venus in orange

a performance piece with movement & music

In Pursuit of Wonder: Solstice Sites

 Stonehenge

There are several special places on the planet that I love to revisit as part of a sort of soul renewal effort. Stonehenge is one of my favorite “wonderment” locations. I’ve seen it in three different seasons now, and in various decades: spring, summer, and fall. When I first visited it many years ago, you parked near a fence, and could access the Stones area through a small tunnel. Now, you are taken to the site from a Visitor’s Center in small busses labeled “To The Stones.” I hope to visit it again some day, in winter.

Even in a cold November morning surrounded by folks jammed around their selfie wands to capture the Stones in the background, Stonehenge filled me with a wordless wonder. It is now-and-forever breathtaking.

Another side of Stonehenge

As I walked the path around the Stone Circle, I read each instructive panel, including one about another numinous place I love: Newgrange, in Ireland. Although quite different in construction, both Neolithic sites mark seasonal solstices, with Newgrange known for its winter solstice charting. It is unforgettable to be inside the dark Newgrange entombment and see a recreation of how the winter solstice light breaks through the special shafts to bring illumination, and a hope in darkness. This is, for me, the meaning of the winter solstice: the coming light, a new hope. (Note: In North America, the winter solstice officially occurs early on Wednesday, December 21, 2016.)

 Approaching Newgrange

These are just two examples of places I find “awesome.” Nature is a major source of awe for most of us; creativity inspires awe through the arts. Scientific discoveries induce awe. I recently saw a museum exhibit that gave me goosebumps. The list of “awesome” sources goes on and on, depending on the individual, although there is often a collective aspect to experiencing “awe.”

Why do humans need awe? I know that “awe” brings balance into my own life: it allows me to focus on important things far greater than just “me.” Whenever I go to Stonehenge, I first notice its stunning beauty. Then I think about how hard it must have been to shape and transport the Stones, and how many thousands of years ancient people used that site (and environs) for important rituals (including charting the heavens), and what their beliefs were. In Newgrange, since it’s a tomb, I found myself contemplating the meaning of life, and what being alive meant to those who built it—yes, their quotidian existence–but also imagining their hopes and dreams.

 Stone Circles in front of Newgrange

The sacrality of wonder—or the holy aspects of the numen—motivated theologian Rudolph Otto to coin the word “numinous” in 1923 (a term later used by C.G. Jung in his work). The Latin word numen, upon which the word is based, signified the will of the gods or divine majesty.

In their 2015 study “Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior,” Paul Piff, Dacher Keltner, and others, found that “awe arouses altruism…” Piff and Keltner propose that awe shakes our narcissism away, and humbles us; they suggest that we are as a culture less connected to each other due to changes in society and are collectively “awe-deprived.” We need more wonder in our lives, not less.

Granted, not everyone has a chance to travel to Stonehenge and Newgrange for a dose of wonder. But Piff, Keltner, et al, found that simply taking the time to appreciate a local tree for a brief period of time was enough “awe” to make participants react with more generosity towards others.

If we consciously seek opportunities to foster our “awe,” it will help us better relate to our planet and to others.  Happy Holidays!

Ten Films for Halloween, Directed by Women

By Laura Shamas

I’m not a horror film fan per se, but I’ve seen some scary, eerie stuff through the years, and Halloween is always a good time to view them. Are spine-chilling films always in demand because they help us dialogue with and about death? C.G. Jung once wrote: “Death is the hardest thing from the outside and as long as we are outside of it. But once inside you taste of such a completeness and peace and fulfillment that you don’t want to return.”[1]

In the past year, I’ve been focused on seeing films directed by women because I participated in the “52 Films by Women” Initiative. The ten films detailed below (for adults, not kids!) have strong psychological components, too.  I’ve divided them into well-known Halloween-ish folklore categories: monsters, strange illness, haunted house (ghosts), psychopathic killer, losing one’s head, witches, and vampires.

From the strange book in "The Babadook"

From the strange book in “The Babadook”

MONSTER
1) The Babadook
(2014), written and directed by Jennifer Kent. This film is about a lonely widow, her young son, and their journey through grief. A mysterious book suddenly appears in their home, and launches a trajectory of events related to a home-invading monster. What a fascinating portrayal of aspects of motherhood in this film. The tone and cinematography are original; the key performances are strong. The conclusion is truly inventive, and, for me, unexpected. I can’t wait to see Kent’s next film. (Note: female protagonist. Available through streaming services, like Amazon and Netflix).

Royalty Hightower (Toni) in "The Fits"

Royalty Hightower (Toni) in “The Fits”

STRANGE ILLNESS
2) The Fits (2015), written and directed by Anna Rose Holmer. This film took my breath away. It centers on the extraordinary performance of Royalty Hightower as Toni, a eleven year-old tomboy who hangs out with her older brother in the gym. When an all-girl dance troupe rehearses in the same community center, Toni becomes fascinated by the aspiring performers, and joins them. Then a strange sort of “illness” descends on the girls. As I watched the film, Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible came to mind; I’ve examined the film version of it before.  I don’t want to give anything away, but the ending of The Fits was revelatory and mesmerizing. It involves a different sort of fear of the unknown and a transformation, but with tremendous female resonance. I eagerly await more of Holmer’s work as well. (Female protagonist, available on streaming platforms.)

Outside the house in "A Cry From Within"

Outside the house in “A Cry From Within”

HAUNTED HOUSE (GHOSTS)
3) A Cry From Within (2014), written by Deborah Twiss, co-directed by Twiss and Zach Miller. This is a ghost story with a particular feminine twist. Twiss stars as a married mother with two young kids. The film examines what happens when a city family moves into a drafty old mansion in a small town. This is a familiar set-up, and some tropes from the “haunted house” genre are used here predictably. Yet, as the film gradually turns towards its true theme, it held my interest: a spirited quest to heal a gruesome family history. Perhaps some of it is melodramatic, but I appreciated the different sort of twist in the third act; it concludes with a strong depiction of the “shadow” side of motherhood and ensuing generational repercussions. (Female protagonist, available on streaming platforms.)

A dinner scene from "The Invitation"

A dinner scene from “The Invitation”

4) The Invitation (2015), directed by Karyn Kusama, is about Will (Logan Marshall-Green), a grief-stricken man haunted by a past tragedy that occurred in his former house in the Hollywood Hills. As it begins, Will and his girlfriend hit a coyote in the rain on the way to a dinner party, hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband–a foreshadowing of what’s to come. At first it seems as if it’s going to be like The Big Chill: a gathering of old friends reminiscing, catching up, talking about what’s new. But then Will’s ex-wife and her new husband show a movie clip before dinner that sets the eerie tone of what’s to come. Let’s just say that if you’re invited to a dinner party in the Hills, this film will make you reconsider showing up. The house becomes a character of sorts, and old memories emerge like ghosts in flashbacks as terror reigns. (Male protagonist, available on streaming platforms.)

Elizabeth Olson stars in "The Silent House"

Elizabeth Olson stars in “The Silent House”

5) The Silent House (2011), co-directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, written by Lau. This 2011 film, an American version of a 2010 Uruguayan film titled La Casa Muda,  is another “Haunted House” type of film with a twist at the end. Based on a “true story” from its Uruguayan origins, the movie is seemingly filmed in a single continuous shot, which gives it a lot of tension. The Silent House follows Elizabeth Olson as Sarah, a young woman who, along with her father and uncle, are moving out of a dark old family home near a shore, and encounter strange noises, specters, old photos that no one should see, and more. Of course, the power is not on. When Sarah’s father is knocked out on a staircase, Sarah knows there’s someone else in the house. The revenge component in the film’s conclusion will resonate with many.  (Female protagonist, available to stream on Amazon.)

Frank Lovejoy, William Talman, and Edmond O'Brien in 'The Hitch-Hiker"

Frank Lovejoy, William Talman, and Edmond O’Brien in ‘The Hitch-Hiker”

PSYCHOPATHIC KILLER
6) The Hitch-Hiker (
1953), directed by Ida Lupino, written by Lupino, Robert L. Joseph, and Collier Young. As part of this initiative, I’ve tried to catch up on many of Lupino’s films. The Hitch-Hiker is considered the first mainstream film noir feature to be directed by a woman. It varies from standard film noir fare because of its desert locales (as opposed to urban settings). A tale of two American men who are ambushed by a terrifying psychopathic killer in Mexico, and their attempts to escape danger, the film’s original tagline was: “When was the last time you invited death into your car?” (Male protagonists. You can watch it for free on YouTube here A version with higher resolution also streams on Amazon.)

Maria Onetto as Vero in "The Headless Woman"

Maria Onetto as Vero in “The Headless Woman”

LOSING ONE’S HEAD
7) The Headless Woman (
La mujer sin cabeza / La mujer rubia) (2008), written and directed by Lucrecia Martel. Made in Argentina, it’s perfectly titled. The film’s ominous psychological atmosphere produces a slow burn sort of scare and a dawning realization as you watch it; it’s not a conventional horror “scream” viewing experience. A strange auto accident on a deserted country road is at the center of a mystery; the protagonist is the driver Veronica or “Vero” to her friends (Maria Onetto), a middle-aged married dentist. We wonder: who or what has been hit? Is the victim okay? As the movie continues, we come to understand the true identity of the Headless Woman. (Female protagonist, available on streaming platforms, including Hulu.

Julie Delpy is "The Countess"

Julie Delpy is “The Countess”

WITCHES
8)
The Countess (2009)written by, directed by, and starring Julie Delpy, is a  bloody biographical account of Hungarian Countess Erzsébet Báthory (Delpy), who lived from 1560 – 1614.  The film depicts The Countess’s fascination with death; even as a young girl, Báthory declared: “…I would have to raise an army to conquer death.”  Thematically, this period piece examines the possibility that unrequited love could lead to madness, and that an obsession with youthful appearance could launch serial killings, as the Countess searches for virginal blood as a magical skin elixir. Because of the focus on bloodletting and torture in her story, Báthory became connected to vampirism through legend. But witches figure prominently in the film in several ways: Erzsébet’s estate is successfully run by a witch named Anna Darvulia (played by Anamaria Marinca), who’s also one of the Countess’s lovers; the Countess is cursed by a witch in a key roadside scene that changes her life: “Soon you will look like me”; and later, when she is on trial, Báthory is notably not tried for witchcraft, although she might have been. The ending brings information that forces a reconsideration of all we’ve just seen. (Female protagonist, available to stream on Amazon).

Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar in "Near Dark"

Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar in “Near Dark”

VAMPIRES
9) Near Dark
(1987), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, co-written by Bigelow and Eric Red. I’ve long wanted to catch up on Bigelow’s earlier films, and have watched two so far as part of this initiative. But no Halloween film list is complete without a vampire movie, let alone a vampire Western like this one.

A lesson you learn quickly in Near Dark: never pick up hitchhikers at night in Kansas, Oklahoma or Texas. The movie is campy, bloody and violent; it debuted in October 1987, a part of the 1980’s vampire movie trend. The story revolves around Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), a young cowboy in a small mid-western town who inadvertently becomes part of a car-stealing gang of southern vampires. The frequent tasting of death in the film, and its repeated reverence for nighttime, reminded me again of Jung’s quote about death: “But once inside you taste of such a completeness and peace and fulfillment that you don’t want to return.” The ending of this one also pleasantly surprised me. (Male protagonist, available on DVD.)

Sheila Vand as The Girl

Sheila Vand as The Girl

10) A Girl Walks Alone At Night (2014) is a highly stylized, fascinating film written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. It’s a unique Persian-language film that follows a mysterious vampire figure named The Girl (Sheila Vand) who haunts the rough streets of “Bad City” at night in a chador, and encounters a young gardener named Arash (Arash Mirandi). Arash’s father is a heroin addict and his mother is dead; Arash is under threat from a tough character who keys his car as the film starts, and after that initial sequence, Arash befriends a beautiful stray cat who becomes part of the action. Amirpour’s film is so atmospheric, beautifully shot in black and white. The plot is untraditional; the ending was also unexpected. Some of the images are unforgettable, and the acting is strong. (Male and female lead characters, available via streaming.)

These ten “scary” films richly explore a range of psychological and social issues: grief, the arrival of puberty, abuse and repressed memories, the aging brain, unrequited love and growing old, justice, and becoming an adult. Most have plot surprises at the end, which makes the viewing all the more worthwhile.

[1] Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909 – 1961. Selected and edited by Gerard Adler, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1953; page 60 (Jung’s Letter from 1945).

Free Play Reading List – #52playsbywomen

Compiled by Laura Shamas

Theatre tickets can be expensive. So how can you participate in #52playsbywomen if you’re on a budget?

If you are interested in learning more about plays written in other eras by female writers, there are quite a few free options available online. The list below of fifty free plays is just a start.

For more information about women playwrights of the past, please check out History Matters/Back To The Future. They have a terrific Library Page. And the plays of the writers listed on that page may purchased, as most are in anthologies or are published separately. And libraries, too, carry anthologies of plays.

(Note: If you’re interested in reading contemporary plays by women playwrights, you can join the New Play Exchange for a minimal yearly fee and read hundreds of plays online by women playwrights.)

FIFTY FREE PLAYS BY WOMEN PLAYWRIGHTS ONLINE

PRE-TWENTIETH CENTURY

Three Plays by Aphra Behn:

THE ROVER, (Pt. 1 [1677] & Pt. 2 [1681]);
THE DUTCH LOVER (1673);
THE ROUND-HEADS; OR THE GOOD OLD CAUSE (1681).

THE WITLINGS by Frances Burney (1779)

17 Plays by British Women Playwrights around 1800 :
Frances Burney LOVE AND FASHION (1799);
Hannah Cowley, THE RUNAWAY (1776);
Elizabeth Craven, THE GEORGIAN PRINCESS (1799);
Catherine Gore, KING O’NEIL (1835);
Elizabeth Inchbald, SUCH THINGS ARE (1788); THE MASSACRE (1792); THE WEDDING DAY (1794); WIVES AS THEY WERE AND MAIDS AS THEY ARE (1797); LOVERS’ VOWS (1798);
Harriet Lee, THE MYSTERIOUS MARRIAGE (1798);
Sophia Lee, ALMEYDA, QUEEN OF GRANADA (1796);
Mary Russell Mitford, CHARLES THE FIRST (1834);
Anne Plumptre, THE NATURAL SON (1798);
Elizabeth Polack, ESTHER (1835)
Jane Scott, WHACKHAM AND WINDHAM: or THE WRANGLING LAWYERS (1814);
Mariana Starke, THE SWORD OF PEACE (1788)
Lady Eglantine Wallace, THE TON, or FOLLIES OF FASHION (1788).

Five Plays by Susanna Centlivre:

THE PERJUR’D HUSBAND (1700)
THE BUSIE-BODY  (1709)
THE CRUEL GIFT, a tragedy  (1717)
A BOLD STROKE FOR A WIFE  (1718)
A BICKERSTAFF’S BURYING, a farce (1724)

5 Plays by Mercy Otis Warren:

THE ADULATEUR, a tragedy, as it is now acted in Upper Servia (1772)
THE BLOCKHEADS, a farce (1776)
THE DEFEAT (1773)
THE GROUP (1775)
THE MOTLEY ASSEMBLY, a farce (1779)

Two Plays by Anna Cora Mowatt:

FASHION (1845)
ARMAND or THE PEER AND THE PEASANT (1855)

TWENTIETH CENTURY

MISS LULU BETT by Zona Gale (1920)

TRIFLES by Susan Glaspell (1916)

Nine Plays by Lady Augusta Gregory:

Five Plays (1913): THE BOGIE MAN,
THE FULL MOON,
COATS,
DAMER’S GOLD,
MCDONOGH’S WIFE
WONDER’ Plays – THE DRAGON (1917),
ARISTOTLE’S BELLOWS (1921),
THE JESTER (1919)
THE UNICORN FROM THE STARS by Lady Augusta Gregory and W.B. Yeats (1908)

RACHEL by Angelina W. Grimké (1916)

A SUNDAY MORNING IN THE SOUTH by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1925)

BLACKOUT by Lawenda Jones (1994)

VOTES FOR WOMEN by Elizabeth Robins (1907)

RUTHERFORD AND SON by Githa Sowerby (1912)

MACHINAL by Sophie Treadwell (1928)

Any suggestions of plays with free links to add to this list? Please put it in the #52playsbywomen hashtag on Twitter and we will add it. Or e-mail us at: venusinorange (at)gmail (dot) com. Thanks. 

#52playsbywomen – The Big Launch

It’s Monday, August 1, and The Big Launch of #52playsbywomen is here.

The Simple Guidelines for our new Call to Action are here:

#52playsbywomen

On our launch day, it’s important to know why this Call to Action is needed.

Women buy 70% of theater tickets sold, and make up 60-70% of the theater audience.

But women writers only constitute about 22% (or less) on global stages, in terms of produced plays.

Let’s build conscious theater-going strategies so there’s a clamoring for work by women playwrights on a weekly basis. And if no play by a woman playwright is available in terms of performed plays in a specific region, then let’s promote reading a play by a woman as another option of support.

It’s easy! Join us in a year of #52playsbywomen. See you at the hashtag!

BigLaunch

Weighing Love With Aphrodite

by Laura Shamas

One of my favorite classical images of Aphrodite is on this ring: “The Weighing of Love.” This ring is gold, dates to about 350 B.C.E., and is an erotostasia in the Getty Museum Collection. The goddess Aphrodite weighs her son Eros in each balance.

gem_200

(Another gorgeous example of an erotostasia is at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. )

The Getty Museum site says that the exact purpose of an erotostasia is still “open to a variety of interpretations; it is possibly akin to our own ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’” This speaks to the uncertainty of new love—an attempt to know what fate has in store in terms of romance and matters of the heart. Is it safe to love? Are we falling in love? A possibly related old-fashioned French game is “Effleur la Marguerite,” in which a love-charmed seeker pulls off daisy petals saying “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” (or “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not”). The answer is given with the final petal pull.

But the reason I love the Getty’s “The Weighing of Love” ring is because of its representation of Aphrodite. The ring is gold, one of Aphrodite’s main colors as a solar goddess. Seated, her form is elegantly engraved; she holds the scales in her own hands, giving her agency. Her son Eros, the god of Love, is her measure of Love’s own worth. The divinity of love is doubly reinforced in the image of goddess and god.

In one section of Venus in Orange, Paula Cizmar and I elaborated on the crazy wonderment or weight of insecurity at the beginning of new love:

“Ever wonder how you get from standing close

not knowing what’s happening

to that first kiss?

Ever keep your eyes open

tracking the looks

the sounds

the shift in the air

the way you’re both standing or sitting

the way one head moves closer

or does it

or how does it

or do they both move as one

and how do you know

what to look for

what to expect

if you don’t know

what’s happening

and then—a kiss.”

“I Just Try Not To Be Seen”

By  Laura Shamas

Abusive theatre practices continue to be of concern in 2016. In late April, Howl Round published an article by Holly L. Derr that details the toxic atmosphere of “Bro Theatre” at a university theatre department in upstate New York.  Now, a June report from the Chicago Reader details abusive practices at a non-Equity company there: Profiles Theatre.

From Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt’s lengthy CR article, which was researched for a year: “The reason Killer Joe felt so vicious and so real was because it was. All of it: the choking, the bruises, the deep-throating of a chicken leg, the body slam into the refrigerator, Cox’s groping of Wellin through her dress as Joe attempts to seduce Dottie, Cox’s semi-erection at the beginning of Act II after Joe succeeds. ‘It was real,’ says Darcy McGill, the costume designer, ‘because there was a psychopath onstage.’”

As Howard Sherman reports, events have snowballed in the aftermath of the Levitt and Piatt news story; this includes the removal of a theatre website editor who seemed to place partial responsibility on the victims in such situations.

Abusive behavior and practices, as detailed in the articles by Derr, Levitt and Piatt, have no place in the field of theater, or any field. Such abuse is wrong; we must work to shut down such practices immediately. Period.

The effects of abuse on all actors (and other theatre artists–and anyone else who has been abused) can never be accurately measured or perhaps completely healed; my heart goes out to them.

In a general sense, the aftermath of sexual and domestic abuse for women–and its longterm effect on the victims, is part of our play Venus in Orange. In our interviews with young female college students, we found that many had already faced sexual and/or domestic violence by the time they were old enough to enroll in college. It was not part of their theatre training experience at that point, but rather, a part of their teenaged or young adult years growing up in the United States. Here’s one sample from our script:

“I tell you. He still loves me. He does. He doesn’t mean to—. Well, it’s just that when he’s drinking–. See, you have to understand, without him I don’t have anyone. Nowhere to go. And I–. I probably provoke him. I think I do. Because he’s not really a violent man. Not really. He just gets—.

I mean, sometimes I think if I were a better person, then—

Well, maybe if I were stronger, then I could get out of this whole thing.

If—If I had any sense.

If there was anything I could do…

I don’t call the cops anymore.

I bite my lip

And I don’t scream.

So the neighbors can’t call either.

I tried driving to different ERs, but

now I think they know me.

So I just stay home.

I don’t cry.

I don’t call out.

I just try to not be seen.”

We see you. We must all work for change in our world, our culture, and our field.

Greetings from Venus…

We’re happy to announce that we have just added an excerpt of the script to this website.  Now you can read scenes from venus in orange for free and, we hope, enjoy the sometimes comedic, sometimes mythological, sometimes heart wrenching journey of the ancient goddess of love and her contemporary counterparts.

venus in orange is a play with flexible casting–it can be done with 6 actors (oh Hades, you could probably do it with 4!), or 8 actors, or 10 or 12 or more.  It’s an all-female cast, with scenes, monologues, spoken word, and movement.  But none of the performers need to be dancers or singers–they just need to have the willingness and the energy to perform.  The play should be cast diversely–reflecting the times and the cities we live in.  None of the roles are written for any specific race or ethnicity, nor are they written for any specific age, or look, or idea.   People of color and people with disabilities are children of Venus, too, and the goddess of love would LOVE to see all her diverse offspring performing her plays.

Hello World

Our play, venus in orange, is a performance piece for an all-female cast.  It can be performed with as few as 6 actors, but it’s one of those pieces that gets even richer and fuller when performed with more.   We’ll be posting a copy of the script soon.  Check back in on us, or drop us a line.

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