If you’re an actor, you know of the famous “set” – that fateful pair of monologues that shows a casting director who you are, as an actor and as a person. It is meant to demonstrate your text analysis skills, as well as your “type” and range. In just a couple minutes it says, “This is what I can do; this is who I can play.” No biggie, right? The thing is, there is a dearth of material available for women, especially in the realm of comedy.

If you’re an actor, you are probably also familiar with the history of theater – specifically the fact that women were banned from performing for centuries, from the inception of theater in Ancient Greece, well into the Renaissance. Throughout that time, men filled women’s parts, telling their stories through their own lens, rather than through an actual woman’s perspective. The history of female playwrights has been even more scarce. Today, only 30 percent of plays being produced in the United States were written by women. The meaning behind these statistics goes far beyond the numbers themselves. This inequality of representation has resulted in a lack of understanding of women’s stories and perspectives. It has allowed the voices of men to dominate the narrative and proclaim what is true for women. It has produced a significant number of shallow, one-dimensional female characters for aspiring and professional actresses to vie for. Women have so few opportunities to exercise their range and ability in comparison to men, and the material available to them is a significant root cause.

There is something that irks me about finding suitable audition material: the “overdone” list. If you are in musical theater, you have probably heard of some songs that are no-no’s for women: “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis, “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, “All that Jazz” from Chicago… the list goes on. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that it can be frustrating to casting directors who have to hear these songs over and over again. It gets repetitive and tiresome. The problem is that there isn’t a whole lot else to choose from that suits the average female voice or that has any amount of depth or complexity. Theater is rife with female plot devices that seem to only serve to move the male protagonist’s story forward. This applies to so-called “straight” plays, too.  The vast majority of material available to women does not pass the Bechdel Test. That is to say, the woman is either talking to a man, or about a man. I, for one, have better things to talk about. Most of my days are spent discussing ideas and inspiration, not lamenting my troubles in romance. My “main objective” revolves around building a better life for myself and my family – one that is more equitable and free from patriarchal structures. Even more contemporary plays do not do justice to the complexity of a woman’s life, and when they do, they are pounced upon so quickly by women hungry for something of substance, that the material quickly becomes taboo. It is suddenly considered “overdone,” even though people have been demanding Shakespeare for centuries and somehow we still haven’t gotten over that.

There are two solutions that I propose to fill the void where women’s voices currently reside: produce more works by and for women, and consider women for historically male roles. I live in Seattle, WA and there are several companies that are actively engaged in this kind of shift, including Macha Theatre Works, Upstart Crow Collective, and Hedgebrook, among others. They have recognized how vital it is to include women’s voices in the representation of our past, present, and future, and are recruiting more and more women to be a part of their initiative. They are re-imagining the way that we view women in the world by handing them the mic and encouraging them to speak their truth.

My truth is that my life as a young woman is far more complex than the roles I see as available for me to play.

The way our audition system is set up perpetuates a gendered standard of how men and women are expected to behave. We demand that actors prepare material that represents “who they are,” and yet I rarely see myself represented in the material I find. How, then, am I to understand myself as a human being and how I fit into this seemingly crystallized system?

I went to an audition a few days ago where we were told we could prepare anything we wanted. A monologue, a scene, a song, dance, or story. This, of course, led to some pretty interesting presentations. But it split open the bubble of expectation that we, as actors, have been conditioned to protect. I initially planned on pulling out one of my (already tired) monologues – those faithful words that provide some modicum of female empowerment in the audition room – a privilege so seldom granted. But then I realized: I can do whatever I want. And I have never felt more empowered onstage than when I performed my solo show, A Pyrate’s Life: Anne Bonny. I decided to perform a scene that I myself had crafted – a scene that breaks the convention of how women “should” act and puts Anne’s future in her own hands. It is a moment where she takes a leap of faith and changes the course of her life forever. Now, I don’t think my fate is tied up in this audition, but it did offer me a new perspective on the possibilities of auditioning.

We should not let ourselves be restricted by the standards laid before us. We should feel free to take a risk and explore our options. I, for one, will continue to seek out empowering female monologues, but I will also not be limited by gender. I will find material that really speaks to me and resonates with me, rather than that which is defined as “Female, Early 20’s, Comedic.” I hope you will break out the walls of your own prison and continue to challenge the status quo that tells you where you “fit.” Don’t let yourself be boxed in anywhere. Define yourself and who you want to be as a person and an artist. Revolution is the only path toward evolution. Keep rising up.

Co-producer Kymberlee della Luce sat down with me to talk about the generation of A Pyrate’s Life: Anne Bonny.

What was your inspiration for Anne Bonny?
The idea came from one of my teachers, Keira McDonald, who suggested I look into female pirates. This would engage my love of history, and give me the chance to incorporate stage combat and dialects, which I have an affinity for. It also provided the opportunity to explore a powerful woman’s story and embody her ferocity.
I didn’t really know anything about female pirates, so I Googled a list of names and read each of their bios. I was drawn to Anne’s strange origin story and the fire in her belly. She was a person who took her life into her own hands, and I find that very inspiring.

What was your creative process?
I originally developed this piece in a solo performance class at Cornish College of the Arts with Keira McDonald and Marc Kenison. We had to bring in material every week to get feedback on from the class which, by necessity, kept me rolling along. I learned what was drawing people in and what they wanted to learn more about, and that often took me in a direction I couldn’t have planned.
A lot of it was trial and error. I started out doing research, trying to learn whatever I could about her. The information out there is pretty limited, so I had to fill in the blanks along the way. I took her major life events and fleshed them out into scenes. This took me into researching the other major players in her life, like Mary Read and Calico Jack. It’s also when I had to start thinking about what these people sounded like and how they moved.
Again, the feedback that I received from my teachers and cohort was invaluable. Just because you’re doing a “solo” show, doesn’t mean you should go it alone. Quite the opposite – you need that outside set of eyes and point of view that can tell you what’s reading and what you need to specify.

What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research?
I think the most surprising thing was the lack of information about what happened to her! It’s like she got arrested and then her story just stopped. This presented me with an interesting challenge, because I had to just make it up. But I’m pretty happy with the “ending” I gave her.

Do you find this character relatable? If so, why?
I think Anne embodied and experienced a lot of what women today are going through. She was born into this patriarchal system that told her she should be one thing, and she wasn’t having any of it! She charted her own course (so to speak), and yeah, she hurt people along the way, but she was living life to the fullest and being her authentic self. I know I have something to learn in that regard, and I’m sure a lot of women can relate. It can be difficult to find your own unique voice in a world that constantly demands conformity, but Anne did that.

Why this story now?
We have reached a point on a national and international level where women are really done taking men’s shit. We are done being told what to think, how to act, and what to do with our bodies. Anne Bonny was an early feminist. She defied the expectations of the men in her life and did what the fuck she wanted! While I don’t condone the ways in which she harmed people, I admire her tenacity in the pursuit of a life of her own choosing, and I believe that’s where we, as women, are headed. Not isolated, on our individual “hero’s journey,” but among community that values and cares for us – who have our back and will fight for our right to sovereignty. I don’t know that Anne truly had that, but she took the first step onto that ship, and it’s our job to keep it sailing onward.

Anne Bonny

When you take on other characters

You risk losing yourself.

You worry:

Will I adopt their ugliness?

Will I shine too brightly?

I’m used to feeling plain,

So why should I feel

Excitement,

Joy,

And freedom in my body?

What if I lose control?

 

What if?

Would that be the end of it all?

Or would it open new realms

Of possibility,

Ways of being,

Of inhabiting the world?

What if you could set your

Mind-

Body-

Spirit

Free

By throwing caution to the wind,

By turning off your “internal editor,”

By daring to be bigger than your

Own small sphere of existence?

 

Acting is empathizing

With another’s plight;

It’s taking on their story

And living it fully –

In all its messiness,

Ugliness,

And Glory.

We don’t live to be nice

And look nice all the time;

We live for experiences,

Relationships,

And love.

We live for the complexity

That each day holds –

Shouldn’t our characters carry this capacity, too?

 

To live is to take a risk

Every day of your life

To be better than you were

The day before.

To grow up

And into yourself;

To learn

About yourself and the world;

To deepen

Your connections

And tune into the collective pulse

That breathes life

Into every being

On the planet.

Anne Bonny

The lure of comfort is like a string

Pulling me inside-out.

It exposes my insides,

Making me vulnerable

And susceptible to the harsh winds

Of the outside world.

Every gust knocks me over

And each soft ripple

Brushes against my heart,

Stirring it

Until it dissolves.

I’ve built walls to protect

My insides –

Those squishy, malleable

Organs of life.

They guard me from feeling too deeply –

Until the clever wind

Creeps through the cracks,

And creates a wind tunnel.

Then it all bursts open

And comes pouring out,

And I’m left with the shattered pieces

Of my safe house.

I’m left to pick them up again,

Desperately trying to rebuild

What’s been lost.

 

But what if I lived

More on edge?

Not quick to anger,

But quick to action –

That same string pulling me forward,

Into life –

A visceral experience

That draws forth the

Guttural,

Wild,

Exuberant

Part of me.

What if my safe house didn’t need to exist,

Because I felt safe with myself?

What if I felt comfortable enough

In my own body,

That I didn’t need to seek

External sources of comfort?

The lure of comfort

Is what holds me back

From living life to its fullest,

From expressing my full potential.

Comfort tells me to stay complacent,

To deny the possibility

Of a more radiant,

Colorful,

And fantastical experience.

It could be dangerous,

But that rush of wind,

Standing at the edge of the cliff,

Would carry me up and out,

Into the world.

The longing wind inside

Threatens to destroy me,

To keep me wanting

With no real manifestation.

On the edge,

Something is bound to happen.

On Top
Cranes

The incessant noise drills through my spirit.
It rattles the fragile structure of my psyche,
Cutting straight to my core.
All of this “improvement” only dismantles my safe space,
My one corner of quiet
In this hellish prison of consumerism.
The slick sidewalk blocks my escape,
And the sky pours pellets 
That threaten distress
And discomfort.
When will this all plateau?
When will things be “good enough”?
Skyscrapers go up,
While the citizens’ spirits sink,
Into the cracked asphalt 
And drown in the Seattle rain.
I am choking on concrete dust
And being slowly smothered by 
“Smiles”
And the 12th Man. 
I remember when this city felt inviting
And full of wonder.
Maybe that was childhood fantasy,
But I’d take that over this reality 
Any day.

Candle Shadows

When you crack the window to the outside world,

You are faced with uncertainty.

Questions of 

Belonging,

Acceptance,

And purpose

Dance cruelly,

Disrupting your thoughts and

Distorting your vision 

Of the life before you.

Opportunity just overwhelms –

It is an obligation,

Not an invitation

For joy and prosperity.

You can only take so much

Before you begin to sink into yourself –

Trying to find solace from the madness,

The never ending conveyor belt of responsibility.

You no longer delight in company,

Take joy in conversation.

You want only to shut out all noise

And lock yourself away. 

It is not so much self-pity

As a retreat from the chaos,

The outer rush that floods

Your stream of consciousness. 

It is winter after all –

A time for hibernation 

And the dark womb of Mother Earth.

And yet we have so few opportunities for rest

And quiet.

Or perhaps we do not take them –

Make space for them –

For ourselves.

Perhaps if we tuned into the soul-call of our own hearts

We could see the flickers of light

That beckon us to explore the dark,

The wild,

The unknown –

To seek answers within,

Instead of from everyone else,

Who have their own questions to answer. 

We can’t go it alone,

But we can’t rely on others to lift us up –

We must find our own light,

Our own way through the dark.  

Joyful

I am always evolving –

I am not who I once was,

But I am not the final version of who I can be.

I have learned better

How to use my voice,

But sometimes it sounds too

Strong,

Hoarse,

Strained –

Or quiet.

Sometimes it doesn’t sound at all,

But it’s always there –

I can feel it –

Rippling beneath the surface,

Climbing up my lungs.

Sometimes it threatens to burst like a geyser;

Sometimes it gets stuck,

And threatens to choke me out –

But I know this is not my voice itself;

It is fear.

It is fear of being heard,

Fear of not;

It is fear of being understood,

Fear of not;

It is fear of being

Brave,

Bold,

Open,

Wild,

Sexy,

Luscious,

Alive.

Life is messy and unpredictable,

And I usually don’t know what to say –

What will get me through to the next moment,

The next phase?

It’s easier to let life pass you by,

Than it is to live it.

But which is more rewarding?

Which lets you integrate and embrace

All those parts of you?

You can only learn, grow, and change

If you keep living –

Keep using your voice.

We rode off the beaten path

(As we tend to do),

Looking for nothing but peace and freedom from the bumpy road.

And as usual,

We found the sheltered secrets:

Plump,

Juicy,

Sweet,

Just waiting to be devoured.

 

This tradition is the trend of our time together.

We stumble endlessly upon beauty

And the fruits of the Earth.

Our winding conversations

Sweep us through infinite fields

Of crackling summer grass,

And carry us along on the soft sea breeze.

We wade in deep waters,

Dipping our feet into possibilities for the future –

Daring to dream –

To imagine something different.

 

I wouldn’t have it any other way

Between she and I, though.

She tirelessly pulls me

Through the fog of my limitations,

Transforming it into a glittering mist,

Magical and refreshing.

The shimmering spray

Paints me with a new coat that is brighter

And filled with wisdom.

It seeps through my skin,

Changing me on a molecular level,

And planting the seed of hope

For the next generation.

 

When I was young,

We used to pick blackberries with my Grandmother.

The scent was just as sweet,

But the vines more tangled.

The small, secluded field was our own Secret Garden,

Tucked away behind her humble, but homey house.

In this little corner of my Grandmother’s world,

The air was fresh and clear,

Not smogged by cigarette smoke

Or stale whiskey breath.

How could I know the depths of her dark history,

When my head was nestled among the brambles,

My hand outstretched,

As if they could carry me toward the plumpest prize.

 

I am part

Of a powerful matriarchal line.

We are a bunch of

Sassy,

Sharp-witted,

Soft-skinned women,

But we have each,

At some point,

Neglected our power.

We have silenced our own voices,

Turned the other cheek,

Rather than standing up

And speaking our truth.

 

My truth is buried beneath my skin.

It is in the lives

And experiences of

My Mother

and Grandmother

and Great-Grandmother

and the women before them I never knew.

 

I wish I had taken the time

To talk with my Grandmas,

To show interest in their lives –

Before they ended.

But for now,

I am blessed with the Light that is my Mom.

And I won’t take that for granted.

I won’t waste a second

Of our precious Time.

For Bonnie June Baker, Jeri Marie Cabe, and Kymberlee della Luce. <3 

Blackberries and portrait credit to Kymberlee della Luce.

My passion has dissipated

And I know not where it went.

I am coated in cynicism,

Its chalky glaze pasted with rough hands over my soft heart.

I see beauty, but it does not breathe inspiration into the blackened cave of my mind.

Thoughts echo off its crystallized walls,

But they only ping on endlessly,

The feedback overtaking my reception.

My heart is caught in a net,

Rough ropes strung together by

betrayal

mistrust

insecurity

sorrow

and

rage,

and twisted taut by the refusal to face these embedded experiences.

They feel inextricably bound to who I am,

And who I was or could’ve been has disappeared.

The particles of my ideal image have disintegrated,

And been swept away by the tyrannous force of self-loathing.

My inward-turning has turned me inside out,

And I no longer recognize myself.

My stormy, serious eyes have cast a shadow over the carefree, radiant smile of my younger self.

The girl who used to climb trees

And play make-believe,

With elaborate stories and adventures.

I express this in a different way now,

But the visceral, vital connection feels lost.

Now there is “right and wrong,” “good and bad” –

At least says the little voice in my head,

Which grows bigger with every negative thought or image I impose upon myself.

Dispassion
Arboretum

The heavy fog challenges the restless leaves
That spin cartwheels
Down to the rough pavement.
These forces cannot stop their radiance –
The way they bound forth
And paint our city with fire.
 
Mystery shakes them loose,
The breath of the Goddess
Whispering secrets,
Speaking the truth of the trees,
The Earth,
The air
That fills my lungs –
Draws my spirit up
To drive me forward,
Along this crooked path –
Once familiar, yet forgotten.
 
These streets I walk are no longer mine,
The roots that have been planted
No longer connect us.
We are part of a network,
But one that is detached from the earth.
 
I find solace in the Gibbous Moon
That shines outside my window.
She gazes down upon me
And I think she feels some part of my truth.
She beckons to her friendly stars,
And they wink at me through the darkness of the city.
Her reflection is cardinal,
Stretching out in all directions,
Giving her love freely.
All she asks is
recognition –
And faith in her consistent inconsistency.
We must trust that she is always there.
Even when she takes time for herself,
Or is covered by the heavy fog.
 
She teaches us that darkness and death
Are necessary for light and rebirth –
That we can stay true to our place in the universe,
And still always be changing.