This piece is part of my Artist Residency in Motherhood, in which I embrace how the stuff of parenting uniquely shapes my art.
N.B. The cast, adapter, and stage manager of Steel City Shakespeare Center’s Pride & Prejudice are six white-passing cis-passing women in our 20s. Additionally, I am a disabled mother. I specify these identity markers this way for three reasons: 1. I do not know the specifics of my castmates’ identities in more depth than this, and it is not my place to ask; 2. We as a cast recognize both the privilege and the oppression inherent within these visible and invisible identities; 3. The generalized descriptions I use in this piece adhere to the gender binary, purely as a reflection of the egregious underrepresentation of gender variance in theatrical roles and opportunities.
We as a cast believe and support that the best, most interesting and relevant works embrace and display a wide range of characters and actors by race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexuality, body type, religion, class, and other identity markers. Variance is not only commendable: it is essential. We are your allies and accomplices.
Steel City Shakespeare Center’s fourth-ever production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, adapted for the stage by Marsha Mayhak who also portrays Elizabeth, is currently in the middle of its very successful run – one of the most successful in the company’s history, as I understand it. We perform in Heathside Cottage to a capacity audience of 22 people. Audiences and reviewers are enthusiastic, and the entire run will be very near sold out.
The audition notice stated, “If you want to perform this play, but feel you are the wrong gender, wrong age, or wrong race, you are NOT.” And they cast six brilliant, funny, strong young women. To hear the production team tell it, this was an artistic decision, and the show’s excellence is a testament to our talent.
To us, the cast, the political import and relevance of a cast of young women performing Austen cannot be separated from our performance. Here’s why.
- Women actors must be surpassingly qualified: In any situation, women actors vastly outnumber men. Therefore young women especially need to work many times harder in order to ever get cast.
- Women’s roles generally suck: Theatrical roles for women as a rule lack depth and prestige as compared with male roles – in most shows there are fewer female leads than male, women are relegated to romantic interest roles, etc etc sexism etc.
Not only does Austen provide varied and deep roles for women, but by casting women as all the characters in the show, we the actors get the opportunity to play challenging, fun, and deep roles that we wouldn’t get to otherwise.
- Young women’s perspective-through the eyes of Austen’s protagonists: Every woman in the cast is the age of young women featured in Austen’s novels. Combined with Marsha Mayhak’s script written from Elizabeth’s perspective, and the character work all the actors have done, the interpretations of these characters are passed many times through the perspectives of young women.
Each woman in the cast has been hit on by a Mr. Collins. We have experiences of being twitterpated in love, of rejection and insecurity, of loving if sideways and often overbearing relatives, and of dear close friends. We bring all this with us.
- Queer as hell:
We are not performing in drag. We are women actors who in the course of the play are wooing women, married to women, jilted by women, friends with women, concerned about women. The cast supports consenting love in all its forms, and tries to portray a taste of this in the production.
- Being a young woman is political:
Especially important this election season, as it is debated to what acceptable extent politicians may police our bodies, sexually assault us, determine our compensation and healthcare and partners, and deport and wage war on innocent women and girls the world over.
As a cast, we are the tangible manifestation of the gender wage gap. We all work in several paid and unpaid capacities, and are in relatively precarious financial positions. We are all exceptionally busy, hustling just to survive.
And we have taken on additional roles in this production as adapter, stage manager, musicians, and dancers.
We are making time to do this show because we love theater.
- Solidarity: I have never been in a cast with as much solidarity as this one. Indeed, this cast has shown more solidarity and advocated collectively more strongly for our needs than I have seen actors with Equity protections feel free to do. We have made sure our time is used well, that we all feel supported, and that everyone enjoys the show.
And we have definitely succeeded.
So yes, we’re excellent artists. But we’re much more than that – we’re a cast of incredible young women, and we make this show what it is.
Angela Anderson, with Marsha Mayhak, Elizabeth Glyptis, Mary Pochatko, Anne Rematt, and Anna Gergerich.
#BLACKLIVESMATTER #NODAPL #NOTOKAY #NOTOK