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Dara Beth: Nasty Womxn

Interview by Joshua Carstens

Nasty Womxn, is a play currently on at the Alexander Theatre Cafe in Cape Town. It’s a collection of sketches focusing on women’s issues, including sexism, machoism, patriarchy, abortion, etc. Three actresses (Kathleen Stephens, Masali Baduza and Maria Vos) tackle these issues with humour and a touch of pizzazz. I caught up with the writer and director Dara Beth to find out more about her inspiration behind this piece.

Tell me a bit more about yourself and your theatre journey?

Dara:

“I won’t start by saying I’m an angry, Jewish feminist because that will be the first thing that comes up if you were to Google, Facebook or Instagram stalk me (not that anyone is). I was born in New Jersey but have moved between South Africa and the US multiple times and now have no sense of what nationality I’m supposed to lead with when asked what I am.”

“Depending on what one considers a theatre journey, mine is either really long or quite short. I was born to a South African rock singer and Israeli metal drummer/ sound engineer, and spent my toddler years exploring the dressing rooms beneath the stage at the Pump House while my mom performed Rock Music Reviews. Everything I write about explains how that set the tone for theatre in my life. It sounds very contrived but I was born into a pretty theatrical and very embracing family. I did community theatre, school plays, drama as an elective and every possible drama-related extracurricular activity imaginable. And to top it off, I studied Theatre and Performance at UCT, from which I graduated with distinctions in Drama, the award for Most Promising Student and the Class Medal for Theatre-Making.”

“As far as my theatre journey post-UCT goes, I feel as though I hit the ground running and I haven’t quite stopped yet. Upon graduating, I started working pretty religiously as a stage manager, seeing some amazing individuals self-produce outstanding work while in my spare time, writing my own. I think being around people who were making their own opportunities inspired me to take the leap into staging my own work. This is the second production that I’ve created to be staged but I consider it to be my first real writing/directing debut. Earlier this year, I performed “Just a Song and a Dance”, a semi-autobiographical cabaret inspired by my real-life cabaret duo, Plumsong, which I’ve performed in with my mom, Sharyn Seidel, for the ast six years. Together, we wrote “Just a Song and a Dance” which was more like choosing what parts of our lives to put down on paper than creating new work out of thin air. It was in and itself a challenge but a very different challenge to that of writing my own not-autobiographical work.”

How did the idea for this play come about? 

Dara:

“I didn’t know that this play would become NASTY WOMXN when I first embarked on it. In fact, I didn’t know that it was a play nor that I was embarking upon anything. It was, at first, a story about Medusa trapped in 2017. And then, I found myself writing about Ivanka Trump. I didn’t know that they would ever exist in the same text.  Next, I found myself sucked down a vortex called “too many windows opened on Chrome”. I still didn’t know it was a play at this point.  All I knew was that there were fantastical stories about contemporary womxn and not-so-contemporary stories about fantastical womxn. It found it’s way into a “play” more out of habit than anything. I write text as though it will be shared, whether that text be a poem, prose or grocery list. And the stories I wrote felt like they had to be told. And so a play was born (for it took a good nine months to get me to lift a pen to finish writing what I’d set out to do).”

Why should people watch this show? 

Dara:

“People should watch NASTY WOMXN because it’s relevant, it’s funny and it’s informative without being preachy (I’ve been told).”

“But in truth, different people should watch this show for different reasons. For some, this piece is an attempt to increase visibility and representation of identities which often get sidelined and to bring their stories to the fore. For those individuals, this piece is about finally seeing oneself represented on stage. For others, NASTY WOMXN can be a gateway to conversations people hadn’t previously had the vocabulary to hold.” 

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, this I know, but it’s worth a sip.”

The piece focuses on pop-culture, specifically the celebrity-obsessed one. Why? 

Dara:

“We are in a very celebrity-obsessed culture and I don’t think a piece that talks to a contemporary audience can ignore the relevance that social media icons have on our personal understandings and expectations of the world. The Kardashians are a particular type of strong womxn whom we never celebrate as a society but rather ostracize for using their status to their benefit. And yet, they’re an empire because people invest in them. And they’ve seized that investment to their benefit. We love to hate successful womxn, not because they are problematic but simply for their success because of something we don’t want to validate. I poke fun at the elements which make the Kardashians iconic but I am a firm believer that the Kardashians know exactly what they’re doing when they represent themselves. Strong, smart womxn are scary and we tend to demonize them. So the Kardashians present themselves in a way that’s accessible to the majority, to rally support from people across the gender spectrum without intimidating their supporters. It’s smart. It’s not everyone’s tactic. But I respect it. So playing with womxn of this nature in NASTY WOMXN is a means of paying tribute while interrogating our icons.”

Do you think we are making progress on women’s issues?

Dara:

“Baby steps. I wish I could say a resounding YES. But we’re not there yet. What’s happening in Hollywood at the moment with the number of sexual assault allegations coming out and the actions being taken by large companies, I think it’s a start. The fact that we can have this interview and that people want to support a project like NASTY WOMXN is affirmation that people want progress but it’s not enough. We’re going to get there, eventually. It’s things like increasing representation of womxn in the work place, and not just in gendered roles but across the board. We need more #ladybosses (direct reference to Rachel Bloom’s music video). It’s believing womxn when they come forward about sexual harassment, without needing them to relive the trauma of proving it. And we need more people who are comfortable to have conversations, to speak out and to find solutions to the infinite ways in which we’re still fighting for equality across the gender spectrum. I’m impatient and I’m tired of waiting but I think more womxn are biting back – it’s not progress but it’s the starting line.”

 

For more information go to:

https://alexanderbar.co.za/show/nastywomxn/