Supporting creative work by women
Elle Anhorn‘s play The C*nt is running in rep with the William Wycherley’s The Country Wife through September 26th at the Flamboyan Theater in New York City. Produced by Spicy Witch Productions, The C*nt is a modern take on Wycherley’s classic play. Elle, who is a multi-hypenate artist (writer-burlesque dancer-actor), is the company’s writer-in-residence this season.
Elle spoke with Works by Women about working with Spicy Witch Productions, why she loves burlesque and how unreal it was being in Madonna’s latest video.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What inspired you to write “The C*nt”? What was your way into the adaptation?
ELLE ANHORN: As the 2015 writer-in-residence for Spicy Witch Productions, I was given a list of several classical plays they were interested in staging. I was drawn to William Wycherley’s The Country Wife for several reasons – the bawdy humor, the lively pace – but most compelling were the opinions on sexual freedom of the play’s “women of honor”. Here were female characters possessing both sexual desire and sexual agency, telling the audience that the only thing wrong with engaging in extra-marital sex is the risk of being judged for it. This was a surprising perspective to find in a play written in 1675, and I was interested in taking that concept and expanding on it while also widening the scope of the story to include some queer representation.
There were many aspects of the original for which I wanted to find a fitting contemporary translation; it was a very appealing challenge. The idea of a man pretending to be a eunuch in order to gain access into married women’s homes (and beds) is a problematic concept today – so I traded Horner for Henna, a gay woman who finds that her sexual orientation grants her a similar ‘pass’ around women who have boyfriends. And though the original is titled The Country Wife, we never really get the sense that any part of Margery’s story is told from her perspective – and in the end, she’s still stuck with her controlling husband. I was interested in giving the character a taste of the freedom more available to women today. I wanted to have her journey end not simply with a choice between two men, but with a third option as well: to choose to belong to herself.
WBW: Tell me about Spicy Witch Productions and your residency with the company.
EA: The C*nt is the product of a year-long collaboration with the all-female theater ensemble, Spicy Witch Productions. I first heard about them through my good friend, Rebecca Weiss, a founder of the company and its current Artistic Director. This is their third season staging a classical work alongside a contemporary play, with the aim of initiating a dialogue between the two works to highlight themes of gender and sexuality.
I am honored to be working with them during the inaugural year of their writer-in-residence program. Since last fall, I have been given the freedom to tell a story that matters to me, while also receiving guidance and support through every step of the writing process. We staged a reading of The C*nt in the spring, which was an incredible experience and an immense aid to the play’s evolution. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to see the work that will be created by future participants in this wonderful program.
EA: I think that for an artist today, it is both practical and creatively beneficial to have more than one project on the go. It keeps you busy, and if you’re always working, you’re always learning. Each discipline is constantly informing the others – though to be clear, I would not call myself a dancer! I do not have dance experience outside of my B.A. and my time at Circle in the Square Theatre School. I am a burlesque dancer, but the wonderful thing about burlesque is that it’s an incredibly inclusive art form. It’s not only a type of performance that welcomes all body types, but all styles as well. From classic to contemporary, comedic or dramatic, graceful to clownish to absolutely grotesque – the possibilities are endless. I came into it from a writing/acting background, and so my acts are high-concept and plot-based with a focus on current issues like street harassment and contraceptive rights. Many burlesque performers have backgrounds in dance, gymnastics, circus and aerial arts – just not me!
That being said, all of these forms of artistic expression are based in creation and communication. Whether you’re speaking to the audience with music, movement, your own words or someone else’s, the end goal is the same: to tell a good story and to connect with the people you’re telling it to.
WBW: You were recently in Madonna’s video. What was that experience like?
EA: It was an extraordinary experience! I’m (of course) a huge fan of Madonna. I never imagined that I would be in the same room as her, so I was pretty excited. The video was filmed at the beautiful Standard High Line, the cast was full of unique performers, and we all just had a huge party for a night. My favorite part was getting to watch Madonna work with her director, Jonas Akerlund, and getting to experience first-hand how completely in control she was of the whole situation. The video was made up of four long takes, which required a lot of energy and precision from her and from her dancers. It was impressive to see them give 100% energy and focus for each take until we wrapped at around 5am. Oh, and my other favorite part was the outfit I got to wear: an amazing Jeremy Scott Madballs sweater/skirt set. It was my own personal version of Cinderella’s ball gown.
It’s safe to say that no matter what my future holds, getting to be a part of that video will be one of the coolest things I ever do.
WBW: What’s next for you?
EA: In addition to playwriting I am an actor and a burlesque performer, so there are many auditions and performances on the horizon. I have a few shows coming up that need prep time and rehearsal, as well as some half-finished acts currently in the creation stage that I’m excited to finish once this project is over. I’m also working on a new play that I hope to complete by the end of the year.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
EA: I think that one of the main issues today for women in the theater industry is a sense of false progress. It’s not that there aren’t any characters out there for female actors to play, for instance; it’s that many of these roles lack the depth and variety of their male counterparts. So we end up seeing many versions of the same kind of woman represented, while the opportunities for those who don’t fit easily into a traditional female archetype are limited. And of course, we haven’t yet escaped the idea of measuring a woman – or a character – primarily by her appearance and her ability to be desired sexually (a concept expertly explained by Amy Schumer in her skit, “Last F*ckable Day”).
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
EA: Right now we are living in a time of constant conversation on the subject of equality, and for that I feel very fortunate. It gives me hope to see my friends and colleagues committed to making theater that strives to make a difference, both for themselves and for the women who will come after.
I have such a strong community of female artists around me who are as committed as I am to breaking down the barriers that still exist within the industry. When I look around at my fellow artists and see so much talent, creativity, and passion to enact social change, I can’t help but feel hopeful and optimistic for the future of women in theater, themselves and for the women who will come after.
For tickets and information, visit www.spicywitchproductions.com.