Extending the Frame for Women Playwrights

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[article originally published in HowlRound, October 8, 2015.]

2015-8-17 evite images

Necessary Exposure 2014
Jody Christopherson, performer and photographer, has been raising the visibility of female playwrights through headshots, production photography, and two recent exhibits called “Necessary Exposure” at the Dixon Place bar and performance venue in New York City’s Chinatown. Her first steps into photography were classes several years at the School of Visual Arts between administrative duties. When she submitted images of a short-haired queer-identifying female playwright to a staff exhibition, she was surprised and intrigued by the audience response. “If it’s a playwright, what gender is this playwright and what does that mean, and what does she write about,” they asked. Christopherson set about crafting an exhibit in response.

Christopherson pitched the idea for the first “Necessary Exposure” exhibit in 2014 as an extended exploration of female-identifying playwright images as her own artistic and political response to national conversations about who was writing, designing, and creating theatre. That year, Arena Stage hosted The Summit, and the first list of female playwrights and subsequent press was generated by The Kilroys, feeding into energized conversations about creating a new pipeline for plays by women to season-building decisions makers. Christopherson believed faces were a necessary starting point in this intellectual and social context of creating new places for and conversations around accessing the work of women writers. “Photographs are a natural way to make things visible. We’re drawn to images in our culture and an image seemed to be a very powerful way to also bring awareness to a text.”

The six-week run of the 2014 Necessary Exposure installation was a purely visual and tactile creation featuring headshots of nine playwrights (Caridad Svich, Jessica Dickey, Crystal Skillman, Normandy Sherwood, Mariah MacCarthy, Sarah Shaefer, Charlotte Miller, Gina Femia, Ms. Minty Newport/Kim Gainer) with frames adorned by Christopherson with materials from fabric to lace to playscripts. “I wanted to use collage, mixed media, and different materials. The frame of a photograph is where the photograph ends, and I wanted to frame the writers with their work.” Flea market frames were selected for their low cost and outsized dimensions, and their dinged up condition provided an artistic opportunity. “We were repurposing them. If we could cover the frame with something lovely, something that represents the playwright and the mission of the piece, we could also afford these large frames and make the whole thing work.” For example, the Crystal Skillman headshot was framed with graphics from the printed versions of her plays. And Normandy Sherwood’s play about a shepardess inspired a deconstruction of archetypes and the use of wool and cotton and a monologue adorned her display.

Sound Inspires New Dimensions: Necessary Exposure 2015
A working relationship and new inspirations led to a second installation. Sound designer Natalie Johnsonius Neubert directed Christopherson’s 2013 multi-media production The Skype Show—part rock concert, and part play about visa regulations.

Necessary Exposure The Female Playwright Project: Portraits of Playwrights Who Identify as Female,” which closes October 11, 2015, adds the dimension of two-to-six minute audio plays created by each of seventeen featured playwrights to the visibility and exposure project. Images of exhibit playwrights (Jessica Almasy, Susan Bernfield, Saviana Stanescu, Penny Jackson, Cecilia Copeland, Diana Oh, Laura Noni Rohrman, Kari Bentley-Quinn, Amy E. Witting, Winter Miller, Maria Alexandria Beech, Micheline Auger, Karen Cellini, Angela Santillo, Abby Rosebrock, Kara Lee Corthron, and Maybe Burke) hang in a hallway near the box office. As in a curated museum tour, audio is tied to individual images — each piece has a unique downloadable audio file.

Article continues here.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 8, 2015)

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