an ensemble in 2004-5. Holy moly have I been here a long time.

BWB TMV Revolution Jameela Amy

Amy (front) with Jameela Aghili, Babes With Blades: The Music Videos, 2003

Why?  Well, first, I love the team – and I love the way it changes as people come and go, but always STAYS a team.  There’s always been the understanding that in order to do art, we have to also be able to do business.  And there’s always been a real commitment to the belief that we don’t all have to be best friends, but we do all have to be able to work together.  Both of these philosophies have informed all of the permutations of any Babes team I’ve been a part of. Then, I’m so proud of the work we do – the productions, sure, but particularly the more foundation-level stuff, like new play development.  There are plays in the world, productions that happened, actors (female and male) who got a chance to play brand stinking new parts, because of the Babes and the people who believe in us.  How amazing is that? Finally, I owe a huge part of who I am as an actor to the Babes.  We’ve always worked to give women the chance to inhabit complex parts, epic parts, parts that explore the full range of emotional response, up to and including violence—that’s one of the reasons why we’re so active in new play development.  And, lucky little badger that I am, I’ve been privileged to play some of those parts, which has been absolutely phenomenal, such a challenge, such a stretch.  My theatrical toolkit is a zillion times better stocked for my association with the Babes.
Who is your role model (and why)?
I don’t really do role models – I’m all the time watching people and learning from them, but I don’t single particular people out. I’ve always collected quotes, though, and I love to read over those collections.  They’re a time capsule of the advice that spoke to the many Amys I’ve been.
The story of my favorite quote ever: When I was maybe 10 or 11, my area high school was doing Oliver, and the call went out to the elementary and junior high schools that they were looking for kids to play orphans.  I went home from school that day and said, “Mom, I want to audition for Oliver.”  My mom knew how shy I was, so she said, “Amy, I’ll take you to auditions, but you’re going to have to stand up and sing and talk in front of a lot of people.  You have to understand, if they can’t hear you, they won’t cast you.  Can you be loud?”  Well, it turned out I could.  And “If they can’t hear you, they won’t cast you” is kind of still a personal philosophy….
2015’s Amy quote: “Which do you want: the pain of staying where you are, or the pain of growth?” –Judith Hanson Lasater
2016’s Amy quote:“The nearest way to glory – a shortcut, as it were – is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.” – Socrates, as quoted by Cicero

Amy with her husband, and awesome equal partner in crime, Jeff

Amy with her husband, and awesome equal partner, Jeff

What women’s issue is most important to you? 
It’s probably too free-form a feeling to really be an issue, but: it’s spine-deep in me that we should all begin on an even playing field, regardless of gender. My skills, my muscle, my work ethic, my connections, my background, pure random chance, all of the things that influence each of us every day; these factors will dictate what happens on that playing field… but I should walk on the field equal to everyone else out there. It is beyond me that this is even in question.

What is one small thing people can do to affect change in their community in regards to this issue?
Get their heads out of their asses? Sigh. I care too much to be rational, or even polite.

**Be sure to see Amy live in action as Ruth Alice Bennett in our upcoming production of 180 Degree Rule**
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Codes to Love By: Carol and the Stagnancy of Lesbian Cinema

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Margot (Lisa Herceg) & Ruth (Amy E. Harmon) Production still, 180 Degree Rule.

In the past year, Carol has single-handedly proven that Hollywood can produce a film centering around a romantic relationship between two women and cultivate an overwhelmingly positive response. The decadent 1950s setting of the film made me think of the kinds of movies being made during that era and of filmmakers like the fictional Ruth Alice Bennett. Ruth, a female director working in a highly censored time in film history, is one of the central characters in our upcoming production of 180 Degree Rule by Barbara Lhota and the late M.E.H. Lewis. Not only is she a woman paving a career as a successful artist in a male dominated profession, she is also a lesbian in a time where representation of alternative sexuality was against cinematic law.

From 1930 to 1968, major Hollywood film studios found their artistic freedoms stifled as they were forced to create content that adhered to a set of moral standards established by Will H. Hays (the then president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America). Enforcement of The Motion Picture Production Code began in 1934 and required that films be reviewed and receive a seal of approval prior to release. One of the many items (including childbirth and drug trafficking) prohibited under the code, was “any inference of sex perversion”. However, the Production Code Administration was willing to make an exception to this rule if the perversion was depicted negatively.  This led to a generation of films depicting homosexuals as criminals (Rope, 1948), divisive villains (Rebecca, 1940), mentally unstable (The Children’s Hour, 1961) and a myriad of other unsavory types deemed punishable.

Also potentially contagious, so watch out, Audrey.

Also potentially contagious, so watch out, Audrey.

While it is easy to say that we have moved past these conservative generalities in modern depictions of LGBTQ characters, I would argue that we continue to package queer slanting stories in a repetitive and bland way to appease today’s timid mainstream.  The two prevailing plots adapted by larger studios involve either a coming out story (tinged with tragedy that comes exclusively from the character’s sexuality) or a biopic that martyrizes a homosexual figure in history (who likely suffered from painful or tragic death). Although the Code Era has long since past, the mainstream portrayal of life as a homosexual is still tinged with the implication that this “perversion” is still punishable.

This year, Todd Haynes’ instagram-filtered 1950s drama Carol has received critical acclaim for it’s depiction of a lesbian relationship between Carol (an Alto II Cate Blanchett whose nails are always on fleek) and Therese (Rooney Girl-with-the-Dragon-Tattoo-not-the-one-Kevin-Spacey-pushed-in-front-of-a-train Mara). Critics love it!

Carol is gorgeous, gently groundbreaking, and might be the saddest thing you’ll ever see.”  – The Telegraph

“…their courtship is sexy and sad and alluring” – Vanity Fair 

Such progressive tears!

Such progressive tears!

 

*Spoilers ahead, jump to the next paragraph to avoid*
Many responses to the film laud Haynes’ bravery and subversiveness for allowing these characters to have a happy ending. Happy in that they decide to be together. In the 50s. And presumably deal with an extension of the homophobia, sexism and probably court enforced childlessness endured during the film that lasts long after the credits roll. But hooray for love!  Upon personal viewing, Haynes sets up a film that could very easily end in suicide for either character. I was immediately reminded of the Code Era, and while I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, it rang hollow to me as a forced apology to a time period. However, some applaud the film and have taken to calling the character of Carol a heroine because she takes her repeated social mauling with grace and power and never decides to give into the option of heteronormativity.

Carol is simply the latest (and possibly most accessible) example of the continuing trend of telling homosexual stories through a lense of tragedy as it results from living an alternative lifestyle. A possible solution for this continued slant lies in the focus of conflict in gay cinema. From Desert Hearts (1985) to Imagine Me & You (2005), lesbian cinema has remained fixated on telling the story of a proclaimed heterosexual meeting an out lesbian AND SUDDENLY QUESTIONING EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED IN BED AND WHY THEY’VE BEEN SO SAD ALL THEIR LIVES. Enter internal conflict revolving around coming out, enter external conflict from society saying “Gross.” and voila, that’s all you need for 90 minutes. The story rarely places a character who happens to be gay against outside sources – the only example of this in recent memory being Bound (1996), where two women forge an intense relationship and decide to pull one over on the mob. It’s sexy, thrilling, and not sad.

We can talk about gender roles in lesbian film another time.

We can talk about gender roles in lesbian film another time.

If we are going to challenge the stagnant state of lesbians on film, we need a modern-day Ruth Alice Bennett, who dares to challenge the studio system in her attempts to show women in love on film. We can only imagine that if Ruth were making films today that her courageous auteurism would offer a refreshing perspective of lesbians in film by telling stories about complex homosexual women with bigger concerns than their sexuality.

Want to learn more about gay cinema and the code era? Check out the 1995 documentary, The Celluloid Closet.

Also watch this, just because:

 

blog post contributed by Elyse Dawson

Always stirring the pot.

Always stirring the pot.

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Babes Speak: Kimberly Logan

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Kim (right) with Gillian Humiston in The Double, 2011

Your name?
Where are you from? 
Mount Morris, MI, near Flint
What’s something people would never guess about you from looking at you?
I was obsessed with the “Have a nice day” smiley face growing up, and I still have many decorating my home.  What can I say, they make me smile!
What made you decide to pursue theatre?
I see theatre as a calling.  I’m an extremely empathetic person. Watching movies where someone got shot in the knee would cause me to grab my own knee in phantom pain.  Seeing live theatre, hearing the cracks in someone’s voice when their emotion became overwhelming would move me to instant tears.  The idea that as an actor, I could embody another person’s story, and share it in such a way that might make the audience see the world a little differently felt like the ultimate gift and challenge.  Margaret Wheatley says: “You can’t hate someone whose story you know. You don’t have to like the story, or even the person telling you their story. But listening creates a relationship. We move closer to one another.” I believe theatre is the perfect conduit for this storytelling and experiencing. The idea of bringing humanity closer together (especially in our current state of divisiveness) is truly appealing to my soul!
What drew you to stage combat?

I grew up playing team sports. I was on the baseball team, the softball team, flag football, volleyball, basketball, swimming and track.  Teamwork appeals to me and was a source of learning about how to work together (even with people I didn’t necessarily like personally) and also how to have each other’s back.  I’d also always wanted to be a dancer (music makes me super happy!) but with all the sports, I didn’t have the time. When I discovered stage combat in my late teens, and then was more immersed in it for my 1-year drama course in London, I was reminded of the sense of team-work I’d had doing sports and also got exposed to some fancy footwork that felt like dance choreography.  Combine that with character work, and I find it to be the single most difficult, challenging, and fun thing to do on stage!

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Kim (left) with Megan Schemmel in Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride, 2012

What’s your favorite weapon?
Playing with machetes for Julius Caesar was pretty spectacular.
What drew you to Babes With Blades?
Pretty much the fact that I got to utilize my stage combat skills on a regular basis.  When I moved to Chicago, I knew instantly that I wanted to work with them. I took a couple of workshops (Fighting with Found Objects and Gender Swap are the two I remember most), saw several productions, and auditioned 3 times before being offered the role of Ismene in “The Last Daughter of Oedipus“.  When I learned more about the mission to create more roles for women in theatre, especially fighting roles, I was hooked and joined the ensemble on my second production with them (which was also a world premiere by a female playwright – I knew they were my kind of theatre artists!).
Who is your role model (and why)?
This one’s tough – I tend to become obsessed with different parts of people’s lives and careers, and as I change in my own life, that obsession shifts to other people.  My Mom has always been a major influence in my life and a hero for a multitude of reasons.  I grew up watching her do her absolute best in some of the absolute worst circumstances.  She finally graduated college the year before I graduated high school and I had never been more proud of anyone in my life.  The older I get, the more I realize just exactly how young she was when she was going through some of those bad times.  I’m honestly not sure I could have handled it, but she did.
In terms of profession, I’ve recently become obsessed with Judy Greer.  I read her autobiography and discovered so many quirky things that I felt instantly that if I ever met her, we’d be best friends.  Her down-to-earth, Midwestern attitude (she was also born and raised in MI) reflects my goals in life and career.  She works constantly in voice over, movies, and television.  But you can tell she’s not seeking the limelight or the star glitz.  She’s just doing good work, consistently.  I admire that beyond words.
Mopping up the carnage after BWB's Titus Andronicus, 2015

Mopping up the carnage after BWBTC’s Titus Andronicus, 2015

What women’s issue is most important to you?
I’m honestly appalled by the issues surrounding women’s healthcare in this country.  The idea that someone else’s religious beliefs can in any way influence what I’m legally allowed (and in some cases medically encouraged) to do with my own body is revolting to me.  That, of course, leads to the ‘women’s issue’ of under-representation in government, religious organizations, and pretty much all the professions anyone talks about – which is its own issue and also very important to me!
What is one small thing people can do to effect change in their community in regards to this issue?
I donate to Planned Parenthood on a regular basis and I try to ensure that all the candidates I vote for are clear on their standing in regards to healthcare access for women.  I’ve also been considering volunteering at my local Planned Parenthood clinic – it’s about a 10-minute walk away, and one of these days I’m going to stop in and say “What can I do to help?”  Of course, the less cynical part of me hopes that by continuing to grow the theatrical canon of women’s stories, the ‘under-representation’ issue will begin to even out, thus creating more respect for women in general!

**Be sure to see Kimberly live in action as Hedwige Sourile in our upcoming production of 180 Degree Rule**
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Who Runs This Mutha? As It Turns Out, It’s Girls

SKBK-15-SPANX-2-1-1024x683A few months ago I was minding my own business when I got an email from Dani Bryant, the co-founder of Knife & Fork, a “theatre company committed to transforming the way stories are told about food & body politics”. She was putting out a call for women of all shapes and sizes to be a part of a massive dance piece for Collaboraction‘s Final Sketchbook Fest. She and her partner (co-founder of K&F) Erica Barnes, were devising a piece called “Spanx You Very Much” and needed women who were willing to dance in their underwear. Specifically, forms of “shape wear”. The goal was to devise a dance piece about how women relate, love, hate, delight in their undergarments and bodies. One thing you should know about me: I’m fat, and I love my body. So, being an advocate for feeling good about the body you’re in, I jumped at the chance to be in it.

I won’t lie, at first I thought “well, I’m not a dancer, but this will be an easy commitment and sounds like it could be fun”.  I was wrong. Dead wrong. Being a part of this project was so much more than fun. Not including Dani, Erica and Sheena Laird, the choreographer, 41 women signed up to be in this show. Forty-one women of various sizes and shapes. Forty-one women wanted to tell the same message about loving your body as I did. Forty-one women came together to uplift each other and anyone who would come to see the show. We rehearsed a couple times a week for a few months and every time I left rehearsal I left with a smile on my face.

This was mine. (Yeah. My eyes are no joke, child.)

This was mine. (Yeah. My eyes are no joke, child.)

I can’t honestly say I ever heard anyone complain about their bodies during rehearsals (aside from the occasional “Ugh, my knees are so sore from bouncing” and that was…mostly…me complaining. My knees are pretty creaky.). Since there were so many of us and we didn’t really know each other Erica and Dani had us do some get-to-know-each-other exercises to kick off each rehearsal. Some were to share common interests, some were to discuss what surprised us and challenged us about the whole process and one in particular was about perception and was by far, my favorite. After helping each other to tape a blank piece of paper to each other’s backs, we all grabbed markers and wandered the room. When we met someone new in the group we had to introduce ourselves and then write something positive about the other woman’s essence on their piece of paper.  From the very beginning the rehearsal process was established as a positive, safe and fun space where we could express ourselves freely.

Our first and only preview rolled around and it was one of the most magical experiences of my professional career. The energy from the audience was so supportive and positive that I actually teared up a little during the final dance moves of the piece. For 6 minutes the Chopin Theatre down on Division belonged to the ladies of “Spanx You Very Much” and we didn’t apologize for owning it. On opening night we danced to a sold out audience, who on the last beat of our dance remix, stood and cheered and applauded and we shared in a mutual feeling of awesome.

Fellow Babe Kim Logan (far right) and I (near right) slap what our mamas gave us.

I realize this blog post is very saccharine sweet and screams a stereotypical “Aww yeah, girl power!”, but ya know what? When women and men actually experience the energy behind “girl power”, when you are in the same room as 41 women of all shapes and sizes unapologetically feeling great about themselves, you cannot deny the delight of seeing women shamelessly enjoying their bodies without being overtly sexual. That feeling is genuinely fierce and spectacular and in no way saccharine sweet, darlin’.

blog post contributed by Morgan Manasa
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Babes Speak: Lisa Herceg

SideHiResPhotoOnlyYour name?
Lisa Herceg. I was born Elizabeth Marie Herceg but I have no idea who people are talking to if they call me “Elizabeth.” I’ve always been called Lisa by everyone except people glancing at my driver’s license (or my mother when she’s pissed).
Where are you from?
South Bend, Indiana, but I’ve lived in Chicago longer than I ever lived anywhere else.
What made you decide to pursue theatre?
At 14 years old, I saw Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett in the Mark Taper Forum production of Sweeney Todd that was video-taped for PBS. It never occurred to me that you could DO something like that for a living until that moment.
What drew you to stage combat?
I had to take a year of stage combat when I was studying theatre in London during a Junior Year Abroad program. In the first semester I felt like I would never be any good at it; that I’d never get it. By the end of the second semester I realized my size and intensity level as an actor were assets in stage combat -not detriments, for a change – and I started to enjoy it.
What’s your favorite weapon?
Broadsword. It’s not my best, but it’s my favorite.
What drew you to Babes With Blades?
I saw one of the early productions, a collection of vignettes, because my friend Leigh Anne Wilson was involved. I remember thinking, “Who ARE these women?? They’re incredible!” I went to a couple of fund-raisers and got to know some of the company members and went, “Okay, AND I like these people.” When Stephanie Repin called me a couple of years later and asked me if I’d be interested in doing Choose Your Adventure, I was like, “hell, yes!” That show was so much fun, I jumped at the chance to audition for Los Desaparacedos – which I got cast in. I realized I’d found a family and I was asked to join the company shortly afterward.
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Lisa (right) with Kelly Yacono in Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride, 2012

Who is your role model (and why)?
I have a few, but Angela Lansbury and Helen Mirren have always been my two biggest. Angela Lansbury is a phenomenally talented character actress who has always owned her inability to be pegged as an actor. It made her career a crazy patchwork quilt and it meant she played older than she was so often that by the time she did Murder, She Wrote people figured she must be 80. (She was 59.) Angela carved out a place as an actress that I don’t think any female had carved out before – a leading female character in her 60’s in a wildly successful TV series – and ended up one of the most beloved celebrities of the 80’s.  Through all of it she remained gracious, elegant, and down to earth. I finally got to see her onstage a few years ago in A Little Night Music and I am thrilled to report she was THE best thing in that show. Angela spent the entire play in a wheelchair and she still blew everyone else off the stage. Helen Mirren is just…incredible. She’s a tiny little woman who burns with an intensity and a sensuality that you feel from eight feet away. (I’ve met her twice and seen her onstage twice.) Helen has also beaten her own path: married for the first time at 51, no interest in having children (and totally unapologetic about it), outspoken as hell on many issues, and fiercely articulate about all of them. But she’s never taken herself completely seriously and is much funnier than you’d think. Both of these women are whip-smart, strong, and independent as well as supremely talented. If I end up with 1/10th of either of their careers as performers I will consider myself successful. 2014-08-08 14.13.52
What women’s issue is most important to you?
Workplace equality and equal representation in government is important to me. Neither of these will happen until our society figures out a way to make child-rearing equally the responsibility of men & women and offers couples a financial way to make that happen. (i.e. on-site childcare, longer maternity leave, actual paternity leave, flexible hours for both genders and a greater focus on work-life balance.) If child-rearing continues to be mainly the domain of women, we will never, ever have true equality – we’ll always have women who feel that they need to stop everything to focus on their children because someone needs to. Getting back into the workforce after that means years lost, pay lost, equity lost, and opportunities lost. Equally important to me in terms of women’s issues is the representation of women in theatre, film and television – especially in film and television. This goes for numbers as well as for HOW we’re represented. It’s another subject near and dear to my heart. (And a raiser of my blood pressure.)
What is one small thing people can do to effect change in their community in regards to this issue?
Be aware of the double-standard that we have for men and women in these areas. We don’t ask male politicians or male businessmen how their careers affect their family lives, but it still seems to be the first question people ask women. Other than that, I’m frankly not sure. It’s a systemic issue that really can only be addressed by women already in power looking out for other women on their way up by being vocal about it.
 
 **Be sure to see Lisa in action as “Margot Faber” in our upcoming production of 180 Degree Rule**
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Stepping Up for Gender Parity

Fargo's Molly Solverson is a highly visible example of a female police officer, who in reality make up 13% of our nation's police force.

Fargo’s Molly Solverson is a highly visible example of a female police officer, who in reality make up 13% of our nation’s police force.

It seems like everywhere you look people are talking about gender parity – in the arts, in the professions, in life. The discussion is thriving, and those who create culture are paying attention. On both the big and small screens there are women lawyers, executives, superheroes, and of-course the ever-present post-apocalyptic scrappy female underdogs. But is all this pop-culture feminism breeding complacency?

When you go to the movies or watch TV, you see women achieving on a high level with men. And they certainly do in real life as well, but a look at the numbers show that the fight is far from over.

“In some cases, the numbers haven’t budged in decades,” says Martha Richards, executive director of WomenArts. “I think we are still in a precursor phase—we are moving towards the change, but it hasn’t happened yet. People are becoming more aware of gender discrimination in the arts, and there are some hopeful signs like the wonderful city-wide festival of women’s plays in Washington, DC and theatres announcing seasons with all women playwrights. But the field as a whole is still a long way off from 50/50.” This is true of other fields as well.

So how do we change it? Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm and producer of the newest Star Wars addition, believes in lifting other women up with her. Her executive staff and development team are both nearly gender-equal. Despite her reputation as a champion of talented women, however, not one woman contacted her about writing or directing The Force Awakens.

Kathleen Kennedy urges women to pick up the phone and ask for what they want.

Kathleen Kennedy urges women to pick up the phone and ask for what they want.

Similarly, Richards has been posing a question to women at conferences around the country: what they would do if they had $10 million to improve the status of women in the arts? The reaction is surprising. “Most women say they have never considered having that much money or power,” she says. “Some women are hostile to even talking about it—’We will never have that much, so why think about it?'”

It seems that among the many factors that contribute to gender inequality, one that women themselves have control over stands out: taking initiative. Will there be “no”s? Often. But each time there’s a “yes,” each time a woman achieves a major milestone in the arts, in the professions, in life, it paves one more path for other women to follow in her stead. It will of course be harder for women than it is for men. But only by identifying our best chances for success and then demanding our worth can we change the landscape of gender politics.

What is your wild dream? What do you need to do to get it? And will you stand up and say, “I am right for this, and I deserve to be paid for it”? I hope you will, and open that door for the women coming up behind you.

(Click here for more studies on gender parity in the arts. And here for the status of women in the world in general.)

blog post contributed by Patti Moore
…but on a laptop.
…but on a laptop.
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Charlie Chaplin – What were you for Halloween?

blog post contributed by Barbara Lhota

charlie-chaplin-1925When I was little, I was a huge fan of the silent clowns like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. For Halloween I said, “I am Charlie Chaplin!” My parents, who both who grew up in the 1940s, said, “Ohh-kay.” Impressive. Other girls my age would say they wanted to be Superman, Batman or Casper only to be told by their parents that they should be some female-version of that character or a bunny. One concrete way to dip your toe into traits (traditionally marked male) was to dress the part. I loved the way the silent clowns moved – so athletic, and so funny-tricky-rebellious. Socially in the 70s, girls were not to possess such qualities. To live that even for a day  – very cool.

(Are you Charlie Chaplin?! Check out this great tutorial from Theatremania.com)

As transgender and bi-gender becomes more understood, I wonder how kids will push limits of gender. creepy-vintage-halloween-costumes-20-col-sanders-spiderman-1970s

Post Script: Years later my young nephew, wanted to be a witch for Halloween. We said to him, “Warlock, you mean?” My sister, his mom corrected, “Witch. He wants to be a witch.”

We all agreed. Witch it is.

blog post contributed by Barbara Lhota

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Fair Lady – Say You So?

blog post contributed by Patti Moore
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Ensemble member Kimberly Logan in “Window Dressing”

If you’re up on the latest Babes happenings, you’ll know that we’re currently participating in Stage 773’s The One Act Festival: Halloween Edition, with Barbara Lhotas’ Window Dressing.  It’s a short horror piece that makes a statement about body image and the fashion industry. It got some other babes and I talking about that weird moment when you – a flawed, awkward actress who struggles with body image – get cast as “the hot girl.”

I remember the first time I had to play a role of this type, and how it sent me into a tailspin of self-doubt. I had always thought that it would feel amazing – for a girl like me who had been told I was “too pretty to play the fat friend” to finally get cast in a “hot chick” role would mean I had made it – nothing could stand between me and action heroine status!

What I really felt was something darker and more complicated. I knew I looked good enough for the role – they had cast me, after all, and with no suggestion that I needed to work on my physical appearance at all – but I was freaking out. I think, internally, I still saw myself as the chubby eight-year-old who was teased for being so slow, who was actually called “Fatty Patti.” And therefore I had a fear that I would be that one thing that would take the audience out of the world of the play. That they would be totally engaged until they heard other characters talking about how hot my character was, and think, “Really? That girl?” That they would think because I was playing this character that I must think pretty highly of myself.

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Patti Moore as Tracy in Josh McIlvain’s “Carter’s Play” (2012). Photo by Melissa Bridge.

I’m older and just a little bit wiser now. I’m stronger and fitter and care much less what people think of me. But being cast as the “skinny bitch” mannequin Window Dressing still gave me that knee-jerk reaction of “I better tone up,” along with an echo of the old fear: “People are never going to buy me as a mannequin.” Talking with other actresses about it, I realize it’s a common reaction. And while staying in shape for your job and being responsible about portraying the physical reality of your character is a very smart, professional move, there’s no call to invite self-doubt or even self-loathing to the party.

I’m always going to be that person who strives to be better, but it’s also important to remember: I am good enough. You are good enough. And if someone casts you in a role, either onstage or in life, it’s because they think you’re good enough for that role. Now it’s your turn to take their confidence in you and give them back something even better. That’s when you’ll know you’ve really made it.

blog post contributed by Patti Moore

…but on a laptop.

…but on a laptop.

 

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