A Closer Look: BABY NO MORE TIMES
COREY: Could you talk about what the birth of this process was like? Was there a moment you can point to that sparked this piece as a means of revolution? What questions has it brought up for you as an artist and as a citizen?
CAROLINE V. MCGRAW: I had made a short burlesque piece in Lynn Nottage's American Spectacle class in grad school--it was me, stripping down to my bra and underwear to Katy Perry's "Hot and Cold" while a Powerpoint presentation of my body flaws played behind me. I liked it and performed it a few times, but had no idea what to do with it beyond that. I met Mary through New Georges and we immediately clicked, and she introduced me to Melissa and we talked about making a pop show based on the piece--but they wanted to write original songs. I have a veeeery limited songwriting background, and I'm a playwright--I'm not used to collaborating first, I'm used to going away to my cave and writing, THEN getting other people involved. This was really exciting to me, and I loved Melissa's music and songwriting style. The show was not really based on my original piece, but the juxtaposition of everyday body image woes and that bouncy beat got us going.
I think using pop music as a means for women to express radical, feminist ideas was what felt different. We never wanted, or want, to write song parodies or sketches--we want to use this form we genuinely love to say real things about how joyful and frustrating it is to be a woman in this day and age. We had, and continue to have, a very collaborative process--we bring in song ideas or drafts and rework them as a group, and we really each get approval of every word. Now that we've added Diana, Rachel, and Lauren to the writing team, we're getting even more of a performers' perspective from the women who have been working on this project for a long time, and who have a lot of musical theater experience that's foreign to me. It feels radical because we have this rigorous collaboration not only of an all female team, but a team with women of color and women bringing different experiences and backgrounds into the mix. That should be the norm, but it feels revolutionary. We are sad and and angry about what's happening in America, and the world, right now, and this is one of the ways we can fight back. We write in very real time, so we'll have some more topical songs for the presentation, and will continue to generate material and swap out songs as the world around us dictates. The show is changing and growing with the times, wherever they take us.
MARY BIRNBAUM: The birth of this show was that Caroline and I met in the New Georges Jam and realized we were both Miley-loving-feminists. It was really kismet. I knew that Melissa Lusk, who is absolute magic, needed to be involved and would be the perfect composer/co-writer (I had worked with her on something else) and Melissa brought on Diana, and I brought on Lauren and Tali Friedman, who I knew from college. When Tali moved to LA (after about a year of developing the show with us), I asked Rachel Flynn, who also went to college with me. The newest addition to the group will be Claudia Chapa, who was in an opera I directed two years ago, and who I absolutely adore. It's always important to us that every woman be really distinct, and a wonderful, unique performer/voice in the room.
When we started writing, I thought of this piece not as a means to revolution, but as a personal way of expressing the problems we were all having on a daily (hourly? minutely) basis. Now that we've lost the opportunity of having a female president (for the moment), I understand how revolutionary this kind of sentiment is, and how important it is to do this show over and over and over.
It has made me question everything, actually. Just last night, Caroline sent us a "bible" of types of Emotional Labor (cares that women take that are basically invisible work - thank you notes to relatives, etc.) I didn't even realize how unconscious that is. The types of communication I have with people on a daily basis, the way I teach and direct-- how these things are inherently gendered as they are coming out of my body. It's inescapable, so we must be conscious. I am also much more conscious to encourage younger women and have realized how strange it is that I don't have many older female mentors (except for my mom, my aunt and their friends) -- I'm trying to fix that. Embracing my otherness (my femaleness, my cultural jewishness) has been an important result of Baby No More Times. I will be eternally grateful to this group of women for being willing to have and continue the conversation.
LAUREN LIM JACKSON: When I think about who my role models are (Gloria Steinem, Karine Plantadit, Stevie Wonder, My Mom) I feel like they all exude Magic...that hopeful spark of inspiration that transcends gender, race, socio economic status, and age...it's the ability to make someone feel. That quality is exactly what I aspire to leave on this earth plane. I want to possess that inexplicable magic and help others discover the magic in themselves. We are all magical beings. If I can teach ONE person that they possess magic, I think I have done my job as a human being.
RACHEL FLYNN: I find the concepts of role models and representation to be so crucial to current conversations of feminism. It's undeniable that feminism (as a movement) has had its problematic aspects - from lack of inclusion to a lack of intersectional awareness and activism. I think the women in this group have all had very different experiences with developing their feminist mentalities and choosing aspirational figures.
For me, finding role models was all about finding "strong women." I grew up in a family of strong women, primarily middle eastern, who pushed towards goals of economic and academic success. So, for me, that was what "finding a role model" looked like: finding women who had overcome low odds and expectations to run businesses, establish independence, attend college.
But, recently, I've found that model to be somewhat lacking or lopsided. Yes, it's great to aspire towards achievement. But it also keeps in place this "bootstraps" narrative that women are worthy only when they overcome adversity, somehow fight into achievement in the established system itself. It ignores that not everyone has the opportunities, heath, or resources to pull themselves up.
It also suggests that success is only possible by achieving within an entrenched patriarchal system. It meant I only learned about "strong women" as decided by dominant historical narratives. Strong, capable women who had rocked the boat, but not too much or too often and never while homeless, or anarchic, or HIV positive or anything else too scary for a middle school textbook. It meant I was much less likely to learn about strong women from other ethnic or national backgrounds, leading to a further whitewashing of my own sense of feminist history.
Women should be respected and treated as humans regardless of their ability to game an ossified system. I think that means opening up the narrative of "role models" to include women who don't follow typical "downtrodden lady makes good" narratives. It means shining the spotlight on underrepresented groups - whether racial, socioeconomic, health-related, or politically/ ideologically. Put simply, I think it means listening more and amplifying the words and experiences of people traditionally ignored or misrepresented by a monolithic, white, western feminism.
As for being role models ourselves? I'm less sure. I hope folks leave the show feeling a little more jazzed about their own feminism. I think there's an overriding sense of kindness and openness in this group that I hope comes across in the show we present. I love that we have mothers in the show. I love our diversity. I love our embrace of varied sexualities, of varying degrees of femininity. I love that we are wearing glitter and false lashes and I love that we don't need them.
If folks leave feeling a little happier and hopefully kinder and more willing to share their own cool ideas then that's a pretty great outcome.
DIANA OH: CURIOSITY is everything. And I think I have a morbid sense of it. One of my favorite terms to use is "morbid curiosity."What I'm morbidly curious about is a window into my soul, my platform, my voice as an artist. Curiosity teaches me that I don't have to compartmentalize myself so much and I can keep the channels open. Spontaneity and Curiosity--the two things that keep me damn happy.
MELISSA LUSK: Over the past couple years, there's been a big shift towards acknowledging cultural differences, in particular with respect to appropriation in art. The fact that white (pretty much mostly white) artists can be, and are being, called out by the non-white community for appropriating and white-washing is HUGE, and it’s made me realize how I have willfully swallowed that white male-gazey POV for pretty much my whole life, and, you know, loved it a lot of the time. We’re only just now collectively realizing how much editing and deletion goes into perpetuating the idea that white patriarchy deserves credit for every advancement of our species, and breaking that myth apart. I am more curious than ever about the narratives I’ve been missing up until now. Specifically, I read more things written by women. Pretty much only things written by women. And the brilliance of the patriarchy is that reading women authors, even as a woman, still felt like reading the work of an "other" at the beginning - that’s how foreign the voice was to me, which I'm gonna say is fucked up.
I stole this amazing book from my husband The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, which I think everyone should read. It's a few years old now, but it contains stories by women from all over the world and of all different experiences. And the beauty of writing in fantasy is that there doesn't ever have to have been a patriarchy if you don't want. And you get to try that idea on for a bit and realize it's not crazy or impossible, which is so important to remember: It’s all made up and we can make it up differently.
When Mary, Caroline and I began writing Baby No More Times, it started with the exploration not of an other, but of ourselves. And so in a way I guess we could call this curiosity - asking ourselves what things we wanted to celebrate, what irked us, what confusing things about the male body we would like clarified.
So, it was a huge, huge thing to bring on the rest of the cast, and with it their immaculate brains and broader experience. But again, there was no real investigation here - we would write about things we felt, things we wanted to call attention to, and if something didn't feel right to someone, we would work out what did feel right and then do that. A good example of this: Diana had a line about admiring Anne of Green Gables, which she flat out did not. She said so, and we changed it. It is a priority to include only what feels true to us, and I love those conversations where a line or song is bugging someone for some reason and we take a minute to figure out why, then either fix it or flag it.
With Baby No More Times, we have the opportunity to be like the writers I admire, whose worlds inspire me to think and allow me to try on new ideas. That you’ve felt curiosity from seeing the show, that you’ve found ways to better understand someone different from you, this tells me we are doing something right. So thanks for letting me know!