This past March, the ArtsEmerson staff sat around a table in the basement of the Paramount
Theatre and had our first big conversation about the 2015/2016 season. We looked at the long list of productions and began calling out through lines that would eventually help us build a frame around the story we would be telling from September to May. Almost immediately we noticed that nearly every story was centered on a fierce female character performed by a virtuosic artist. Gender parity is among the most pressing topics in our national dialogue. On stages and screens, in boardrooms and legislatures across the nation, women are fighting for equal representation and fair treatment. We are proud that in our season, women’s voices are front and center from the beginning with the first two productions, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me and Mr. Joy.
In Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, we hear the story of Kat, a woman who is exhausted and struggling to find a sense of stability in her life. She’s an artist trying to strike the balance between the music she wants to create and the music that puts food on the table for her infant. Valerie Vigoda not only performs the role but is also one of the composers of the piece’s music. Her impressive career as a musician has taken her all over the world with her sleek electric violin.
It’s a considerable shift to go from a member of a band and composing team to a central characterin a fully produced piece of musical theatre. Watching any actor chart through Kat’s journey would be impressive, but when you see the passion and mastery pouring out of Valerie as she performs the role and plays the violin, it becomes the kind of epic performance that makes you wonder if she’s super-human. As we watch Kat overcome the obstacles in her life and Valerie tackle the physical challenges of the performance, we are inspired to consider the immense strength and determination many people exert every day to achieve their goals and provide for their families.
Then there’s Tangela Large in Mr. Joy. In just under ninety minutes, you will see Tangela embody nine characters from a wide range of cultures and identities. One of these characters is the unbreakable Grandma Bessie, who is taking charge and making the changes she knows her community desperately needs. Her dedication to creating an environment that will allow her granddaughter’s generation to achieve their full potential has an inspiring familiarity when seen in a Boston theatre. Boston has a strong history of women creating opportunities for younger generations and building community through art-making, women like Elma Lewis and Clara Wainwright, whose legacies can be seen across generations in every neighborhood of the city and beyond. Alongside Grandma Bessie is her compassionate, clever and creative granddaughter, Clarissa. In Clarissa we see the greatest legacy of strong women—younger generations who carry on their spirit of joy and change. Like Clarissa, Tangela comes to us as a new voice to Boston in a long lineage of women who inspire and challenge those around them.
As Valerie and Tangela take on the journeys of these characters, we experience women whose stories are as varied as the cultures and environments that shaped them. It’s our great honor to share these performances and many others created by a small sampling of the women making incredible theatre in the world today.
ArtsEmerson presents Ernest Shackleton Loves Me in the Paramount Theater from Sept 20 – Oct 4; and Mr Joy in the Jackie Liebergott Black Box in the Paramount Center from Sept 22 – Oct 18. More information at artsemerson.org.