“A girl, a diva and a mother are trapped in a world without voice or color. In this clown-noir piece they are forced to confront their insecurities as well as the expectations and boundaries society places on women.”
That’s the premise that informs “Silent Reflections,” the latest show being brought to you by Women From Mars and The Unified Scene Theater next week for two performances only (Tuesday January 12th and Wednesday January 13th), the first “scripted” production ever mounted at The Unified Scene Theater. But this description doesn’t really do justice to all the theatricality Women From Mars has managed to cram into their 45-minute show. Combining physical theatre techniques, animation, projections, comedy, modern dance, music and drama “Silent Reflections” is a fast-paced, take-no-prisoners multi-media exploration exposing the inherent struggles in three stages of womanhood. In addition, the production is written, staged, directed, and acted entirely by women. Shawn Westfall, Artistic Director of The Unified Scene Theater, sat down with two members of the cast, Francesca Chilcote and Echo Sibley, to discuss the origins of Women From Mars and “Silent Reflections,” as well as the unique staging and themes of the production:
Shawn: What were the origins of this production? What was the shared common vision the three of you had that compelled you to mount this production?
Francesca: Echo Sibley and I met at a theatre Festival in Italy in 2013. We immediately connected over the type of theatre we wanted to make, and the issues we wanted to tackle. Over that week, we conceived of a show that would examine the contradictions within the “Diva” type: an extremely powerful woman, but a power derived entirely through sexuality. We immediately brought in our mutual friend and collaborator, Dory Sibley (also Echo’s sister in law). Together, we settled on our “Clown Noir.” In the early days of generating material, we were concerned with telling personal stories, of when we felt diminished, less than, or othered, whether it be by an outside image or expectation, or our own sense of inferiority. The best example is a reference to the title, the ridiculous, harrowing experience of examining yourself in a mirror while alone.
It was very important to us to examine what women do to themselves, not to spend the show placing blame, and to tell our stories with a sense of humor, lightness, and hope.
Shawn: Your production ambitiously unites a number of different media: dance, mime, commedia del’ arte, music, theater. What is it about “Silent Reflections” that warrants combining all of these different theatrical tropes into one visionary production?
Francesca: The style of production reflects our backgrounds as artists. Dory and I have an MFA in Physical Theatre from the Accademia dell’Arte, and she and Echo are accomplished musicians and singers. I also think the combination has something to do with the restrictions we put on ourselves. It is a silent piece. We turned to our most physical, most emotive resources when stripped of language.
Echo: I think the beautiful thing about devising work is that it is an art form, there are techniques, but there are no rules. And as a group we have a diverse background and there is no reason to not use all of our skills as long as it serves the narrative. Sometimes dance can portray a moment better than dialogue, for example and when we chose to make a dialogue free show….a show where we not only explore how women have been silenced, but we do so in silence ourselves, then it frees us up even more to use video, music, etc.
Shawn: The role of women (as well as how they’ve been silenced throughout history) is an important theme of this production. This area is obviously important to the three of you not only as women, but as actors. Was there an inciting incident or anecdote, either experienced individually or collectively, that drove you toward creating “Silent Reflections?”
Francesca: I think the strongest motivating factor for us was to make a beautiful, entertaining, and most importantly, funny piece about being a woman that spoke to truth and personal experience without bashing the audience over the head with our opinions. We all have opinions, but very few of them ended up in the show. We made a conscious effort to express very deep and dark aspects of being a woman in a funny way.
Echo: We all had very personal things that we wanted to explore. Through our conversations we realized that not only have we been silenced in our lives by significant others, by social media, by society, but also by ourselves and other women. I know that for me this was the problem and idea that inspired me the most, how we allow ourselves to be silenced and how women judge and hurt each other and can support the system that keeps us down.
Francesca: We ended up doing a lot of research separately and as a group. Because I play “the Girl,” I was preoccupied with the things that are lost in the transition between being “a girl,” and being “a woman,” a realization of all that society expects of you, and a feeling you’ll never be good enough. I will say that we came up with the ending before everything else, and its something I am very proud of. But, I won’t give it away here 🙂
Shawn: What about your production is entirely unique? In other words, what are audiences going to experience from Silent Reflections that you feel they can’t or won’t be able to get anywhere else?
Echo: The show is beautiful, set entirely in “black & white” like a silent film, with gorgeous music created at OrangeHomeRecords. This in of itself makes for a unique experience, but also you get to see three female clowns exploring dark subject manner in a comedic way using moment theatre techniques, projections, dance etc. This is really different. I think when people hear “women’s issues” sometimes they freeze up. But this show is approachable for all audiences. I think everyone can relate to the problems we look at. We’ve had people come up to us after a show crying,because it felt so personal to them. We’ve had people who couldn’t get over the comedic moments. It has it all.
Shawn: If you could have audiences take away one thing from seeing “Silent Reflections,” one new way of understanding the roles of women historically, culturally, and theatrically what would that be?
Francesca: What seems to have struck audience members the most is our staging of traditionally very private moments for women: checking their appearance in a mirror, monitoring appearance and body language, struggling over whether or not to eat the piece of cake, and blowing them up into very simple, over the top clown bits. Although we are working within an antiquated world of silent film, the issues and characters stuck within are very modern.
Echo: For me, it would be simply that we have to the power to be heard and the power to create and we also have it is us to not give that power away! We should not allow ourselves to be silenced!!
Shawn: What’s next for Women From Mars? Where are you taking “Silent Reflections” next?
Francesca: This show will be the kickoff for our US Southern tour. We will be teaching and Performing at Furman University and Catawba College, and performing in North Carolina as well. After that, we are looking forward to future tours in other parts of the US and Europe.
Performances: Tuesday January 12th at 9:30, and Wednesday January 13th at 8:30