[This entry is a guest blog written by Laurane Marchive, co-founder and director of Chivaree Circus]
When you watch a film, read a book, or study literature or theatre, you learn about characters: about their motivations, about their lives, about their world. Sometimes this is the world you also live in, and sometimes it’s a different world. Sometimes these characters are completely alien to you and sometimes they seem so familiar it feels like you could be friends. The stories they tell can feel weird, new and unexpected – yet sometimes they are universal and atemporal.
What took me a while to realize – I must have been 15 or 16 when it really became clear- is that most of these stories are about men. And they are told by men. Now, I understand that the state of fiction reflects the state of the world and the stories we read and watch are of a world historically dominated by men. This state of things feels normal because we are so used to it, so we can forget that those stories are always perspectives, and that these perspectives are often masculine. Not always, but often enough to depict a world that is shaped by the male perspective. Where a character is male unless specifically described otherwise and where female characters mostly exist to serve the narrative arc of other male characters.
But if you believe that stories make us who we are because we grow up with them, because we find role models in them, and because they reflect and inform the worlds we create for ourselves… it can be a little alarming to think that these worlds are written and created by men for men.
I am not asking for less male writers, or directors or show-runners. To be more exact, I am asking for more female writers, directors and show-runners. More women to shape the stories that shape the world we live in. Not only stories that pass the Bechdel test, where named women talk about something other than a man, but stories told by women.
In Becoming Shades, we decided to focus on the story of Persephone because it is a famous Greek myth filled with symbolism and strong visuals. In the initial story, Persephone, daughter of Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, the king of the Underworld, and kept underground against her will after having eaten pomegranate seeds. I love this myth because it tells a universal story of light and darkness, cyclical nature, love, life and death. However, when we decided to use this myth to put on an immersive circus show, we decided to turn the story around to put Persephone at its center, not as a victim of the actions of others but as a character that makes her own choices. Most importantly we decided to tell the story from her point of view, so much so that the scenes from the show are intermingling memories that audience members witness from the depth of her psyche.
I think that it’s important to create shows that do more than focusing on female characters and that actually give female characters the treatment that was always given to male characters: to be treated as a fully realized fictional being, not limited or defined by its gender. We chose Persephone because she is female, but there is so much more to her than her gender. In the end, the show is about giving her all the scope she can possibly have as a character. The result is a show that features a lot of very strong images, amazing aerial circus, fire performance, mime, and live music. A show that is about Persephone and her story, hoping to allow the audience to experience it for themselves and to step into her world – into her perspective.
Becoming Shades is showing at the Vaults, Waterloo from the 25th till the 29th of January, as part of the Vault Festival.
By Laurane Marchive