As Thrown Stone’s Playwriting Fellow, I had the opportunity to connect with the playwrights of our 2022 season and the artistic directors to talk about why Girl Power is the conversation of the moment.
Let’s start with COVID 19 and why the need to continue seeing and creating theater in the midst of an ongoing pandemic?
Elenna Stauffer, Playwright of Hysterical! said “It’s a strange and interesting consonance, working on a play about mass psychogenic illness during a time when we are all preoccupied with illness. One of the constant pressures the young women in my play face is the isolation that comes with fear of contagion. As we all navigate our way through this third year of the first global pandemic of our lifetime, it’s interesting to be living some of these anxieties I had only written about when I began work on the play (in the time before Covid). But the isolation wrought by the pandemic has only pointed up the urgent human need for connection. Sitting in the dark with friends and strangers, even masked, breathing together in the shared experience of bearing witness to the human activity on stage feels, if anything, more urgent than ever.”
Both plays present unusual topics and experiences. What excited you about these characters and their stories? Jason Peck, Co-Artistic Director said “I knew nothing about fencing or cheer, so it was fun to soak up the language, rules, and rituals. I love how the characters smash your expectations, and how completely and unapologetically they are themselves — especially when out from under the gaze of their parents, teachers, and coaches.”
Jonathan Winn, Co-Artistic Director added, “I love how each character balances the struggle for status and connection as their identities take shape. I love the sense that stories like these, with their heroism, pathos, and grit, are unfolding all around us all the time. We all know these girls, but do we truly see and hear them?”
Ultimately, what do you hope the audience will take away from the Girl Power season?
“There’s a line in one of the cheers where a character describes how MPI (mass hysteria), though often the diagnosis assigned because of the age and gender of the afflicted, is minimized because ‘it was just girls, just teenage girls who got it,’” said Stauffer. I hope that seeing the teenage girls in Hysterical! and in Athena, the audience will come away with compassion and respect for them. Adolescence is a vulnerable time, and for these young women on the precipice of adulthood, their challenges and dreams are as urgent as those of anyone else, though we far too rarely get to see them onstage. In a year where women are just receiving equal pay for athletics and where various intense social issues are prominent, allowing girls to be the protagonists in their stories feels like a necessary cultural correction. Since young women have their own language, their own sense of what is funny and tragic and interesting, I hope audiences will enjoy being a fly on the wall for these conversations that can only happen in the private spaces where they rehearse and hang out away from the adults and their male peers.”
Gracie Gardner Playwright of Athena said, “I’m disturbed at the way ‘teenage girl’ is so often used as an insult. I grew up watching shows and movies that made it seem like the lives and thoughts of teenage girls didn’t matter. When I was in high school theater, the parts I played were like, a woman in the middle of a divorce, an aging spinster…I don’t think I ever played a part that was anywhere near something I could relate to. I’m excited by the idea that people who are the age of these characters can play them in that context for an audience of their friends. My friends growing up were in turns kind, and brilliant, and prematurely forced into adulthood by circumstances beyond their control. I was interested in seeing that on stage, the loneliness and attempt to make a connection with the people you are diametrically at odds with.”*
Thrown Stone Theatre Company presents Athena by Gracie Gardner and Hysterical! by Elenna Stauffer July 14 – August 7, 2022 at Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance. Tickets and information available at thrownstone.org. •