Since the start of the semester I have realized that being a “Lady Director” (as I prefer to call it) is not a path without battles. I mean, no profession in the arts is, but this path is one covered in all types of land mines that no one has set off yet. This past week in New York I met the artistic director of BEDLAM theatre company at a bar (their current production of Saint Joan looks awesome, btw). He asked what type of things I wanted to direct, and what my aesthetic was. It was the first time someone asked me that outside of an academic setting, and so I was incredibly terrified that what I was saying made no sense, or sounded immature and naïve (and I was at a bar…). I realized I wasn’t nervous because I was a girl defending my ideas, I was nervous because this is still new. Standing on fresh legs is exciting, but scary. I feel more confident when I have more knowledge, so this nervous energy is something I can do something about.
Since that, I have decided to be more active on my quest to find these “Lady Directors” that I want to look toward for guidance. I will put aside my collegiate know-it-all attitude and ask them for help. I know that I am scared that if I go out looking and asking, I could end up let down because my ideal might not exist yet. But that will be ok, and I won’t know until I try and find out. Asking can only help me find out more about the ‘being new’ thing and everyone has in common that they did that before. And ladies seem more approachable to me then all of the men that I read about so frequently. And since I get kind of lost in these blog posts, this gives me a task. An obligation. To find you all some awesome lady directors that you probably know about, but I am going to tell you more!
So, enough about me! My current Lady Director crush is Young Jean Lee. This should not come as a surprise since I have probably mentioned it already a million times. And yes, she is also a playwright and general theatre maker, but that does not mean she can’t qualify for my quest! After watching The Shipment, I sat down and watched We’re Gonna Die, which could not be more different (just like every other project that she tackles) and more challenging. I don’t think her newest project Untitled Feminist Play is available online due to it being done entirely in the nude (or maybe just not on sites I frequent).
OK! We’re Gonna Die. We’re Gonna Die is a series of stories and song performed by Lee, backed up by the band Future Wife. All of the pieces are connected by the feeling of loneliness when awful things happen to you, and are inter cut with really cheerful pop rock songs that further the story. It is sure that the point of songs isn’t too showcase a singing ability, but to add the lightness and accessibility that pop music is capable of. The stories move from being very removed from the hurt, to a zoomed in experience that brings clarity. It begins focusing on someone else feeling pain, to over hearing pain, to seeing pain, to feeling pain, to experiencing pain first hand. Each story is told from the first person, or some as someone Lee knows, and I did not doubt that. I then saw a little snippet on Ms. Ilana Brownstein’s facebook wall (which I totally wasn’t creeping on… it just popped up!), where Young Jean Lee says none of the stories are her own except the second to last story where she talks about her father’s death. And that doesn’t bother me. In retrospect, her performance was incredibly connected during that story, but just as much as when she talked about breaking up with a boyfriend who moved out and asking him to rearrange the furniture.
I like that this play can be performed by anyone. I want to perform this play. I’m not incredibly talented in the singing department, but I don’t think that is the point. The stories told in it are so universal, and something I feel really connected to. Story and song is how we connect with each other when we are lonely. Society uses these tools all the time to pass on dirty jokes, or stories about romance and good fortune, but it is a really effective way of talking about awful things. And accepting that the shit happens, but knowing that we are ‘gonna die’ allows it to be really freeing. Not upsetting, or depressing like Charles Isherwood suggests in his review in the New York Times (from reading reviews, I have decided that I do not care for Isherwood because all he seems to focus on is Lee’s “expensive looking” hair cut, her skinny jeans, and that the material was depressing and a real downer).
The performance ends with the band joining Lee in a dance at the front of the stage where they all move together in kind of awkward but joyful dance moves. It is bizarrely choreographed, but just like celebrating that we are all going to die, I am totally ok with it. I was dancing along myself! It was nice to see that someone could be so happy, and free, after telling 45 minutes of ironic tragedy.
All in all, I really liked this piece. It was not what I would expect out of a theatre piece, but the fun cabaret style made the heavy material very accessible for the average Joe. It went along with Young Jean Lee’s theme of picking projects that are all different and terrifying to do, and I think it was a success. I admire her bravery and her commitment to challenging herself when there are enough challenges out there already. Young Jean Lee totally fits my criteria of ladies to look up to as trail blazers. She recently spoke at the Brooklyn Museum about women making their own work, and after I listen to the audio from that I’m sure I will have something else to say!
So, until next week when I am obsessing over another fantastically creative lady, good night! xx