Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Vaginal Dramaturgy: Amy Chaffee @ Edfringe 2016

Edinburgh, Scotland, August 4-7, 2016
Spotlites Theatre, Venue 278, 22 George Street, Edinburgh, UK 

A quirky, feminine twist comes to the comedy scene in Edinburgh this summer. The two-handed dark comedy, Your Mother's Vagina stages a sneak preview August 4, followed by three shows only August 5-7 at the Spotlites Theatre, before zipping off to the next city on its two-month world tour!
The play bounces through the 7-year friendship of two female co-workers, in a Hollywood industry frequented white-linen restaurant. Navigating career ambitions and infertility with self-deprecating humour, the frankly adult, highly verbal sparring pushes each woman to reveal her secrets and name her shame.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The inspiration for Your Mother's Vagina was the stories of my friends and I and our shared shame and sense of failure around motherhood - whether we had succeeded or not in becoming mothers, it didn't matter. There was always inherent shame in our bodies. I found that absurd and beautiful and common. 

The fact that more that 75% of women in the first world experience
some form of missed motherhood (by having a child you gave up for adoption; miscarriage or still birth; having a child die; abortion; not having children by chance or by choice) means that it is as as common a human experience as Motherhood is. 

It's really painful but the economic realities of most women's lives is that they have to simply move on. So, it doesn't get discussed, unless you have a friend who is willing to be open about their loss too.  This play means to show the way women talk when men just aren't there to get squeamish or change the subject.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
My actresses were my muses and I wrote for their voices. They don't live in the same parts of the US as I do and we had a hard time coming together to rehearse. But, the production team were all drawn to the subject matter and the fact that we treat the common tragedy of infertility as a big cosmic joke. My team happens, except
for my poster design, my digital art and my photographer to be all women. All five producers, social media, web designer, my scenic and costume and lighting designers are all women and all highly skilled with years of experience. They were all immediately attracted to the script.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have been an actress since I was six years old. Due to trying to make a baby and nearly killing myself during the five miscarriages my pregnancy odyssey brought me to, I became less interested in acting.  It was too painful to simply be seen and my finely tuned instrument was, basically, broken.  It probably won't ever be healed fully. I can still sing and I enjoy performing that way.  But, I have turned my feelings into writing in the last five years or so. This is my fifth play - my first one that I was not in.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
This process has been unlike any other. I committed to making this show before I had written the script. I wrote it in about 3 weeks with these two actresses and their life stories as lodestars for my storytelling. I think using real life stories is inspiring but can make the structure ungainly, unless you are as free with their life stories as you are with your fictions.  

That's tricky. But, the trickiest thing about this process has been that we have had to skype rehearse 90% of it.  That has been crazy. We are opening it in Hollywood in June and that was meant to be a low-key, soft opening. We hope it will be as well-received abroad. I've never solo-produced an international tour, before.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I want the audience to laugh out loud. I want them to think and feel about the word, "Vagina" and the workings of a woman's body in a different way. I can't abide that in America, for instance, in 2011, the Florida State Legislature actually had to vote whether to ban the word "uterus" from being used on the legislative floor in debate. Women's bodies are so shameful in so many parts of the world. I just want to make the medical term for my vagina - "vagina" be less mysterious. 

I also think it's absurd that Facebook and Twitter have been censoring our show online. They claim we are "soliciting a sex act" because we put the actual word VAGINA in our title. There is tons of soft and hard porn everywhere on Facebook but it's all hidden and transgressive. If you hide something or give it a nickname, all of a sudden it has a little charge. If you hide it, someone will also feel shame about it. Ultimately, I want the audience to reconsider women's genitals, reproductive systems and biology with as little wonderment as their own elbow.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Humor. First last and always.  Why did the feminist cross the road? 

That's not funny.

We use cartoon projections, we use blunt language and I want people to confront the great plague of the 21st century which is infertility and the amount of money that is being paid for people's body parts.  I can't do that unless its funny.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
All three of us - my two actresses and I, are trained in Fitzmaurice voicework and this project was originally developed to be performed at a Fitzmaurice Encuentro (an "encounter," a conference, a symposium) this summer. The truth and embodied practice of Fitzmaurice creates very bold, risky and funny and earthy work. If we come out of any tradition it is the essential truth of the body that is given a voice through Fitzmaurice Technique. 

My answers aren't particularly funny but I promise you the show is!

Playwright and director, Amy Chaffee, was inspired to write the play after the attempted legislation in 2011 in Florida, US to legally ban using the word "uterus" from public debate in the State Legislature and Senate.  “Censor the language of medicine!? A
woman's anatomy is inherently offensive!? If you can't say the name of this play without blushing, you definitely want to see our show,” says Chaffee.
Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Gudenrath (Princess Diaries I and II) and Professor Rachel Hirshorn (Texas Tech University) star in this UK Premier.  The four-day Edinburgh Fringe Festival run is part of Your Mother's Vagina’s 6-city tour which includes stops in Hollywood, Dublin, Barcelona, Sevilla and Chicago.
 “51% of the world has one… 50% of the world is trying to get up in one. 100% of the world has come out of one.”
Your Mother's Vagina shows at 10am on August 4, 5, 6 and 7 at Spotlites Theatre, Venue 278, 22 George Street, Edinburgh, UK 
Your Mother’s Vagina
Rhombus Ensemble
Spotlites, Venue 278, 22-26 George Street, Edinburgh. EH2 2PQ
Thursday 4 August – Sunday 7 August
11:50am (1 hour)
Ticket Prices:               £5/£3
0131 2402784 

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