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GUEST POST BY SCARLET RIVERA: How Exploring Shakespeare Made Me Realize Being A Woman Is Important

March 4, 2016

Please welcome Scarlet Rivera to the blog today! Scarlet is is a performer, director, musician, producer, and co-founder of Letter of Marque Theater Company in Brooklyn. Today she’s sharing what she learned about being a woman from working on her company’s current production, Double Falsehood.

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I didn’t expect that when my company chose to develop the lost Shakespeare play Double Falsehood, that through the power of process I would reconsider what it means to make theater and be an artist simply by embracing the fact that I was a woman. Looking deeply at the themes of Double Falsehood like rape culture, honor and privilege, I had to look at myself, my history, and my experiences of moving through the world as a woman. In the supported holy space of the rehearsal room, it dawned on me that I had more to offer. I had stories to tell that I never let myself share in fear of being perceived as weak or that identifying as a woman would cause me to be taken less seriously by men. My own denial of being woman was a way to ignore all the pain and degradation that comes with the identity. It’s hard for me to believe then that fifteen years after choosing theater as my life path, that I discovered that I am a woman. 

Sure, I always knew that I was female, however I didn’t consider it much, nor did I think it mattered.  All I knew was that theater mattered.

I took my first theater class at Stony Brook University while still attending high school, figuring I should give it a try before I went off the college and lost my only chance to experience acting.  During that class through the process of writing monologues and performing them, I felt the holy spirit of theater touch me. I felt a compelling change, like I had arrived home. It was the closest thing I could claim as a calling.  I believed right from then that theater had the power to impact, connect, and provide catharsis for people…for society.

This discovery took me on the path to study with wild theater professors at Manhattanville College that were pioneers at La Mama, Mabou Mines, Playback Theater, Bread and Puppet, and the Irondale Ensemble Project. People that asked hard questions and provided a landscape for community growth led most of the examples I was given for why theater was important. It was immediate, experimental, and political.  Even though I was immersed in radical theater, I can see how I adapted to the “just one of the guys” mentality.  Our society sends us a message as young women to either join the guys or to become attractive to them to gain attention. Without understanding or caring why, all my close friends were male. I liked it that way and chalked it up to either my personality, or the suspicion that women were intimidated by my boldness. All in all I valued this quality as a strength, making me equip for the “real world” as I graduated.

My desire to continue as a theater maker led me to Brooklyn. Part of the Irondale Ensemble Project’s mission states, “Through our performances and programs we ask questions and continually question the answers. We ask our audiences to come with us to unaccustomed, difficult or even uncomfortable places.” I was fortunate to work with Irondale while attending graduate school, and they taught me how to bring theater into schools and participate in the transformation of students. I also learned that every theater piece created should be made in response to something that surrounds us and creating work through an ensemble process was a powerful way to do that.  For over eight years I was nurtured as an artist with Irondale, gained a wealth of experience,  found my theater family. Never once did I consider that being a woman while doing this work had an impact.

Then, in 2013 I became a co-founder of Letter of Marque Theater Co. (LoM), and created a new ensemble. In Lynn Gardner’s post in the Guardians Theatre Blog section, “Theatres must look beyond their regular audiences and to society itself”, she asked the question, “If, in the race to survive, theatres don’t really consider their changing place in society, what their purpose is in a very different world from the one they operated in just a decade ago, and how they can collaborate with others to add value to that purpose, then what’s the point?” This question is firmly connected to the reason my company makes work, because this very idea supports our mission to make theater accessible at little to no cost to our audiences and in the spirit of “be the change you want to see”, we aim to make theater that matters and desires to create a conversation beyond “regular audiences”.

So here I am, working on Double Falsehood, sharing stories, exploring the characters and the play’s themes that I realize that I am part of a community as a woman, and that failing to recognize that was not the political stance I wanted to take. In the post, Girlie Girl Vs. One of the Guys on Psychology Today, Jill P. Weber, Ph.D addresses, “Girls who develop an internalized fear of their own gender often carry a kind of disdain for themselves and for other girls and women.” In the rehearsal room I was transformed. I was able to finally see the fear I had of being a woman. I no longer wanted to participate in a culture that taught myself and others the only way to get by as a woman leader in the world is by “being one of the guys”, and I discovered the want to create a community that nurtures and encourages women’s voices. I will never be the same theater maker again.

It’s time to acknowledge that being a woman in the theater is important and to take that just as seriously as my belief in the theaters ability to impact society.


Thank you so much for sharing your insight into your company’s process and what you learned about being a female theatre artist, Scarlet! Check out Double Falsehood running March 12th – April 9th at The Irondale Center.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Irma permalink
    March 8, 2016 6:34 am

    Thank you Scarlet for a great article. You are a beautiful and talented woman.

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