Senior theater majors Clara Bush and Belen Yoder presented their joint senior lab production entitled “And She Was Heard” last Friday and Saturday nights. The production — or a “manifesto on frustration,” in the words of Bush — was a compilation of four short excerpts from various scripts, intended to showcase powerful female voices in theater.
Bush and Yoder clearly crafted “And She Was Heard” intentionally, particularly in set choice and performance order. Bookending the contemplative monologues in the middle with more light-hearted segments gave the audience both a chance to settle in and ease out. It was also significant to me that Yoder’s monologue, a hopeful passage taken from Muriel Barbery’s “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” followed Bush’s heavier monologue of a middle-aged woman despairing over ever finding a husband. The chosen direction of “And She Was Heard” was one of hope and possibility.
The total absence of male characters in the four scenes forced me to realize just how far the patriarchy has penetrated my own experience. Even without male characters present, I could feel the collar of the patriarchy constricting the voices Bush and Yoder portrayed, channeling their impulses and actions in one direction. What really touched me about “And She Was Heard” was the tangible tugging against that patriarchy-instigated impulse, which was further emphasized by the scene choices Bush and Yoder made.
Although not many questions were voiced during the talk-back, I appreciated the space dedicated to discussing the meanings behind the play segments and how they fit together to create an argument of sorts. Among other things, one point brought up was an oft-cited study finding that 37 percent of theater roles are female, with even lower numbers for speaking characters and protagonists. It should be noted that the original study from which the “37 percent” number is derived was a single-day sampling of a group of theaters in a region of the United Kingdom, not a comprehensive sampling of theater literature in the broader sense. As such, the statistic should not be generalized to the entire body of theater literature, especially considering the narrow sampling frame used in the study.
That said, the statistic remains striking, and even over-generalized it doesn’t feel far from the truth. Having gone to two high schools and a college where the theater scene was dominated by the female population, I am well familiar with the difficulty of finding scripts that showcase strong female roles. Even though I am, indeed, a male non-theater major reviewing a theater production about the absence of strong female voices, I understand and lament the incredible lack of mainstream female-centered plays. As one attendee mentioned during the talkback, even female playwrights tend to write scripts that have male protagonists.
Bush and Yoder also noted during the talkback that once they started looking for scripts outside the realm of the patriarchy, it was hard to know which ones to include. They lamented together, “There are so many unheard voices we couldn’t do.” Bush spoke briefly about a script featuring a Jewish woman that they felt would have been culturally insensitive to produce. I, too, felt like the production was missing something. Maybe it was only because “And She Was Heard” left me wanting more, but a final fifth act would have really driven the point home for me. Perhaps an expressive soliloquy or demagogue-like rant would have given Bush and Yoder’s frustrations more stage presence and added expression to the already-reflective mood.
There were definitely things missing from Bush and Yoder’s production, but considering the scope and limitations of the project, they achieved their aims exceptionally well. “And She Was Heard” infused near-simultaneous light and dark moments, flipping brilliantly from one to the other in ways that developed a perfect atmosphere for the delivery of their sobering message. Perhaps it did not quite reach manifesto-level, but “And She Was Heard” nonetheless delivered an enjoyable and subtly poignant performance.