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I want to ask you a question about the notion of hybrid theater. This has been a fad in the arts for awhile now—people wanting performance in particular to a hybrid form that incorporates elements from dance, music, media, etc. My take on it is that theater is a hybrid form by nature, that’s it’s always incorporated a variety of artistic forms, as well as technology. Given that application of terms like hybrid or multi-disciplinary to Take What Is Yours, what is your take on that idea as an artist?
EF: We have video that’s happening in the piece, but we have no intention to do anything new or ground-breaking in terms of how we’re working with video. It’s more that there were a few moments in the play, just dramaturgically, that really wanted the story to be carried by moving imagery. Mostly because there’s a lot of historical footage.
What kind of footage?
EF: Not film footage. There were a lot of stills that we’ve put into film. We felt really dedicated to bringing that content into the play because it’s so moving, to see women being arrested, being manhandled, while they’re wearing dresses that to our eye look very prim, but then to see these women actually being quite badass, it’s an interesting contradiction, for our contemporary eye.
Can you talk a little about how the idea took shape and also roughly how long ago that was?
EF: I would say it’s about four years ago, and this is me individually, that I thought I was ready to make a new piece. I’ve had a recurring theme where I like to make work out of historical people—I like to tell stories that actually occurred and feel like they need fresh air. So I was just basically doing research, as I tend to do—looking through history and interesting women.
And that research involved what for you—reading books, watching movies?
EF: Yeah, and lots of internet, and checking out different women. So I was looking at the suffrage movement and when that started, with Susan B. Anthony, and then there was this second wave of women who were working and I stumbled upon Alice Paul. I had never heard of her and I did not know at that time that women had worked to get the vote for 75 years, I didn’t know that women were put in jail, that they hunger-struck, that they were force fed. I didn’t know any of that.
[Jill arrives at the studio, as if on cue, and joins the conversation.]
And how did you know of each other? Had you worked together before?
EF: And we had both seen each other perform, so we knew that we had similar circles…
JAS: And a similar ethos.
EF: Exactly. So at that point we got a residency at IRT Theater. And at the end of that we were presenting about twenty or thirty minutes of the piece and it was still in a solo form at that time. It was okay, but it still didn’t quite pop. And so then when Jill came on I thought, what would happen if I had a real collaborator—like an actual partner in writing the piece and conceiving the piece.
JAS: I hadn’t really had time to delve into the research and so I spent intensive amounts of time that summer really reading everything I could get my hands on. I felt like we had come up with compelling performance material, but we wanted it to be more than a story of a woman in prison or a woman under a given set of circumstances or a woman in conflict with a system. We wanted it really to be about the National Women’s Party and their leader Alice Paul, and this little known civil rights movement, which was so monumental in this country and really introduced into common vernacular so many visual and rhetorical devices for protest movements ever since.
The National Women’s Party was such an innovator in grassroots organizing and political strategizing and community-based strategizing—galvanizing women from across the aisle. That’s what I find so compelling, when Erica, or Alice, rather, is in a Congressional hearing and she says: “We are an absolutely nonpartisan organization made up of women who are strong Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, Socialists—every kind of woman. We are all united on this one thing, putting suffrage above all other concerns, irrespective of how they may help or hurt our own political party…”
EF: “We work for suffrage…”
JAS: “…and neither for men or against men…”
EF: “…according to their position taken on this one amendment.”
[They both laugh.]
JAS: It’s such a powerful idea. [To Jill.] What did you say about it, you said such a powerful thing about it when we were talking—something about it being a universal agenda.
EF: Right, an agenda that benefits everybody, irrespective of what their political situation is.
But I want to go back to something about process. When we finally realized that it was a two-person piece and the other person needed to be a man, I remember we were sitting in my apartment, this is after that IRT residency, we were done and we were looking ahead to this performance and we were thinking, can we do that?
JAS: I feel like for me it wasn’t so much that it needed to be a man, as being compelled by this discovery that Alice had been visited by someone who interviewed her for, I think the testimonial said three hours. And at the end of the three hours she realized that he hadn’t been interested in her campaign but was there for a completely other reason. So we started to think of that as the narrative structure—this visit and an interview with a hidden agenda. From there a lot of the research that we did, both academically and the vocal, physical research that we did…
EF: And visual research…
JAS: And the visual research really began to take shape into a narrative.
What does collaboration look like for the two of you?
JAS: It’s fiery and passionate… Proposal is a big word in our process. We think of everything as a proposal, meaning if either of us has an idea, we try it.