A pertinent exploration of female sexuality and empowerment across generations, this powerful premiere season of Too Ready Mirror by playwright Jamaica Zuanetti calls into question the expectations of what it is to be a woman, and how women should behave.
The Melbourne based writer and performer has performed in Melbourne Fringe Festival, studied at VCA, University of Melbourne and the National Theatre Ballet School, interned with Melbourne Theatre Company and is currently a writer in residence with Lonely Company. I chatted to Zuanetti about the show and the journey she has been on with it, and gender equality in theatre and beyond.
The show Initially from her frustration at the absence of female perspectives and voices on our stages and not being particularly excited by roles on offer for female actors.
“I think the seed of the show came from my own experiences; how I see myself in the world, how I relate to the social structures around me and how I perform the role of “woman”, and what that role is. It’s inspired by my own experiences and imagination, and grew to encompass different time periods and worlds” she said.
“I started writing Too Ready Mirror as part of my Masters at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2015 and have been working on it since. I do anyway, but especially whilst writing this script, I read a lot of novels by female authors. I spent a fair bit of time reading feminist texts to contextualize my own ideas and get a sense of different perspectives. It was tricky not to get bogged down in theory but helpful to have it in the back of my mind while writing the play”.
The play jumps between three worlds; that of Nell Gwynn in the 17th century, a contemporary world, and a futuristic world, and examines the roles of women in each.
“I think for Nell, although she was able to gain wealth and climb social ranks from orange seller to one of the first female actors on stage in England to the King’s mistress, she’s aligning herself with male power. And although she’s witty, clever and funny, it’s her sexuality, her body that is prized. There is no illusion that the women on stage were viewed as anything but sexual objects. So although she comes across as quite empowered, her position is precarious and reliant on appealing to the male gaze” said Zuanetti on her character.
“Women are still taught to perform their sexuality for men and in doing so, their own agency and desires are neglected. I feel like without knowing why, we’re told our value is dependent on our desirability and the approval of men. This notion is played out a little differently in the futuristic Institution, which has very rigid rules for the way women are supposed to behave. It’s a complete backlash to the sexualized worlds of Nell and the contemporary world of Ruby. There’s a push and pull between wanting to conform, to fit in, to be liked and wanting to rebel”.
The show came together with a week-long development workshop with director Rachel Baring and actors earlier this year. The show isn’t trying to make one sole statement, but more presenting the psychologies of women and how they experience the world, how they relate to it, and how they see themselves in it
“I don’t necessarily want an audience to come away as though I’ve answered a question because I definitely don’t have the answers. I’m presenting a viewpoint, one that hopefully people can relate to and that will get people thinking about and interested in female perspectives” she said.
“I think we’re trained from so young to view the world through a male lens that when we’re presented with an alternate view it seems foreign. I hope we can move away from the notion that the straight, white male perspective is the norm and start seeing a myriad of perspectives on our stages, screens, and in general”.
She doesn’t think we will see the wage gap close in our lifetime.
“It’s so much more than just ensuring that women are earning as much their male counterparts. Female dominated professions including retail, hospitality and caring industries are severely undervalued and underpaid, not to mention the un-paid labour of raising a child, which falls heavily on the shoulders of women”.
“We have to dismantle entire social structures and the patriarchy to make work places equal and change the way they operate completely. Honestly, I don’t see that happening in our lifetime but of course, we need to keep trying to push, make noise, fight in the best way we can” she said.
Her feminist inspirations are her mum, and Simone de Beauvoir. The show’s inspiration was also drawn from de Beauvoir’s observation; “It is, again, one of the loving woman’s misfortunes to find that her very love disfigures her, destroys her, she is nothing more than this slave, this servant, this too ready mirror, this too faithful echo.”
Go see the show and support new work by kickass, talented women at from 15-28 September at the Northcote Town Hall. Too Ready Mirror is proudly presented and supported by the City of Darebin through their Darebin Arts Speakeasy season. Book via 03 9481 9500 or online at www.darebinarts.com.au.