TK Studio Manager Victoria Weinberg sits down with Pandora and TK Studio Alumni and composer Rachel Felstein to discuss this daring piece of theatre.
TK Studio Faculty member Pandora Scooter is a writer, singer and spoken word artist as well as having been a teacher for over 20 years. This summer, Pandora’s newest piece, wRETCH-the fierce body tour, will play the Fresh Fruit Festival, New York’s summer celebration of LGBTQ arts and culture. Adopting the Riot Grrrl style of in-your-face lyrics and performance, wRETCH is a celebration of women who stand up and stand out. Performances are July 12, 14, and 15 at 9:00pm at the East Village’s The Wild Project . Tickets are available HERE!
What was your inspiration for writing wRETCH?
Pandora: Last year, my 16 year-old daughter was hospitalized for twelve weeks for an eating disorder. I learned how desperately she struggled with having a positive body image. All the images of successful, happy, sexy, strong women that she saw were of slender women.
Even the women who were considered “big and beautiful” weren’t all that big. Even though I had told her since she was little to “love herself for who she is, however she is,” the media monster had gotten to her. I got angry. I realized that no matter how many times I told my daughter that she was beautiful, smart and wonderful, I couldn’t compete with the unrealistic, unattainable, unbelievably narrow concepts of beauty, attractiveness, and sexiness in our culture, all of which are perpetuated by the images in movies, tv, videos, on-line, commercials, and music.
So I decided to do something about it by writing wRETCH.
What is wRETCH about?
Pandora: The story follows the story of a band called wRETCH while they put on their final show. Throughout the fast-paced 80 minutes, the band sings songs about eating disorders, yes, but also about body image, woman power, sexual autonomy, mental illness and woman/feminine culture (including drag/gay male culture).
How did Rachel enter the collaboration?
Pandora: When Rachel and I were talking about the show, she was just so free and easy talking about these issues. I thought, “Oh this is special: to find a woman who is extremely talented at composing and who isn’t triggered by talking about molestation, eating disorders, sexual abuse, or misogyny and can actually work with this material.” It is an amazing combination. The more we worked together, we realized how great it would be for her to be onstage as KEYS, the composer in the band wRETCH.
This show deals with very intense subject matter. How did that affect the audition process?
Pandora: The show is controversial. I was concerned about people getting touchy and not being comfortable being part of the show. We tried as best we could during the auditions to let them know that this isn’t the show for anyone with a fragile stomach. wRETCH has a lot to say about sexism, about misogyny, about sexuality. We asked those auditioning, ‘Are you comfortable with that?’ You can tell the difference between someone who says ‘yes’ because it’s an audition and someone who really is down with it. We fortunately ended up with five women, including our director Alex Randrup, who are really down.
How has the rehearsal process been?
Pandora: This process has been extremely collaborative. It’s been very woman-centric. It doesn’t feel like there’s a hierarchy in the room. It feels like we are all playing and engaging. For me, it’s also so different collaborating with so many different people from being a solo show artist to having four cast members to work with on top of a director, designs, and a stage manager (#TKActor Dan Burns). However, there isn’t a product-oriented sensibility about it. It doesn’t have to reach this line or this bar. It’s going to be where it’s going to be.
Rachel: What I think has been interesting is working on the script both as an actor and a composer. My character, KEYS, wrote the music for the band, which I wrote for the show. As I’m realizing how passionate KEYS is about the message in the songs, I’m realizing that the content is becoming more and more serious to me. I’m beginning to feel the magnitude of the content.
What is the message you would like the audience to take away?
Rachel: I want the same thing from any audience member; I want them to have a renewed sense that conversation about difficult subjects is important and freeing and progressive. I want people to feel inspired to consider these things and to consider them in a public space with other people; and not just to settle into their personal ideologies.That’s one thing I love about this show and that I think you can take away from this show: you don’t need to feel comfortable. It can be exciting and good and important to live in that discomfort.
Pandora: I want people who have experienced oppression due to gender identity to feel affirmed. My fan base is made up of the left-out and the marginalized. I speak for them and I want to make space for them to feel connected. For those who don’t feel marginalized, I really want them to see the show so that they understand, in whatever degree they are able, the legitimacy of the experience of being devalued, and that it’s a tough road. This show is weird: it’s freaky, it’s scary, it’s bold and it’s dynamic. I think that there are people out there who need this. This show is about standing up and speaking out about those issues that we aren’t able to talk about.