Playhouse Creatures exposes what it costs to be an actress. In 1669, these pioneering women - our characters - give everything to tread the boards, enduring poverty, prostitution, pregnancy and abortion, violence, dismissal, loneliness and social ostracism under constant pressure to produce new and titillating entertainment. Their successes in the form of leading roles, trysts with the King and eventually shares in the company could - and do - disappear at any time. As Mrs. Betterton muses, "sometimes I wonder what would happen to a person if it was taken away. That thing one gives one's life blood for." In Playhouse Creatures, we experience the success... And the taking away.
Our production brings the story into the present by paralleling the trials and rewards of those pioneering actresses with the inequities still relevant to today’s performers. In 1669, the women of Playhouse Creatures paid for their success financially, personally, and with their bodies. Speaking for one half of the production team, I (Brenan) have been described merely as “the pretty face” of my previous acting company; I’ve seen paychecks that doubled stipends for male actors over female costars; I’ve even been groped at functions - more than once - by industry players. My stories are tame compared to some.
We still fight for good roles, authentic stories, and representative leadership. We have come far, but there is work to do. Playhouse Creatures tells our stories of fighting misogyny to find self worth in art. The production model for this project puts its money where its mouth is with a woman-centric team and living wages for our actresses. We want to use this play - written, directed, starring, and produced by women- to reframe the conversation about gender in our field. We’re rolling up our sleeves.
When we began the journey of Playhouse Creatures, we had every hope of performing it as a celebration of the many successes of modern women, including, perhaps our first female president. We had no conception of the fear, threats, and hatred that infiltrate our current climate instead. Instead of retreating into the pretty frills of the Restoration as an escape, we view Playhouse Creatures as a call for continued action. McKenna and I believe it is essential to be vocal about the past, present and future accomplishments and setbacks of women, to discuss privilege and advantage as part of our artistic exploration, and to remember Playhouse Creatures honors that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We owe it to them to continue to fight for progress, for justice, for equity, and for fulfillment for all.
We proudly step up to deliver a poignant story about the power of the woman artist. As Nell Gwynn and the women of Playhouse Creatures did centuries before, we have given everything we have to make this play and its message a reality. Our director Alana mused during one meeting, "as a woman, do you have to lose your soul to do this thing?" Let's find out.
Brenan Dwyer's Blog
Looking for happiness in art daily.