Arts & Culture

Feminist theatre focuses on art of storytelling

Apr 05, 2017 Emma Bush

Last week, Motyer-Fancy Theatre celebrated feminist theatre in an evening of one acts.

Fourth-year honours English student Victoria Valliere directed a play she composed in collaboration with her cast. The script was an amalgamation of  Shakespearean quotes entitled These Last Four Years.

Fourth-year drama major Anna Shepard directed This Is For You, Anna, a piece developed out of a women’s collective in Toronto during the 1980s. The play tells the story of a mother, Marianne Bachmeier, dealing with the sexual assault and murder of her young daughter, Anna.

While Anna is imagined on stage solely through flash-back and flashforward scenes, her mother is represented by four different actors.

Shepard and Valliere directed these productions as part of their drama major and minor, respectively.

Paul del Motte/submitted

Valliere’s directorial debut realized a long-held dream.

“I’ve wanted to direct a show at Mt. A since before I applied,” she said. This specific project has been on her mind since September of 2013.

In a series of powerful short segments, These Last Four Years  intersperses contemporary dialogue between scenes from various Shakespearean plays. The sound of sweet and soothing contemporary music played in the background throughout the show, creating a dreamlike atmosphere.

“This play is important for me because of the stories it tells. [This is] a show that wasn’t just about my vision or my dream, but about everyone’s [in the cast],” Valliere said.

Second-year student and actor Gillian Keissling said she enjoyed that the play was confusing, different and disconcerting. “It makes you uncomfortable at times because it challenges the stereotypes we have about Shakespeare, about theatre, about love [and] about who we are.”

An example of such a challenge of stereotypes is depicted in a scene where three different couples perform the classic Romeo and Juliet balcony scene consecutively. The first is a rendition between a man and a woman; the second, between two women; and the third, between two men.

“We have to constantly work to recognize our own bias and fight it at times. This play has helped us to do this, and I hope that it will help the audience to do the same,” Keissling said.

Shepard’s This Is For You, Anna offered an equally powerful performance in its heartbreaking and horrifying depictions of rape, domestic abuse, love and murder. The play is important to Shepard as it provides the opportunity to present feminist theatre to the Mt. A community.

“I hope [audience members] leave thinking about why these stories are important to tell and how this speaks to our society and what is implicated in that,” she said. “These are themes that many oppressed people face; I hope that [audience members] think about how these affect them and their communities.”

Third-year student Cara Mackenzie acted in Shepard’s production.

“I love the way that the play handles the difficult topics of assault and abuse. Nothing is ever directly depicted, which makes it easier and safer to engage with,” she said.  

An example of this is seen when the four actresses playing Marianne take turns speaking to Anna. One of the women speaks urgently about escaping from their house and her boyfriend before he wakes up and finds them. This scene is full of suspense, but its indirect depiction and lack of other characters allows for a more dissociated and gentler realization of the horror of the situation.

The play was strategically edited by Shepard and the cast to increase its relevance to the present, including quotes from 50 Shades of Grey and from the Brock Turner rape case.

Both plays were accompanied by a feminist theatre panel discussion, featuring professors and students, before the final performance on Saturday night. The event had the specific aim of discussing the importance of feminist theatre and its role in social action.

Third-year drama student Sabrina Stace attended both the plays and the panel and reacted positively to both experiences.

“For These Last Four Years, it was really dependent on the audience to decide on the messages and stories that the company was getting across,” Stace said. “This Is For You, Anna was both obvious and discrete in telling the story of not just Marianne Bachmeier, but oppression that is still happening today.”

“Both plays were relevant to today’s society. They both also proved that, in many ways, theatre can encourage discussion and political change,” Stace said.

First-year psychology student Amber Quinn left the Motyer-Fancy theatre filled with pride.

“It makes me so proud to know that the directors have so much dedication to feminist theatre.”